(Burlington, ON) – The Buffalo Junior Sabres are on their way to the second round of the Ontario Junior Hockey League Playoffs, thanks to a 6-2 victory in Game Four on Sunday that helped Buffalo win their series over Burlington in four straight games.
It was not as easy as the numbers might indicate. In fact the Cougars, who forced Buffalo to earn their wins at home in overtime and double overtime respectively, scored just seconds into the first period of Game Four to take the very early 1-0 lead. Mike Sones got the early go-ahead tally to fire up not only his teammates but the crowd, too.
Buffalo responded with Pat Egan’s goal on the pwoer play at the 17:37 mark of the first tied the game but just over a minute later Brett Coulson scored to put the host Cougars back in the lead.
Buffalo evened the score at 4:39 mark of the second period with Tyler Gjurich’s first goal of the game. Nolan Sheeran put the Jr. Sabres in the lead for the first time – and what proved to be for good – at the 11:26 mark.
Just 44 seconds into the third period, Sheeran scored again to build Buffalo’s lead to 4-2, with Gjurich increasing that elad to 5-2 with his second goal at the 7:29 mark. Burlington battled as fiercely as they could, pulling goalie Alex Murray for an extra skater as the team went on a power play with about three and a half-minutes remaining in the third period. Buffalo withstood the two-man disadvantage then put the series on ice when Brian Ruff put the puck into the empty Cougar net.
Ryan Schmelzer recorded four assists while Sheeran led all scorers with three assists in addition to his two goals.
Parker Gahagen, after giving up the early goal, settled down and made several clutch saves. Burlington’s Murray also put in yet another standout performance, also making several clutch stops that kept his team in the game through the first two thirds of it. Bobby Bloomfield replaced Gahagen late in the third period. Buffalo outshot Burlington 45 to 37.
The Jr. Sabres await their second round opponent, which was yet to be determined pending the results of other series in teh South-West Conference. Buffalo will host the first game of the second round, which is scheduled to begin the week of March 11.
Prior to the start of Game Four the Cougars held a ceremony honoring former player and assistant coach Tom Neziol, who died of a heart attack on October 1, 2006 at the age of 36. Neziol played for the Cougars in the mid-1980s before advancing to four years of college hockey at Miami (Ohio) University and then several years of professional hockey in the ECHL and briefly in Europe. Neziol’s uniform number 18 is already retired by the Cougars organization. A banner with his name and number was presented to his family followed by a pregame ceremonial puck drop.
(Photo: Jr. Sabres head coach and general manager Michael Peca congratulates his assistants Russ Certo (left) and Alan Heerdt as the final seconds tick away in Buffalo’s series-winning 6-2 victory at Burlington on Sunday, March 3. Photo by Tim Bates / OJHL Images)