The Fort Frances Jr. Sabres got their inaugural season in the SIJHL off on the right foot both with fans and in the standings—winning their first-ever game 5-1 over the Thunder Bay Bulldogs here Friday night.
The team followed that with a 3-3 tie Saturday night against those same Bulldogs.
“It’s definitely more positive than after the exhibition weekend,” said head coach Wayne Strachan, referring to the team’s 0-3 record in their pre-season showdowns.
“We’re growing as a team,” he added. “We still need to work hard, and pay attention to a few key details with systems.”
The honour of scoring the first goal in Sabres’ history went to newcomer Alessio Tomassetti, who along with fellow Quesnel, B.C. native Shawn Fulton joined the team just the day before.
The goal came on the power play late in the first period.
The Bulldogs rebounded with a goal in the second, but the Sabres regained the lead 30 seconds into the third when Mitch Cain netted the go-ahead tally.
The backbreaker came less than three minutes later when Sabres’ captain Quinn Amiel beat Bulldogs’ defenceman John Prodaniuk in a race for the puck and potted a short-handed goal—drawing cheers from the 850 or so fans on hand at the Ice for Kids Arena.
The Sabres added insult to injury with insurance goals by Fulton and Cain.
Winning their first game—and winning so decisively—was important for the team coming off a winless pre-season, Strachan said.
“I think it’s huge for the guys’ confidence,” he remarked. “And just to play the way they did in the third period with that character after a dismal second.”
After that second period, in which the team’s pressure backed off and goalie Ryan Faragher allowed his only goal out of the 30 shots he faced, Strachan issued a challenge for the leaders of the team to rise to the occasion.
Amiel, who led the Sabres with four points Friday night, said he’d like to think scoring short-handed was leading by example.
“The coach said between the second and third, whoever was the leader had to step it up, so I had to listen,” Amiel said.
As for the goal itself, “it was just a race with me and the other defenceman,” he noted. “Just buried my head and shot one. Prayed for the best.”
Strachan also was quick to finger Cain as one of the leaders under pressure, but the Fort Frances native still was overwhelmed by the experience after the game.
“It feels good to be in front of the hometown crowd,” he enthused. “It was definitely a big rush, hearing the crowd and all.”
The two teams followed with a 3-3 draw on Saturday night—an up-and-down affair that saw the lead juggled between the Sabres and Bulldogs.
The host Sabres gave up a 1-0 lead in the second period and had to claw their way back to a tie twice in the third, but had other things to worry about after one of their top blueliners, MacKenzie York, left the ice injured after taking a knee from Zak Sentance in the first period.
York was rushed to hospital during the game. While his condition was uncertain, Strachan said York believed he may have hyperextended his knee.
The Sabres next head out for their first-ever road trip with a pair of games up Highway 502 in Dryden this Friday and Saturday (Sept. 21-22) at 7:30 p.m.
Strachan said the series will be a tough one against a old Borderland Thunder rival that’s “notorious” for being hard to beat at home.