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From ECHL to NHL: Lieuwen's last year a wild ride

By Mike Harrington

CALGARY, Alberta -- Nathan Lieuwen didn't speak to the media today at the Saddledome in advance of his first NHL start. The Sabres, like most NHL teams, make goalies off-limits on game days much like baseball teams do with starting pitchers.

But Lieuwen did speak at length about his career journey Monday in First Niagara Center and there are some interesting nuggets to share from that interview. 

Lieuwen's career was nearly derailed as a 16-year-old by concussions suffered in a rollover car accident in 2008. It was in doubt for a couple of years if he should keep playing.

"That definitely took my career sideways for a while and then started to get back on track when I was 19," Lieuwen said Monday. "That’s when I got drafted here to the Sabres (in the sixth round in 2011), and things have been up ever since. I’ve been lucky. A couple close calls, but I’ve been pretty healthy, which is good.

"It was tough. There was a couple times they questioned whether I should come back and play. I wouldn’t have it, and I’m glad that I said that."

(You can read more about Lieuwen's struggles and his faith in this Yahoo story advancing his start in the Memorial Cup for Kootenay in 2011.)

Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel told me today that Lieuwen has a great work ethic and is pretty much unflappable in net, which is exactly the opposite of fellow Amerks netminder Matt Hackett. The top prospect goalie entering the season, Hackett has struggled with his composure in the crease and with officials plenty of times this season.

"It’s just one puck at a time for me, and what’s really helped me is my mental game," Lieuwen said. "It’s really improved, and I think I’ve been able to overcome a lot of things, whether they happen in the game or practice or whatever’s going on. I’ve been able to stay steady and do my thing.

"I do my best to be calm out there. I try to be composed, and I think that’s my strong points. At the same time I rely on my reads, reading the play and seeing what happens before it happens."

Lieuwen spent most of last year with Greenville of the East Coast Hockey League and got into just 4 games with Rochester. Now he's in the NHL. Lieuwen is from Abbotsford, B.C., so you would imagine there's a good chance he'll get to start Sunday's game against the Vancouver Canucks.

"It’s a little extra special for me," he said of playing out West. "Actually, it was kind of funny because last year when I got called up to Rochester they were going to Abbottsford, which is where I’m from, and now I’m here getting called up and they’re going to Vancouver, so I’m not too upset about that."

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Nathan Lieuwen | Sabres game day
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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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