The Stoney Creek Junior Sabres are gearing up for their rush toward the ultimate Provincial Women’s Hockey League goal.
The Sabres will be among eight teams vying for the coveted Alumni Cup at the 10th annual PWHL Championships April 3 to April 6 at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville.
The team earned its place in the top eight after beating the Cambridge Rivulettes during the first round of the playoffs earlier this month.
“We’re feeling confident heading into the championships,” head coach Stacey Marnoch said last Thursday. “We were able to sweep Cambridge in three games, which gave us extra confidence and we have three weeks to prepare for the championships. There aren’t any weak teams going to the event, but I believe we have the talent to beat any team if we play together.”
The Sabres rallied to 6-3, 3-2 and 5-2 victories over the Rivulettes in the preliminary round.
Marnoch said the wins didn’t come easy.
“Cambridge is a hard-working team that never gives up,” she said. “I was proud of the fight and composure we showed in that series. I think the key was we didn’t sag if we got behind and we believed we could win and showed up for each other.”
The Sabres finished sixth in the 20-team PWHL during the regular season.
The team skated to a 21-11-5-1 record.
Marnoch said the Sabres got off to a slow start and gave up some points early.
But the team continued to work hard and got better every week, she added.
“Our team chemistry is excellent and the athletes want to win for each other,” Marnoch said. “Our vets have grown and matured as people and hockey players. They continue to improve and all of our seniors will be continuing their careers at the university level.”
The Sabres scored a bronze medal at the provincials last season.
“Winning the bronze was special, given we did it with a very short bench,” Marnoch said.
The team will begin its quest for top honours at the event this year by battling the third-place Toronto Aeros in game one on April 3.
The Sabres will then hit the ice against the seventh-ranked Brampton Canadettes and second-place Mississauga Chiefs in games two and three on April 4, before taking on the fourth-ranked Whitby Wolves in game four on April 5.
Out of the eight teams participating in the round robin, the top four will move on to the semifinals on April 5 to determine who will play for the gold, silver and bronze medals on April 6.
Marnoch said all eight teams are capable of beating each other on any given day, so it will make for an exciting weekend.
“They are all tough teams in different ways, so it’s hard to say who our toughest opponent will be,” she said. “We will have to make adjustments as we go along and if we can do that without too much trouble, we will be tough to play. The athletes really want it, so the sky is the limit.”
Asked if the Sabres have what it takes to score the Alumni Cup, Marnoch said “I think we have all the necessary ingredients to win. It will just come down to who outworks and out teams their opponent.”
Teams in the PWHL are currently playing exhibition games because 10 players from the league are competing for Team Canada at the IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship in Budapest, Hungary. The race for the PWHL Alumni Cup will continue when the players return at the end of the month.