BAIE VERTE, NL — A Sunday win in Grand Falls-Windsor makes the Northeast Sabres the only team in the Central Newfoundland Senior Intermediate Hockey League to secure a playoff spot.
The team out of Baie Verte beat the Exploits Blades 5-4 at the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium, bouncing back from a 7-3 loss the night before.
The two-time defending champion Sabres have at least earned a chance at a three-peat with the playoff spot but could still finish anywhere from first to fourth in the standings.
The Sabres are 8-5-1 on the season for 17 points, with a pair of away games left against the Lewisporte Seahawks Feb. 10-11. The Seahawks perhaps face the biggest challenge in avoiding the basement and not making the playoffs. They are currently 6-8 on the season for 12 points, and only have the two games against the Sabres left to play.
The Blades put themselves in great position to move up the standings with Saturday night’s win. They are 6-6 on the year for 12 points. With four games left, the Blades will have the most opportunity to determine the overall standings over the next two weekends. They will be in Twillingate to face the Combines for two games this weekend. The Combines are sitting in third — with a 6-7-1 record for 13 points — and just those two games left.
The Springdale Braves — coming off a bye weekend — will close out their season with a pair of games in Grand Falls-Windsor against the Blades. The Braves are currently second in the standings with 16 points to show for their 8-6 record.
Due to the possible losing end of the tiebreaking scenarios, the Braves still need at least a point to secure a playoff spot.
Sabres 5, Blades 4 (Sunday)
The Sabres scored two power-play goals and Jordan Humphries broke a 4-4 tie with less than two minutes remaining on the clock in the third as the visiting squad came away with a 5-4 win and a split of the weekend set.
Greg Edgar, Blake Stratton and Ryan Parsons scored first-period goals for the Sabres, and Parsons scored again in the second. Humphries’ goal late in the third held on as the game-winner.
The Blades got goals from Justin Holloway, PJ Loder, Neil Oake, and Jason Saunders.
Blades 7, Sabres 3 (Saturday)
The Blades got goals from seven different players in a 7-3 win over the Sabres Saturday.
Daniel Curnew scored the winner 6:42 into the second period. His goal was one of six potted in a high-scoring middle frame.
“Anytime you score seven goals and only give up three you feel pretty good,” said Blades’ forward Neil Oake. “Carter (Fancey) made some big saves for us when we needed it. That was key.”
Oake capitalized on a breakaway for a power play goal in the second period. Seconds after Oake scored, Matt Lavallee scored on a breakaway of his own. Oake said both scoring chances were a result of team speed and accurate passing.
“When we’re cutting through the middle with speed, you don’t want to be standing flatfooted, because all of our forwards have wheels,” he said. “It was a good breakout with good passing, and once we’re wheeling and catch you standing still, that’s it.”
The Sabres battled back from a 3-1 deficit in the second period thanks to goals from PJ Budgell and Kaleb Roberts.
Although missing some of their best offensive players — Travis Champion, Jasper Dicks and Brett Robinson — the Sabres fought hard from start to finish. Acting head coach Lyndon Small was pleased with his team’s effort, especially their play in the first period.
“We had a lot of puck possession in the first, and spent a lot of time in in the offensive zone,” said Small after the game. “We were down 3-1 in the second period, but we showed a lot of character, stuck with our game plan, and it paid off with those two goals.”
With their top offensive weapons absent, many players from the New-Wes-Valley area were penciled into the lineup. Some of those players were members of the Straight Shore Beothics team that won the league title in 2012, and the coach said they bring experience and leadership to the table.
“When you can get those quality players from the Straight Shore area, guys that have experience in this league, and guys that have a knack for putting the puck in the net, it’s going to help your team,” said Small, adding the hope is the players from the Straight Shore area play enough games to qualify for the playoffs.
And much like those Straight Shore players, the Blades have no shortage of offensive weapons.
The line of Oake, Jason Saunders and Jake Sparkes was dangerous the entire game, and created numerous scoring chances. They ended with four points, but Oake believes the best is yet to come from this newly-formed line.
“It’s funny, because we’re pretty much a brand-new line,” said Oake, adding the three were put together during a weekend set in Lewisporte, Jan. 13-14.
“Me and Saunders like to have the puck, and Jake is the guy that goes and gets it for us. He’s the dog on our line, for sure, and he fits there perfectly.”
Saunders, Brad Manuel, Dave Burke and Matt Antle also scored for the Blades, while Blake Stratton scored the other goal for the Sabres.