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Live from the FNC: Sabres vs. Caps

Hunter the villain back in town

HunterDale Hunter was one of the most reviled opponents in Sabres history, a complete nuisance on the ice who got under the skin of players and fans alike during his days with the Quebec Nordiques in the 1980s and again for the Washington Capitals as they beat the Sabres in the 1998 Eastern Conference finals (left).

Hunter is back in town tonight in his 12th game as the head coach of the Caps. He's 5-5-1 since taking over for Bruce Boudreau. And he got a chuckle when I asked him what's he like to return to a place where he was Public Enemy No. 1 for a long time.

Hunter coach"That's a long time ago," Hunter said. "You come here, you know you're going to play hard and stuff happens out there. ... What you remember is the fans and there were always great battles in the playoffs and stuff. It's a hockey town."

Hunter may be a bit of a lame duck as the Washington Post reported last week his contract is only through the end of the season so the Caps might be searching again but for now, at least, he's trying to put more of a defensive style into the once free-wheeling Caps.

"Bruce was an offensive guy who really wanted to outscore teams and really cared about goals and Dale can care less," said veteran Mike Knuble. "If you play a stingy defensive game and win 1-0 or 2-1, he's comfortable playing in those games. He's conitioning to play calm in those situations and not get antsy. If the game is going to finish 1-0, hopefully we've got the one."

---Mike Harrington

Getty Images photos: Hunter roughs up Brian Holzinger during the 1998 Caps-Sabres series and behind the Caps bench last  week.

Hecht and Boyes will return, Vanek stays in

Lo and behold, there's actually very good news on the Sabres injury front.  Coach Lindy Ruff confirmed after today's morning skate that Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht will both play tonight against the Washington Capitals, while Thomas Vanek will also be in the lineup after missing the third period Thursday in Toronto.

Hecht is going to center Vanek and Jason Pominville on the top line while Boyes will join Derek Roy and Drew Stafford on the second line.

"It's going to help, no doubt," Ruff said. "Jochen back in the middle should help against other teams' top lines. Brad was going pretty good when he got hurt, was good on the power play and should give us a  couple stronger lines."

Hecht missed the first 20 games with concussion symptoms, played eight and then missed the last six after getting struck on the foot by a shot during the Dec. 9 game against Florida. Boyes, who played more than 500 consecutive games in the NHL , has missed 13 games with an ankle sprain suffered Nov. 23 against Boston.

Hecht had three goals and was plus-4 in his eight games. Boyes had two goals, six assists and was even in 21 games.

"It was frustrating getting injured again but I'm out there to do my job," said Hecht. "If I've got to block a shot, I block a shot. That happens. It's not what I was looking for but here we go again."

Boyes said it was an odd feeling to see the team skating with nearly two dozen players on the ice, a rarity the last six weeks.

"And it's an odd feeling coming off early too," Boyes said with a smile. "Normally I have to stay out and get bag-skated [extra drills run by the assistants for injured players] so that was a good feeling too."

Marc-Andre Gragnani will again be a scratch and Paul Szczechura is still here, likely just to make sure Hecht is OK. Derek Whitmore has been returned to Rochester.

---Mike Harrington

Lots of hands on deck for once

The Sabres have just taken the ice for the first time since ending the Christmas break and there are more guys skating than we've seen in a long time. We'll have to wait until Lindy Ruff's post-skate update to see who is actually going to be in the lineup tonight against the Washington Capitals but here's what we can glean at this point:

1). Thomas Vanek is skating so he may be ready to try to gut through another game like he did Thursday in Toronto.

2). Jochen Hecht is on a line, with Vanek and Jason Pominville, for the first time in a few weeks.

3). Brad Boyes is on a line with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford

4). Tyler Ennis is skating in white with Matt Ellis, Zack Kassian, Paul Szczechura and Luke Adam. You would think two from this group won't play tonight.

5). Tyler Myers is again skating with the defensemen. He's paired with Marc-Andre Gragnani, who's likely to again be a healthy scratch.

6). Nathan Gerbe and Corey Tropp both skated in red non-contact jerseys with the team for the first time since suffering concussions and then left the ice when drills started. Derek Whitmore is not here and has likely been sent back to Rochester.

At one point during warmups, the Sabres had 24 players on the ice (14 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies) Been a while for that.

Stay tuned for Ruff's update.

---Mike Harrington

A full morning's work before the break

The Sabres were on the ice for an hour this morning in First Niagara Center -- they started a couple hours early -- and then headed on their NHL-mandated holiday break (teams can't practice on Dec. 24 or 25). Lindy Ruff said after Thursday's loss in Toronto the team would probably have a light skate today but they instead had a full practice. It wasn't punitive, as there was no quibbling with the effort in the 3-2 loss, but Ruff clearly felt the Sabres needed to shake that game and get one more workout in.

Ruff closed the practice with a few words to his team and some holiday good wishes and then headed off. Some players started to follow but captain Jason Pominville called them to the boards in a tight circle for another quick chat. Pominville wouldn't divulge much but said the break was at a good time.

"This break has to be an advantage for us to regrouup, refocus and energize ourselves for what's ahead of us," he said.

The Sabres look ahead still hoping to get healthier. Ruff said there's concern about Thomas Vanek, who is believed to have some sort of shoulder injury and couldn't play in the third period Thursday. Tyler Ennis (ankle) wanted to skate Friday but had pain in the ankle and didn't. Brad Boyes (ankle) is a possibility for Monday. Jochen Hecht (leg) skated on his own before practice and is progressing. So is Tyler Myers (wrist), who skated with the team but still isn't involved in any physical drills.

"He's got a ways to go,'" Ruff said of Myers, who has another checkup Monday. "He can't handle the puck very well or shoot yet but I think that will come quickly." 

For the full audio of Ruff's chat with reporters, click below.

Lindy Ruff

---Mike Harrington

Vote for your three stars

Live from the ACC: Sabres vs. Leafs

Maple Leaf Gardens reborn ... as what?

IMG_0236TORONTO -- More than 12 years after it closed its doors as the city's sports palace, Maple Leaf Gardens was reborn two weeks ago when the first phase of its redevelopment opened. As a Loblaws. Yes, a supermarket. But don't laugh.

I went and checked it out a couple times over the last two days and it's a spectacular example of urban re-use. And it really makes you shake your head even more about what wasn't done down at the Aud, which is still a big, ugly hole in the ground.

And it's only Phase I. The next part is taking the upper floors of the old arena and converting them into a new home for the Ryerson Tech athletic program, specifically the hockey team. So there will be hockey played in the next year or two at the old barn. That part isn't open for viewing yet (but if you click on the link and play the Toronto Star video, you can see what's inside).

I went to maybe a half-dozen Leafs games at the Garden, three of them with our late friend/News Sports Reporter and Leafs fan extraordinaire Tom Borrelli. (I do wonder what he would think about the Gardens as a supermarket!).

The Loblaws is even better than the cavernous Wegmans that we see back in Buffalo. There's an 18-foot wall of cheese, a deli with slabs of meat behind glass, a pizza/pasta/prepared foods station that is just huge. There are pastries, chocolate, seafood, everything you can imagine.

IMG_0240But what I like is they just didn't just bulldoze the place and plop a supermarket in. They understood this was Maple Leaf Gardens. The marquee out front has been reborn for starters (above left). Inside, there's exposed brick. There's a giant Maple Leafs logo statue hanging above an escalator -- made of old blue seats from the building (left).

IMG_0251The tables where you can sit and eat have glass tops that cover old clippings of all kinds of events from building's glory days, from hockey to wrestling to Billy Graham. There's a giant mural near the entrance that replicates one that used to be in the building. and there are several old Gardens seats in front of it for you to rest. There are poles in each shopping aisle showing great moments in the building's history (right).

IMG_0249And there's even this: In aisle 25 -- directly next to the Spam (really!) -- there's a big red dot on the floor (left). There's no sign telling you what it is (there should be; take care of that, Loblaws). What is it? The exact spot where center dot was on the old rink.

Now that is pretty cool.

You can read all about the store and the Loblaws project at this link.  There is also a neat virtual tour that really gives you a good view of the place's features. The video is on this page and you have to click on the virtual tour.

You can read about Ryerson's new athletic complex at this link.

You can also click on all the pictures for a closer look.

---Mike Harrington


On Vanek, crazy lines and goalie safety

TORONTO -- Thomas Vanek will play tonight in the Air Canada Centre but the Sabres' leading goal scorer is clearly struggling with whatever lower-body injury he suffered Saturday in Pittsburgh. Vanek had no shots on goal Tuesday in Ottawa (he insisted this morning the stats were wrong), and didn't appear to be going full strength this morning either.

Vanek has skipped the team's last two practices and didn't know how long he would continue to do that.

"We're just looking for big win tonight and I'm just hoping to use these three days and get ready again for the second half," Vanek said. 

Vanek said he senses the tension in the Sabres' locker room, especially from some of the young players, as the team tries to snap its two-game losing streak and improve on its 1-3-1 slide.

"Play your game. I understand we're in a little bit of funk,' Vanek said. "Guys care. They care a lot. They want to win. Sometimes when you want it that bad, it goes backwards. It's tough to tell somebody to relax and just play but that's what it comes down to."

Vanek skated this morning with Derer Roy and Jason Pominville. Derek Whitmore was on the second line with Paul Szczechura and Drew Stafford (who had that combo in your pre-Christmas line pools?). The other lines were Adam-Gaustad-Kaleta (making his first appearance since Dec. 2) and McCormick-Ellis-Kassian. 

Still, Kassian was on the ice for a long time, working with the likes of Brad Boyes,  Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis, and several of us media types wonder if the Sabres are thinking about scratching him. Marc-Andre Gragnani was off early and could be used as a forward. We'll have to watch the warmup.

One other thing from today -- Lindy Ruff again brought up goaltender safety in the wake of Evander Kane's crash through Al Montoya of the Islanders last night in Winnipeg and Jimmy Howard's drilling last night in Vancouver. 

Howard was run over by Jannik Hansen in last night's 4-2 Red Wings loss in Vancouver and was furious about it afterward when he said, "I'm just sick and tired of being run over. It’s every single game."

"I turn on TSN this morning and the goalies getting bumped almost falls in that open season category," Ruff said, referring to the phrase he used when Ryan Miller got drilled by Milan Lucic. "... We're in danagerous territory with some of that stuff."

---Mike Harrington

Inside the NHL chat with Bucky Gleason

Sabres prospect Marcus Foligno finally set for a day off

Finally, it seems, Marcus Foligno can rest. He could use the down time.

The Sabres' prospect finished a whirlwind run Wednesday night. He had a goal and assist in Rochester's 4-1 victory over Lake Erie, his fifth game in six days. And the day off wasn't easy, either. The recap:

Friday: Amerks at San Antonio

Saturday: Amerks at Texas (Austin)

Sunday: Amerks at Houston

Monday: Fly from Houston to Atlanta to Rochester; get in car and ride to Ottawa

Tuesday: Sabres at Ottawa

Wednesday: Lake Erie at Rochester

"Obviously, playing [Tuesday] night in the NHL, I’ll take it anytime," Foligno said in Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial. "Definitely, the legs are feeling the tiredness right now, but that’s what the break is for. I’m pretty happy."

Foligno's father, Mike, watched his son make his NHL debut Tuesday (against another son, Senators forward Nick Foligno) and was in the stands again Wednesday in Rochester.

"It’s unbelievable," Marcus Foligno said. "[Tuesday] night was just something I’ll never forget. Obviously, the first NHL game, but to have family there – 30-plus family members and friends – it’s something special. Obviously, to have a proud father there was great for me and Nick. Nick was really excited and so was I, but I think the family was even more excited than we were.

"All in all, it was just an amazing night."

---John Vogl

Random thoughts while watching the Rochester Amerks

ROCHESTER -- Greetings from Rochester, where I've left the team sponsored by the Red Cross (the Sabres) to visit its affiliate that plays in Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial (the Amerks).

A few thoughts collected during the Amerks' 4-1 victory over the Lake Erie Monsters, the Colorado Avalanche's affiliate:

*The Sabres' injury problems have the Amerks scrambling. They had four skaters on the roster playing on tryout contracts (Evan Rankin, Igor Gongalsky, Scott Campbell and scratched Rob Bordson) and two up from the ECHL (Riley Boychuk and Corey Fienhage).

*Not surprisingly, the fans like Marcus Foligno. Folks in Rochester no doubt followed the career of his father, Mike, in Buffalo, and they gave him the loudest applause one day after his NHL debut.

*Drew MacIntyre doesn't have the best numbers -- he entered the night 4-9-1 with a 2.84 goals-against average and .910 save percentage -- but he's a talented goalie. His confidence in the crease at this level is evident, especially compared to his short stints with the Sabres.

*Travis Turnbull has some speed. The center left a few Monsters behind while skating on the right side. He drove the net, took a shot and celebrated as Mark Voakes buried the rebound on the first goal of the game.

*The fans also love Thomas Vanek. The one-time Amerk was the most-worn jersey in the crowd.

*Dennis Persson has been around a long time for having never played an NHL game. He got drafted when Mike Grier was still playing for the Sabres -- the first time. The first-round pick in the 2006 draft played his 281st pro game Wednesday, and none have been in the NHL. The defenseman scored his first goal of the season on a power-play slap shot in the first period.

*Jay McKee and Chris Taylor are still two of the classiest guys you'll meet.

*Ron Rolston concludes every chat with me by saying, "Thanks, we appreciate the coverage." Oops, I probably shouldn't say that. A couple of people with the big club will probably tell him to stop.

*The boards in here rattle a lot more than the ones in First Niagara Center.

*Speaking of Mike Foligno, he's here watching Marcus play after seeing him Tuesday night in Ottawa.

*Lake Erie head coach David Quinn got kicked out midway through the third period. You don't see coach-ref spats like that in the NHL.

*Sabres goaltenders have had a five-hole problem lately. A goal allowed by MacIntyre midway through the third should have been stopped but scooted through his pads.

*Evan Rankin, playing on a 25-game professional tryout, continues to push for a contract. He scored for the seventh time in his 12 games with the Amerks. He also has four assists.

*MacIntyre made up for the five-hole goal with big glove and blocker saves late to keep Rochester up by two before Foligno scored an empty-netter. MacIntyre finished with 33 saves.

---John Vogl

Peterson's fight with Parkinson's takes amazing turn for the better

Earlier this month, I was fortunate to catch up with Brent Peterson in Nashville. The former Sabres center, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, was preparing for his second step in a four-step process called deep brain stimulation. DBS uses electrodes implanted in the brain to control Parkinson's symptoms.

This video from WKRN-TV in Nashville shows the completion of the four steps, and the results are amazing. Congrats to Brent, and hopefully the Predators' adviser continues to improve.

---John Vogl

Practice update: No Vanek, Boyes & Kaleta on lines

TORONTO -- The Sabres practiced for an hour today have just taken the ice here at the Air Canada Centre and the injuries continue to cause line shuffling. The good news is some returns are also responsible for it.

Thomas Vanek is not practicing again, sitting out as he did Monday, and Derek Whitmore is in his spot with Derek Roy and Jason Pominville. Patrick Kaleta and Brad Boyes are on lines. Tyler Myers did some skating and stickhandling work and left the ice when the team's workout started. There are six defensemen and Marc-Andre Gragnani, a scratch Tuesday in Ottawa, is skating at forward.

Here are the lines:


(Braincramp update: We all just realized here that Paul Szczechura isn't on the ice either. That turnover that led to Ottawa's winning goal might have gotten him a ticket back to Rochester)

POST-PRACTICE UPDATE: Szczechura remains here, with Lindy Ruff saying he's "a little banged up" but should be OK for tomorrow. Boyes still doesn't feel like he's ready and Ruff didn't sound optimistic either. Kaleta should play. So should Vanek, who simply sat for maintenance.

---Mike Harrington


Foligno returned to Amerks

TORONTO -- The Sabres don't practice until 12:30 in the Air Canada Centre so our normal practice updates will be a little later than usual. Here's one nugget the team has announced: Marcus Foligno has been returned to Rochester.

That could mean either Patrick Kaleta or Brad Boyes are ready to return to the lineup tomorrow against the Leafs. It could also just be the Sabres saving a day of salary cap money too (Foligno makes a pro-rated $900,000 on his NHL deal while Derek Whitmore, who is still here,  makes just $525,000 pro-rated).

The naked eye and the stat sheet say Whitmore was definitely the more effective of the two making their debuts last night as he had a couple good scoring opportunities over the final 40 minutes. Whitmore played 14:08 and had two shots on goal while Foligno had one shot in 13:19 and was a minus-1.

But Foligno certainly will never forget his debut against his older brother with his father and 30 relatives in the stands. A neat Christmas story for sure.

---Mike Harrington

Three stars: Senators 4, Sabres 1

Live from Ottawa: Sabres at Senators

Ruff on injuries, Whitmore's callup

OTTAWA -- Check my earlier post to see the lines the Sabres will likely start with tonight against the Senators. Ryan Miller will be in goal and Marc-Andre Gragnani will be the scratch. Thomas Vanek got through the morning skate OK and should play.

As for injured players, Lindy Ruff said Patrick Kaleta and Brad Boyes both might be options for Thursday's game in Toronto. Tyler Myers was cleared to hold a stick and did plenty of drills on the ice with Teppo Numminen as well.

"We got good news with his last visit [to the doctor]," Ruff said. "He can hanlde the puck now and hopefully we can progress him along quickly."

So it's possible that Marcus Foligno and Derek whitmore's trip here tonight might only be for one game.

"There's a lot of light at the end of the tunnel here," Ruff said. "We've got a lot of them on the shelf but the shelf life looks short for quite a few of them right now."

Whitmore has played nearly 300 AHL games and has a four-goal game for the Amerks this year. He's from the Rochester suburb of Greece and played pee wee games at then-Marine Midland Arena.

"It definitely means a lot," he said. "This year has been good so far. It means a lot wearing the Rochester Americans jersey being from Rochester but at the same time Buffalo was my team as a kid 
growing up. I remember playing a couple pee wee hockey games at Marine Midland Arena and wondering if one day I'd ever be able to play in the NHL let alone for the Buffalo Sabres. It's definitely a dream come true."

Hear from Ruff and Whitmore below.

Lindy Ruff

Derek Whitmore

---Mike Harrington

It's Foligno vs. Foligno as Sabres meet Sens

OTTAWA -- The media swarmed the lockers of both Nick and Marcus Foligno here today in advance of tonight's Sabres-Senators matchup. While it will be Nick's 303rd NHL game, it will be the career debut for Marcus, the 20-year-old who was a standout for Team Canada in last year's World Junior Championships in Buffalo and got the call from Rochester last night.

The Folignos said they expect nearly three dozen friends and family to make the 5-hour drive from Sudbury, Ont., to the game. Included will be dad Mike Foligno, the former Sabres captain who was just fired as an assistant with Anaheim.

"[Nick] was pretty pumped. He was texting me all day yesterday to see if I was getting called up," Marcus Foligno said. "He was giving me advice. He's been doing that all year. He's excited and told me to prepare myself."

"It's a pretty neat opportunity for both of us," said Nick, who is third on the Senators with 10 goals. "I got to play against my dad last year and now my brother and hopefully we can do that for a long time. We're very fortunate to be able to do this and his first game against me is pretty exciting for the whole family."

The trash talking started a little too. Nick said "he's ugly" when asked about Marcus and Marcus responded with "I got the better looks in the family" and "definitely family members like me more."

Through all the laughs, there is deeper meaning to the game. Mike Foligno's wife and the brothers' mother, Janis, died of breast cancer in 2009.

"We think it's probably the best Christmas present we ever got," Nick said of the brothers matchup. "We feel like my Mom probably had a little something to do with that. It's pretty special."

"The family as a whole has gone through some tough times here in recent years," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "To have Marcus play against Nick and for Mike to be here, a former teammate of mine and he's a helluva guy. Both kids are great kids. It's a great family.

"For both his boys to be able to play in the NHL, you gotta be one proud father. In this situation, unfortunately he gets to watch in his case [because he got fired in Anaheim] but he's going to be smiling from ear to ear sitting up in the stands watching this one."

Marcus Foligno said he probably would have to do his father's patented jumping stomp if he scored a goal (Nick did it for his first NHL goal). Cracked  Ruff: "If Marcus scores I'll do the leap. Put the camera on the bench, boys."

Here's the audio from Nick and Marcus. Check back in a few minutes with another post featuring Ruff's injury updates.

Nick Foligno

Marcus Foligno

---Mike Harrington

One crazy looking morning lineup

OTTAWA -- You want crazy mixed-up Sabres lines from the morning skate? We got 'em. (No guarantees this is what suits up tonight, of course, given Lindy Ruff's habitual shuffling).

Vanek-Roy-Pominville (an old standby back together again)

For those scoring at home, that's four guys who started the year with Amerks out of 12 forwards. And throw in defenseman Brayden McNabb as wel.

Brad Boyes and Patrick Kaleta, who won't play tonight, are also skating. There are seven defensemen on the ice. Ruff said this morning on his weekly radio appearance that McNabb is back in, so I would guess Marc-Andre Gragnani is going to sit. UPDATE: Tyler Myers has joined the team as well to do some skating drills with Teppo Numminen.

Nick Foligno was swarmed in the Sens' dressing room for a chat about his brother. He said their father and former Sabres captain Mike Foligno is planning on being here tonight as well as about 30 friends/family from Sudbury, which is about five hours ago.

More from both sides after the Sabres complete their skate.

---Mike Harrington

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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 |

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 |

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 |