Late Sunday morning, I was checking Twitter before lunch and saw a post from TVA Reporter Renaud Lavoie that stopped me in my tracks. “It is with sadness that I just learned of the passing of Steve Montador.”
I stopped right there.
I was speechless. I immediately told my wife. She had a devastated look on her face. She told me Steve had just updated a Facebook picture a day or so before on his page. I called one of our former players and teammates of Steve to see if they had heard the story. Word had spread quickly and I started to receive messages to see if I knew anything.
My mind immediately flashed back to July 1, 2009. We had just announced that Steve had signed with our club as a free agent. I remember calling him on the phone to introduce myself and welcome him to the team. I vividly remember at the end of our conversation him saying, “I’ll tell you this right off the hop man: I’m going to ask you for a lot of stuff, but I’ll always be there when you need me for anything. Deal? Thanks brother, see you in a few weeks.” I remember thinking, ‘oh wonderful!’
Sure enough, about two weeks before training camp, I went into the practice rink where a bunch of the players were skating getting ready for the season. I walked into the locker room to say hi to a few players and this guy come up to me with floppy, messy hair, scruffy face and tattoos on his chest and arms. He put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Chris, I’m Steve. We need to talk.”
Steve went on to tell me in great detail about a few charities he was working with over the summer that needed some help with. This would be the first of many “talks” we would have. “Talks” would mean that he needed something for this person or “I gave your number to this guy or girl that is going to call you.” It was all to help others and it never bothered me. When Steve would talk about a charity like Right to Play or just going to visit a hospital, he would get that look in his eye and that smirk on his face.
Over the next few years, I would have the honor and privilege of working with Steve. He was a very charismatic person that would grab your attention from the moment you said hello or good morning. He had such a passion for the game, and for life in general. Steve loved telling stories of guys he played with or places he had been.
But the one thing that always made him smile more than ever was when he was speaking about helping other people. As our team had its ups and downs, Monty stayed true to his words. Wins or losses, great games or a healthy scratch, Steve would always say, “Need me in the room tonight?”
My thoughts turned to one night after a home game in the middle of Steve’s second season with the Sabres. It was a tough loss and Steve had a crucial turnover that led to the winning goal. After the game, I reminded him there was a young fan battling an illness that was going to be visiting our locker room, and asked if he wouldn’t mind saying hi to them. Upset and heartbroken five minutes earlier answering media questions, Steve immediately said to me with a smile, “What’s her name? I want to make sure I say hi to her and spell her name right on the stick I want to give her. And by the way, can you ask Willie (Equipment manager Dave Williams) for a stick? He will kill me if I ask him for another one! He won’t kill you.”
So he got showered and sure enough sat down at his stall with the girl. Steve asked her about her family, her favorite things and how she was doing. He spent what seemed like a half hour with her. The next morning I said to him how much I appreciated that he took a few minutes to spend with our guest the night before. He said to me “Bando, there’s one thing I know brother - always try to find time for others when you can, because you never know what that time will mean to them.”
I finally thought about the last time I saw Steve. I was in NYC for the annual NHL Media Tour in September. I was at the NHL Store looking at t-shirts for my kids when someone grabbed my arm from behind and said “Bando, you better call Kim because you have absolutely no clue what sizes your kids wear!” I turned around and we gave each other a big hug, laughed and caught up for about 10 minutes.
We talked about a lot of things. I knew that Steve had gone through a lot over the past few years, as we would trade texts with each other every few months. We talked about family and the organization. Steve told me about how he was going to be a dad and how he was excited to get things planned out. Steve already knew a lot about my kids, and even shared a birthday with my son, Charlie, who was born in 2009. Steve always got a kick out of that. Ironically, Charlie played in his first ever hockey game over the weekend. He was given a jersey with the number four on it.
Anyone who spent time with Monty knew how much he would overthink things and sometimes tries to be coy about info. You knew that he told everyone the same things, but he would pretend that it was a big secret! I knew this would be no different, especially on things he cared about! I’ll never forget that last time we said goodbye to each other.
As I returned to the rink for our game on Sunday, we all shared stories. Some of the players had spoken to Monty less than 48 hours before his death. Shock, disbelief and sadness filled our minds and hearts. The one thing we will always have is the stories and memories we shared with him. As he was sometimes on his “own program,” I am honored that I had the opportunity to have spent a little bit of time in Monty’s world. Sometime he just did what he had to do.
I have not met many people that constantly wanted to learn and grow as a person as much as Monty did. At times he was all over the map, literally and figuratively, but that was him. “The most interesting man in the world” had nothing on Steve.
Steve had gone though alot, forged through and changed his life many times before. That’s what made the news of his passing so difficult to comprehend. He had battled through so much and was on his way to the next stage of his life. Steve cared so much. He was a true professional and a genuine person. When he spoke to you, he listened and was engaged in the conversation.
To his family, my thoughts and prayers go out to you. Please know the impact he made on all those that crossed his path. He was truly a unique man that loved, cared and respected people.
Steve was a proud man that left more of an impression on people than he ever knew. To mimic his words, I don’t think he knew how much the time he spent with us actually meant to us.
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
It takes a lot of big-name players and valuable assets to make a blockbuster trade.
When the Buffalo Sabres traded Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues last season, a lot of focus was put on the first-round pick the Sabres acquired in 2015, the conditional pick that became a third-rounder in 2016, wing Chris Stewart and goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
One piece of the trade that might have easily fallen under the radar was the prospect Buffalo also received in the deal, forward William Carrier.
“He was a first-round touted kid that missed half the season with an ankle injury. He’s got size. He’s got skill,” Sabres general manager Tim Murray said at the time of the trade. “He’s got stuff that we have to help him with and that’s another part of it. We’re going to try to really buckle down here with our development program and help young guys get better. He’s just that – he’s a prospect.”
Sabres fans got their first live look at the 19-year-old wing last week during the team’s development camp at First Niagara Center.
Carrier, who now checks in at 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, finished that injury-shortened draft season with 16 goals and 42 points in 34 games with Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was selected in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Blues (57th overall) and then went on to sign a three-year entry level contract later that summer.
Last season, Carrier recorded 22 goals and 65 points in 66 games with Cape Breton and then Drummondville. Then he moved again when St. Louis and Buffalo came to an agreement on the evening of Feb. 28.
“I wasn’t really surprised with the trade,” he said. “I just didn’t think the trade would be that big. ”
Carrier said that the Sabres had scouted him a few times during the season and he talked with them a few times before the 2013 Draft, so he was already pretty familiar with some members of the organization.
However, he missed the end of last season with an ankle injury and was unable to join the Rochester Americans for their playoff run. He'll likely be with the Amerks in the fall.
“I was close to getting there,” he said. “I was going to show up for the second series.”
With his size and skill level, Carrier likes to see that teams around the League are attempting to model their lineups after that of the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings.
“It seems like all the teams in the NHL are looking for big power forwards now. I’m happy with that,” he said.
He also thinks he's capable of filiing any role asked of him.
"If I get some checks, score some goals, I can play anywhere," Carrier said.
During the Blue & White Scrimmage last week, he did some things on the ice that impressed Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy.
“I thought early in the game, he was feeling himself out. He made a great power move to the net, put another one off the crossbar. He fended a defender off with his body,” Cassidy said. “That’s what we expected to get as a player.
“We need to see a lot of more of that obviously, but initially, there’s a good frame there and he’s a big kid. He’s already a pretty heavy kid. He can play heavy and I think he’s going to continue to grow that frame and be a physical presence for us and a guy that can contribute offensively.”
The biggest things Carrier said he would like to work on are using his size more and adjusting to the speed of the professional ranks.
“The game is pretty physical,” he said. “It’s a lot more than where I played last year.”
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
In a rink in Edmonton, where he played hockey growing up, Tyler Ennis was about to take the ice last week when he took a call that will impact the rest of his life.
While on the phone with his agent, the 24-year-old center agreed to a new five-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres. Then he hit the ice.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how far I’ve come’ and really how excited I am to be a Buffalo Sabre,” he told Andrew Peters and Rob Ray on Sabres Hockey Hotline on Tuesday.
Later that day, he went to his parents’ house to make the contract official. He joked that he didn’t get too emotional.
“When we signed it, they were a little teary-eyed. Being the tough guy that I am, I didn’t cry but I was holding it back a little bit,” he said. “It was pretty cool. I’m proud and I’m really excited to improve my game and take Buffalo to the next level. It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
Last week after development camp wrapped up at First Niagara Center, Sabres general manager Tim Murray said while he’s not sure what position Ennis might play five years from now – whether he’s at center or on the wing – he does see a role for Ennis on the team.
“He had 21 goals this year on a not-very good team, playing as a No. 1 center, getting the bad matchups. I thought considering his slow start – I wasn’t here for that but I keep being told about it – he had a pretty successful year individually,” Murray said. “Hopefully that translates into having a better year with better players around him.”
Murray has already started to add talented veterans to the roster. On July 1, he signed wings Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson and traded for defenseman Josh Gorges. They’re players that can not only contribute offensively, but also provide a leadership presence in the locker room.
Moulson played 44 games for the Sabres last season and spent a lot of time on a line with Ennis and Drew Stafford. Ennis was happy to see the three-time 30-goal scorer return to Buffalo.
Ennis will look to learn from Moulson, Gionta, Gorges and the other older players like he did when he entered the NHL back in 2009-10.
“I think when I first came in to the League, our whole room was full of leaders,” he said. “I remember guys like Mike Grier. They were awesome for everyone.”
Ennis said that he and defenseman Tyler Myers are among the players already on the team that will be looked upon to step up as leaders.
“It’s time for us to take over now,” Ennis said. “It’s a good balance of older guys, middle guys ready to take over and lot of great young kids coming up.”
As far as the center ice position goes, Ennis knows he still has lots to improve on. While he did score a career-high 21 goals last season, he’d like to work on winning more faceoffs and being better in his own end, particularly down low.
“I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do still”
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
Few prospects have seen their offensive production escalate in the past two seasons as much as Nicholas Baptiste has.
After recording only eight goals and 27 points in his first season with the Sudbury Wolves in 2011-12, Baptiste broke out with 21 goals and 48 points in 2012-13, thanks in large part to a strong second-half surge. That outburst helped him to get drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft (69th overall).
But in 2013-14, he reached new heights.
Baptiste racked up 45 goals and 89 points and was a plus-20 through 65 games. In five playoff games, he picked up a goal and four assists.
“My season last season was definitely my best season thus far,” he said. “I think I’ve really upped my level of intensity and the way I play. I’ve started to believe in myself a little more and in my abilities. I think I’m going to put up big numbers this season so I’m really happy with how I played.”
That confidence helped him to what he feels was his best season yet. In the year-end Ontario Hockey League’s Coaches Poll, he was named the Eastern Conference’s Best Shootout Skater and finished second to Barrie’s Andreas Athanasiou as the best skater in the conference.
He just missed the cut for Team Canada’s World Junior roster in December but he said he gained a lot of confidence from being there.
He’s been invited back to Team Canada’s World Junior camp and will attend next month with Buffalo’s 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart. He’s seen what it’s going to take to make the team and feels he has a great chance to do so this year.
“I needed to be more consistent in my own end and I think that this season in Sudbury, I elevated myself in terms of shooting the puck and getting pucks to the net and going to the net hard,” he said. “I think that was part of the reason for why I was so successful with my numbers.”
The 18-year-old right ring has developed a knack for scoring goals, but he’s shown some versatility as well. He’s also capable of throwing the body around and playing a more physical style.
“I feel like I’ve developed my game and I’ve really shown that when Buffalo drafted me that I was a player that maybe went a little later than I thought I might’ve,” he said. “But I wanted to show that I could be a guy that could point produce and play a third-fourth line role as well.”
Right out of the gate, Baptiste showed he has a nose for the net.
At the NHL Prospects Tournament hosted by the Detroit Red Wings in Traverse City, Mich. in September, Baptiste finished second overall in scoring with seven points (4+3) in four games. He carried that momentum into the season and hasn’t stopped yet.
He signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Buffalo in May and hopes to make himself a part of Buffalo’s future plans. During the Blue & White Scrimmage during development camp last week, Baptiste scored in a winning effort for his squad. Then in the 3-on-3 tournament on Friday, his team overcame a last-place finish in the round-robin to win a playoff game.
The camp featured 13 first- and second-round picks from the past five drafts including Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen, Mark Pysyk, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and Brendan Lemieux.
“When you see a team of prospects like this who are all so good, you think to yourself, ‘I could be on that team.’” he said. “And you really expend yourself to make that team next year.”
An intense week of practices at First Niagara Center for Buffalo Sabres development camp culminated Friday in a 3-on-3 tournament. The Sabres prospects broke off into seven teams with games played on each half of the rink.
General manager Tim Murray said the tournament was one of the best ways to gauge how his prospects have developed, even moreso than the intra-squad Blue & White Scrimmage played Tuesday night.
“It’s a battle. Everything’s a battle,” Murray said. “The guys that don’t battle, they’re on the periphery, they don’t have a big impact. It’s a lot harder type of game than it is end-to-end.
“Now it’s tougher on some players, too and I understand that. I get that the guys that are smart and skilled, it might not be in their wheelhouse. But that’s what scouting’s about, put guys in situations that probably aren’t their best situation and see how they react.”
The final game of the tournament pitted Team Gray against Team Gold after 21 round-robin games and then single-elimination play. Mark Pysyk and Hudson Fasching traded goals for Gray and Gold, respectively. In the closing minutes, it was Mikhail Grigorenko with a one-time shot that beat goaltender Nathan Lieuwen for the victory.
“It was pretty intense out there,” Grigorenko said. “Everyone wants to win, but you also need to be really smart, just understand how to play within the rules they told us to play.”
“Three-on-three’s are typically a little bit more fun and a lot more skilled game, but today, everybody out there was competitive and wants to win,” Pysyk said. “You saw that where guys were hitting, guys were backchecking in a sense and it was pretty intense out there.”
Grigorenko showed how far he has come as a prospect during camp, and his performance throughout the 3-on-3 tournament put his skills on display for a large crowd of fans.
“I was just trying to have as much fun as I can,” Grigorenko said. “I just really wanted to win the tournament, and I was just going to try to get the puck and just go on offense. I thought that worked pretty good.”
Despite losing in the championship matchup, Fasching was encouraged by how much he learned in the camp’s competitive setting.
“I think it was really a competitive day – competitive and intense and I think it was a lot of fun out there,” he said. “We were battling out there and it was just a lot of fun.”
Although his Team Teal lost to Team Gold in the semifinal round, Rasmus Ristolainen’s play stood out in particular. After dishing out hits on Nikita Zadorov and Colin Jacobs, Ristolainen turned around and scored the final goal in what would be a 3-2 loss.
“I was kind of pissed off that we were losing so we got a couple good goals there, but it wasn’t enough,” Ristolainen said. “Every time when I’m playing, it’s serious. I try to get the puck, I try to compete and I try to hit everything.”
Fasching, who was bloodied after a hit from the Finnish defenseman, marveled at how the size of the prospects at camp raised the level of competition.
“There’s not a lot of guys like that out there,” Fasching said referring to Ristolainen. “It’s definitely given me a different perspective and I think it makes you better as you’re playing against really good players.”
After winning the final matchup, Grigorenko, Pysyk, Justin Kea, Drake Caggiula, and Liam Pecararo hoisted the French Connection Trophy, which was introduced this year and will be awarded to the annual winner of the tournament.
Buffalo Sabres prospects will take the ice at First Niagara Center at 10:30 a.m. for the inaugural 3-on-3 tournament. The camp will wrap up as soon as a champion is named.
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What went down at Development Camp on Thursday? Brian Duff has you covered.
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
The Buffalo Sabres have recently added a large number of prospects with size to the organization. This change has taken place at every position, helping to increase the physicality throughout this week’s development camp.
Defenseman Anthony Florentino and center Justin Kea were two players largely responsible for setting the tone Tuesday night during the Blue & White scrimmage. Kea (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and Florentino (6-for-1, 212 pounds) each made their presence felt throughout the night, but fans took notice at two moments where these heavyweights collided.
Three minutes into the scrimmage, Florentino delivered the first big hit of the night. Kea chipped a pass forward to begin the forecheck for Team White, and Florentino caught the larger Kea off-balance, dropping him to the ice.
Kea took the hit in stride and said it was part of being a gritty hockey player.
“It’s not always a bad thing taking a big hit in the first shift,” he said. “Usually I like to give the first big hit, but taking it isn’t bad because it gets me into the game.”
With about six minutes remaining in the second period, Kea got even. Florentino was looking for a fight and engaged Kea. After each party landed a couple of punches, Kea tackled Florentino to the ice.
“I asked him, it wasn’t out of dislike because he’s a real good kid,” Florentino said of the fight. “I ate breakfast with him the day of the game initially. Our team went down another goal and the last shift before, [Kea] said ‘Next shift?’ so I said, ‘All right.’
“I’m just trying to earn my spot out there. Whatever it takes, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve got three older brothers, so I’m used to getting hit in the face plenty of times. I thought it was my time to step in and do what I could.”
Coach Chadd Cassidy saw the scrum as two guys leaving it all out on the ice.
“Everybody’s got their niche in the game and they’ve got to find their way to get noticed,” he said. “If there’s one thing we’ve preached to the guys, it’s play your game and play it like you would if it’s the middle of February. Florentino and Kea saw an opportunity there and it’s a good thing, I think. That’s what we need in this organization.”
Fresh off his first season at Providence College, Florentino was accustomed to the speed he has seen at Sabres development camp, but this week has proven to be challenging for different reasons.
“The speed was similar to college; what was different was the strength of guys,” Florentino said. “The guys I’m playing against in college are a lot older, but at the pro level guys have to be stronger than ever because everyone’s a man in [the NHL].”
Thursday, development camp attendees worked with skating coach Dawn Braid. Kea has been working with her for the last month. He thinks Improving his skating and technique could help him gain more time with the Rochester Americans after playing one game there last season.
“I’m just working hard this summer to get better, skating with Dawn, and I’ve got a skills guy I’m working with,” Kea said. “I’m trying to do anything I can to be in the lineup in Rochester next year.”
Florentino and Kea will each get one more chance to impress the fans, coaches, and front office. The Sabres prospects will break into seven teams for a 3-on-3 tournament that starts Friday morning at 10:30 a.m.
SabresTV's Brian Duff chatted with defenseman Jerome Leduc on Thursday at Sabres Development Camp.
Development camp invitee Drake Caggiula talks about his experience this week with the Sabres.
The 20-year-old wing (5-foot-10, 176 pounds) scored twice in the Blue & White Scrimmage on Tuesday and will play at North Dakota in the fall for his junior season.
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
Camp is tough, but it’s a lot of fun. Coming in here, I didn’t really know anybody or anything like that. Nerves are high as it’s my first camp. I have a few expectations for myself and so far I’ve met them. Overall, I’ve had a great time.
My linemates Tim Schaller and Kevin Sundher were good all game Tuesday. The pace of the scrimmage was very fast. It started off real high, but it’s summertime so the pace kind of slowed down a bit. Guys started making mistakes and that’s when the goals started to happen.
My goal is always to be the hardest working guy on the ice. I’m not the biggest guy by all means and with my size, I always say I have to work harder out there.
Because I didn’t get drafted, it adds a little more fuel to the fire as motivation for myself. I kind of use it to prove people wrong, like, ‘Well, maybe you should have drafted me.’ At this point, it’s over and free agent life isn’t too bad. And here I am at a development camp anyway. It all works out. I’ve just got to keep working hard to get better.
Being small, you’ve got to be strong and you’ve got to be heavy on the puck and all that. Going to college, that definitely gives me a little extra time to develop physically. Being a free agent right now and being a little bit smaller gives me more time to develop and set me up for a bit of a different future.
My freshman year was kind of up-and-down, and I thought last year – my sophomore year – I kind of stepped it up and became a lot more consistent. Obviously I want to do a little bit better than that this coming year and step into a big leadership role there, whether it’s with a letter or not.
I just have to be a leader on and off the ice and contribute to my team in all sorts of ways.