"BIG JOE" OVERCOMES ADVERSITY
Thursday, 12.1.2011 / 3:53 PM ET
If Zack Kassian’s recall last week would be considered “eagerly anticipated,” you can file Joe Finley’s in the “completely unexpected” category. Because that’s normally what happens when you start the season as a healthy scratch in the AHL after being a Sabres training camp invitee.
But Finley isn’t your run of the mill minor league recall. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound defenseman was a first-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2005, and played four years at the University of North Dakota. In his first professional season with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays in 2009, Finley suffered a ruptured artery in his hand on an innocent play in the defensive zone when he was checking an opposition player.
The injury has limited Finley to just 69 professional games since then, including 26 at the AHL level with Hershey and now Rochester. In 18 games with the Amerks this season, Finley leads the team with 57 PIMs and a plus-10 rating, while adding one goal and one assist.
Finley, 24, started the season on an AHL deal, but was signed to an NHL contract by the Sabres on Monday. Three days later he finds himself preparing for his first NHL game on Friday night when Detroit comes to town. Finley knows what has worked for him in Rochester, and wants to play the same way in Buffalo.
“I really just took it upon myself to focus on the things I can control, and that’s trying to play a real simple, solid brand of hockey. I’ve been fortunate to do that so far. Things are moving in the right direction but there’s a long way to go to be here full time, that’s for sure.”
With Jordan Leopold out of the lineup recovering from an upper body injury, many would have assumed TJ Brennan and his offensive skills would’ve been a better fit as his replacement on the blueline. But Brennan also has an upper body injury, and Finley was the best man for the job in the eyes of Amerks coach Ron Rolston.
A native of Edina, Minn., Finley may not have the offensive numbers that Brennan does, but Lindy Ruff was very impressed with his skating during training camp.
“He was able to skate and make plays, and for a big man that’s always the challenge,” explains Ruff. “He skates very well, he’s able to handle the puck, and his first pass has been good. When you have that size and that reach, you’ve got an automatic advantage over a lot of players.”
INJURY UPDATES: Ryan Miller was going to undergo concussion testing today, and it looks like he will start one of the games this weekend … Drew MacIntyre has been returned to Rochester … Tyler Ennis (ankle sprain) skated on a line with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford today. He is expected to be back in the lineup tomorrow against Detroit after missing the last 17 games … Patrick Kaleta (groin) got through practice without any problems, and his playing status for Friday will be determined after the morning skate. He has missed the last four games.