The last thing the Buffalo Sabres need to deal with right now is another injury.
Just before the first period ended in Buffalo’s home game Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, Tyler Myers fell awkwardly in the corner behind his own net. He skated off under some duress, putting little pressure on his right leg.
He returned to start the period on the power play and ended up finishing the game, logging 24:08 of ice time.
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said afterward that they would re-evaluate him in the morning. Come Monday, Myers was not on the ice with the team at practice at First Niagara Center as he was given an extra day to recover.
Nolan expects him to play Tuesday night when the Sabres host the Nashville Predators at 7 p.m.
“Actually, it was a really good sign that it wasn’t as serious as it looked last night, but you never know overnight,” Nolan said. “He had a good night’s rest and he feels pretty good so it was just more of a maintenance day for him. …Lucky stars were on our side, so he’s good to go.”
Once the NHL Trade Deadline passed at the end of last week, the Sabres had a hole to fill at alternate captain. Nolan decided to give the extra “A” to Sabres forward Drew Stafford, who is now in his eighth season with the team. He had served as an alternate captain prior to the start of this season.
Stafford is one of several players including Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers that Nolan is looking to step up into more prominent leadership roles. Stafford and Nolan had a long chat on the ice after practice about where the team is at both mentally and physically.
“The leadership has really changed. The dynamic of the team has really changed and through change, you see some rise to new challenges and some that don’t,” Nolan said. “Right now, it’s a great opportunity for some of these younger guys. You can see it in several of them. They really took it upon themselves.”
Stafford has 11 goals and 26 points on the season and has, along with his center Ennis, really picked up the pace as of late. Stafford has 13 points (7g+6) in his last 14 games while Ennis has 10 points (4+6) in his last 11 games and 18 points (8+10) in his last 21 games.
Ennis and new linemate Cory Conacher assisted on Stafford's goal on Sunday.
The ability to cancel out any outside distractions and focus on hockey again, particularly after Nolan was brought in to coach in November, is one reason Stafford believes that he and Ennis have been maintain their recent high level of play.
“We’ve been able to play with a little bit more freedom,” Stafford said. “We were given a bigger role and then treated with some respect. Confidence can build off that. I think all the external things aside, basically our heads kind of cleared up and we were able to play.”
The beginning of the 2013-14 season didn’t start well for Stafford. He had only three points in October, but since the start of the new calendar year, he’s picked up 13 points (7+6) in 16 games and his averaging .813 points per game in that span.
Nolan has said that, particularly since the team traded away many of its veteran players over the past two weeks, Stafford has really taken on a bigger leadership role.
“Maybe at the start of the season, he didn’t start the year he wanted to but the way he’s stuck through it and they way he’s battled through it, some people question his work ethic once in awhile and he just persevered,” Nolan said. “That, to me, showed real good leadership on his side.”
88 Cory Conacher – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 23 Ville Leino – 65 Brian Flynn
32 John Scott – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis
TAMPA – The Buffalo Sabres did not take the ice Tuesday in Tampa as the NHL Trade Deadline, set for 3 p.m. on Wednesday, inches closer and closer.
The Sabres arrived in Tampa early Tuesday morning and with the possibility that some players may be dealt within the next two days, Nolan decided to give them a chance to spend time with each other away from the rink.
“Their minds are probably not on hockey. Some don’t know if they’re going to be here after today. Who knows who’s going to be here tomorrow?” he told the media at the team's hotel. “Right now they’re here together so I decided to give them a day to really enjoy just being themselves.”
Nolan was also asked about his status with the team and about the possibility of him signing a contract extension. For now, Nolan said he’s not going to concern himself with that and will allow the front office to focus on the trade deadline.
“They don’t need to be negotiating a contract at this point,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m here. I’m trying to do the best job that I possibly can and worrying about the team. We’ve got a bunch of young kids that don’t really know what happened and why it happened. And it’s my job to settle their [nerves], give them some direction, some leadership right now.”
Nolan was hired as coach on Nov. 13 on an interim basis to help get the team moving in the right direction. He previously served as Sabres coach for two seasons from 1995-97. Although this season has been highlighted by some tough times as the team sits in 30th place, Nolan is happy to be coaching in Buffalo again.
“I’m ecstatic to be back. If you’re not disappointed with what’s going on, you’re hiding your emotions,” he said. “I’m a pretty emotional guy so I’m a little bit where that set me back, but as far as the excitement about being here in Buffalo hasn’t altered one bit.”
The Sabres plan to practice Wednesday morning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. They’ll take on the Lightning on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
After a whirlwind of a weekend off the ice, the Buffalo Sabres were met by some new faces at practice Sunday morning.
Forward Chris Stewart and goaltender Jaroslav Halak joined the team on the ice at First Niagara Center for their first practice with the team since being acquired from the St. Louis Blues on Friday for Steve Ott and Ryan Miller.
Between the trade Friday and the sudden resignation of president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine on Saturday, there have been a lot of distractions for a team that’s now won its past three games to deal with.
Interim coach Ted Nolan, who was brought in by LaFontaine in November to help steer the on-ice product back in the right direction, is locked in on what the team needs to do to have success moving forward.
“I think we’re all numb right now so right now, we’re just going to try to get this team focused on the Dallas Stars and that’s our next opponent,” he said. “We’ve got two new players in here and they come into this situation.”
As far as his future with the team is concerned and a possible contract extension, Nolan said he didn’t he didn’t think it was the right time to discuss those matters.
“When you’re emotional, you never want to make emotional comments on anything,” he said. “Yes, we did talk about a contract. Right now, it’s not about the contract. It’s about what’s transpired in this organization, it’s about what happened to a very dear friend and we’ll leave it at that.”
The Sabres jumped on a plane to Dallas after practice in preparation of a Monday night meeting with the Stars. Tyler Ennis should be ready to play after missing the past two games with general body soreness, Jhonas Enroth will start in goal and Stewart will play on a line with Matt D’Agostini and Cody Hodgson.
“The younger players, they need direction and they need coaching,” Nolan said. “They don’t need to hear all this stuff. The one thing about hockey, they go on the ice and they play.”
D’Agostini played with both Stewart and Halak when he was with St. Louis from 2009-13 and also played with Halak when both were in the Canadiens organization.
When D’Agostini was traded from the Blues to the Devils last season, Halak told him they’d be on the same team again at some point down the road.
“I told him we might meet again and here we are,” Halak said.
D’Agostini is looking forward to playing with his old – and new – teammates.
“Definitely no slouches that we go back so we’re happy to have them,” he said.
With the NHL Trade Deadline set for 3 p.m. on Wednesday, more trades occurring that involve the Sabres would not be out of the realm of possibility. The two newest Sabres could potentially be on the move as well.
Both Stewart and Halak have heard the rumors and aware of the possibility that Buffalo may not be their final destination this season.
“As long as I’m here I’m just going to focus 100 percent of my energy on winning hockey games for the Buffalo Sabres,” Stewart said.
The Blues are currently battling for the top spot in the Western Conference and are preparing to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup. The Sabres, on the other hand, sit in 30th place in the League and will miss the playoffs for the second season in a row.
“Obviously it’s tough when you’re traded from almost being the first one to being the last one,” Halak said. “But I’m here and I’m going to try to do my best here when I get a chance.”
Stewart is also looking forward to a new opportunity with the Sabres.
“I’ll tell you, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed at first, but if you think I’m going to come in here and pout and feel sorry for myself, that’s not the kind of person that I am,” he said. “So I’ve got to make the best of this situation and look at the positives. They’ve got a good young team here.”
With Ott now in St. Louis, Nolan said he won’t look to name a new captain right away.
“I don’t think anyone can replace a captain like Steve Ott right now. We’ll pass around the leadership,” Nolan said.
He then singled out Drew Stafford as a player that’s really impressed him lately as a leader.
“We’re going through an emotional period right now and the way Drew handled himself [after] losing one of his close friends and losing your captain, he really stepped up the other night in that room and took the lead,” Nolan said. “He kept his personal feelings behind so that’s what we’re all trying to do right now.”
Tyler Ennis did not practice with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday as he recovers from, in the words of interim coach Ted Nolan, “general body soreness.”
Ennis was scratched for Buffalo’s game Wednesday night against the Boston Bruins but Nolan hopes that his top-line center will be ready for Friday when the San Jose Sharks come to town.
“[He’s] still a little sore. But hopefully, knock on wood, he’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” Nolan said after practice at First Niagara Center. “[It’s] still one of those day-to-day things. He was a lot better today, so hopefully you’ll have a good chance at seeing him at morning skate and we’ll go from there.”
With Ennis out, Ville Leino stepped up to fill his role on a line with Matt Moulson and Drew Stafford. Leino finished the game with two assists as Buffalo came out on top 5-4 in overtime.
“In many ways, I’m more of a playmaker so that’s my first thought,” Leino said. “…Matty and Stafford are goal scorers, so it’s my job to get them the puck and try to make good chances.”
Nolan said he plans to start Ryan Miller in goal Friday night.
Miller spoke with the media about the NHL Trade Deadline and his time in Buffalo. Watch the interview here:
John Scott has filled in as a defenseman in practice numerous times this season. However, since the team has come out of the Olympic break, Scott has been a fixture on the blue line both in practices and now in game situations.
Tuesday night, he played 11:01 on a pairing with Jamie McBain and logged 7:16 of ice time, rotating in as the seventh defenseman on Wednesday.
Scott played defense for most of his career before coming to Buffalo before the start of last season. At 6-foot-8, 259 pounds, he’ll look to use his size to his advantage on the blue line.
“I just try to use my reach. I obviously don’t have the quickest of feet so I just keep my distance,” he said. “I just use my stick and my length and make smart plays out there and not put myself in a bad position where I can get kind of victimized. It’s a fast game and I just try to maintain my position and do my best.”
WATCH: JOHN SCOTT INTERVIEW
There’s still, however, some rust to shake off as well. Scott finished the game against the Bruins with an even rating, but he committed a turnover behind his own net that directly led to a Boston goal.
“Obviously it has its ups and downs. I had a few downs last night, but it happens,” he said. “I haven’t played in two years but it’s been fun. I grew up playing D and I enjoy playing it so hopefully I can get a few more games out there and get a little better.”
Nolan acknowledged that the transition has been a little bumpy, but he likes what he sees out of Scott.
“I thought Johnny looked a lot more comfortable on defense outside of that one play last night,” Nolan said. “To be fair, to throw a guy like that after a number of games, back in his natural position, it’s going to take a little while to get adjusted but I like him on defense more so than forward.”
WATCH: TED NOLAN'S PRESS CONFERENCE
While Scott has been able to step up in various roles this season, he still sees himself as a player who can fill the enforcer role on the team.
“I still think I’m the enforcer. I still think I protect my team but I think I’ve just maybe evolved a little bit and gotten a more regular shift whether it’s on forward or D,” he said. “It’s nice. It’s good to contribute in other ways and put a little tick on my resume where I can play more than just fight.”
With the Sabres currently in 30th place and out of the playoff picture, some major changes could be made to the club’s makeup by the NHL Trade Deadline on March 5.
In spite of the swirling rumors and constant questions about their futures, players like Miller, Moulson and captain Steve Ott – all set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 – have helped Buffalo to consecutive victories coming out of the Olympic break.
WATCH: MATT MOULSON INTERVIEW
Nolan cited them as three important leaders that have been able to remain professional and help their current club be productive in any way they can.
“All these guys maybe have excuses or reasons to say, ‘Hey, it’s a matter of time before we leave.’ No, they’re not doing that,” he said. “They’re paying attention to what they have to do right here right now.”
But what will happen if some of those leaders aren’t around after 3 p.m. on Wednesday? Nolan is confident other players will fill the void.
“That’s the beauty of sports. Sometimes your leadership goes somewhere else and you have to create some new stuff within,” Nolan said. “There are some guys in that room that will have to [assume] those positions.”
26 Matt Moulson – 23 Ville Leino – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
82 Marcus Foligno – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 65 Brian Flynn
37 Matt Ellis – 24 Zenon Konopka – 8 Cody McCormick
The Buffalo Sabres practiced again on Monday and, once again, did so without three of their Olympic athletes.
Nolan is “banking on” Miller starting between the pipes Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at First Niagara Center. One of the biggest issues the players face upon returning from Russia is the time zone changes.
“Maybe it’ll be like playing at 4 a.m. for him,” Nolan said of Miller. “It’ll be a different challenge, but hopefully he has at least some sleep and he’s somewhat awake at that point.”
However, it’s possible that the plan could change.
Depending on how both goaltenders feel leading up to the morning skate on Tuesday, it’s possible that the Sabres could recall a goaltender from their American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester.
Nolan also said that as of now, they don’t plan on bringing up any skaters from the Americans.
“What we’ve got today is what we’ve got for tomorrow,” he said.
WATCH: TED NOLAN'S PRESS CONFERENCE
With 25 games remaining, Nolan has set some goals for the team moving forward so that they can finish the season on a positive note.
“I think moving forward, setting a strong foundation of where we’re going to go to down the road,” he said. “You don’t win championships like the Chicago Blackhawks do overnight. It takes a little time, it takes some growth and it takes a certain amount of work and commitment by your athletes.”
Matt Moulson, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, knows that it’s possible he could be moved by the time the NHL Trade Deadline rolls around on March 5 at 3 p.m.
“I think you guys in the media as a whole have been telling me I’ve been getting traded since the first day I got here,” he joked after practice.
Moulson was acquired from the Islanders with two draft picks for Thomas Vanek on Oct. 27.
He said that he’s only going to concentrate on the aspects of the business he can control, which is primarily his performance on the ice.
A native of Mississauga, Ont., he said his experience as a Sabre so far has been a very positive one.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed my time here,” he said. “Like I said before, I think this team is going to be good. I think they have the right guys in place that are going to make this team good and the owners are willing to do anything to have a successful team. I’ve enjoyed my time here. My family’s enjoyed our time here. We’ll see what happens.”
John Scott left practice early. The 6-foot-8 forward has been practicing as a defenseman while Tallinder is overseas.
“He just fumbled the puck a few times in practice and I didn’t like it,” Nolan said. “In order for us to get better here, we have to practice better. He just had one of those moments and I didn’t like it so we sent him off.”
After being dismissed, Scott snapped his stick and stormed off to the dressing room, slamming the bench door behind him.
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
82 Marcus Foligno / 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 23 Ville Leino – 65 Brian Flynn
37 Matt Ellis – 24 Zenon Konopka – 8 Cody McCormick
With the Olympics just about over, teams are getting back to practice to prepare for the remainder of the NHL regular season. The Buffalo Sabres are no different as they get ready to enter a pretty tough stretch of hockey that begins Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at First Niagara Center.
The game, which was originally supposed to be played on Jan. 7 but postponed due to inclement weather, opens up a three-game homestand over four nights for Buffalo. The team then hits the road next week for three games in five nights against Dallas, Tampa Bay and Florida.
Sabres forward Cody McCormick, who has missed 24 games since sustaining an upper-body injury on Dec. 17 against Winnipeg, is anxious to get back into the swing of things.
“I don’t care if it’s going to be five-in-five. I’ve missed too many games,” he said after practice at First Niagara Center on Saturday. “I want to play. That’s what it’s about right now. My personal feeling is, ‘Let’s play some hockey.’”
McCormick has been a full participant in practice the past two days and has shed a red non-contact jersey in favor of a white one that means he’s ever so closer to returning to the lineup. The team would still need to officially activate him from injured reserve before he can return to action.
Like many members of the team, he was able to use the two-week Olympic break to heal up and he rehabbed his injury to the best of his ability.
“I think everything’s a go, so hopefully – barring any setbacks – I think we’re all set,” he said. “It was something where I could focus 100 percent on it and do everything I had to do to get it to where it needs to be.”
Sabres captain Steve Ott was also able to use the break to rest up and recuperate from any injuries that may have been bothering him. He was also able to spend some time relaxing with his wife and daughter in warmer climates.
“I think every guy in the dressing room and throughout the League probably has a lot of bumps and bruises right around now,” he said. “We’ve played a lot of games in a short period of time and there’s nothing better than to refresh your brain and refresh your body. Just take in the two weeks to get away.”
However, with the upcoming schedule, the next few days of practice are vital for the team when it comes to getting back into a rhythm, especially in terms of on-ice drills.
“After a couple weeks, everyone did something, but there’s nothing like skating to replace or replicate the workout that we go through,” Ott said. “We start right away with a three-in-four situation and it doesn’t get any easier the rest of the way out. We want to be as prepared as possible.”
Buffalo currently has both of their goaltenders, Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth, in Sochi for the Olympics. Enroth, Henrik Tallinder and Team Sweden will face Canada in the gold medal game on Sunday while Miller and Team USA lost on Saturday to Finland in the bronze medal game.
Since Miller will be heading home first, Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said he may lean toward starting him against Carolina. That would likely mean Enroth would play Wednesday night when the Sabres host the Boston Bruins.
With Tallinder also in Sochi, the Sabres have been practicing with five defensemen.
The Sabres sent Chad Ruhwedel back to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League to play during the break and he’s one of a few defensemen, including Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb, who could be called up in the next few days to fill out the roster.
Nolan said that’s an area president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine and general manager Tim Murray are focusing on.
“I’m quite sure come gametime, we’ll have six,” Nolan said. “Not too sure who it’s going to be, but we’ll have six.”
After practice, Ott was preparing to head out to the Buffalo Zoo as part of his “Ott’s Otters” program. Last month, Ott and the Sabres teamed up with the Zoo to sell a limited number of stuffed otters. The otters, each wearing an Ott jersey, came with a card autographed by the Sabres captain.
The Sabres Store at First Niagara Center sold out of the stuffed animals in one day.
“I was blown away with the success,” Ott said. “We completely underestimated it with the amount of actual stuffed animals that we had but maybe next year we’ll have another round at this, we’ll see.”
All proceeds from the sale directly benefit the Buffalo Zoo.
“It’s just the smallest token since we’re all pretty much animal lovers in this dressing room,” Ott said. “It’s just a fun little project I thought about.”
After a long flight back from Sochi, Ted Nolan was on the ice in Buffalo on Friday to lead the Buffalo Sabres in their first practice in two weeks.
Nolan said he arrived back in Buffalo at around 6:30 p.m. Thursday night and didn’t get much sleep before the team’s practice Friday morning at First Niagara Center.
Zemgus Girgensons, who played for Latvia under Nolan in the Olympics, did not skate, but spoke with the media after practice about his experience. The 20-year-old center said he was proud of what Latvia was able to do in his first Olympic Games.
“We believed in ourselves since the first day we got there and even before, just looking at the paper, I knew that’s the best team Latvia probably has had in a long time,” Girgensons said. “I was hoping we can accomplish something good.”
He likely won’t practice for the next few days as he adjusts to the time change and rests up for the rest of the NHL season.
Nolan said he thinks being around some great players on both Latvia and other teams will be extremely beneficial to his development.
“We had some pretty good leadership on that team so Zemgus being around that, being so young, I think [for] his growth, it’s almost like adding another year on to his experience,” he said.
Despite going 0-3-0 in the preliminary round, Latvia was able to defeat the Swiss in the qualification match to advance to the quarterfinals. They played a tight game against Canada, falling 2-1 on a goal by Shea Weber in the third period.
“The way Latvia played, you could tell they were playing without fear and they were competing,” Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said. “That’s exactly what Ted asks for you and you could tell Ted was the coach of that team.”
Despite some injuries and risks that have taken place during the tournament, like a season-ending one for John Tavares of the New York Islanders, Nolan believes that the opportunity to participate in the Olympics shouldn’t be passed up.
“I think it’s worth it. You can get hurt walking across the street and slipping on a piece of ice. Those things happen,” Nolan said. “And to say the event is one of those events you don’t want to take a chance, I think it’s worth every chance there is because it’s a world event, it’s a world-class event to showcase our game.”
Myers said Friday morning that he’s back and set to play. Moulson declared himself as day-to-day with a rib injury. He sustained the injury on Jan. 30 in Phoenix.
“I’ve never had a dislocated rib, but that’s what it felt like at the start,” Moulson said. “But luckily it wasn’t that. A little time off came off came at a pretty good time if there ever is a good time right before the break. Lots of time to rest it, so it’s feeling good now.”
Sabres interim coachTed Nolan received some potentially good news regarding the status of defenseman Tyler Myers on Tuesday.
Myers, who left the team’s game on Monday with a lower-body injury, may be ready to play Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Myers did not participate in practice Tuesday morning at First Niagara but Nolan said that the prognosis wasn’t as serious as they thought after the game.
“It’s a lot better than we thought. It’s more of a day-to-day situation. He was moving around pretty good today and hopefully he moves around real good tomorrow [so] he gets to play,” Nolan said. “He could play tomorrow.”
Miker Weber also missed practice but Nolan thinks he should be able to play as well and Chad Ruhwedel, a healthy scratch against the Oilers on Monday, will be in the lineup as well.
The Sabres and Penguins face off at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The game can be seen nationally on NBCSN.
TICKETS TO WEDNESDAY'S GAME ON SALE NOW
The team’s plan is to send Ruhwedel to Rochester during the Olympic break. He may or not return to the Sabres once they resume play on Feb. 25.
Nolan said Ryan Miller will start against Pittsburgh and may even start in Ottawa on Thursday.
For Miller, the Penguins game is another chance to impress Team USA coach Dan Bylsma, who will be behind the Pittsburgh bench.
“I have to perform at a high level. In hockey, it’s always [about] how you perform,” he said. “I felt like I played a decent game in their building last time and I just want to show that I can be consistent and do it again. Plus it’s a game where I need to bounce back. I was on the bench last game and it’s not very fun.”
Miller was pulled after the second period Saturday afternoon in Colorado after the Avalanche scored five goals on 27 shots. He’s looking to rebound against the highest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference.
WATCH: RYAN MILLER INTERVIEW
“It’s a good team to show off against,” Nolan said. “Pittsburgh is probably one of the most explosive teams in the National Hockey League and Ryan’s probably one of the best goaltenders in the National Hockey League. So he’s going to have a pretty good pretest before the Olympics,” Nolan said.
Miller said he hasn’t received any indication as to what his role on the national team will be, but is preparing like he is going to play every game.
Henrik Tallinder will represent Team Sweden along with goaltender Jhonas Enroth. While Tallinder is looking forward to traveling to Sochi, his focus right now is on the Sabres’ two remaining games.
WATCH: HENRIK TALLINDER INTERVIEW
“You want to get going, but at the same time, you have to focus on your job,” Tallinder said. “Every game, we have to approach it like it’s do or die. Every game now, it’s a battle for us to make sure we’re ready for every game.”
Zemgus Girgensons, who will play for Team Latvia at the Olympics, practiced at center once again and will remain there for the foreseeable future after Nolan had some conversations with general manager Tim Murray.
“I was kind of flip-flopping back-and-forth when I first got here. I put him at center ice because I thought he would be real good [at] center ice. Then you talk to some people and you have that thought, that maybe he’s a power forward. It kind of switched my mind a little bit too,” Nolan explained.
“But then Tim comes in, who’s had a tremendous amount of experience in looking at this. So we kind of go back to sometimes your initial thoughts are probably some of the best. We’ll try him at that position.”
17 Linus Omark – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agositni – 23 Ville Leino
84 Phil Varone – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 65 Brian Flynn
82 Marcus Foligno – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis
Red, Non-Contact: 8 Cody McCormick
Coming off a tough 7-1 loss Saturday night in Colorado, the Buffalo Sabres shook up some of their lines at practice at First Niagara Center on Sunday.
Drew Stafford is set to return to the lineup Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers from an upper-body injury that’s kept him out for the past four games. He skated on a line with Tyler Ennis at center and Linus Omark on the left wing.
Stafford sustained an upper-body injury on Jan. 2 in Minnesota and missed four games because of it. In his first four games back, he recorded three goals and two assists. He re-aggravated the injury on Jan. 25 in Columbus and has been out ever since.
He’s hoping he can pick up right where he left off.
“I felt as though I was getting going and unfortunately, a little bit of a setback and then another setback as well,” he said after practice. “Dealing with those two setbacks, it’s tough, but at the same time, you just have to keep at it and back now, hopefully, finish strong here before the break. And then it would be nice to get on that break as well and make sure it’s totally 100-percent feeling good.”
He may have been ready to go against Colorado, but the team decided to give him a few more days to make sure he was 100 percent. He took some bumps in practice Sunday afternoon from 6-foot-8, 259-pound forward John Scott.
“You never know what can happen, but at the same time, it helps your mindset a little bit, it puts your mind at ease when you battle against a not exactly small human being like John Scott,” Stafford said. “He was my tester. If I can do well against him – at least somewhat well – he was kind of throwing me around like a rag doll a little bit like that, but it’s feeling pretty well.”
Getting back a player like Stafford who’s capable of producing points should help ease the loss of leading scorer Matt Moulson, who could be out until after the Olympic break after sustaining an upper-body injury Thursday night.
“Right now we haven’t got enough depth to lose a guy like Drew and Matty at the same time. At least we get one of them back,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said.
Omark has been a healthy scratch the past three games and Nolan said the 26-year-old forward will play against his former team on Monday. The Sabres acquired Omark from the Oilers on Dec. 19 for a conditional sixth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Omark is feeling a little extra motivation heading into the game.
“I would be lying if I said, ‘No.’ But of course, it’s going to be a fun game,” Omark said. “I know a lot of guys on that team, so hopefully we can win.”
Jhonas Enroth will start in goal against the Oilers. He is 1-10-5 this season, but isn’t thinking much about personal wins and losses.
“I just need to prepare myself and get ready,” he said. “Obviously I can’t score any goals or anything like that so I just need to focus on my job and that’s to try to save as many pucks as possible.”
Nolan also decided to practice with more size at the center ice position. Zemgus Girgensons practiced in the middle on a line with Philip Varone on the left and Brian Flynn on the right. All three have played center this season, but for now it looks like Girgensons will pivot that line.
“He’s almost like a natural center iceman,” Nolan said. “He likes to skate and with our injury count right now, it’s a great time to test him. He’s very comfortable in that position. That’s where he grew up playing so we’ll probably put him in that position and see how he does.”
While Girgensons will likely play center for Team Latvia under Nolan’s watch at the Winter Olympics, his move back there with only three games to go before the break only has to do with putting players in position where they can best help the Sabres succeed.
“We’re thinking about what’s going to make this team better,” Nolan said.
Enroth, who will play for Team Sweden at the Olympics, broke in some new gear at practice Sunday. He wore a new glove, a new blocker, new pads and a new mask that celebrates his native country.
“The pads and the gear are really good these days so it just needs one or two practices and then they’re ready to go so they’re fine,” he said.
Ryan Miller is also breaking in some equipment for Team USA. He’s donned his new Olympic mask and a new red, white and blue blocker for two straight practices.
He and Enroth spent some time at the end of practice comparing equipment at center ice.
Ville Leino and Marcus Foligno worked as the fourth forwards on different lines at practice. In addition to doing their own line work with Cody McCormick – who skated in a red non-contact jersey – Leino was in white with Steve Ott, Cody Hodgson and Matt D’Agostini while Foligno was in gray with Scott, Zenon Konopka and Matt Ellis.
17 Linus Omark – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agostini – Ville Leino
84 Phil Varone – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 65 Brian Flynn
32 John Scott – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis – Marcus Foligno
Red Non-Contact: Cody McCormick
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 5 Chad Ruhwedel
20 Henrik Tallinder – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 4 Jamie McBain
52 Alexander Sulzer
DENVER -- On day three of the Parent’s Trip, the Buffalo Sabres and their parents gathered for dinner in the Mile High City on Friday night. Hockey was inevitably on the big screens in the room.
Teresa Miller, Ryan’s mother, reacted as you’d expect, with a big smile, her hands in the air, as Drew Miller was seen scoring a goal for the Detroit Red Wings. Cheers went up across the room. “Millsy’s brother!” one player shouted. The Sabres goaltender himself cracked a smile.
Hockey is life for NHL mothers, and Teresa was in a familiar place, watching another hockey game.
The mother of two NHL players says she often has one game on her television and the other on her laptop to keep up with both sons. She never misses a game.
They may be seen on screens and may get a good deal of attention, but Teresa Miller says, “They’re your kids. And you don’t really think of them as being any more than that.”
Drew Stafford’s mother, Debra, agreed.
“They’re real people,” she said. “I’ve had so many people over the years come up to me and say, ‘you must be so proud of your son.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not any prouder of my son than you are of your kids.’”
Diane Ennis, Tyler’s mother, said she could relate: “They’re just your kids. Jordan, Ty’s older brother, is an electrician. We always say that we’re just as proud of him as we are of Ty. They both worked hard to do what they’re doing.”
Working hard, and often, was a requirement to reach the highest level in the hockey world. For these families, it meant hockey was a way of life, and the mothers were always in the thick of it.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Ennis said. “With the kids in hockey, we were always at the rink, constantly, 24 hours. If you weren’t at the rink, you were fundraising to be at the rink. All you knew was hockey.”
“Your vacations … hockey tournaments,” she added. “Your whole life, when your kids play hockey, that’s your whole life.”
Stafford recalled going to tournaments overseas, to Russia and Paris, when Drew played at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. “We were immersed in that.”
Miller said when her kids played youth hockey, it was like they were in a cult. Ryan got to play with the same group of guys for a long time. “The team manager was like the cult leader; he’d tell us where to go, what to do and where to eat,” Teresa explained.
But was it all worth it in the end? Of course it was.
Miller, Ennis and Stafford all said they watch every single game their son plays in. “And they’re taped as well,” Ennis said.
One of the toughest parts of the game for the mothers is injuries.
As if it isn’t enough to see your loved one get hurt, Stafford pointed out, “Then they show it in slow-motion, and you hate that! We feel the pain at the same time.”
“It’s nerve-racking and scary. Every time Ty is on the ice, I’m petrified,” Ennis said.
While agreeing with that sentiment, Miller said she’s learned over the years, “It is what it is. I can’t control anything.”
As for this year? The mothers believe the Sabres are turning things around.
“They’re competing,” Miller said. “And they’re competing throughout the game. They’re not always winning, but they’re right there, and at least they’re competing.”
Ennis said of a recent loss to Pittsburgh, “It didn’t feel like a loss because they were in it. A couple mistakes and that was it. But it was entertaining to watch. I think they’re turning a corner, they’re working harder.”
Hard work got them to the NHL, and hard work will keep them there too. And their mothers, as always, will be watching.