Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier finally made it public on Friday afternoon: Mikhail Grigorenko will start the season in the NHL. The kid was even given his own stall in the locker room, after spending the last five days getting changed on a plastic chair in the corner of the room.
The 18-year-old Grigorenko made Buffalo’s 23-man roster on the strength of a solid week of training camp, preceded by an impressive body of work this season in the QMJHL and World Junior Championship. Grigorenko has 50 points (29+21) in 32 games with the Quebec Remparts, and added two goals and four assists in seven games as Russia took home bronze at the World Juniors.
Grigorenko, Buffalo’s first round pick (12th overall) in the 2012 Entry Draft, now has five games to prove his NHL worth. When asked his opinion of Grigorenko’s play in camp, Regier smiled and simply said, “I think we should keep him around a little longer.”
Head coach Lindy Ruff said it’s somewhat disconcerting to not have the benefit of preseason games to assess Grigorenko’s NHL readiness, but he won’t let that cloud his judgement.
“You’re gonna have a lot of teams in the same situation that are trying to judge young players. You just want to make the right decision that’s going to set him up for his career. You wish you had more time, we don’t. But we’ve liked what we’ve seen. It’s all good so far.”
LISTEN TO COMPLETE AUDIO FROM REGIER & RUFF
The 6-foot-3 Grigorenko has centered a line of Ville Leino and Steve Ott throughout camp, and has quickly shown a comfort level between his two veteran wingers. He’s a big man with soft hands, and that’s what Ruff considers as Grigorenko’s best asset.
“He’s a good playmaker. And he defends well for a young player. He’s defending against his teammates; you’d love the opportunity to see him in a preseason game against other NHL players,” Ruff explains. “He does have real good awareness and he understands the game. His strength really is his playmaking, and he’s shown that with quick hands.”
With 25 players on the ice today, the Sabres were immediately able to get down to the 23-man roster limit by placing forwards Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick on Injured Reserve. This leaves them with 13 forwards and eight defensemen when they start the season at home to Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m.
Defensemen Adam Pardy cleared waivers, and has been sent to Rochester. Forwards Kevin Porter and Nick Tarnasky also cleared waivers, and they are all expected to be in the Amerks lineup tonight when they host Syracuse.
Based on the line combinations at Friday’s practice, it would appear that Matt Ellis could be the odd man out for forwards on Sunday. Ellis has been skating for most of the week on a line with injured forwards Gerbe and McCormick.
Here are the other lines from today’s practice:
The defensive pairings were: Myers-Regehr; Ehrhoff-Sulzer; Sekera-Leopold; Weber-Brennan.
The Sabres will close out their week of training camp on Saturday with a 10:30 a.m. practice at First Niagara Center. Admission is free, as is parking in the arena ramp. The Fan Appreciation Sale continues all week in the Sabres Store, with all merchandise available at 50% off.
Towards the end of Wednesday’s training camp practice, John Scott (6-foot-8, 270 lbs.) was going mano-a-mano in the corner with Nathan Gerbe (5-foot-6, 178 lbs.) in a battle drill. Gerbe was dogged in his pursuit of Scott; at times jumping at him like a friendly chihuahua would with a doberman. But as the First Niagara Center crowd roared its approval, Gerbe’s stick suddenly caught Scott in the mouth, temporarily stunning the man known as “Big John.”
Gerbe’s composite toothpick may be the only way anyone can take down Big John.
When the 30-year-old behemoth from St. Catharines, Ont., was signed by Buffalo on July 1, it instantly sent a message to the rest of the NHL that the Sabres weren’t going to be pushed around anymore. It was something that had to addressed, given the team’s much-publicized incident in Boston last season when Milan Lucic steamrolled Ryan Miller without any instant repercussions.
Scott knows that his presence alone isn’t going to prevent that from happening, but he’s determined to create a different result.
“Never say never. But if it does, I think it’ll be dealt with differently than it was last year.”
One day after signing in Buffalo, Scott was joined by super pest winger Steve Ott, arriving in a trade from Dallas for Derek Roy. It’s this mix of size and sandpaper that has already created a different vibe in the Sabres’ locker room.
“I think it’ll be a lot tougher. We’ve noticed a difference even in camp, just the tone and the attitude of the guys. People are a little more comfortable and a little more aggressive, have a little bit of an attitude now that we’ve got a few more guys in here with strength and size.”
“We all know what John is gonna bring. He’s a real character. He’s been great in the room; he’s been great on the bench. He knows what he’s here for, and he can add the toughness that at times may be needed.”
As opponents like Carolina (Kevin Westgarth) and the New York Islanders (Joe Finley) loaded up on big guys in recent days, Scott ensures the Sabres will be able to keep pace in the rugged Eastern Conference when the going gets tough.
“When you have younger players, it’s an opportunity to provide some cover for them in some tough physical buildings a lot of times,” explains Ruff. “In our case we have some younger players. It should help Marcus Foligno; it should help Pat Kaleta, and it could make Steve Ott an even tougher guy to play against because he’s got some cover behind him.”
When asked about the recent additions to the Eastern Conference, Scott broke into a wry smile while answering the question.
“A lot of the teams are addressing needs. All the size kind of came out to the East this season, teams saw that, and they’re preparing for it. There’s a lot of big guys in the East now. It’ll be fun, I like going up against big guys.”
With 236 penalty minutes (including 22 regular season fighting majors according to Hockeyfights.com) and five points in 136 career games with Minnesota, Chicago and the New York Rangers, Scott makes no apologies for what he brings to the rink every day.
“Everyone looks at me to kind of be the protector; the aggressive guy to help out teammates when called upon. They know I’ve got a mentality where I like to do that. I take pride in protecting my teammates, going out there and finishing something if someone is being a pest on the other team.
“I’m not going to be a second or third line guy; I know my role. I’m a fourth line guy. I don’t want to be a liability out there. I want to protect the team, keep the other team honest and play physical. Get in their zone; spend some time in their end, that’s about it.”
The Sabres will take Thursday off, returning to practice at First Niagara Center on Friday and Saturday. Both sessions will begin at 10:30 a.m., and are open to the public. Parking is also free in the arena ramp. The Fan Appreciation Sale continues all week in the Sabres Store, with all merchandise available at 50% off.
It’s only been a pair of practices and an intra-squad scrimmage, but rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko is already causing a buzz in Western New York.
The Sabres’ first pick (12th overall) in last June’s NHL Entry Draft had three quality scoring chances in Monday’s scrimmage at First Niagara Center, and was dishing passes as quickly as his jerseys were flying out of the Sabres Store. (The team store sold out of the 50 in-stock Grigorenko jerseys by mid-day Monday, and took orders for 100 more by the end of the game.) Grigorenko even drew the loudest ovation from the 10,175 fans in attendance at the scrimmage when he was introduced during the shootout.
Ville Leino is manning the right wing on Grigorenko’s line, with newcomer Steve Ott on the port side. Even after just a few days on the ice together, Leino already likes what he sees out of the crafty 18-year-old.
“He’s pretty calm with the puck, sees the ice well. A lot of young guys are a little nervous and they make fast decisions,” explains Leino. “But he’s able to hang on the puck a little bit, make a good play and give time to the other players.
“He’s like a lot of good Russian players; they disguise passes really well. He definitely has that touch that a lot of Russian players have. He’s one of those kind of guys I enjoy playing with because he likes to make plays.”
Prior to signing with Buffalo as a free agent last July, Leino spent the first three years of his career with the Red Wings and Flyers. Those experiences gave Leino the opportunity to play with some of the most talented players in the game – and he senses a similar early comfort level with Grigorenko and Ott.
“I always played with players like that in Detroit, and even in Philadelphia with guys like Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and sometimes (Claude) Giroux and (Mike) Richards,” says Leino. “That’s the kind of player I always wanted to play with; they’re fun to play with. Otter is, in a way, the same way because he makes a lot of plays. He’s in a bit of a different role, but it’s been fun to play with these guys.”
When asked who he’d compare Grigorenko to, it didn’t take long for Leino to come up with a name.
“He would be awful tough to compare with Pavel Datsyuk because he’s one of the best players, that I would say, ever played. But he’s definitely got some of that playmaking ability that guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg and Datsyuk have.”
The Sabres are back on the ice Wednesday for day four of their abbreviated training camp starting at 10:30 a.m. All practices this week are free and open to the public. Parking is also free in the First Niagara Center ramp. The Fan Appreciation Sale continues all week in the Sabres Store, with all merchandise available at 50% off.
Individual tickets for all Sabres home games this season are now on sale. The team announced late Monday that four games have already sold out: Jan. 20 vs. Philadelphia; Feb. 17 vs. Pittsburgh; Mar. 12 vs. NY Rangers; and Mar. 30 vs. Washington.
Blue/White Scrimmage: Monday, January 14, 2013 @ First Niagara Center
White 2 – Blue 1 (SO)
Attendance: 10, 175
D: Regehr-Myers, Leopold-Sekera, Brennan-Biega
D: Sulzer-Ehrhoff, Weber-McNabb, Pardy-Pysyk
-Mikhail Grigorenko went glove side on Ryan Miller but rang his shot off the post
-Alex Biega had the period’s only penalty.
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-Vanek was struck by a Myers point shot while standing in front of the as the period ended.
-Grigorenko nearly scored twice in the period. He was robbed by Miller’s left toe on a partial breakaway after a great stretch pass from Enroth early in the period, then was stopped again later on a one-timer from the slot.
-Pardy, McNabb and Hecht each took penalties.
-Biega hit in face by puck after blocking Foligno shot.
-Enroth with a flashy glove save in tight on Stafford midway through the period.
-Grigorenko hit hard in the corner by Pardy, but gets up and almost converts scoring chance on pass through slot from Leino that ends up in his feet.
-Scott assessed the only penalty of the period.
-Myers has best scoring chance of OT, but tips Sundher’s shot just wide of the net before time expires.
SHOOTOUT: 1-0 White
Blue: Ennis, Stafford, Hecht, Flynn, Foligno, Kaleta
White: Pominville, Vanek, Grigorenko, Leino, Ott, Hodgson (goal)
Nine afternoon games and nine back-to-back sets highlight Buffalo’s 2013 schedule that was released on Saturday night. Here’s a look inside the numbers on Buffalo’s abbreviated season that will see them play 48 games in a 97-day sprint from Sunday, January 20 to Friday, April 26.
Games by month
January: 7 games/12 days (3 home/4 away)
February: 14 games/28 days (7 home/7 away)
March: 15 games/31 days (6 home/9 away)
April: 12 games/26 days (8 home/4 away)
Back-to-back games: 9
-Home/Home: 2 (Mar. 30-31; Apr. 13-14)
Number of times Sabres will play…
-2 games in 3 days: 27
-3 games in 4 days: 10
-4 games in 7 days from Sun-Sat: 7
Afternoon games: 9
Home: 7 (Jan. 20; Feb. 3; Feb. 17, Mar. 2; Mar. 16; Apr. 13; Apr. 14)
Road: 2 (Jan. 27; Feb. 2)
Games by days of the week
Tuesday: 11 (on 11 straight Tuesdays from Jan. 29-Apr. 9)
Wednesday: 1 (only Wed. game is Apr. 17)
Longest break: 3 days (2x: March 13-15; April 23-25)
Most consecutive home games: 3 (2x: Feb. 15-19; Apr. 11-14)
Most consecutive road games: 4 (Mar. 3-10)
Going even deeper into the numbers…
18.8: percentage of Sabres schedule that will be played in the afternoon
22.9: percentage of games played on Tuesdays
41.7: percentage of games played on Sat & Sun
52.1: percentage of games played between Fri-Sun
70.8: percentage of games played between Thurs-Sun
Buffalonians are used to packing into hockey rinks, especially in the middle of winter. So it should come as no surprise that on this drizzly, Friday morning in January, an estimated crowd of 300 fans jammed their way inside a rink at the Northtown Center in Amherst to watch a group of Buffalo Sabres take part in an informal workout for just over an hour.
The star attraction for these hockey-starved fans on this day was goaltender Ryan Miller, skating with his Sabres teammates for the first time since making his way across the country from his offseason home in California on Thursday. The crowds at Northtown Center have continued to swell throughout the week, and that came as no surprise to Miller.
“It was nice to see them. Buffalo is such a great sports city and a big hockey city. I can’t imagine being a fan and not having that outlet,” said Miller. “For me, being a fan, it was hard not to have (hockey) on TV. I try to check out games; watch to see how players are doing. I tried to tune in to some of the World Junior stuff, and if there was a random game on the satellite I’d try to catch it.”
Training camps across the NHL are expected to get underway this weekend, leaving players in the unique position of having less than a week to get into game shape for the truncated 48-game schedule that begins on January 19.
Miller was one of the players who decided to not sign anywhere during the lockout, opting to stay home and workout on a regular basis with other players in the Los Angeles area. Despite the belief that game-tested players will have an advantage, Miller thinks the playing field will level out quickly.
“Game shape is the key thing. Just gonna have to jump into it. No one is going to have an advantage, I don’t think. Even guys playing in other leagues; it’s a different pace and there’s a time change for them coming back. The American League guys…they might have a little bit of something going. But I think when the NHL boys get up to speed, it’ll all even out.”
After playing a high-profile role during part of the negotiations, Miller said it will nice to finally focus on hockey knowing there’s a goal light at the end of the tunnel. Like it was for most players, not having that carrot in front of them for the past few months sometimes made their daily routine monotonous.
“It’s gonna be different. This whole thing has been about sustaining. Everything about this year has been a false start. You got your hopes up around November, you got your hopes up around December, you got your hopes up towards the end of December. You’d try and ramp up for each of those. For me it was just about staying pretty level, skating three to four times a week at least.
“I feel that hockey-wise I’m in a pretty good spot. Mentally, I think I always kind of knew it was going to be a short, sprint kind of situation. It’s not a surprise for any of us. I don’t think it’s something you can use as a crutch or anything. Everyone is gonna go through it.”
Head coach Lindy Ruff said Wednesday that he could foresee Miller playing in the neighborhood of 36-38 games this season, but the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner said this is not something he’s spent a lot of time worrying about.
“I didn’t put any thought into a number. I thought I’d be ready to play, just get tapped on the shoulder and go about it that way,” Miller stated. “Just because, you’ve gotta have your best guys, and who’s ever playing the best, going. I just want to be that guy, and we’ll go by that. If I’m playing at a high enough level, I’d like to be in net.”
Defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Sulzer also were part of today’s skate for the first time, bringing the total of Sabres to 19. Injured forwards Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick were the only roster players to not take part in any of the skates at Northtown Center this week.
You can breathe easy Buffalo Sabres fans – Tyler Myers is just fine.
Myers joined a group of his Sabres teammates for an up-tempo workout at the Northtown Center in Amherst on Thursday, and showed no ill effects of the ankle injury he suffered while playing for Klagenfurter AC in Austria during the lockout. Despite experiencing some jet lag from his trip back to Buffalo, the lanky blueliner glided effortlessly around the ice during skating drills, and competed hard during two-on-two battle drills.
The 22-year-old Myers sustained the injury on what he described as an “awkward play,” getting tangled up with another player while going to the net.
“It’s fine,” proclaimed Myers afterwards. “I came back for one game in Austria and it felt fine. I made sure it was ready to go before I came back. I’m feeling 100 percent right now.
“It got me a little nervous at the start, but once we figured out what it was I knew it would be pretty quick. I didn’t want to push it to try and come back too early in case the (NHL) did come back. I think that helped me out.”
Myers wasn’t the only fresh face at the Northtown Center today. Goaltender Jhonas Enroth was manning one of the nets, while Andrej Sekera and newcomer Adam Pardy were also in attendance. This was Pardy’s first time on the ice with the Sabres after being acquired along with Steve Ott from Dallas in exchange for Derek Roy on July 2.
Enroth said he was happy to be back in Buffalo after playing with Almtuna of the Swedish Allsvenskan League, posting a 2.18 GAA and .922 save percentage in 13 games. But those numbers took a hit during one particular road game.
“We had an eight-hour bus ride on the same day of the game,” said Enroth. “It’s pretty tough to sit on a bus and then go out and play. It’s a little different.” (Enroth said they also made the eight-hour return trip right after the game.)
And the result of the game?
“I played that night and we lost 4-1. It was a bad game for us.”
Enroth says the Swedish experience kept him in game shape, and you count him among those looking forward to jumping right into regular season action after an abbreviated training camp.
“Preseason games are good,” he says. “But they are a little bit annoying sometimes too.”
This isn’t Lindy Ruff’s first 48-game rodeo. Ruff was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers from 1993-97, a stretch that included the strike-shortened season in 1995. He’s hoping to use some of that experience to his advantage as the Buffalo Sabres prepare to launch a 48-game schedule of their own next week.
“I remember going into it, you just thought every game meant so much,” the Sabres head coach told an assembled group of media Wednesday afternoon at First Niagara Center. “I think what you have to really be careful of is not putting too much into the wins, and not putting too much into the losses; try to keep a pretty level ground.”
Ruff says he’s not intimidated by what the schedule could present to his team over the next few months, because they are traditionally used to a game-heavy workload in the second half of the season.
“If you look at the schedule, our schedule really doesn’t change that much. We always play a lot in January, February and March. It really is a normal schedule. You take the All-Star break out and put some games in there. This time of year, we’re playing this amount of games. There’s no real meaningful practices this time of year; you’ve got all that work usually done in October and November. The players will need a day of rest during the week. It’s going to be a lot about playing.”
Other tidbits of info to come out of today’s press conference included:
- Ruff anticipates playing Ryan Miller in the 36-38 game range. Ruff said he’s been getting good reports on Jhonas Enroth’s play in Sweden, and hopes he’s able to recapture his form from late in the 2010-11 season.
- Expect the line of Drew Stafford-Tyler Ennis-Marcus Foligno to remain intact following their late season success. Ruff also wants to keep Thomas Vanek paired on a line with Jason Pominville, and is considering playing truculent newcomer Steve Ott with Ville Leino.
- Ruff was happy with the play of Hodgson and Foligno in Rochester, and his first thought is to play Hodgson at center with Vanek because of the chemistry the two had at times last season. But he also hinted that he’d consider putting rookie Mikhail Grigorenko between Vanek and Pominville at some point during training camp next week.
- Ruff said the Sabres are set with Ennis and Hodgson as their top two centers. After that, the mix of centers will include Ott, Leino, Grigorenko and Matt Ellis.
- Ruff has only seen Grigorenko play on video, but said he is “very intrigued” by what he can bring to the team and how he’ll stack up against bigger and stronger opponents.
John Scott signed with the Sabres as unrestricted free agent on July 1, and today he skated with some of his new teammates for the first time during an informal workout the Northtown Center in Amherst.
The hulking, 6-foot-8, 270-pound winger, is known for his rugged style, as evidenced by the 236 career penalty minutes in 146 career games with Minnesota, Chicago and the New York Rangers. With just one goal and five points to his credit, the 30-year-old Scott will be the first to admit that he knows exactly what his role is when he steps on to the ice.
“I don’t think anyone will go out there and say they like to fight all the time, but I enjoy it,” said Scott, who had to duck through an arena doorway while on skates on his way to talk to reporters. “I enjoy protecting my teammates and creating a good atmosphere for us to play in. I want to go out there and win. I want to see those guys score goals and do highlight reel things. I think me being on the ice helps them do that.”
Phones were buzzing all across North America yesterday morning with the word that a new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement had been agreed to. Even if it was a pre-dawn wake-up call in some cases, for most, it was the best news they’d heard in a very long time.
“My wife got a text and woke me up around 5:45 a.m.,” said Thomas Vanek. “She asked me if I knew the lockout was over. I told her that I don’t because I’m sleeping. But it was a good day.”
It was a similar scene for Patrick Kaleta.
“I got a couple of texts from my buddies yesterday saying ‘you got your therapy sessions back,’” Kaleta said with a smile. “I get to go out there and do my thing now. I think the overall consensus is that everyone’s excited to get back to work.”
Vanek and Kaleta were among the nine Sabres skating today at the Northtown Center in Amherst, as players around the league got back to work to prepare for what will now be a shortened NHL season. With the CBA still needing approval from both players and owners, informal skates will be the norm for now as players start to make their way back to Buffalo.
Jordan Leopold has been one of the regulars at the skates in Buffalo, choosing not to go overseas for game action during the lockout. He said the tempo and mood at today’s gathering was noticeably more upbeat.
“I think if you look at our skate today, guys are a little more energetic. It’s been an interesting four months now. It’s a time in the middle of January when we definitely thought we’d be playing hockey. But here we sit today, it is what it is. We’re ready and excited to get back to work.”
Once they get back to work for real, the players know they’ll also have some work to do to win back the support and trust of the fans. Sitting through a 113-day lockout wasn’t easy for the players, but they understand the toll it’s taken on their paying customers. Leopold thinks there’s a very simple way to get back in the good graces of Buffalo fans.
“I think the product will sell itself. Once we get back out there we have to put a good product out there,” said the 32-year-old blueliner. “I’ve been in this league since 2002 and had two work stoppages. It hurts – your career, financially, all different aspects of it. It hurts especially with the people that come to the rink and watch us every day. We’ve gotta go out there and give them a good product, and win back their hearts too.”
Growing up in nearby Angola, NY, has given Kaleta a unique perspective on Buffalo fans – because he is one too. He knows the passion they have for their local sports teams, and says he feeds off the emotion they bring to the building every night.
“I love the fans. Just throwing a number out there that 40 percent of my game is from the fans; feeling the energy from them,” he explains. “I know that fans in Buffalo are the best in the league. Whether it’s the Bills or the Sabres, whatever the sport is, they always back us. They’re the best around. I look forward to stepping on the ice hearing those 19,000 fans again.”
Tyler Ennis was also part of today’s group, and told reporters afterwards that he’s completely recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered while playing in Switzerland.
“It feels really good. I think it was a good decision for me to come home from Switzerland and really get some good medical attention on it. I’m ready to go. Everything feels good, I’m excited.”
Also on the ice today were Drew Stafford, Steve Ott, Ville Leino, Matt Ellis and Mike Weber, along with goaltender Martin Biron of the New York Rangers. Former Sabre enforcer Andrew Peters was running the players through their paces.
Thurs., January 3
McCabe: Captain Jake McCabe scored twice as the United States moved on to Saturday’s gold medal game with a resounding 5-1 win over Canada. Both of McCabe’s goals came in the first period, as Team USA built an insurmountable 4-0 lead on Canada through two periods. McCabe, selected as USA's Player of the Game today, now has three goals and three assists in six games, and his plus-seven rating is tied with Seth Jones and Ville Pokka for tops in the tournament. Coming into the World Juniors, the University of Wisconsin sophomore had scored five goals in 42 career games for the Badgers – but had yet to record a multi-goal game.
GAME SUMMARY/INDIVIDUAL STATS
NEXT GAME: Gold Medal Game - USA vs. Sweden (Sat., 8 a.m. ET, NHL Network & NHL.com)
Grigorenko/Makarov: Mikhail Grigorenko’s second goal of the tournament tied the game with Sweden at 2-2 late in the third period, but they would go on to lose 3-2 in a shootout. Montreal draft pick Sebastien Collberg scored the shootout winner for Sweden, and they will now face Team USA in Saturday’s gold medal game. Grigorenko is second on Russia in scoring with six points (2+4) in six games, but he has taken a team-leading 27 shots on goal. Andrei Vasilevski once again got the start for Russia, forcing Sabres prospect Andrey Makarov into the backup role for a second straight game. Makarov is 1-1 in two starts with a 2.02 GAA and .955 save percentage. He came into the tournament having posted shutouts in three of his last five decisions with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades.
GAME SUMMARY/INDIVIDUAL STATS
NEXT GAME: Bronze Medal Game - Russia vs. Canada (Sat., 4 a.m. ET, NHL Network)