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Jeanneret, Hawerchuk to enter Sabres Hall

Longtime broadcaster Rick Jeanneret and center Dale Hawerchuk will be inducted as the 36th and 37th members of the Sabres Hall of Fame during a ceremony before the team’s game against the Winnipeg Jets on November 8, the team announced today.

Jeanneret, of course, has been a radio-TV voice of the team since 1971, its second season in the NHL and remains wildly popular in the 40th season his career. He will be taking on a reduced schedule of games this year to cut down on his travel but is scheduled to call all games home and away during the playoffs.

Jeanneret will be joining the late Ted Darling, the team's longtime play-by-play man, and former analyst Jim Lorentz in the hall among team broadcasters.

Getting inducted on the night the Sabres host Winnipeg for the first time since the 1995-96 season will certainly have extra meaning for Hawerchuk, who was a No. 1 overall pick of the Jets in 1981 and played nine seasons for them until being traded to Buffalo at the 1990 Entry Draft.

Hawerchuk led the Sabres in scoring three times (1990-91, 1991-92 and 1993-94), and paced the team in goals, assists and points (35-51-86) in 1993-94. He played for St. Louis and Philadelphia and retired after 16 seasons in the NHL with 518 goals, 891 assists and 1,409 points, 10th on the career NHL points list at the time of his retirement. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 2001.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Sabres announce roster for NHL Prospect Tournament

The Sabres won't be having a rookie camp in HSBC Arena this season, partly because of the ongoing locker room renovations but also because they're going to instead take their young players to Traverse City, Mich., for the first time and play in the NHL Prospect Tournament that has been run since 1998 in cooperation with the Detroit Red Wings' training camp.

The Sabres will be joining the Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues at the event, which runs Sept. 10-14. Count this as a big added expense on the scouting/development side under new owner Terry Pegula: Traverse City, a city of about 15,000 people, is in extreme northwest Michigan, a four-hour drive from Detroit.

Some big prospect names will be on the Sabres' roster, such as forwards Luke Adam, Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno, and defensemen Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk. Defenseman Alex Lepkowski, the West Seneca native drafted in the fifth round in June, will also play. 

Teams are divided into two divisions for a round-robin portion of the tournament and then ranked by their win-loss records for final placement in 7th-, 5th-, 3rd-place and championship games on the final day. The winning team will be given a plaque and their name put on a trophy to be housed at Centre Ice Arena.

Buffalo's full roster:

Forwards: Adam, Kassian, Foligno, Steven Beyers, Riley Boychuk, Daniel Catenacci, Cedrick Henley, Jacob Legace, Jonathan Parker, Steven Shipley, Kevin Sundher, Gregg Sutch, Shawn Szydlowski, Corey Tropp, Phil Varone.
Defense: Pysyk, McNabb, Lepkowski, Alex Biega, Nick Crawford, Corey Fienhage, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Matt MacKenzie.
Goalies: Nathan Lieuwen, Ryan Rondeau.

The complete schedule for the tournament is at this link. The Sabres open against Minnesota Sept. 10 at 3:30. They then meet Columbus at 2:30 on Sept. 11 and Detroit at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13 before playing their placement game on Sept. 14.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

McKee to be named Amerks aide

The Rochester Amerks will be holding a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Blue Cross Arena to announce that former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee and Chadd Cassidy, a former assistant with the U.S. National Developmental Team, will be named the team's assistants to new head coach Ron Rolston.

McKee, who turns 34 on Sept. 8, is one of the most beloved defensemen in Sabres history and most recently served as a volunteer assistant coach at Niagara University. He played 802 NHL games, closing his career with Pittsburgh in 2009-10. McKee played 24 games over parts of three seasons with the Amerks, and played with the Sabres from 1995-2006.

He served as a key member of the blueline on the 1999 Stanley Cup finalists and a stalwart on the 2006 Eastern Conference finalists, although he's probably most remembered for the most famous staph infection in Buffalo history, the leg problem that caused him to miss Game Seven at Carolina. Any Sabres loyalist will tell you they would have won that game and the Stanley Cup that season had McKee been able to play.

Cassidy served under Rolston the last five years with the U.S developmental squad.  he also spent four years as head coach at the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid and time as an assistant at Cortland State (his alma mater) and Potsdam State.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Stanley takes a spill on Ryder's day

Summer isn't over yet for the Boston Bruins on their individual tours with the Stanley Cup. Each member of the winning team gets it for a day and today is Michael Ryder's day in his hometown of St. John, Newfoundland. Ryder, who will play for the Dallas Stars this year, is planning a helicopter ride but the day didn't start very well as the Cup got dinged thanks to a tricky table leg.

Check out the video from the St. John Telegram.  Bet there's a nervous Cupkeeper nearby.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Kassian attending rookie showcase

Zack IIHow is Zack Kassian spending some of his final days prior to training camp? The Sabres' top prospect is in Toronto for the 2011 NHLPA Rookie Showcase. It's an orientation session for rookies with the players union that features several seminars.

It's also a chance for Panini America and Upper Deck, the official trading card partners of the NHLPA and the NHL, with an exclusive opportunity to photograph many of them for the first time in shots that will be used for upcoming trading card and memorabilia launches.

Among the players participating were Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the top pick in the June draft, and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog, the No. 2 choice; Nashville's Blake Geoffrion, who made his NHL debut last season; and some of Kassian's Team Canada teammates from the World Juniors such as Ryan Ellis of Nashville, Carter Ashton of Tampa Bay and Cody Eakin of Washington.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

(Photo courtesy of the NHLPA) 

Stempniak on the move again

West Seneca native Lee Stempniak's time in the desert is over as the right winger was traded Monday by the Phoenix Coyotes to the Calgary Flames for veteran center Daymond Langkow. Stempniak, who will make $1.9 million next year before heading into free agency, signed a two-year deal with Phoenix last summer after there was plenty of chatter from Sabres fans about getting him to sign to return home.

Stempniak had 19 goals and 19 assists while playing all 82 games last season for Phoenix. He was coming off a career year of 28 goals while splitting time with Toronto and the Coyotes in 2009-10.

Langkow, meanwhile, played just four games last year after suffering a severe neck injury in 2010. He carries a $4.5 million cap hit. The NHL-run Coyotes are apparently not afraid of taking on some money as they're up to a team payroll approaching $52 million.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Video: Koelmel answers questions following news conference

First Niagara CEO John Koelmel had the following to say following today's news conference in which it was announced HSBC Arena would now be called First Niagara Center:

First Niagara examined return of 'Aud'

John Koelmel, the CEO of First Niagara Bank, knew the Knox brothers (who founded the Sabres), remembers watching The French Connection and has been a fan of Sabres hockey for years. He's knows the team's traditions, which is why his bank and the Sabres examined bringing back the name of the team's longtime arena: The Aud.

Instead, the sides decided on First Niagara Center as the new name for the building at the foot of Washington Street.

"We talked about Auditorium," Koelmel said at the news conference announcing his bank had acquired the naming rights to HSBC Arena. "It’s a little bit of a mouthful and all the rest of that. First Niagara Center, everyone felt it rolled off the tongue pretty well and resonated well."

The Sabres played in Memorial Auditorium from 1970 until 1996.

---John Vogl

Stanley or Vince?

Here's the ultimate litmus test for determining whether Buffalo is a hockey town or a football town.

 

First Niagara, Sabres feel they're part of a hot team as bank aquires arena naming rights

John Koelmel, with a new Buffalo Sabres jersey nearby bearing his name, looked around and said the obvious: It's been a very good month for First Niagara Bank.

The bank, which took over 195 HSBC branches Aug. 1, took the next step in increasing its regional presence today by acquiring the naming rights to the Sabres' arena. The building at the foot of Washington Street is now known as First Niagara Center, with the team and bank agreeing on a 15-year deal.

"August has been a good month for us," Koelmel, president and CEO of First Niagara, said in the atrium of First Niagara Center. "The first of the month we proudly announced our transaction with HSBC, and I'm thrilled that we're relatively able to close the month with the second piece of the puzzle. It's a wonderful opportunity to partner with an organization that has been at the heart and soul of this community for the last 40-plus years."

Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal brings the Sabres significantly more cash than their previous deal. HSBC bought the naming rights to the arena for $15 million as part of a 20-year deal in 1995 and reportedly paid another $9 million five years later to settle a lawsuit and put its new name on the arena.

"This is the most significant sponsorship agreement in the history of Western New York sports, both financially and the fact that it joins two of the hottest brands in our region," Sabres President Ted Black said.

First Niagara, which began as Lockport Savings Bank, has been aggressive in its expansion. It mirrors the aggressiveness of the Sabres under new owner Terry Pegula, and the sides were pleased to come together. Koelmel inquired about getting the naming rights during the latter stages of the negotiations with HSBC.

"We're incredibly proud that the First Niagara banner will be flying over the home ice for many years to come," Koelmel said. "As Ted said and I agree, it's two teams very much on the rise, two organizations committed to winning with top talents playing against the best in the business, and doing so with a determination to win, and also with a determination to ensure we mutually work together to provide leadership across this organization to make Buffalo and Western New York a better place to work and live."

The Sabres' goal is to have the transfer of the outdoor and indoor signage from HSBC Arena to First Niagara Center completed by the home opener Oct. 14.

Paul Cronin, executive vice president of HSBC Bank, said the latest transaction should not be taken as a sign the corporation is abandoning Western New York. He said the bank has signed a new lease for a suite in hockey arena and is preparing to refurbish HSBC Atrium, which is across the street from the arena.

"The naming rights here are a natural progression from the transaction that we announced earlier in the month with First Niagara," said Cronin. "We will continue to have a strong presence here in Buffalo and in Western New York. Our community involvement will continue to be strong and our businesses here, our commercial banking business, our global banking businesses, our private banking business."

---John Vogl

Recording of news conference: Name change to First Niagara Center

First Niagara has purchased the naming rights to the downtown home of the Buffalo Sabres. Officials including John R. Koelmel, CEO of First Niagara Financial Group, and Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black, discussed the name change.

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HSBC Arena to become First Niagara Center

The Buffalo Sabres' home is getting a name change for the fourth time.

The Sabres held a news conference this afternoon to announce that HSBC will no longer hold the naming rights to the arena at the foot of Washington Street. First Niagara has acquired the naming rights.

The new name is First Niagara Center. The Web address www.firstniagaracenter.com directs users to the arena website.

"This is the most significant sponsorship agreement in the history of Western New York, both financially and the fact that it joins two of the hottest brands in our region," Sabres President Ted Black said.

The arena, which opened in 1996, was called Crossroads Arena during construction. It became Marine Midland Arena when the bank purchased the naming rights prior to the opening, and it became HSBC Arena when that corporation rebranded itself in 2000.

First Niagara announced late last month that it was purchasing 195 HSBC Bank branches across New York and Connecticut, so getting its name on the area's premier arena would further boost the bank's name recognition.

First Niagara, which began as Lockport Savings Bank, put its name on an outdoor amphitheatre near Pittsburgh last year.

---John Vogl

Kotalik: 'I can measure myself up with any guy on that squad'

Ales Kotalik is intent on proving to the Sabres that his NHL career is not over.

The winger, who has struggled in his two seasons since leaving Buffalo, vows to show folks during training camp that he belongs with the Sabres, not in the AHL with the Amerks.

"Absolutely, I want to stay in Buffalo," Kotalik told The News by phone from the Czech Republic. "I'm coming to training camp with an open mind. I know that I can measure with anybody on that team. I can measure myself up with any guy on that squad, on that team, and I hope I will get the opportunity that I need. Everything else is up to me."

Kotalik broke the 20-goal barrier three times in his seven seasons with the Sabres, but he has just 22 goals in the 116 games since. He spent half of last season playing for Calgary's minor-league team.

"I'm excited coming over to see all the people I missed for two years," said Kotalik, who was shipped by Buffalo to Edmonton at the 2009 trade deadline. "When I heard that I was part of the trade with Robyn Regehr, at first I didn't know what to think. Then I got a call from [General Manager] Darcy [Regier] and [owner] Terry [Pegula], and they told me that they took me for a reason. They still think that I can play.

"I'm excited. It feels like I'm at home, and hopefully I can prove to everybody who had doubts about me that I can still play and be a good player for that team."

---John Vogl

Kane still in cast but on pace for season opener

Patrick Kane, who had surgery on his wrist last month, says he is on pace to be back by the Chicago Blackhawks' season opener.

"I went to get it checked out [Monday] and everything seems to be checking right now, so good news," Kane told Toronto's Fan 590 AM on Tuesday. "I should be ready for the start of the season.

"All I've been able to do is skate by myself, not really with full equipment on," said the South Buffalo native, who added his wrist is still in a cast. "I've been skating with one hand out there, but you still have to skate. It's part of our job in the summer to get ourselves ready any way we can. That's what I'm doing. Usually at this time of year I'd be skating with some of the Sabres.

"I'm not going to rush anything. We still have a lot of time. My goal is to be ready for the opening regular-season game. Obviously, you'd like to be back in training camp, but more importantly, the day is Oct. 7 for our first regular-season game. That's the date I'm working for. No rush because things are going pretty well right now."

---John Vogl

Kassian selected for rookie card photo shoot

Zack Kassian is set to achieve that childhood mark of immortality: His face is going to be on a trading card.

Kassian is one of 27 NHL prospects who have been selected to participate in the 2011 NHL Players' Association Rookie Showcase next Tuesday near Toronto. The Sabres' first-round pick in 2009 will join notables such as Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Washington's Cody Eakin in posing for Upper Deck, giving the trading card company an exclusive opportunity to photograph many of the game’s top young prospects for the first time in their NHL uniforms. The shots will be used for upcoming trading card and memorabilia launches.

---John Vogl

Drury retires after 12 NHL seasons

Sabres hockey SPORTS RANGERS AT SABRES Chris Drury has called it a career after 12 seasons in the NHL.

The NHL Players Association announced the veteran forward's retirement today. Drury played 892 games with four different teams -- the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers. He won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001.

Drury played three seasons for the Sabres. He and fellow co-captain Daniel Briere led Buffalo to the Eastern Conference finals in 2007, then both departed as free agents in July of that year.

Drury reportedly is suffering from a degenerative condition in his left knee that would have caused him to sit out the entire 2011-12 season. The Rangers bought out the final year of his contract in the spring, making him a free agent.

Drury won the Hobey Baker Award with Boston University, and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. He is the only player to earn both honors.

---Greg Connors

 

Amerks open Oct. 8 at Hamilton

The American Hockey League finally released its schedule Thursday -- I'm told NBA arenas make the process a long and difficult one -- and the Rochester Amerks will open their first season in their return to affiliation with the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 8 at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton against the Hamilton Bulldogs, Montreal's top farm team.

The Amerks' home opener at Blue Cross Arena will be Oct. 13 against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. 

Here's the link to the Amerks' complete schedule.

And if you want a full blow-by-blow analysis of the slate, including the load of back-to-back (and sometimes back-to-back-to-back) games they play in the AHL, check out Kevin Oklobzija's blog at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle site.

One highlight: The game March 24 at Syracuse may be played in the Carrier Dome in an attempt to break the AHL attendance record by drawing 25,000 plus. Wow.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

 

Sabres get a dozen national TV games

The NHL has announced its national television schedule and the Sabres are set for 10 games on Versus and two on NBC. The start times for three of the Versus games have been altered to accommodate the television broadcast.

Buffalo's NBC appearances will be Feb. 19 at 12:30 against Pittsburgh from HSBC Arena and April 7 at Boston in a 3 p.m. start that will mark the regular season finale.

Home games on Oct. 25 against Tampa Bay and Feb. 1 against the New York Rangers have been moved from 7 p.m. to 7:30 for Versus, and the March 5 game at Winnipeg has similarly been shifted from an 8:30 Eastern start to 8.

Buffalo's other Versus games are Nov. 2 against Philadelphia, Nov. 14 against Montreal, Nov. 16 against New Jersey, Dec. 7 against Philadelphia, Jan. 18 at Chicago, Feb. 8 against Boston and March 14 against Colorado.

3:50 update:  Versus' Wednesday games will be national exclusive game of the week telecasts that won't be on MSG. The Sabres are on seven of those, two more than any other team. According to the Sabres, their 12 nationally televised games tie Buffalo for second-most in the league behind Boston and Philadelphia, who have 13 games each.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Ehrhoff: Cup quest brought me to Sabres

The Sabres trotted out defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to meet the media for the first time Wednesday morning in the HSBC Arena Harbour Club and the team's new $40 million man said ownership's commitment to winning a Stanley Cup was the No. 1 reason he signed with Buffalo after the team got his rights from the New York Islanders. He thus never entered the unrestricted free agent pool.

"I didn't see that [Cup chance] with the Islanders so I decided not to take their offer, which was a great offer they made [five years for $23 million]," he said. "The next morning I woke up and was with Buffalo and went through the process again of talking to ownership, management and the coach.

Ehrhoff also talked with fellow German Olympian Jochen Hecht, former San Jose teammate Mike Grier and former Sabre and German teammate Daryl Shannon.

"Everybody just had good things to say about the city of Buffalo," he said. "About it being a great place to live with your kids and a good place for them to grow up, which was another criteria I was looking for. Terry has shown he's very committed to put a team together that can win the Stanley Cup. For me it made sense and why I joined the team."

Ehrhoff may have had 40 million reasons to sign with the Sabres but remember how close he came in June, as the Canucks got to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup final before losing to Boston. So he's a player who clearly puts a priority on winning.

Ehrhoff was presented with a white No. 10 jersey by president Ted Black, GM Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff.

 

"Christian fits the way we play," said coach Lindy Ruff. "We're a team that has our defense involved and gets up ice. If you look at the way Vancouver's defense played and were involved in the offensive side of the game, it's an automatic fit."

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

 

Fans are focus of planned documentary

Here's one for the Sabres fanatics out there: Buffalo native Mary Wall, who has worked for several years as a production assistant on "The Office", is casting a feature-length documentary following the lives of  Sabres fans. According to her release, "the documentary will showcase what it means to be a Buffalonian through the eyes of Sabres fans who maintain faith in their team and their city."

Wall will be having open casting sessions with interviews from 5-8 p.m. at the following locations:

Wednesday -- Spot Coffee, 765 Elmwood
Thursday -- Audubon Library, 350 John James Audubon Parkway, Amherst.
Friday -- The Comfort Zone Cafe, 17 Main Street, Hamburg.

Walk-ins are welcome, but you can also e-mail bflosabresdoc@gmail.com to set up an appointment, ask questions, or share stories.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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