2023-2024 San Diego Sabers Season Recap

by Lyanna Yeow

By the end of the 2023-2024 USPHL regular season, the San Diego Sabers ended in 6th place in the Pacific Division with 31 points and a record of 15-30-1-0. The Sabers faced a lot of hardships during the regular season as they lost their first three-game series against their rival, the Ontario Jr. Reign, which made for a rocky start to the 2023-2024 regular season. They had close games during the first half of the regular season, however, they tended to fall short-handed. There were a few exceptions during the first half of the season where the Sabers were able to pull through and secure a couple of wins before the Las Vegas Showcase. The Sabers came to life as they swept the Las Vegas Showcase and won all four of their matchups. Multiple hat-tricks occurred during the showcase which were recorded by Tristan Frizado (2 HT), Justin Ouellet (1 HT), Mario Paganini (1 HT), and Jackson Litzinger (1 HT). Despite facing some adversity in their following matchups after their successful Las Vegas Showcase, the Sabers were able to secure a couple more wins before the end of the regular season. Teams outside of the Las Vegas Showcase that the Sabers were able to win against include the Lake Tahoe Lakers, Vernal Oilers, Las Vegas Thunderbirds, Bakersfield Roughnecks, and the Long Beach Shredders. Everyone’s collective efforts throughout the season, especially during the occasions when the Sabers were able to secure the win, contributed to the Sabers’ success and ultimately helped the Sabers to end the season strong. 

Notable Players

Mario Paganini

Mario Paganini returned to play for the San Diego Sabers after a trade between the Sabers and the Vernal Oilers and his presence on the team was exceptional. Altogether, Paganini had 43 G, 64 A, and 107 PTS in 35 games played between the Oilers and Sabers during the Premier 2023-2024 season. Paganini played 10 games with the Oilers and mustered 18 points which consisted of 8 goals, 10 assists, and one hat-trick recorded in the matchup between the Vernal Oilers and the Rogue Valley Royals on October 15, 2023. After joining the Sabers, Paganini was able to record a total of 89 points before the regular season ended. This consisted of 35 goals and 54 assists within the 25 games that he played with the Sabers. Paganini had a total of 4 hat-tricks recorded while being with the Sabers during the 2023-2024 regular season. His first hat trick with the Sabers occurred during the Las Vegas Showcase matchup on December 19, 2023, against the Casper Roughnecks. Paganini scored three goals during the first period of the game and ended with a Sabers overtime win with a final score of 6-5. Paganini’s most remarkable games were the matchups when the Sabers faced the Long Beach Shredders in the second half of the season. During the January 19, 2024 matchup against the Shredders, Paganini had a total of 11 points by the end of the game. These points consisted of a hat-trick after scoring 5 goals and assisting 6 goals which all contributed to the Sabers’ 21-2 win. Paganini’s presence during the last game of the 2023-2024 regular season was remarkable as he recorded two hat-tricks and a total of 14 points. These 14 points consisted of 8 goals and 6 assists which contributed to the Sabers’ 20-4 final score. Paganini has played for the San Diego Sabers in the past. He played during the Premier 2022-2023 season where he was able to score 25 goals and assist 29 goals which totaled 54 points. His efforts with the Sabers rewrote the Sabers’ history books as he created a new Franchise All-Time Points record of 143 PTS, Franchise All-Time Goal of 60 G, and Franchise All-Time Points Per Game of 2.75 PPG. Surpassing the previous records during his senior year, Mario Paganini has left his mark on the Sabers’ records and we wish him the best as he moves on with future endeavors. 

“A lot of credit to Nick Perez and Dom. They took me at my lowest this year, and have turned me into a much better player and man. Couldn’t have done any records without my linemates Tristan and Justin, would’ve never happened without them, they’re both players with miles more potential than me and I wish them the absolute best moving forward” - Mario Paganini

“Mario Paganini - Hands down one of the hardest working guys I have coached. He knew he was good but he always listened to me when I had something to change in his game or on a play. He never brushed off the comments or ideas I had for his game. The hard work never stopped. He would walk everywhere he went and work out twice a day. His practice and work ethic also made this team better. He came to practice every game and made everyone compete to his level or you looked silly. He came from a bad spot mentally and I was happy to know this team and city helped him get to a better place mentally. Mario is going to have a great college career and pro career because of the way he won't stop working.” - Nick Perez (San Diego Sabers Head Coach) comment about Mario Paganini.

Tristan Frizado

Tristan Frizado was another player whose presence shined during the 2023-2024 regular season as he ended the season with a total of 92 points. His total points consisted of 34 goals and 58 assists within the 38 games that he played during the season. Another thing to highlight about Frizado is his 100% shootout percentage. This was recorded after Frizado scored a shootout goal during the Sabers’ matchup against the Bakersfield Roughnecks on February 11, 2024, which helped the Sabers secure a 6-5 win. Games that were remarkable in contributing to Frizado’s 92 total points and 58 assists were against the Long Beach Shredders. Matchups against the Long Beach Shredders totaled up to 44 PTS, 13 G, and 31 A. Frizado recorded 5 hat-tricks during the regular season. His first two hat-tricks recorded were on December 18, 2023, against the Rogue Valley Royals and Isanti Outlaws which contributed to the impressive Sabers wins (SDS vs RVR, W8-5 and SDS vs ISO, W7-5). His third hat trick was recorded on January 19, 2024, against the Shredders after he scored 4 goals which contributed to the Sabers’ 21-2 win. Frizado’s 4th and 5th hat-trick occurred during the Sabers’ two-series games against the Shredders. His fourth hat-trick was recorded on February 22, 2024, after he scored 3 goals and had 5 assists which contributed to the Sabers’ 14-1 win in Game 1 of the two-game series. Frizado then helped the Sabers close out with another triumphant 20-4 win against the Shredders as he scored 4 goals and assisted 10 goals. His 4 goals during Game 2 of the two-game series at the end of the season recorded his 5th hat-trick of the 2023-2024 regular season. Frizado’s performance during the regular season also rewrote the Sabers’ history books as he created a new All-Time Points Per Season record of 92 PTS and All-Time Assists Per Season of 58 A. Surpassing the previous records during his first USPHL season, Tristan Frizado has left his mark in the Sabers’ records.

“I came into this season with high expectations and I wanted to prove to everybody that I was an elite player. I started the season in Sweden but I had visa problems that stopped me from playing for 2 months, my agent then found me a deal to come play in San Diego. When I got this chance I was determined to take this opportunity and make the most of it. My dream is to play pro one day and my entire life is dedicated to becoming the best player I can be. I wanna thank Coach Nick, GM Dom, my billet family, my family and friends in Canada, and last but not least my teammates who surrounded me this season and welcomed me with open arms in the team.” - Tristan Frizado

"I think getting him to change some stuff mentally really helped his game this season. He was able to grasp the talks that we had. He figured out everything we talked about came from a good place because I know what a special kid and player he can be. As you can tell with his amazing points, he got that he was able to grow as a person and player this season. With all the ups and downs we had, I feel so much better as his coach to see him go on to the next level and blossom into a star. I am very happy I was able to coach Tristian. He knows that I will always be his biggest supporter going forward.” - Nick Perez (San Diego Sabers Head Coach) comment about Tristian Frizado.

Jacob Therrien

Jacob Therrien’s presence on and off the ice has shaped his game. With a total of 9 goals and 40 assists, he ended the 2023-2024 regular season with 49 points. 49 points which also places Jacob as the franchise all-time points leader for a defenseman since the Sabers entered the USPHL in 2020.  What makes Therrien standout this past regular season was his 148 penalty minutes which is the most penalty minutes recorded in the San Diego Sabres' history. Looking deeper into Therrien's game-by-game stats, it is evident that he had the most tension with the Las Vegas Thunderbirds (47 PIM) and the Lake Tahoe Lakers (33 PIM). Other teams that contributed to his 148 total PIM include Long Beach Shredders (24 PIM), Vernal Oilers (18 PIM), Ontario Jr. Reign (14 PIM), Fresno Monsters (10 PIM), and the Isanti Outlaws (2 PIM). Therein surprisingly did not seem to have tension between the Bakersfield Roughnecks, Riverside Valley Royals, Casper Roughnecks, and the Seattle Totems, as he did not record any PIMs during any matchups against those teams. His efforts with the Sabers during the 2023-2024 regular season rewrote the Sabers’ history books as he created a new All-Time PIM Per Season record of 148 PIM. Even though this may not be the most coveted record, Jacob Therrien has made his mark with the Sabers inside and outside of the penalty box. 

“Jacob Therrien - One of the most hated players in the division but in his second season in San Diego and taking over the Captain position after Felix went down on a season-ending injury, I felt Jacob grew as a player so much and more off the ice. He was someone I could trust on the Ice. Having the most PIMS isn't anything to brag about but he played a physical game that some players can't handle and he always had his players back when anything went down. He will make a Tier ll team very happy if they can grab him. He is still so young and has a ceiling so high.” - Nick Perez (San Diego Sabers Head Coach) comment about Jacob Therrien.  

Comment from Captain Felix Gouin:

Before sharing Captain Felix Gouin’s comment, we want to acknowledge his journey by highlighting the Captain’s season with the Sabers. Felix Gouin was named Captain of the San Diego Sabers during the Premier 2023-2024 season. He played for the Hampton Roads Whalers during the Premier 2021-2022 season before signing with the Sabers for the 2022-2023 season. Gouin had a strong presence during his time with the San Diego Sabers as he had a total of 72 Franchise All-Time Points. Gouin’s 72 all-time points consisted of 35 PTS recorded during the Premier 2022-2023 season and 37 PTS during the Premier 2023-2024. His 37 total points during his senior year with the Sabers consisted of 10 goals and 27 assists. Gouin recorded a hat-trick on October 15, 2023, after scoring 3 goals in Game 2 of the three-game series against the Lake Tahoe Lakers. His contribution in that game helped the Sabers win the series and record their first two wins of the season as the Sabers won both Game 1 and Game 2 of the three-game series with final scores of 5-3 in each game. Throughout the season, Gouin assisted many goals until he suffered a season-ending injury. Gouin worked hard off the ice to come back and push through the injury as he participated in the two-game series against the Long Beach Shredders which closed out the Sabers’ Premier 2023-2024 season. He scored his last point as a Saber in Game 2 of the two-game series on February 23, 2024, after assisting a goal scored by Carson Weiner. Even through the challenges he faced, Felix Gouin’s presence on and off the ice was commendable and we wish him the best as he moves onto future endeavors.

“I signed with the Sabers for the 2022-2023 season after coming back from a knee surgery, came in a little bit late into the season. Started slow but then started to play well and I loved playing for the Sabers and living in California. I decided to come back to the Sabers for the season 2023-2024 and play my last year of junior hockey for the Sabers. I got named Captain of the team and was happy and grateful. I started the season strong even though our team was having problems winning. We stayed positive and got our first win of the season in Lake Tahoe, that was a really good feeling we were all proud. Sadly my season ended in December because of a knee injury again but I am really glad that I got to play this season with all the guys. I want to thank Nick and Dom for everything they have done for me. I had a lot of fun and good memories in San Diego.” - Felix Gouin

Comments from San Diego Sabers Head Coach, Nick Perez:

After taking time to reflect upon the San Diego Sabers’ season and his first year of being the Head Coach of the Sabers’ Premier 2023-2024 season, Nick Perez had the following comments. 

"I am very blessed and thankful for getting this chance to head coach the San Diego Sabers. Being able to coach players from all over North America and even Europe, and being able to make a difference in their lives on and off the ice, is a privilege. My players know how big of a deal it is to be good people off the ice because spending more time off the ice being good citizens and making other people happy is what I take pride in. I can say that I got through to these players, and they move on to the next chapter in their lives. Even though we fell short of playoffs, I feel like we were close but just too late. Despite having a short bench most of the season due to injuries, the boys never gave up until the last buzzer. I was happy we fought until the end.

It is my first-year head coaching, and I can say after my 4th season, I have fallen more in love with this game. As a player, I was at the highest level of love for this game, but as a coach, you learn to respect the game more and feel more thankful that you get to teach all types of different styles of players. So, I am very thankful for the opportunity to start this head coaching career. Being a native of SoCal makes coaching in San Diego that much more special. 

Thank you so much to the Ownership group - Tomas Kapusta, Joyce, and Ben Frank, my General Manager Domenick Dicicco for always having my back and helping me learn this season, and my assistants, Scotty Hommel and Andrea Glerum. The best Trainer in the league, Jason Marble-Smith, without you by my side, I would have been lost so, thank you for being mine and the boys' biggest rock of the season. Also, Sabers’ interns, Lyanna and Fiona for helping us stay on track! Scotty and Kelly at Resilient Training, thank you for working with the boys and being another voice to kick their butts in gear, amazing job! The Rink staff - thanks for keeping the rink in great shape and the ice always ready! Thank you all for helping our boys be the best we can be!"