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LOCAL PLAYERS ON THE RISE

Tuesday, 07.01.2008 / 1:09 PM / Features
By Erin Pollina  - Sabres.com
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LOCAL PLAYERS ON THE RISE
Andrew Orpik (Photo: Getty Images)
The Queen City is rapidly becoming hockey royalty.

With more players being selected in the NHL Entry Draft from Western New York each year, the city is earning recognition as a bona fide hockeytown.

“I think a lot of credit goes to the Sabres. The more successful they are, the more little kids are watching and getting excited about the game,” said Andrew Orpik. “Kids kind of look at you and say ‘yeah it is possible’ and maybe they want to play.”

Since 2005 there have been 26 players from the Empire State drafted by NHL teams.

Of those 26 selections, 12 have come from the Buffalo area.

Orpik, an East Amherst native, was selected 227th overall by the Sabres in 2005, holding onto the theory that success breeds success.

“You look back a couple years ago and the Sabres get to the Eastern Conference Finals, the whole city rallied around the team,” he said. “Everyone was wearing their Sabres gear to school, to work, and it gave people something to get excited about.”

Now fans are eager to watch local products, such as the Chicago Blackhawks’ Pat Kane (Buffalo, NY), Sabres’ Pat Kaleta (Angola, NY) and St. Louis Blues’ Lee Stempniak (West Seneca, NY), in addition to their hometown team.

"The number of participants in youth leagues across Buffalo has significantly risen," said Sabres Public Relations Director Mike Gilbert. "In Amherst Hockey alone there has been double-digit growth over the past few years totaling more than 1,300 kids in the organization."

“When I was young I liked the Sabres but it was more of a Bills town,” Oprik said. “I think now you are seeing a shift from when the Bills were great, making four straight Super Bowl [appearances], to now the Sabres are the contenders every year.”

Local schools, such as Niagara University and Canisius College, are also attracting more attention for their hockey programs.

“They are in such competitive conferences now and college hockey is getting better and better every year,” Orpik said. “To have two teams like that around here is really beneficial to the city. It may not get the recognition quite yet that it needs, but the more kids coming out of this area [other kids] are going to be watching growing up and they will want to come here to play.”

“You have to start taking it more seriously,” said Buffalo Sabres Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine. “They’ve got a kid [at Canisius], Vincent Scarsella, who is a pretty good player, local kid… He is on the radar, and you know what it does is if scouts say we’ve got to see this kid in Canisius and you go down there and you say ‘this is a pretty good league. We should get watching it a little bit more.’ I think it’s going to give a little bit more attention to those places… With more and more local kids coming out of the Buffalo area I would think the scale of coverage would pick up.”

Scarsella joins three other Buffalo natives at development camp as an invitee for the Sabres this week as he, Orpik, Kaleta and Tim Kennedy look to impress the scouts along with other prospects.

“Buffalo has always been a hockey town, I just think now people are recognizing it more,” Kennedy said. “With hockey, you don’t have to be the biggest kid, the strongest kid to play. It’s all about skill, it’s a game you can work on.

“It’s a game that any kid can have fun playing, a special game that kids love and it’s fun to watch. I think that’s why kids love playing hockey and Buffalo is a great place to do it in.”

NHL DRAFT PICKS FROM BUFFALO SINCE 2005


YEAR NAME BIRTHPLACE NHL TEAM
2008 Thomas McCollum Amherst, NY Detroit Red Wings
2007 Patrick Kane Buffalo, NY Chicago Blackhawks
2007 Phil Desimone East Amherst, NY Washington Capitals
2007 Justin Vaive Buffalo, NY Anaheim Ducks
2006 Nick Foligno Buffalo, NY Ottawa Senators
2006 Michael Ratchuk Buffalo, NY Philadelphia Flyers
2006 Kevin Quick Buffalo, NY Tampa Bay Lightning
2006 Shane Sims East Amherst, NY New York Islanders
2006 Brett Bennett Buffalo, NY Phoenix Coyotes
2005 Tim Kennedy Buffalo, NY Washington Capitals
2005 Nicholas Tuzzolino Buffalo, NY New York Islanders
2005 Andrew Orpik East Amherst, NY Buffalo Sabres

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