The Fort Frances Jr. Sabres weren’t about to make the same mistake twice.
Leading by three goals after 40 minutes against the visiting Dryden Ice Dogs on Tuesday night, the Sabres didn’t let it slip through their grasp like a similar three-goal lead vanished in an 8-5 home loss to the Fort William North Stars back on Sept. 26.
“We have preached 60 minutes of hard work and we feel the team that plays most consistent through the game will win,” Sabres’ head coach Wayne Strachan said after their 4-1 victory that improved their record to 2-4.
“We feel that we played a pretty solid game. [I] wouldn’t say a full 60 minutes, but 55 minutes again,” he added. “There are five teams that are fairly equal in the league and any one of us can win on any given night.”
The Sabres jumped out to a lead midway through the first when a perfectly-orchestrated face-off play resulted in a goal by Ryan Witherspoon.
Then just over two minutes later, Chris Sinclair’s centering pass bounced off the body of winger Dan Smith and into the net for a 2-0 lead.
Mark McDonald drew the Ice Dogs to within one early in the second period but unlike earlier home games, the Sabres were able to stem the tide this time around.
Adam Wensley and Rod Bouchard both delivered monster hits that kept the crowd—and the bench—in good spirits, then Dan Usiski fired a pinpoint shot from the slot on the power play to regain the Sabres’ two-goal lead midway through the frame.
Brendan Baumgartner salted the victory away a few minutes later on a two-on-one rush that ended the night for Ice Dogs’ goalie Anthony DeAngelis.
“It was a team effort. We worked hard, played our game plan, forced the puck, and took our man,” Strachan lauded. “It was nice to see, and we needed this victory to prove we can compete in the league.”
The return of second-year player Kyle Turgeon from a shoulder injury gave the Sabres a major boost, especially on the forecheck and penalty kill.
“He adds so much energy and speed to the lineup,” Strachan enthused. “He is one of the best penalty killers in the league and hounds the other team’s defence.
“He wants the puck and will do anything to get it, help the team, and pay the price to get things done on the ice.”
It was a bit of a chess match between Strachan and Dryden coach Randy Lulashnyk matching lines, with the Sabres using home-ice advantage for the final change to consistently put the line of Turgeon, Chad Reynolds, and Witherspoon against Dryden’s top forwards.
Despite the solid home win, Strachan still sees little things his players could be doing more effectively.
“We still can improve in our own zone with support from our forwards, and being in position to take our men,” Strachan conceded. “Looking over shoulders is huge for us right now and not getting [too] puck-focused.”
The Sabres’ next action comes this Friday and Saturday (Oct. 10-11) on the road against the Schreiber Diesels.
“Schreiber is off to a good start,” Strachan remarked, who attended their two-game sweep of the host Ice Dogs over the weekend.
“From looking at them in Dryden, they come at you and are always in your face. They have four evenly-balanced lines that all work hard,” he added. “We will be in tough, but if we play like we did [Tuesday], we will give ourselves a chance to win.”