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PRATT PLAYS WELL, INJURES GROIN

Friday, 11.02.2007 / 11:10 PM / Features
By Brian Wheeler  - Sabres.com
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PRATT PLAYS WELL, INJURES GROIN
Defenseman Nolan Pratt
The ink hadn't dried on Nolan Pratt's letter of intent to play hockey in the Russian Super Leagues when his telephone rang.

Just 60 minutes separated Pratt's career away from the NHL and the opportunity with the Buffalo Sabres that general manager Darcy Regier was presenting from 1,300 miles to the north.


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That call was both a shock and a blessing for the 11-year veteran, who saw his first action of the season  Friday night in Buffalo's 4-2 loss to Florida when a shoulder injury forced Jaroslav Spacek out of the lineup.

"I was really surprised at the time," said Pratt of the Sabres interest.  "I didn't think anything was going to happen over that last period."

Pratt's agent had initial discussions with Buffalo over the summer but things hadn't panned out before the regular season.  Pratt secured a spot overseas, and was left without an NHL home for the 2007-08 season.  Or so he thought.

Regier's phone call ended Pratt's hiatus from North American hockey before it even had a chance to begin. 

After that, his life became a movie montage where the protagonist trains into championship form in the matter of minutes.  Pratt went from unrestricted free agent, to tryout hopeful, to signing his name on a one-year deal, to key member of the Sabres blueline in just seven days.

He finished Friday night tied for the team lead with captain Toni Lydman by blocking three shots and posted a minus-one rating.

"He played really well," said goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, who turned away 20-of-24 shots in the loss.  "It's really tough to get in there after sitting at home for so long.  He hadn't even had a practice with the team.  He's just had a couple of pre-game skates. 

"I thought he was tremendous."

Conditioning was the Sabres' main concern when deciding how to proceed with Pratt once he was acquired.

The team had hoped to assign the defenseman to the Rochester Americans for a conditioning stint and to get him better acquainted with their style of play.  A defensive defenseman, Pratt has had limited exposure to Buffalo's defensive scheme.

That plan disappeared Friday with Spacek's injury, and unfortunately, Pratt became the latest Sabres blueliner to be bitten by the injury bug that same night.

He saw action in just two periods and had his cinematic story cut short. 

"He was doing pretty good, and then he kind of tweaked his groin a little bit ... then we lost him," said head coach Lindy Ruff.  "That's the greatest fear of trying to put somebody in the lineup.  We were either going to put him in the lineup here or in Rochester and it could have happened in either.

"I said it this morning, you can practice and skate all you want on your own but until you get in that intense game situations you don't know what you expect."

Ruff termed the injury minor and said that Pratt would be reexamined on Saturday.  His benching in the third was just precautionary.

It wasn't the storybook ending that everyone had hoped for.

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