Big tests ahead for Sabres as hockey season enters stretch run


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With four games remaining on their schedule, the Steinbach Regional Secondary School (SRSS) Sabres were still alive for a first-round playoff bye.

The Sabres sit in fourth place as of Jan. 24, nine points behind third-place Westwood. The top three teams in the Winnipeg High School Hockey League’s (WHSHL) top division will get a bye, with the 10 remaining teams playing in a first-round three-game series.

John Laninga is the head coach of the Sabres, which have been snake-bitten against the three top teams in the division this season. Steinbach is winless against Garden City, St Pauls and Westwood.

“We’ve been in those games, one or two goal games for the most part,” Laninga said.

“We’re of course happy to be fourth, but we’re always pushing to be the best.”

While the nine point differential may appear to be too much to overcome in four games, the Sabres have two things going for them. They have two games in hand over most of their competition and in the WHSHL regulation wins are worth three points.

The point system also benefits the teams in range of Steinbach’s slot as the top team not to receive a bye. That spot is valuable not only to get the best first round match-up possible, but also earn home ice advantage in the quarter-finals, critical in a three-game series.

“It definitely puts an importance on every single game,” Laninga said of the three-game playoff series format, which will carry through the entire WHSHL playoffs.

“You’ve got to be at your best, because those series are quick.”

Selkirk got a big boost Jan. 23, beating Steinbach 3-2 in regulation for a “six-point win,” pulling within two points of the Sabres.

“We’re certainly feeling that pressure,” Laninga said, adding the result against Selkirk “stings,” while lamenting a slow start to the game.

There has been no shortage of intensity during Sabres hockey games in Steinbach, which are hosted at the Centennial Arena in the T.G. Smith Centre. During a game against the Oak Park Raiders, Jan. 18, six players were ejected from the game, mostly for post-whistle scrums.

Steinbach fans even taunted Oak Park players as they left the ice, forcing teammates and linesmen to step into the locker room hallway area to usher the players away from a potential conflict.

The Sabres would eventually win the game 6-1.

“We’ve got a very hard-working team,” Laninga said.

“We forecheck with intensity, and we’re ensuring we’re getting that same backcheck. As these games ramp up, we’re seeing just how important composure and discipline is going to be down the stretch.”

The team is looking forward to changing their fortunes against those top teams, playing against Westwood and then finishing their season with a match-up against league-leader Garden City in Steinbach Feb. 3, with puck drop at 4 p.m.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us to see how we measure up,” Laninga said.

“Over the course of a five-month season, teams make progress. They’ll be big games.”

Elsewhere in the WHSHL, other teams from the region are battling for playoff positioning. Springfield is currently tied with Sanford for top spot in the second division, while Lorette is currently eighth in the third division.

In the Zone 4 hockey league, The Morris Mavericks Co-op team sits in third place, behind Morden and Portage. The final regular season game of the season will be on Feb. 11.

For weekly WHSHL standings, check out the Carillon Sports Scoreboard on page B4 in the print edition.

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