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POSTED ON Friday, 10.14.2011 / 11:57 AM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE
For the 14th time in his coaching career, Lindy Ruff will step behind the bench tonight as the Sabres open up the home portion of their 2011-12 season. While last Friday’s win over Anaheim in Helsinki was technically the team’s “home” opener, Ruff knows there’s nothing like playing in front of your own fans for the first time, and he can sense there’s something special about tonight’s game.

“There’s a lot of excitement surrounding this one, coming back home after playing as well as we did overseas,” Ruff said following today’s morning skate. “I think what’s important is that we get back into the grind now. People are going to pound you, people are going to be hard on the puck. It’s not your teammates anymore like in practice. We know they played a real desperate game last time out against Boston, and we’re gonna have to match that.”

Ruff didn’t announce his starting goaltender or any lineup changes from last weekend’s wins in Europe. He did confirm yesterday that Jochen Hecht will not be available for either game this weekend. Hecht has been practicing with the team all week, but he is still recovering from a concussion he sustained in training camp.

This is the 180th all-time meeting between Buffalo and the Carolina/Hartford franchise. The Sabres lead the series 94-61-4, and are 53-28-8 at home.

Carolina’s Paul Maurice will coach his 900th career NHL game tonight, making him just the seventh coach to reach this milestone with one team. He trails only Lindy Ruff (1,068) and Nashville’s Barry Trotz (986) among active coaches in games coached with their current team.

Carolina comes into tonight’s game with a record of 1-2-1. They were winless in the first three games, before breaking that off with a 3-2 victory against Boston on Wednesday. Jeff Skinner leads the Canes with five points (1+4), but had his three-game scoring streak snapped in Wednesday’s win.
POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.12.2011 / 2:45 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
It’s been nearly 10 months since Derek Roy suffered a torn quad tendon against Florida on December 23. The initial prognosis called for a 4-to-6 month recovery time, but Roy was able to make it back to play a limited role in Game 7 of Buffalo’s Eastern Conference Quarter-Final loss to Philadelphia.

It’s now two games into the regular season, and Roy returned from Europe with just one assist and was a minus-one in Buffalo’s wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles. Roy started training camp alongside Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, but now finds himself centering a line of Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe. Head Coach Lindy Ruff hasn’t exactly been overwhelmed with their chemistry so far.

“Overall, they’ve been okay,” said Ruff. “I don’t think Derek is quite up to speed yet. It’s gonna take a few games of really hard compete to get to that really high level.”

Ruff realizes that Roy still needs some time to get back to game speed, but couldn’t put a timetable on when he expects the “old” Roy to return.

“I don’t know for sure; I would hope a few games. I think he’s playing okay for Derek, but okay for Derek is not at the level he needs to be. When he’s really on his game he’s creating opportunities and setting up the people around him.”

Even with the early success of the Vanek-Adam-Pominville line, Ruff said he’s not against shuffling bodies around to jumpstart other players.

“We can always flip some pieces around,” he explains. “It seems sometimes that when you do that you end up with better results. We end up with Luke up between Thomas and Jason, and that’s just from trying to get pieces to fit and work together."

There was no change in Jochen Hecht’s status. Ruff said that Hecht will continue to practice, and will be evaluated again on the weekend.

The Sabres are scheduled to wear their third jersey in eight games this season, including twice on the road. The eight-game schedule is as follows:
- October 27 vs. Columbus
- November 5 @ Ottawa
- November 16 vs. New Jersey
- December 3 @ Nashville
- December 9 vs. Florida
- January 3 vs. Edmonton
- February 10 vs. Dallas
- March 14 vs. Colorado

Buffalo will also wear white at home against Toronto on January 13 because the Maple Leafs will be wearing their new third jersey that night.

POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.11.2011 / 4:00 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Luke Adam didn’t play alongside Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville until September 30 in Washington. They combined to score all three of Buffalo’s goals in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Capitals, and collected seven of the team’s nine points. That roll has continued through the team’s first two regular season wins. 

Vanek scored twice in the season opener against Anaheim, and Adam chipped in a pair the next night in Berlin against Los Angeles. The trio currently occupy the top three spots in team scoring, having combined for 13 of the team’s 23 points.

With four points (2+2) in two games, the 21-year-old Adam has already matched his 19-game point total from last season. When asked about his individual accomplishments, Adam is quick to compliment his veteran linemates.

“Van and Pommer are both great players, and for myself to be given the opportunity to play with those two guys makes the game a lot easier for me. We’ve been having some success, but it’s early in the season and we can’t forget that.”

Pominville said that Adam’s play in training camp “forced the hand of the organization to keep him here.” But Adam knows that he’s far from having a position locked up for the rest of the season.

“Ever since the end of last year, my goal was to play on this hockey team. I took it one day at a time this summer, and one day at a time through training camp, just trying to get better and better every day. Fortunately I found myself on the opening day roster. But like I said, it’s two games and there’s still a lot of work ahead to stay here.”

Lindy Ruff said Jochen Hecht was upgraded for contact today, and he’s now at the “moderate level” of performance. Hecht was injured on the second day of training camp when he collided with Shaone Morrisonn during a drill. He appeared to be making progress as camp progressed, but said last week that he’d started experiencing headaches following workouts.

Ruff said he was encouraged by what he saw from Hecht during today’s practice. 

“I think he took it as far as he’s taken it so far, and should continue to progress unless he has a setback during the week.”

Ruff hasn’t ruled Hecht out for Friday’s home opener against Carolina, but explains that a lot needs to happen over the next few days to consider adding him to the lineup.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to rule him out right now. I don’t think there’s a good enough reason to say he could play Friday yet either,” Ruff said. “We’re in kind of that situation where you evaluate after each practice. When we ramp up the physical play again tomorrow, he will do extra work after practice and be more involved in some physical stuff. Then you wait to see the next day if there’s any ramifications from how he worked.”

The early season success of the Buffalo Bills isn’t lost on the Sabres. While the teams are competing for the media spotlight, Ruff said that it only benefits the city in the long run. 

“I hope they keep winning and we keep winning because it makes this a fun city to live in.”

Pominville says his conversations frequently revolve around the local sports teams.
“People want to talk about our new ownership and the Bills. It’s fun to see that atmosphere throughout the city.”

More than 50 members of the Rochester Americans alumni have confirmed their attendance for Thursday’s red carpet event prior to the team’s home opener at Blue Cross Arena. Included among the attendees are Donald Audette, Jason Botterill and Chris Taylor.

The event is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. when the current Amerks players enter Blue Cross Arena.  Following that, fans will be able to re-live the storied history of the Rochester Americans by watching Alumni walk the red carpet, where they will sign autographs and pose for pictures.  The list of scheduled attendees includes 13 Amerks Hall of Famers, 14 Amerks Calder Cup champions and 13 former Amerks captains.
POSTED ON Friday, 10.07.2011 / 6:11 AM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE
HELSINKI, FINLAND --- It was about this time six years ago when Jason Pominville’s days as a member of the Buffalo Sabres organization could’ve been over. Pominville was placed on waivers prior to the start of the 2005-06 season, but he eventually cleared and started the season with the AHL’s Rochester Americans.

My, how times have changed.

When Pominville skates onto the ice at Hartwall Areena tonight for Buffalo’s season opener against the Anaheim Ducks, he will do as the 16th full-time captain in franchise history. The announcement was made by head coach Lindy Ruff at a players-only dinner last night.

Pominville isn’t known for being the loudest player on the team, but he believes that his voice will be just one of many that will provide direction.

“I think we have a lot of different type of characters on the team. I’m not the only guy that’s going to step up and say things. I might be more of a one-on-one guy, just kind of going up to the guy and talking to him.

“I don’t know if the yelling and screaming method still works in today’s game, I think we’ll see a little bit of both on this team. Hopefully we don’t have to see any of it. There are different guys that can do it in different ways.”

Ruff said the decision to name Pominville as captain was made by the coaching staff, and even owner Terry Pegula had some input. Ruff is confident they made the right choice.

“In the end it was an easy decision. Jason prepares himself well for games, he’s a consummate pro and even the way he’s come back from injuries say as a lot. He’s well respected among his teammates. I think the way he plays speaks for itself. The decision turned out to be the right one.”

Mike Weber will be a healthy scratch for tonight’s game, along with Matt Ellis. Ruff says that Marc-Andre Gragnani’s contributions on the power play are an invaluable asset, but he also knows that Weber can still play an important role as well.

“It’s extremely hard taking Mike out of the lineup. We knew that when we had seven defensemen, we’re going to have one really disappointed player. But there will be situations when we can utilize Weber, and we’ll need our top six to play well for us.”
POSTED ON Thursday, 10.06.2011 / 7:22 AM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Additional Interviews
HELSINKI, FINLAND --- Lindy Ruff closed his morning media conference at Hartwall Areena today with the news that everyone has been expecting: he will name a team captain tonight at a team dinner in downtown Helsinki.

Follow @Sabresdotcom on Twitter for the exclusive announcement of the captaincy later today, along with video from the dinner on Keep in mind that Finland is seven hours ahead of Eastern Time, so it could come anytime after 12 Noon ET.

Ruff didn’t tip has hat as to whether it would be a full time or rotating captain, only joking with the media as he walked away by saying, “Do you want me to tell you now?”

The Sabres haven’t had a captain since Craig Rivet was claimed on re-entry waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 26. Seven different players wore the “C” during the preseason.

Following practice the team gathered at center ice and sang “Happy Birthday” to Tyler Ennis who turned the ripe old age of 22 today. A few minutes later they collected together one more time to serenade Ville Leino with the Finnish rendition of “Happy Birthday” -- which translated is “Hyvaa syntymapaivaa!” The newly acquired Leino is 28 years old today.

I had a chance to walk around Hartwall Areena after practice, and made sure to make the trip downstairs to the practice rink known as “The Cave.” Very cool facility – literally. It sits 25 meters underground, so the air in the rink is very cold. Check out this video we shot for more information:

The building is also decorated with numerous posters highlighting its previous major sporting events and concerts. While roaming the hallways today I stumbled upon the obligatory Roxette concert posters, along with a couple of others that will make Buffalo sports fans smile.

And did you know: Hartwall Areena was the last concert for Geri Halliwell with the Spice Girls on May 26, 1998. Of course this is just a blatant opportunity for me to mention Ginger Spice in a Sabres blog. People of the world, spice up your life!
POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.05.2011 / 1:19 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
HELSINKI, FINLAND -- It was another travel day for the Buffalo Sabres today as they continued on with their season-opening European tour. After an 8 a.m. bus from the hotel in Heidelberg, Germany, the entire Sabres travel party boarded an Air Berlin charter to Helsinki. The two hour and 20 minute flight landed in Helsinki just before 3 p.m., then it was straight to the Hartwall Areena for a quick 45-minute practice.

Lindy Ruff didn’t tinker with lines at all after last night’s 8-3 win over Adler Mannheim. These were the four line combos on the ice today this afternoon:

Matt Ellis and Jochen Hecht both took part in the workout wearing red jerseys. Drew MacIntyre remains on the trip as Buffalo’s emergency third goalie.

Teppo Numminen is excited about his return home to Finland, and talked about his memories of playing some big games at Hartwall Areena.

“I would say the World Cup games are my favorite, when you have your best teams. It’s the best players in the world, and all the NHL players were there. Just to be involved with the talented players, playing for the same reason, playing for your country … it’s really special.”

Following practice, Ruff met with the media as usual. But there was nothing normal about this press conference. Rather than address the media in a scrum format, Ruff appeared at a podium in front of 25 members of the Buffalo, national and Finnish media that were in attendance. But the normal practice of the media asking all the questions is altered somewhat here as a moderator basically runs the press conference and asks most of the questions. Ruff seemed caught off guard

Despite being played at international venues, both of Buffalo’s games this weekend will be played using NHL-sized ice surfaces. To accommodate the changes, the benches at Hartwall Areena have been moved in 15 feet from the stands.

POSTED ON Monday, 10.03.2011 / 12:47 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
MANNHEIM, GERMANY --- Jochen Hecht’s homecoming has been marred by another setback. The Sabres forward told the media on Tuesday at SAP Arena that he’s been suffering post-workout headaches recently, further delaying his return to the lineup.

“I worked a little harder last week and had some headaches, so I’m gonna take a step back again.”

Hecht joined the Sabres on the ice following their session today, giving the fans in attendance a chance to recognize their hometown hero. Unfortunately it was nothing more than a pleasure skate for Hecht.

“Before I was able to do practice in the afternoon, but today was almost like rest. I didn’t do much out there. I couldn’t really do much work.

The timing of this couldn’t be worse for Hecht as he returned to Mannheim with the Sabres, and was looking forward to playing in front of an appreciative crowd on Tuesday night. The frustration was evident on Hecht’s face while he addressed an expectedly large media throng this morning.

“I was looking forward to this all summer. The way it has worked out now is disappointing, but that’s the way it is. I have to get healthy for the season.”

Lindy Ruff confirmed at practice today that Jhonas Enroth will start on Tuesday, and is expected to play the entire game.

Today’s practice took place on the SAP Arena’s seconday rink, as workers readied the main sheet for Tuesday’s exhibition game with Adler Mannheim. A Unification Day holiday crowd of an estimated 500 fans watched the practice, including 100 members of a tour group from Buffalo that had traveled through the night. They bused immediately to Mannheim from the airport, and were entertained by a stickhandling drill that turned into a team competition. The Buffalo fans were invited on to the ice after practice for photos and autographs, something that Ruff said was rewarding for all involved. 

“It was great to see. Obviously they were a little giddy after getting off their plane, being up as long as they’d been up,” said Ruff. “It made for a fun atmosphere. It says a lot about our fans. To travel all this way, to give them something extra is important to us.” 
POSTED ON Monday, 10.03.2011 / 12:27 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE NEW ERA
LANDSTUHL, GERMANY --- All too often in sports, the terms “hero” and “warrior” are used to describe the athletes that play the games. Whether it’s an overtime goal or a game-changing save, the media are quick to use adjectives that imply out-of-character moments in game. But after what they experienced today, you can be sure that every member of the Buffalo Sabres will never want those words used to describe them ever again.

Following their practice at SAP Arena the Sabres boarded a bus for a one-hour ride to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a Level 1 Trauma Center that primarily treats soldiers wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. Opened in 1953, the 146-bed facility is the largest American hospital outside the United States.

For two incredibly humbling – and inspiring – hours, the players broke into several groups to tour the hospitals wards, along with the USO Wounded Warrior Center. The majority of my day was spent with a group consisting of Tyler Myers, Jochen Hecht, Tyler Ennis, Andrej Sekera and Jhonas Enroth. Together they represent five different countries (Myers is a dual Canadian/US citizen), while also being the five quietist Sabres you could possibly assemble. They are known for letting their actions speak on the ice, but not as loudly off it.

But on this day it didn’t matter how much they said or how loudly they said it. The Buffalo Sabres were a distraction, not the focus of attention.

Just their mere presence in each room was enough for these soldiers, many of whom who had no idea who they even were. To them, Myers was just some tall kid in the blue number 57 jersey. Ennis rode shotgun with Myers all day, his wavy blond hair covered up by a baseball cap. Enroth looked more like someone who had snuck into the tour, as his oversized goalie jersey tented his slight frame. Just like he is on the ice, Sekera stayed in the background for most of the day, but stepped up when the situation called for it. Hecht, the elder statesman of the group, often interjected when patients or staff had questions about hockey in Germany. He even took offense when a nurse suggested that we avoid that Autobahn during our trip. “What have you got against the Autobahn?” Hecht deadpanned, before breaking into a smile.

“Do you like hockey?” was a commonly used icebreaker question as the players entered a room, and more often than not it was Ennis starting the conversation. Each player carried hats, pucks and pictures to autograph, leaving them behind with each person they encountered – be it patients or staff. After presenting hats to five nurses, one woman yelled out “nice to meet y’all!” She admitted to me seconds later that she’d never watched a hockey game in her life, but will now cheer for the Sabres because “y’all have just been so nice to everyone today.”

As the day wore on, the players seemed to become more comfortable with not only their surroundings, but their role in this visit. As one patient put it, having the players take time out to visit them was “just the morale boost I needed today.” This seemed to loosen the group up, and the ensuing conversations became more natural and free flowing.

Their demeanor changed too. Myers would often stand back and let Ennis take the lead in each room. But during one visit when they approached a patient in an already crowded room, the 6-foot-8 Myers stuck his head above the crowd and waved at the wounded soldier sitting up in his bed across the room. A smile instantly came across his face, and he giggled at Myers, the tall kid in the hockey jersey waving at him from the doorway.

In some cases, the five shy players were even grilled by some loquacious patients worse than the media following a tough loss. “You guys ready for the season?” asked Patrick Hawco of the Marine Corps, sitting up slightly as a cast enveloped his leg. “You have been a consistent playoff team for a lot of years, is that gonna change?” The group laughed collectively, and Myers nervously answered, “Well … we really want the season to start. I think we’re gonna be good.”

Even the patients who don’t follow hockey weren’t afraid to call out the players. When the group walked into his room, a beaming Eric Tsosie looked up and asked “So what do you guys do?” A native of New Mexico, Tsosie proceeded to ask who the best players in the room were. “Well, Ennis is the best scorer in the room,” said Myers. Tsosie said he didn’t know much about hockey, then turned his laptop around to reveal the homepage, saying that he had been “researching stats” to check up on who might be coming in to see him. “It’s not like I have anything else to do right now,” he laughed.

Upon leaving each room, the players would all take turns shaking hands with the soldiers, while offering them thanks for their service. Prior to leaving Hawco’s room, he looked around at each player and thanked them for coming to visit him. “This has been awesome,” Hawco said. “I even got to meet Ryan Miller. He’s my hero.”

On his way out of the room, Sekera approached Hawco, shook his hand and said “Thank you sir for everything you’ve done for the country. We very much appreciate it.”

On this day, Andrej Sekera and the rest of the Buffalo Sabres had an opportunity to thank the real heroes.     

POSTED ON Sunday, 10.02.2011 / 9:12 AM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
MANNHEIM, GERMANY --- Just hours after landing in Germany, Lindy Ruff put the Buffalo Sabres through a spirited one-hour practice at the SAP Arena. The team touched down at 8:50 a.m. local time (2:50 a.m. ET), and was at the rink two hours later. Ruff said it was important to keep the players in a constant state of motion as they prepare for Tuesday’s exhibition game against Adler Mannheim.

“I think to just get the legs underneath you, and break up what’s going to be a long day. We want to try and stay on schedule, and make sure that everybody stays up and gets back on what would be our North American schedule,” he explained. “We have stressed the importance of staying on schedule, and not laying down and ending up with a three-hour nap and then you can’t sleep during the night.”

Ruff was very pleased with how the Sabres reacted to the lengthy skate.

“I actually thought they looked pretty good. We kept it a little on the lighter side. But overall I thought the boys skated pretty well.”

Thomas Vanek referred to the international sized ice surface at SAP Arena as an “ocean,” but doesn’t foresee any adjustment problems for the Sabres.

“We come out of the corners back home and it’s a scoring chance. Whereas over here, you’re still a mile away. But I think it’s going to be fun. We’re a good skating team and I think we’ll get used to it pretty quickly.”

Ruff tinkered with the lines somewhat at practice. Nathan Gerbe moved up to play with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford, while Brad Boyes took Stafford’s spot on the Leino/Ennis line. Luke Adam centered Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville; and Patrick Kaleta skated with a four-man group that also consisted of Paul Gaustad, Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick. Jochen Hecht skated in a non-contact role, and isn’t expected to play in Tuesday’s exhibition against his former German club team.
POSTED ON Wednesday, 09.28.2011 / 10:14 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
The last thing Lindy Ruff expected to see in a training camp scrimmage was Patrick Kaleta being helped off the ice by the team’s medical staff. But that was the case tonight, after Kaleta took a shot to the head from Thomas Vanek as he came out of the corner with the puck. It was an out of character play for Vanek, and one that surprised Ruff as well.

“I think the obvious answer is ‘yes,’” said Ruff, when asked if the hit was too much for a practice session. “Whether Van leaned in too much, or whether Patty was coming with too much momentum … you never want anybody hurt in practice. That’s the extreme case, but he’s going to be fine.”

Ruff also provided updates on injured forwards Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy. Ruff said that Roy is close to returning, but he may be held out of Friday’s game in Washington if there’s any hesitation. Hecht saw another doctor this week, and skated on his own after tonight’s practice. Ruff said the hope is that he’ll start progressing in the next few days.

More than 1,500 fans attended the open practice that started with a full-team autograph session on the First Niagara Center concourse at 5 p.m. The players hit the ice just after 7 p.m., and ran through several drills before taking part in a brief scrimmage. For the players it was a chance to not only get on the ice at night during a week with just one game, but it also gave them an opportunity to perform in front of their home fans.

“I think it’s good for the fans to see what we do on a normal off day,” said Jordan Leopold. “We did a situational scrimmage and had about 30 minutes of practice. And we also had a chance to see the fans and interact with them. It’s a good experience for all of us.”