Niagara Gazette —
While Buffalo lost its lone preseason game, a 6-5 overtime decision against the Rochester Jr. Americans last Wednesday, another player with local connections made a good first impression. Defenseman Dennis Gilbert, a Clarence resident and student at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, scored two goals. He’s one of the defensemen Peca will look upon to replace key blueliners who have since moved on to NCAA hockey.
Also in the mix are Wheatfield resident Ryan Kuhn, a forward who played last season with the Jr. Sabres 18U squad, and Tonawanda’s David Hopfer, a defenseman and fellow former Jr. Sabres 18U player who graduated from Kenmore East High School this past June.
“It’s a new group. It’s a younger group but at the same time it’s a hungry group,” said Peca about this year’s squad, which also includes several players from East Amherst, Rochester and even players from as far away as Montana and Alberta, Canada.
Four current players are already verbally committed to NCAA college hockey. Gilbert has committed to Niagara University. Team captain Ryan Schmelzer and forward Nolan Sheeran are committed to Canisius beginning next season, while forward and Lancaster resident Michael Ederer has committed to St. Lawrence University.
That’s been one of the program’s most important missions, to develop players for college hockey. Part of getting them noticed is to help them raise their levels now. The bar is already set pretty high, given last year’s accomplishments.
“I think getting these guys to realize how hard they’ve got to compete night in and night out, and that includes the practices, to kind of build a regular season that prepares you for playoff hockey is incredibly important for us,” said Peca.
That regular season begins this afternoon. Following today’s road game, the team will host its home opener at 7:30 p.m. Monday against the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots at the Northtown Center at Amherst.
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Buffalo Jr. Sabres Upcoming Home Games
Monday, 7:30 p.m. vs. Toronto Lakeshore Patriots (home opener)
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. vs. Toronto Jr. Canadiens
Both games are at the Northtown Center at Amherst (formerly Pepsi Center)
1615 Amherst Manor Drive, between Maple and Millersport
Admission: $7 adults, $3 students & seniors
For the team’s full schedule, go to www.buffalojuniorsabres.com