The season is over for the St. Albert Sabres after back-to-back losses against the SSAC Southgate Lions.
The Sabres suffered identical 3-2 defeats Tuesday and Thursday in the best-of-three opening round in the bantam AAA playoffs.
“It's really disappointing,” said assistant captain Luke Mahura. “All season we played for this moment. Going out in two straight is one of the worst feelings in the world knowing you have two months to do nothing. You can't wake up every morning and go play hockey.”
In game two Thursday at Akinsdale Arena the shots were relatively even at 24-22 in favour of the Lions. They went one-for-three on the power play while the Sabres couldn’t capitalize on the man advantage but did score a shorthanded goal by Braenden Farge. Shane Bowzaylo also tallied for the Sabres.
A visibly disheartened Bowzaylo said it was a matter of missed opportunities.
“I'm frustrated. We had the lead and we blew it. We should have won that game,” he said.
The Sabres had their chances. Early in the game Sebastien Auray wired a puck off the post on a three-on-two with Mahura and Farge.
In the second, Mahura nailed the post from the right circle on a drop pass and Auray drilled a shot off Cam Martin's left pad. The rebound went straight to Bowzaylo at the side of the net but Martin got the glove down in time.
“We worked pretty hard but they're a good team. They just seemed to work harder than us,” Bowzaylo said.
The Lions opened the scoring 5:30 into the first, as Cole Benson won a battle in the slot and wired the puck far side from the left circle past Landon Bow.
Farge responded five minutes later. After blocking a point shot and chasing the puck down, he cut across the crease to his forehand to stuff the puck home.
With 7:19 remaining in the first, Bowzaylo put the Sabres up 2-1 with a wraparound that banked off a skate and in.
But eight minutes into the second, Michael Simion was left alone in front to find a rebound kicked off Bow's right pad to tie the game.
Moments later Bow tried to rim the puck around the boards. It was picked off and thrown on net and stopped by a defender's skate, but the puck bounced onto Eric Ross' stick and he scored into the open cage.
“You create your own bounces and they earned theirs with hard work,” said head coach Umberto Fiorillo. “They were more determined then we were.”
In the series opener Tuesday at Coronation Arena, Taylor Fontaine put the Sabres on the board early in the third, with an assist by Mahura. The Lions would later score midway through the period to make it 3-1. With the goalie pulled, Mahura added the team’s second goal in the last minute of play.
“In both games we got down and it's been an Achilles heel all year. You can't go down early against good teams,” Fiorillo said. “They were a structured group. They trapped us in the neutral zone. Their defence were good at the first pass so we couldn't get our forecheck started and their goalie came up big when he needed to.”
“We could have played the body more and played a bit bigger. When we do that we're a totally different team,” added Mahura. “We had to play better and work as a team to beat these guys, especially in the playoffs. We needed to get those dirty goals.”
In the nitro north division the Sabres (21-7-5) and Lions (22-8-3) tied for second place, five points back of the league-leading Sherwood Park Flyers (23-4-6).
“We take solace in the fact that it was a good hockey team on the other side and they earned both victories,” said Fiorillo, who coached the club to the best record of any St. Albert bantam AAA team in the last 10 years. “We can feel good about ourselves, but your ultimate goal is to make it happen in the playoffs.”