Uberti making strides
Jake Uberti is receiving some intense on-the-job training.
The sophomore forward for the Niagara IceDogs got his feet wet at the Ontario Hockey League last season and is now being asked play a more prominent role with the IceDogs in full rebuild mode.
“I think he’s made great steps as the season has gone on,” IceDogs coach Billy Burke said of Uberti. “Last year we liked him. He was a young guy on an older team so it was just get some experience and play very limited minutes and try and not hurt the team.
“This year, he had to make the full switch to going from a fringe guy to a guy who needs to have an impact every night.”
Uberti, who collected two goals and nine points in 59 games as a rookie, already has 11 goals and 20 points in 39 games this season.
“This year, I’m definitely getting a lot more opportunity and getting used to playing more minutes in the OHL,” said Uberti, a 17-year-old native of Toronto. “I’m definitely getting more comfortable playing my game and I think I’ll be able to get more comfortable as the season goes on and I progress into next year.
“I think we’re all in the league for a reason because we can compete against any team’s top six or anybody in the league. It’s just getting used to playing more minutes and playing against the top six on a more consistent basis.”
Burke said he has seen flashes of the player he ultimately believes Uberti will become.
“We’re seeing him more engaged and that’s when he’s at his best, when he’s skating, when he’s physical and into the game,” Burke said. “He’s got some great tools and sometimes he doesn’t even realize how strong and fast and good he actually is.”
Burke has emphasized to Uberti realize playing good defence will lead to more offensive opportunities.
“A huge part of playing on a top line and being a guy you can rely on is being able to play against the best guys in the league,” Burke said. “If you’re cheating for offence because you think that’s what a top-six forward does, then you’re going to find yourself off those jobs. He’s had to take pride in back checking and reading the play. The centre down low coverage in the D zone is important. Once he started to get that down, then he was able to take off and his offensive instincts really started to take hold.
“They are no shortcuts. You don’t go from being out of the lineup to being a 30-goal scorer. You start out in your own end, clean that stuff up, be hard to play against, and then the confidence will grow and if you’re talented like Jake is, then he’s able to create offence for us as well, but he’s got to make sure it all starts in the D zone.”
“I think at the end of the day all the guys want to do is win and we’ll do anything it takes to win,” he said. “If that means sacrificing a bit of offence to really shut down on defence and close out a game I think everyone is really happy to do that.
“We just have to worry about our 200-foot game on a whole as opposed to worrying about scoring goals or getting points.”
The IceDogs, 17-23-4-1, are home to the Ottawa 67’s (36-7) Thursday and the Barrie Colts (19-21-2-2) Friday. The IceDogs hold down the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference with 39 points, seven up on the Kingston Frontenacs and three behind the Colts.
With 23 games remaining, Burke said the goal is to make the playoffs while still using the final weeks as an audition for some of the younger players.
“It’s a fine balance of keeping our eye on the day-to-day and obviously trying to win as many games as we can and get into the playoffs and see what happens,” he said. “That’s my No. 1 goal and focus. In the back of all of our minds, it’s also where these guys are going to be next year and the year after and the year after that.
“There are guys that if we don’t think they can help us win a championship here, then we may be looking at replacements. Saying that, we all believe and have a ton of confidence in every guy on our roster and feel like we have what could be a championship core in our locker room already. (There’s) obviously a ton of work to do, and the guys have to prove they are.”
Uberti said the IceDogs remain confident despite their recent struggles.
“Everyone on the team is still very capable,” he said. “We have to go into each game that we can win because anything can happen on any given night. All the guys have a very good attitude and we’re looking to string together a couple of wins by the end of the season.”
Andrew Bruder is expected to return to the lineup Thursday. Issac Enright, Ivan Lodnia and Ethan Sims, who are all out with upper body injuries, are listed as week-to-week.
PINK IN THE RINK
Friday’s game will be the annual Pink in the Rink game, in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), Niagara Branch. All funds raised from the game, through various opportunities throughout the game, will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society in Niagara, with a focus on women’s cancers.
The IceDogs will be wearing speciality pink jerseys, as they have for the past 12 seasons, to commemorate the partnership. For the first time ever, the pink jerseys will don the names of player’s and fan’s loved ones who have been affected by cancer. Those who donated to have their loved one’s name on the jersey also had the option to receive a replica t-shirt, to match the jerseys. All game worn jerseys will be auctioned live post-game, through Luke’s Auctions.
In addition to the jersey auction, the Niagara IceDogs will have commemorative 2020 Pink in the Rink memorabilia on sale, with all funds being donated to the CCS, in Niagara. Black and grey t-shirts with the same ribbon along the centre of the jersey will be sold on the concourse for $10. The t-shirts will be sold Thursday and Friday, while quantities last.
Commemorative mystery pucks will also be sold on the concourse for $5 on Jan. 31. Every puck will be signed by a member of the IceDogs in black, however select mystery pucks will be signed in gold. Anyone who selects a gold puck will win a prize to be redeemed at the jersey raffle table. Prizes include a 2015-16 team signed pink stick, a signed IceDogs jersey, and donations from CCS. A coin collection will also take place during stoppages in play in the first period.
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