Momentum is building towards the playoffs as the St. Albert Sabres try to leapfrog over the SSAC Southgate Lions for home-ice advantage in the first round.
After Friday’s game against the KC Squires (score unavailable at press time), the Sabres close out the regular season Sunday against the Lloydminster Heat (9-19-3). Face-off is 5 p.m. at Akinsdale Arena.
“It will be a good test for us,” said assistant coach Rob Parrotta. “This weekend we’re battling two teams that want to put their best foot forward to get momentum and that’s what we want to do too. We want to execute well and have all cylinders going.”
In the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League the Squires (12-14-6) were hanging onto the last playoff spot in the nitro north standings. The Sabres (19-7-5) were third, two points behind the Lions (21-7-3) and seven back of the league-leading Sherwood Park Flyers (22-3-6).
“It will be very much like playoff hockey because for them it is. It’s two points they need in order to make the playoffs and they’re going to come hard.”
The Heat (9-19-3) have locked up the last playoff spot in the weaker charger north division. Parrotta said the Sabres have to be prepared to face a mentally tough Lloydminster team as they chase the Lions for second spot. The best-of-three playoffs series starts Wednesday.
“We got into times early in the year that we had slow starts but if we can get aggressive early and have them play our game, we’ll be more successful,” Parrotta said. “We’re starting to work on our own systems to combat some of the things they do and hopefully implement those in these next two games. [The Lions] bring a lot of pressure, especially on the penalty kill. They have one of the most aggressive penalty kills we’ve seen. We’re really going to have to use the extra guy to our advantage.”
Last weekend in Grande Prairie the line of Luke Mahura, Jake Mykitiuk and Sebastien Auray combined for 18 points as the Sabres posted shutouts of 5-0 and 13-0 against the Storm (2-28-1). Mitch Martell (8-2-4, 2.45 GAA) stopped 11 shots in the 5-0 win for his third shutout of the season and Landon Bow (11-5-1, 2.85 GAA) turned aside 10 for his second shutout.
“We moved the puck well. The guys decided to use each other and we saw what could happen when we did that. We were all over them for long stretches and we overwhelmed them in the offensive zone. Once we got pucks on net we found they kept going in for us, especially in the second game,” Parrotta said.
“Obviously Auray, Mykitiuk and Mahura have been good for us but Zach Gonek [three goals and two assists last weekend] has really stepped up after we moved him to forward. He’s contributing and been aggressive on the forecheck and we need that sometimes.”
ICE CHIPS: In league scoring Mahura was tied for ninth place with 60 points on 32 goals and 28 assists in 31 games. Rounding out the Sabres’ top scorers are Auray (22-30-52 in 30 games), Mykitiuk (20-22-42 in 31 games) and defenceman Jeff Harrison (8-30-38 in 31 games).
Forward Brett Smythe will miss at least the first round with a broken arm. He is expected to be out for another couple of weeks.