Buffalo Junior Sabres General Manager and Coach Michael Peca has been named Ontario Junior Hockey League Executive of the Year, the league announced Monday.
The award is presented annually to the executive judged to have exceeded expectations in his role with his team.
Peca, 38, put together a roster — featuring 14 Western New Yorkers — that won the team’s first division title in the OJHL and finished first in its conference (and second overall in the league) in just his second season as GM.
The ex-Buffalo Sabres captain is also in his first full season as the Junior Sabres’ coach, guiding them to a 38-12-5 regular season — their first division title since 1993-94 (when they played in the North American Hockey League) and the No. 11 ranking out of 128 Canadian Junior A teams.
Buffalo completed a sweep of its first-round West Division playoff foe Burlington on Sunday and awaits a second-round opponent in a series that will begin next week.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized this way,” Peca said in a statement released by the team. “The goal coming in this season was to create a culture in which young men ... could flourish, yet understand the value of hard work, accountability and that the team always comes first. ... We are fortunate our organization has so many great hockey people that all share the same passion for these kids.”
“They’ve done some nice things over the year recognizing our players,” team president Larry Playfair said of the league, “and now recognizing Michael is a classy move.”
Perhaps Peca’s best offseason move was signing forward Tyler Gjurich of Erie, Pa., who earned first-team OJHL honors after leading the league in scoring (53 goals and 97 points in 53 games).
He keyed a Buffalo offense that led the OJHL with 249 goals in 55 games. Nine players on the team recorded at least 35 points during the season. Second-line forward Ryan Schmelzer of East Amherst recorded 24 goals and 67 points.
Meanwhile, Army-bound goalie Parker Gahagen’s 29 wins ranked second in the league.
Peca also made an in-season deal, acquiring Nick Scamurra from Hamilton to improve the Junior Sabres’ depth. Scamurra had four goals and 11 points in 18 games with Buffalo.