One might assume Michael Peca is pressing panic buttons right about now.
After all, the former NHLer who is entering his second season as the coach/GM of the Ontario Junior Hockey Legaue’s Buffalo Jr. Sabres, will not have the services of the league’s top scorer (Tyler Gjurich) from last year. And he’ll also have to forge ahead without the club’s star goalie (Parker Gahagen) or its premier blueliner (Sean Federow) from the 2012-13 campaign.
Peca though is taking these departures in stride. That’s because he believes his squad will have three solid lines and the club’s depth will be considerably stronger than it was last season.
Perhaps Peca’s best move during the off-season was acquiring 19-year-old goaltender Joseph Pianta from the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots in a cash deal in June.
Pianta, who is gearing up for his fourth OJHL season, registered four shutouts and had an impressive 2.18 GAA in 37 appearances a year ago.
“He’s very competitive,” said Peca, who anticipates Pianta will receive the majority of the team’s starts this coming season. “Not only does he make big saves but he makes big saves at crucial points of the game.”
Peca traded for Pianta as Gahagen has moved on to the NCAA ranks where he will play for Army this season. Gahagen was a workhorse with the Buffalo side last year, racking up 29 wins, seven shutouts and posting a 2.55 GAA in 43 appearances.
And how does Peca plan to replace Maine University-bound Gjurich, who led the league in goals (53) and points (97) last season?
“You do it by committee,” Peca said. “We’re going to lose a guy who scored 53 goals and close to 100 points for us. But with the kids coming in we’re going to surpass those goals and points.”
Two incoming players Peca will be counting on for some offensive productivity are left winger Mike Ederer and Nick Smith. Both starred at Nichols, a Buffalo prep school this past season.
Peca is also high on centre Joseph Widmar, who split his time a year ago with a pair of United States Hockey League franchises, the Chicago Steel and Indiana Ice. Widmar is expected to provide some depth down the middle for the Jr. Sabres, who also have a pair of returning centres in Ryan Schmelzer and Nolan Sheeran.
“Both of those guys are capable of being in the top five in scoring in the league,” Peca said.
The squad will also be relying on returning forward Pat Egan.
“He had a quiet almost 30 goals last year,” Peca said of the 28-goal freshman. “And he should get at least 30 goals this year.”
The Jr. Sabres will begin their training camp on Aug. 13. Between 25-30 players are expected to attend the camp.
Peca likes the fact a limited amount of bodies will be at the club’s main camp.
“I do like it because it’s easier for us to plan,” he said.
Buffalo will kick off its regular season with a road contest on Sept. 8 versus the North York Rangers. Club members are already anticipating a Dec. 15 match against the defending OJHL champion St. Michael’s Buzzers of Toronto. That contest will be held outdoors at Rochester’s Frontier Field.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun and a very exciting experience for everybody,” Peca said of the league’s first outdoor game.