By Mike Pearson, News staff
If the Stoney Creek Sabres were nervous headed into their Esso Cup debut on Sunday, the team certainly disguised it well.
Six different players scored goals as the Sabres crushed the Moncton Rockets 8-1 in the opening game for both teams at the national female midget hockey championship at Gateway Ice Centre in Stoney Creek.
Claire Merrick, who scored the first and last goals for Stoney Creek, said her team was nervous as it prepared to face an unfamiliar opponent. Other than the Sudbury Lady Wolves, who beat Stoney Creek for the OWHA championship last week, the Sabres will face several teams they haven’t seen during the course of the year at this week’s Esso Cup.
“We were really nervous because we’ve never played these teams before, except for Sudbury.” Merrick said. “We just came out like it was any old game.”
Merrick said the Sabres game plan focused on utilizing the team’s speed.
Merrick plays on a line with Victoria Klimek and Alexa Vasko, which accounted for three of the Sabres’ goals. Stephanie Ayres also scored twice for Stoney Creek. Singles were scored by Theresa Woodland, Jessica Brown, Victoria Klimek and Sarah Nelles.
The Sabres dominated play right from the outset, outshooting Moncton 20-1 in the opening frame and building a 4-0 lead.
Despite a lack of action, Sabres goaltender Hannah Miller stopped a clear breakaway for her only save of the opening period. Miller finished with 13 saves on 14 shots. Moncton’s Hayley Hallihan scored the Atlantic representative’s lone goal in the second period, from Brooke Murphy, to make it 4-1. The Sabres quickly answered with Ayres’ first of two.
Sabres’ coach Brian Cleary said once his players completed a few shifts, the nerves dissipated and the momentum began to grow.
“One of the reasons why they’re all so nervous is they’re all so young. We just finished at the provincials but we’ve never been at an event like this in front of the home town crowd,” said Cleary.
Cleary admitted Tuesday’s rematch with Sudbury has been the talk of the team all week. But he’s determined to avoid letting his team overlook its next opponent, the Fraser Valley Phantom, on Monday night. The two teams face off at 7 p.m.
“it’s been difficult to get them to focus on the task at hand,” said Cleary. “They really want to play Sudbury.”
The Lady Wolves beat the Sabres 3-0 exactly one week ago in the provincial gold medal game, forcing the Sabres to settle for silver.
In other action on day one, the Weyburn Gold Wings came from behind to beat the Sudbury Lady Wolves 2-1 on a late third period goal. The Edmonton Thunder won a tight, defensive struggle against the Fraser Valley Phantom 1-0.
Edmonton (Team Pacific Alta), Stoney Creek (Host) and Weyburn (Team West) all sit atop the standings with three points earned from regulation wins heading into day two.