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Open Mike Column: Canít ignore talents, Southtowns flair of Jr. Sabres 16-and-under team

The Junior Sabres 16-and-under team, which has a large Southtowns\' influence, celebrates a goal scored earlier in the season.
Jake Brozyna admits that his players are a little annoyed sometimes with the lack of attention they receive while playing for the Jr. Sabres.

Their issue certainly isnít a lack of attention from scouts as the team travels nation-wide playing in front of representatives from colleges and the Ontario Hockey League.

The coach from the 16-and-under squad is talking about media attention. While their classmates who play for high school programs seem to get a little more pub, teams like this elite Midget-level squad fly somewhat under the radar despite having a plethora of the regionís top talent.

But if you know good hockey, especially for those who live in the Southtowns, you canít help but notice this Jr. Sabres 16-and-under team. From coaches and general manger to many of the players on the team, this lineup is dotted heavily with local hockey talent and minds.

This yearís team, competing this weekend for a berth to play in the national tournament from April 3-7 in Pittsburgh, has quite the Southtownsí influence. Out of the 70 players who showed up for a team tryout, Brozyna couldnít help but notice the elite talent of many of the players who are in close vicinity to where he lives.

Not only is Brozyna a Hamburg resident himself, but so is his assistant Mike Surdyk and four of his players ó Michael Bevilacqua, Ryan Hornberger, Matthew Damico and Trevor Micucci. From neighboring Lake View are general manager Bob Maxick and players Phil Stamer and Matt Blattenberger and from Eden is David Baskerville.

Also on the team are Cameron Radziwon, a St. Francis High School student from East Aurora, two players and a coach from West Seneca, a pair of players from Orchard Park and another from Marilla.

Brozyna said the team was chosen fairly as each player was entered into a lotto system to gain a tryout, before the franchise evaluated the talent it saw. Many of this homegrown talent has responded, becoming significant parts to a team playing above .500 through 58 contests.

ďWe went through tryouts and went with the best,Ē Brozyna said. ďWe knew some of the kids beforehand but didnít show favoritism. Some of these guys, we were more comfortable with what they can and canít do. We got the right mix for this team.Ē

Among the teamís forwards, Stamer is a Frontier High School junior, who has put up three goals and 18 assists in 58 games; Hornberger, a St. Francis High School junior, has recorded 10 goals and nine assists; Damico, a sophomore at Hamburg, has notched seven goals and 10 assists; Baskerville, a sophomore at Eden High School, has put up seven goals and 10 assists; while Radziwon is one of the teamís top scorers with 33 points.

The goaltending is an all-Frontier duo with Blattenberger, a sophomore, recording an 18-11 recorded with a 2.27 goals against and .910 save percentage in 34 games, and Micucci putting up similar statistics splitting time with his classmate. Bevilacqua, a sophomore at St. Francis, has recorded one goal and six assists, in addition to becoming a solid stay-at-home, physical threat on defense.

The Jr. Sabres may not be as easy to follow as a local high school team, but they certainly deserve the attention for their commitment in traveling to play against the very best at this level, including fellow teams sponsored by NHL organizations like the Buffalo Sabres.

Also, Brozyna has found himself coaching against some tough competition and even some former professional players, including NHL royalty like Pittsburgh Penguin Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. Brozyna joked that he usually plays it cool when going up against such high stature fellow coaches, but he couldnít help but get a photo and autograph with Lemieux when the two teams squared off.

So as the Jr. Sabres ready to embark on the eight-team state tournament about to take place from March 15-18 at Northtown Center in Amherst, hereís a little pub for some deserving hockey players and their coaches and an elite franchise.

E-mail Mike Petro at mpetro@thesunnews.net or follow him on Twitter @MikePetroTheSun.


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