The players in the Buffalo Sabres dressing room were happy to hear that coach Ted Nolan had signed a contract extension and that the interim label had been removed from his title.
Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford are two players that have played well since Nolan took over. They combined for four goals and seven assists in the 20 games prior to Nolan’s arrival but have been Buffalo’s most consistent offensive weapons, especially since the start of the new calendar year.
During an 11-game stretch from March 3 to March 23, they combined for 15 points (10+5).
“I obviously feel like I’ve flourished playing under him,” Stafford said after practice at First Niagara Center. “I love playing under him and he’s a guy that I think is perfect for this type of rebuild.
"He understands what guys are going through and the right buttons to push, whether or not to be hard or soft on certain guys. There’s not a lot of complicated things that he brings up. It’s very, very straightforward, very simple. He wants you to compete and show up and not take this for granted, any opportunity that you’re up here."
Ennis started the season on the wing but has developed into the team’s top center under Nolan’s watch. Nolan has helped him get back on his game.
“I think he’s just brought back a little bit more competitiveness and a little bit more confidence that I had in the past years,” he said. “I kind of was slumping there a little bit before he came in and he’s helped me out a lot.”
Ennis currently leads the team in goals and points. He has 19 goals – just on the cusp of his second-career 20-goal season – and 38 points.
“He gave me confidence and told me, ‘Don’t be a robot out there. Go out and play your game. You’re creative but play hard,’” Ennis said. “It’s kind of my game right there is to be offensive and creative but at the same time kind of play with a little edge. He’s kind of let me do that. ”
Nolan has tried to instill a message that everything on the ice must be earned and that includes not only goals and wins, but ice time as well.
Ville Leino was pulled from the team’s game in Nashville on Thursday after feeling light-headed during his first shift. He underwent further testing and did not play Saturday night at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He was back on the ice for practice on Monday and said afterward that he was diagnosed with a type of migraine.
“Your eyes have a delay so it took me a couple of days. I couldn’t really focus much,” Leino said. “Your eyes are delayed, so you talk to someone and you don’t realize you’re talking to him because your eyes fall away. It’s a weird feeling but I’m feeling better now.”
Leino said he didn’t feel well before the game, but when it didn’t pass during his first shift, he was taken into the dressing room for testing.
“I knew it just a couple minutes before the game but sometimes you have feeling like that and they just go away. But this time, they stuck through during the game and it’s a little worrying,” he said. “I wanted to go back to try one more shift but the trainers said not to go because you’re going delayed. So if somebody hits you, you might not even feel it. Something bad might happen so it was better to stay out.”
Leino said he doesn’t anticipate any further issues and that he should be ready to play Tuesday night when the Sabres host the New Jersey Devils at 7 p.m.
Goaltenders Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth, defensemen Tyler Myers and Alexander Sulzer and forwards Chris Stewart, Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell all did not practice as they are recovering from various injuries.
Rookie forward Nicolas Deslauriers did not practice for unspecified reasons.
88 Cory Conacher – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 65 Brian Flynn
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
32 John Scott – 37 Matt Ellis – 23 Ville Leino
This weekend, the Buffalo Sabres organization and its fans will honor the greatest goaltender in franchise history when Dominik Hasek will be inducted into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame. It’s the precursor to being named to the Hockey Hall of Fame this summer, and it’s also a certainty that his number 39 will be hoisted to the First Niagara Center rafters to join 7,11,14, 2, 18 and 16. I’m looking forward to Hasek’s moment Saturday, but he’s not the Buffalo sports icon I’ve been thinking about this week.
Ralph Wilson’s passing on Tuesday was sad news for all of Western New York. Mr. Wilson, as we are all discovering, did more for this community than most thought. He gave us the Bills before we had the Sabres, and thus an introduction into the “big” leagues.
I had a few memorable interactions with him during my years covering the Bills’ beat and working on the radio network. I remember him welcoming me to training camp my first year on the beat in 1995. It was classy, especially since I was a wide-eyed reporter fresh out of college. Mr. Wilson was considerate each time I spoke or interviewed him. He was a treasure to pro football, and to WNY. May he rest in peace.
But Ralph Wilson is not the person I’m thinking about. My heart is heavy for “our” hero, Jim Kelly. His cancer has returned, and according to many accounts, very aggressively. Doctors have decided not to operate this time, other methods are needed. Former teammates, fans and the community have put #12 in their daily prayers.
That’s because we rally like no other community when one of our own needs us, with Blue 4 Ben being the most recent example. But with Jim Kelly, it feels different. How could our hero be in jeopardy? He’s been a pillar, a rock, a constant in our lives.
Why I am referring to Jim Kelly as “our” hero? Because every town needs a hero, someone to save the day, or in our case, bring hope. Jim Kelly was, and still is, that guy. The Bills were our identity throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s. He gave credibility, recognition and hope to a rust belt city with a declining population and stagnant economy.
Kelly led the Bills to four straight Super Bowls, and even though his team didn’t win any of them, he kept coming back for more. Think about the mental toughness it took to carry on. The further away those four trips become in the rearview mirror, the more remarkable they are.
As impressive as Kelly’s gridiron feats were, his work in honor of his late son, Hunter, is even more incredible. Jim and his family took a private battle public to raise awareness for Krabbe disease. He used his status to raise funds, lean on lawmakers, and help implement testing of newborns to prevent other families from suffering the heartache he probably experiences each day. I was a huge Jim Kelly fan (even when I covered the team), but I’m more impressed and proud of what he’s accomplished for our children, and those to come. It’s a fight he continues to this day.
We needed Jim Kelly here in Buffalo, and we still do. He’s ours. It’s comforting seeing him at a Sabres game, dining at the next table, or just being a father and husband. Jim’s a man of strong faith, and I’m sure he knows the plan was for him to stay in Buffalo all along. Heroes go where they’re needed. Every time I see Jim Kelly, I see someone special. It’s special that he lives here. And even in the face of his battle against cancer, he is giving hope to many others with this horrible disease. His wife, Jill, recently wrote a blog about Jim giving some flowers to a young man who didn’t have much time left. The fellow was absolutely thrilled that #12 stopped by his room to make him feel special. That’s what a hero does: they think of others first.
Now it’s our time to be there for Jim Kelly. Number 12 needs The 12th Man. Buffalo, put your Bills jersey on, dust off the Super Bowl seat cushions, and maybe even wear the Zubaz pants. Now is the time to show our hero we’re still his biggest fans.
NASHVILLE – It seems as if every day, Buffalo Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan has to provide an update on another player that has sustained an injury.
Tyler Myers, Marcus Foligno, Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka missed practice Wednesday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. Myers, Foligno and Mitchell got hurt in Buffalo’s game against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.
Myers was tripped going in on goal midway through the third period and slid into the goal post. He took only three shifts after that.
Foligno blocked a shot by Brendan Gallagher while on the penalty kill in the second period and made his way to the bench after that. He ended up finishing the game with 16:19 of ice time.
Mitchell played virtually the entire game, his last shift ending with 1:01 remaining in regulation. He logged 15:42 of ice time, including 5:42 on the penalty kill.
Nolan said that Tuesday was more of a maintenance day for both Myers and Foligno. He expects Foligno to be ready to play against the Nashville Predators on Thursday.
WATCH: TED NOLAN ADDRESSES THE MEDIA
The team will examine Myers and Mitchell and decide later in the evening whether or not they’ll be able to play. Mitchell’s injury might be “a little more serious” than the others, according to Nolan.
Konopka missed the game in Montreal due to a back injury. Nolan said it doesn’t look like he’ll be ready Thursday night.
There’s a chance players will have to be called up from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League to fill the holes in the lineup. The Amerks – on the second half of a back-to-back – host the Milwaukee Admirals on Wednesday.
“Almost every game somebody goes down. It’s one of those things, when things go bad, I guess they go bad,” Nolan said. “Now it gives a chance for some more kids from Rochester who’ve been playing well, maybe have a chance to play here the last six, seven games.”
Michal Neuvirth, who has not skated with the team the past few days, went back to Buffalo for further evaluations on his lower-body injury. He made his last appearance in net on March 13.
Jhonas Enroth did not travel with the team for their five-game road trip due to a lower-body injury he sustained on March 16. Nolan said he’s also being re-evaluated and that there’s a chance he could return before the season ends on April 13.
Hackett picked up his first win with the Sabres on Thursday in Edmonton, where he made 35 saves. On Monday, he stopped 33 shots in a 2-0 loss in Montreal.
“Hackett definitely earned it. That’s one thing about now, it’s audition time. You audition and you do a couple good auditions, you should get another one,” Nolan said.
Before practice on Tuesday, Hackett sat on the bench with goaltending coach Jim Corsi as the two went over some video. Corsi and the defense then did some drills with Hackett toward the end of practice.
With the team’s busy travel schedule lately, there hasn’t been much time for on-ice work and Hackett said he’s glad they got the chance to go over some things in Nashville.
"It’s nice to get out there and can actually feel the puck, kind of work on a few things with him,” he said. “He wants me to keep my hands forward. They’ve been creeping back a bit in my stance so that’s one thing we’ve tried to focus on a bit. Just being sticky, like he says. Try and make saves look easy and keep them in my chest.”
Hackett said he felt calmer in his second start than he did in Edmonton.
“I felt maybe a little more relaxed, with the puck handling, especially,” he said. “I had a few good touches out there, maybe a couple mishandles, but I felt more comfortable going back there and I thought I was just seeing the puck pretty well.”
Hackett’s performance against the Canadiens is the one that made Nolan lean toward starting him against the Predators.
“He played well the last two games, particularly last game in Montreal,” Nolan said. “I thought he was the difference maker. It could’ve been a lot worse, but he kept us in the game.””
Nolan was asked if the players realize they’re being evaluated every day to see if they fit into the team’s plans moving forward.
“I had a great conversation with [Sabres broadcasters and alumni] Brad May and Rob Ray on the airplane last night,” Nolan said. “They played as they had because they’re very competitive people and the one thing they both said to me was, ‘Do these guys realize that they’re auditioning? Do they realize some of them, their contracts are up? Do they realize?’ So I’m hoping they do.”
VANCOUVER – Good luck trying to wipe the smile off Nathan Lieuwen’s face.
The 22-year-old was born and raised less than an hour away in Abbotsford, BC. On Sunday he’ll be the starting goaltender at Rogers Arena facing the Vancouver Canucks, the team he grew up cheering for.
Lieuwen was grinning from ear-to-ear when he spoke with reporters following today’s practice.
“It’s incredible. Obviously this past week has been a whirlwind for me. This is just pretty special,” said Lieuwen, who was sporting a freshly shorn buzzcut. “The Canucks were my team growing up. It’ll be cool to play in this building.”
Sunday’s homecoming will cap off a wild first week of NHL action for Lieuwen. After playing on consecutive nights with the Rochester Americans, Lieuwen was recalled to Buffalo last Sunday when Michal Neuvirth went down with a lower body injury. He was then thrust into action that night against Montreal when Jhonas Enroth suffered a leg injury late in the second period. That was followed by his first career start in Calgary on Tuesday, where he made 23 saves in a 3-1 loss, after holding the Flames scoreless through the first 38:58 of action.
With everything that he’s gone through in the last seven days, Lieuwen says he’ll have to rely on his training and preparation to maintain his focus against the Canucks.
“I’ve just gotta kind of block it out. There’s obviously going to be a lot of emotions, and a lot of extra stuff that could creep into my head. I’ve just got to stay focused on my process and what I have to do on the ice. If I stay focused on that I’ll be fine.”
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan had anticipated having Neuvirth back Sunday, but said today the goaltender had a slight setback in his recovery process.
“We’re trying something different. He’s been feeling really good, and then he goes on the ice and it doesn’t feel well. We’ll try to keep him off until he feels over 100 percent, and then we’ll put him back on.”
Nolan also said that Matt Hackett, coming off his first NHL win in two years, will get the start in Montreal on Tuesday.
Nolan said there won’t be any lineup changes on Sunday, which means that Ville Leino will be scratched for a second straight game.
There was one minor line swap at today’s practice. Matt Ellis was shifted to a line with Matt D’Agostini and Brian Flynn, while rookie Nicolas Deslauriers was dropped back to the right wing on a line with Zenon Konopka and John Scott.
Deslauriers is pointless in eight games with the Sabres since coming over in the deadline day deal that sent Brayden McNabb to Los Angeles. Nolan believes it’s simply time to reel in the 23-year-old Deslauriers a bit.
It’s like anything else, you don’t want to give a young player too much, too soon. He has eight games in the NHL and it’s all about development. Truth being told, if we were a healthier group he wouldn’t be here right now. It is what it is. It’s up to us to watch and monitor. You don’t want to put a kid in a position of failure; you want to put him in a position of success. We’ll taper him back a little bit. I like his game, but we’ve got to get back to the basics with him and develop him."
SUNDAY’S PROJECTED LINES
Marcus Foligno – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Cory Conacher – Cody Hodgson – Torrey Mitchell
Matt Ellis – Brian Flynn – Matt D’Agostini
John Scott – Zenon Konopka – Nicolas Deslauriers
When I woke up on Tuesday morning in Calgary, there was a text message waiting for me from my sister, Michelle. Since she lives 90 minutes away, we were hoping to use this road trip as a chance to get together.
So far, you’re reading this and thinking – big deal. A guy on a business trip trying to coordinate a visit with his sister. Happens all the time, right?
Not with Michelle and I. Because until Tuesday night, we’d never met before.
And how is this possible?
I was adopted.
I was born in July, 1969 in Calgary, Alberta, and my adoption was finalized almost immediately. Less than a year later, my parents relocated to Toronto. This trip to Calgary was the first time I’d been back “home” since that time.
Being an adopted child has never been an issue for me. For as long as I can remember, my parents made it seem like something special. I can still remember seeing the announcement card in my baby book that proclaimed “I wasn’t expected, I was selected.” People would regularly comment that my brown hair and darker features didn’t jibe with my younger brother’s blonde hair and fair skin. I’d simply say, “I was adopted.” While I didn’t know what it really meant, I was proud to share the news with anyone who’d listen.
To this day, it still makes me laugh when people say that I look like my mother or act like my father. And speaking of my parents, I couldn’t have asked for two more supporting and loving people. Whether it was my dad being my baseball and hockey coach for all those years, or my mom encouraging me every step of the way as I searched my for birth mother, they are the ones clearly responsible for who I am today.
But when it came to my personal growth, a few things started to change as I got older.
The youthful innocence of being an adopted child started to give way to questions from a curious teenager. Who do I look like? What’s my ethnic background?
Some of this information actually came to light when I did a class project on adoption in grade 13. My mother had some adoption documents that she shared with me, with the most revealing being that my ethnic background was primarily German. This immediately debunked my long-held theory that I was part Italian. Regardless, it was a start.
As any expectant parent knows, the early stages of pregnancy involve numerous doctor visits. A staple of these visits are the personal questions that must be asked in order to ensure the baby’s health. When my wife became pregnant with our daughter, those were the questions that spurred me to pursue more information about my family history.
With every passing visit, my frustration grew. It was easy for Christine to answer questions about her family’s medical history, but for me it always came down to the same answer: “I don’t know. I was adopted.”
Shortly after my daughter, Alexandra, was born in July, 2002, I contacted an adoption agency in Alberta to initiate the search for my birth parents. Up until that point, Alex was the first and only blood relative I’d ever known. I wanted that to change.
The highs and lows of the next few years were unbelievable. Much to my surprise, the social worker assigned to my case was able to locate my birth mother within a matter of months. However, this didn’t result in immediate contact between the two of us. Instead, the social worker would act as a third party, relaying questions and answers between the two of us via email.
In all the communication I was having with my birth mother, the one thing I always tried to stress was that I wasn’t in this for anything other than trying to learn more about my past. I wasn’t looking for a new family and to become best friends. I’d grown up in a healthy and happy home, and this was more about me just trying to fill in some of the blanks in my life. And if she had ever wondered over the years, I also wanted her to know that I’d done alright for myself over the years: great parents, plenty of friends, and now a beautiful wife and daughter.
But it wasn’t going to be that simple. Just when I’d take one step forward with her, she’d go two in the other direction. She’d explained that there were some personal and family issues that were hanging over her, and she wasn’t 100 percent comfortable in continuing the process. As much as it frustrated me, I had to respect her wishes. This would delay things for months at a time. The social worker would stay in regular contact with me, but unreturned emails and phone calls to her by my birthmother had us in a holding pattern.
As the process played out over several more months, I’d also asked the social worker to let me know if she came across any information about my birth mother’s children. This unexpectedly resulted in my contact with Michelle.
The social worker spoke to Michelle and gave her my contact info. Our first phone conversation lasted three hours. I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly what we talked about; because it was more like what didn’t we talk about.
Through Facebook and emails, Michelle and I have kept in contact ever since then. It was a learning process for both of us, but one that we were both comfortable with. We’d often say how it would be great to finally meet in person some day, but were never able to make any firm plans.
Fast forward to Tuesday.
Knowing I’d be tight for time during the day, and that we were flying to Edmonton immediately after the game, I offered to get Michelle tickets to the game. A few text messages later, everything was all set. Michelle was coming to the game, and bringing her two daughters along for the ride. As the kids like to say these days, things were about to get real!
We’d hoped to see each other before the game, but Michelle was delayed by traffic. Our final plan was in place: I would come find them during the first intermission.
As you can imagine, the first period was a blur for me. It was 1-0 Buffalo, but the score could’ve been 7-6 in the greatest period in NHL history and I couldn’t have cared less. With every second that ticked off the clock, I just kept thinking, “I’m about to meet my sister.” As the period came to a close, I got up and started making the walk from the press box to section 228 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Anyone who’s tried to navigate an arena concourse during intermission knows what I was about to deal with. But in a way, the congested mass of humanity served as something of a distraction for me as I searched for Michelle and her daughters.
That’s not to say I wasn’t thinking about anything. My brain was moving a mile a minute. I’d thought about this moment so many times, and I still had no idea what was about to happen. How am I supposed to react when we first meet? What do I say? What if we don’t hit it off? You name it, I was thinking it.
Then it happened. I spotted the sign for 228, and turned to my left. While moving quickly through the crowd, I spotted a pair of familiar brunettes out of the corner of my eye. Until now I’d only known them from emailed pictures and Facebook photos. But I recognized Michelle’s daughters, Myranda and Jayden, instantly. Standing right next to them was Michelle. My sister.
What happened next? Couldn’t tell you. Pretty sure I made some awkward attempt at saying hi. Then we hugged.
After that, the four of us stood and talked for at least an hour. What about? Everything. Just like that first phone call several years ago, the conversation flowed as easy as I’d hoped it would. Michelle even took a jab at me for having an “American accent.”
And while I’m horrible for spotting familial resemblances between men and women, I could definitely see glimpses of my daughter in both Myranda and Jayden. Not just physical attributes, but personality as well. I could definitely see the three of them getting along famously some day.
As much as I could’ve talked with Michelle and her daughters all night long, I reluctantly told them I had to head back upstairs to the press box. We hugged again, and I thanked her for making the drive up on such short notice so that we could finally get together.
“Are you kidding me? I left work early today,” Michelle said. “I told everyone I was leaving to go meet my brother.”
EDMONTON – The Buffalo Sabres will have a slightly different look on Thursday as they attempt to snap a seven-game losing streak against the Edmonton Oilers. Matt Hackett will get the start in goal, and Marcus Foligno has been moved to a line with Buffalo’s two hottest players, Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis.
Michal Neuvirth took part in today’s practice at a suburban Edmonton rink, but interim coach Ted Nolan doesn’t expect him to be ready for game action until at least Sunday in Vancouver. That opens the door for Hackett to make his first start as a member of the Sabres tomorrow at Rexall Place.
Hackett, acquired from Minnesota in the Jason Pominville trade at last year’s deadline, is 13-17-2 in 33 games with the Rochester Americans this season, with a 3.07 GAA and .898 save%. The 24-year-old had 13 games of NHL experience with the Wild before joining Buffalo, posting a record of 3-7-0 with 2.64 GAA and .914 save%.
Nolan said that Hackett’s start is as much about timing as it is evaluation.
“Nathan (Lieuwen) has gotta be proud of himself the way he’s played (so far). But to overload him real quick is unfair to him, so we’ll go to Hackett. He’s played really well down in the AHL so he deserves a chance,” said Nolan. “It’s all about the evaluation period going forward here, especially looking to the future to see who we’ve got and what we’ve got. Hackett came in with good credentials in the beginning so we’ll see what he has.”
Something else that Nolan would like to see is more offense from his forwards, and that’s where he hopes Foligno can help out. Stafford (4) and Ennis (2) have combined to score all six of Buffalo’s goals during the current losing streak, and Nolan hopes that shuffling the deck up front will result in more scoring. Foligno will take the place of Cory Conacher who had skated with the red-hot duo since joining the Sabres six games ago.
“(Stafford and Ennis), they’ve both got their game going. You can’t ask for much more from them. It’d be unfair for us to break them up,” explained Nolan. “With Conacher, I think he had a couple of empty net tap in goals that he missed. Maybe it’ll be good for Marcus to get in that position, and maybe his confidence will rise. It’s just one of those things where we have to shake it up and try to create some offense somewhere.”
Cody Hodgson was back at center today following a brief stint on the wing, and he was flanked by Conacher and Torrey Mitchell. After skating on the fourth line in Calgary on Tuesday, newcomer Nicolas Deslauriers will now get a chance to play left wing with Brian Flynn and Matt D’Agostini.
Four players rotated through the fourth line in today’s practice, including Ville Leino who was demoted from third line action on Tuesday. Leino was joined by John Scott, Matt Ellis and Zenon Konopka, Buffalo’s lone healthy scratch against the Flames.
Marcus Foligno – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Cory Conacher – Cody Hodgson – Torrey Mitchell
Nicolas Deslauriers – Brian Flynn – Matt D’Agostini
Ville Leino – Matt Ellis – John Scott – Zenon Konopka
Most members of the Buffalo Sabres will board a plane on Monday as the team departs for a five-game, 11-day road trip. Some injured players will be staying behind and there’s a chance at least one of those injured players could meet the team on the road.
Jhonas Enroth, who sustained a lower-body injury Sunday night against the Canadiens, will not go on the trip. Forwards Zemgus Girgensons (undisclosed), Chris Stewart (lower-body injury) and defenseman Alexander Sulzer (upper-body injury) aren’t going either.
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said that defenseman Tyler Myers, who sustained an upper-body injury Thursday night, will not be with the team right away either.
“Tyler’s going to stay back. He’ll have better treatment here and better care here but he could join us on the road trip at some point also,” Nolan said.
Sabres goaltenders have had some bad luck recently when it comes to injuries. Michal Neuvirth is day-to-day with a lower-body injury that forced him to miss the game on Sunday against Montreal. So when Enroth went down late in the second period, emergency recall Nathan Lieuwen was called up to go in and make his NHL debut.
WATCH: NATHAN LIEUWEN INTERVIEW
While Enroth will not make the 7,000-plus-mile trip that sees the Sabres heading to (in order) Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal and Nashville, he may not miss as much time as the team initially thought.
“It looks a little bit better but we’ll see. He’s going to get further evaluation,” Nolan said. “He’s going to stay behind but right now it looks a little bit better today than it did yesterday.”
Neuvirth said he may be ready to play if the team needs him Tuesday night. He skated on his own Monday morning but his status would depend on how he feels Tuesday morning.
Nolan didn’t rule out the possibility of traveling with a third goaltender (possibly Matt Hackett of the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans), but if Neuvirth is unable to play, Lieuwen would be looking at making his first start in the NHL.
UPDATE: HACKETT RECALLED ON EMERGECNY BASIS
“For me, it’s just do my thing and whatever happens, happens,” Lieuwen said. “If I end up in the net again, I’ll play my best and I’ll do what I can and do what I can to earn more.”
Lieuwen, 22, is 6-foot-5, 186 pounds and had played three nights in a row. He started for Rochester on Friday and Saturday before being called upon on Sunday. He stopped 31 shots on Friday, 38 on Saturday and all 10 he faced on Sunday.
“Usually after three-in-three you’re a little more tired and sore, but I actually feel really good,” he said. “I feel like I have energy and I feel like the adrenaline’s starting to kind of ease off a little bit. I can get comfortable and do my thing.”
The Sabres have been battling so many injuries as of late that it may actually be easier to list the players that are healthy. One player that will look to make his return to the lineup is forward Torrey Mitchell.
“The last couple weeks with all the trades and injuries, it’s been a whirlwind for sure,” Mitchell said. “But these are opportunities for everyone to step up. There’s 14 games left and everyone’s trying to make an impression for next season. We’ve got to stick together. We’re going to be playing some good teams and try to play spoiler.”
Mitchell, whom the Sabres acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline on March 5 from the Minnesota Wild, has been out with a lower-body injury since blocking a shot against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 6. He’ll be on the road with the team and expects to be ready by the team’s first game on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames.
WATCH: TORREY MITCHELL INTERVIEW
“He adds a fresh body. He has some moxie to his game, he has some speed to his game,” Nolan said. “He has some maturity. He’s played a lot of playoff games in this League so certainly he can add some experience to a very young team.”
The Sabres and Flames are set to faceoff at 9 p.m. EST from Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
Early on in practice Wednesday morning, Buffalo Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan didn’t like what he was seeing.
He observed numerous missed passes and a level of effort he wasn’t happy with. So he blew his whistle, met with the players on the ice at First Niagara Center and began putting them through extensive skating drills. The players gathered in groups and did laps around the rink until Nolan felt his message had resonated with them.
The veteran members of the team then led a players-only huddle in the corner near the Buffalo bench for several minutes to close out the practice.
“When things aren’t going well and games aren’t going well and you come out in practice and you’re not overly sharp, you’re going to pay the price – and [it was] well deserved,” Sabres forward Matt Ellis said. “When something like that comes in, you hope the message hits home. You come together as a group and you get through it. You pick each other up because there’s no way of getting through that unless you’re doing it together.”
Sabres alternate captain Drew Stafford was one of the players in the middle of the huddle and stressed the importance of having good, consistent practices.
“Even if we are last place, the type of transition we’re going through here with this rebuild, the philosophies and the way that we want to play, it starts in practice,” he said. “It starts with your work habits and attention to detail. When those things aren’t there, it translates to games. That’s the message that was sent.”
To Nolan, the same level of energy and work ethic should be there no matter where a team is in the standings. The ability to develop good habits will then stem from that work.
“I don’t really care what position you’re in or what your skill set is or anything like that. What I care about is the work that you put in and the effort that you put in,” he said. “We didn’t put the effort in at the beginning of practice and habits are easy to form, good or bad. We have to avoid those bad habits and get them out early. We’re still professional people here. We’ve still got a season to go, too. Attention to detail, that’s our No. 1 priority.”
Nolan said he was happy to see some of his older players take charge and hold that meeting. The team coming off a 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday and is looking for direction within the locker room. With a two-game road trip coming up, now is as good a time as any for the players to get together and determine the type of team they want to be moving forward.
“[With] what we’re going through now, leaders are going to emerge and the lazy ones are going to emerge, too. Who’s going to win that battle is going to be the leadership on this team. I’ve liked what Drew’s been doing here for us since I’ve been here. He’s steadily gotten better and better. His maturity’s really been coming on and right now’s a good time for him to step up and I’m glad he did.”
The players said they understood Nolan’s message and that if they want to improve and win more games, they’ll have to bond and take that message to heart.
“As a group, we have to get together. Mistakes are being made every shift out there. If you don’t have the support out there from the guy next to you, you’re not going to be successful,” alternate captain Henrik Tallinder said. “To be successful, you have to have the support. If you look at the good teams, they make maybe not as many mistakes, but they make mistakes too, but you always have someone to clean it up for them. That’s what we have to do, too.”
Stafford hopes that the team is able to take the lessons from practice on Wednesday and learn from them.
“We’re all adults here. We’re not going through juniors where you need to be scolded all the time. We need to take accountability for our own actions out there and Ted is an extremely simple guy when it comes to his philosophies. You show up, you compete.”
The Sabres next play in Carolina on Thursday for a date with the Hurricanes at 7 p.m. at PNC Arena. Nolan wants to see a much better effort than he has the past few days.
“I’m hoping they respond the way they should. And that’s coming to give us a good effort tomorrow night against Carolina,” Nolan said. “It does matter, the score. But what matters more is the effort. We have to have good effort so I’m hoping we have a good one.”
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.”
Nolan was also asked about his future with the Sabres and said that a representative of his and Buffalo general manager Tim Murray are having ongoing discussions about a contract extenstion.
"I put it into my representative’s hands and I guess him and Tim will be talking soon if not have talked already,"
Nolan said. "So, just formalities and getting a couple things ironed out and doing all the legal versus that. We’ll leave it in their hands for now."
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.