Sabres fans interested in following the Portland Pirates are going to have more chances during the 2009-10 season than they did last year, Portland's first with Buffalo. The Pirates have announced they'll play two games in HSBC Arena during the upcoming season and the AHL opponents rotation announced Tuesday gives Buffalo fans plenty of extra chances to see Sabres farmhands.
Portland will play two games in Rochester and one game in Syracuse after visiting neither place last year. If you're looking for driveable games a little farther away, there's also one Portland visit to Binghamton, two to Albany and one to Glens Falls.
As for HSBC dates, Nov. 12 has already been penciled in for a Pirates visit and a second-half date has yet to be announced. The opponents have not been determined. Portland's game here in February against Albany drew a crowd 11,144.
Should be an interesting week for the Sabres starting Monday at Niagara University, as the team convenes its annual development camp. The public sessions run from 3-6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Friday.
You'll see five players who appeared in the NHL last year (Chris Butler, Mike Weber, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy). You'll see 6-foot-8 Tyler Myers, the top draft pick last season. Zack Kassian, the top choice this year. Marcus Foligno, son of Mike. And virtually every top prospect and recent draft choice in the organization.
It should be a particularly important camp for Myers, Weber, Kennedy and Gerbe, all of whom rate a good chance of seeing regular roles on the big club this year.
There were several hundred fans at every session last year and I'm sure it will be more of the same this time so here's a little quiz for you: Pick the three players from the list below you're most interested in following at camp this year.
Feel free to add your pros and cons on any of the youngsters in the comments section. Especially if there's someone we haven't listed.
Nathan Gerbe was sent back to Portland today after four more scoreless games. That's 10 in two stints this season with Buffalo, certainly a big disappointment to the Boston College star who came in with such high hopes to make an impact in the NHL this year. Frankly, he's just not ready yet. Look for Paul Gaustad back in the lineup Thursday in Philly.
Nathan Gerbe won't have to worry about dodging the ambushes of AHL thugs anymore, at least for a little while. He's been called up to the Sabres for the second time this season, the team just announced. Gerbe told us Tuesday he wasn't happy with his first stint in Buffalo and the next time would be different. Here's his chance.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. --- Sabres prospect Corey Tropp, kicked off the Michigan State hockey team for slashing a fallen Michigan player (video below), told the Argus (South Dakota) Leader he is sorry for the incident but feels the suspension was over the top.
The fans' clamor has apparently been heard: The Sabres have just taken the ice for the morning skate and right winger Mark Mancari is here from Portland, where was second in the AHL in scoring with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 14 games.
Mancari is skating with Paul Gaustad and Daniel Paille and Lindy Ruff (finally) will make Maxim Afinogenov a healthy scratch. One-goal Max is on the ice but not skating on the lines, which look like this:
John Paddock didn't last the season in Ottawa so he's going back to his roots as a player by rejoining the Flyers organization to become head coach of the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms. Former Flyers tough guy Craig Berube, who had been leading the Phantoms, has rejoined the big club as an assistant coach.
While Paddock failed in Ottawa largely because Ray Emery was brutal in net and Bryan Murray loomed too large over his shoulder, he's been a terrific minor-league coach. Paddock, in fact, is the only coach in AHL history to lead three different franchises to Calder Cup championships (Maine in 1984, Hershey in 1988, and Hartford in 2000).
I stumbled upon this recent news release from the Portland Pirates (don't hold it against me for being a little behind) and was bummed to see that the Sabres' new farm team won't get all that close to Buffalo this season.
The Pirates are in the AHL's Eastern Conference and will play no Western teams. That means no trips to Rochester, Syracuse, Toronto, Hamilton or Cleveland -- all within easy driving range of Buffalo. (Yes, those five teams I listed are in the AHL West and regularly go to places like Manitoba, San Antonio and Houston. Weird.)
Where can you go to see the Pirates? You'll have to shell out more gas money and go to Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre or Albany. I'm thinking at least once or twice during the season that would be a roadie worth a Sabres fan's time. Maybe the more daring one would be to pick up a Sabres game in Boston, followed by Pirates games in either Providence or Portland itself.
Forward Matt Syroczynski, a Hamburg native who played at Nichols, scored what proved to be the winning goal in the first minute of the third period Thursday night (right) as the Cincinnati Cyclones wrapped up the East Coast Hockey League championship with a 3-1 win over Las Vegas in Game Six of the ECHL's Kelly Cup finals.
A crowd of 12,722 -- the largest in ECHL playoff history -- was on hand for Cincy's first pro sports championship since the 1990 Reds. It was the city's first hockey title since the 1973 Cincinnati Swords, then the Sabres' top farm team, won the AHL's Calder Cup.
Also on the Cincinnati roster was Barret Ehgoetz, who graduated as Niagara University's all-time scoring leader. The ECHL is one level down from the AHL on the food chain of minor-league hockey.
The worst-kept secret in Sabreland these days is the fact that the team's AHL affiliate next season will be in Portland, Maine. You won't get anybody in the organization to talk about it much or even say the name of that city. It's been a we're-studying-our-options (wink-wink) topic for weeks about the messy depature from Rochester and the move to Lobsterland.
But Tuesday's Tim Kennedy press conference marked the first time the team admitted the move is imminent. Darcy Regier said an announcement on a new farm team is coming in "days" even though he never said the P-word either. Portland officially became open Tuesday afternoon when the Anaheim Ducks moved their minor-league operations from Maine to Des Moines, Iowa (here's the Des Moines Register report).
Meanwhile, the Portland Pirates issued a statement thanking the Ducks for their affiliation and promising bigger and better things with their new parent (wink-wink II). The statement also tweaked a bizarre headline in Tuesday's Portland Press Herald that called the Pirates' future "unsettled." Excuse me? The story even says the Pirates are joining with the Sabres. Silly.
Anyway, here's a key part of the statement from Portland Managing Owner/CEO Brian Petrovek: "We will be introducing our new NHL affiliate to our fans in the near future. ... our future has never been brighter, our expectations never higher. We’re looking forward to the next chapter of Portland Pirates Hockey with a great deal of excitement and optimism."
My stomach envies all the Buffalo Sabres prospects if the team puts its AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine, which it appears it will. Having spent four days there late last month researching several stories, I can tell you the food is amazing. Lobster, lobster cocktail, lobster rolls, clams and even the nonseafood was great, as great chefs pile into the town.
And, more importantly from a Sabres aspect, the people (and the team) know their hockey. The AHL has been there for more than 30 years, and people care about it. The Sabres are leaving a perfect situation with Rochester, but Portland should be nearly as good.
No way Michael Ratchuk thought his pro career would be this wild this soon. Just over a month ago, the defenseman from Buffalo was finishing his sophomore season at Michigan State. But he left school when the Spartans were eliminated a win shy of the Frozen Four and opted to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers, who drafted him in the second round in 2006. They sent him to the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL and Ratchuk was in the middle of history Thursday night/Friday morning
Ratchuk, whose first professional goal on April 14 against Albany was a classic (check out the video below), will never forget his first playoff point either. He got the key assist on the winning goal early Friday morning as Philadelphia outlasted Albany, 3-2, in a five-overtime classic that was the longest playoff game in AHL history. The Phantoms lead the series, three games to two.
Check out the stat sheet: Philadelphia finished with 101 shots on goal, including 63 in the five overtimes. Albany goalie Michael Leighton made 98 saves and lost! The game took 5 hours, 38 minutes and ended at 12:39 this morning before just a few hundred folks in Albany's Times Union Center. Only three NHL playoff games have gone longer.
Here's Ratchuk's first goal I promised above. Lousy camera work. And how about the call: "a little shake and bake ... and the piece of chicken was in the back of the net?" Yikes.
How bad did things get in Rochester? Players who came up to Buffalo toed the company line during the season about how they kept their focus on the ice -- even though none of us believed them. When the Amerks cleaned out their lockers Monday, a lot of the real feelings came out.
Check out Kevin Oklobzija's story in today's Rochester D&C. The truth finally came out about what a fiasco the Rochester franchise has become. The Sabres certainly created some of the mess with the decision to split the farm with Florida but plenty of these wounds were self-inflicted by Rochester owner Steve Donner.
This is no way for an NHL team to be developing players. Whether they go to Portland next season or anywhere else, the Sabres better make sure this kind of situation never happens again. It reflects horribly on the entire organization.
I didn't spend much time watching any playoff games Saturday night. That's because I was captivated by the Frozen Four championship game featuring Boston College mighty mite Nathan Gerbe (left). He had two more goals in the final to spark a 4-1 win over Notre Dame in what has to be his final college game. (By the way, one of BC's assistant coaches is Greg Brown, who played 49 games on defense for the Sabres in the early '90s after being their second-round pick in 1986.)
Gerbe is only 5-foot-5 but he plays much bigger. He's feisty, shifty, puts the puck in the net and is a winner -- in other words, just about everything Maxim Afinogenov isn't!
Now that he finished second for the Hobey Baker Award and won a championship, you would think the Sabres are going to have to come up with the rookie maximum of 875K or very close to it to sign Gerbe. Ditto for Michigan State's Tim Kennedy, the South Buffalo native who led the Spartans to last year's title, and Denver defenseman Chris Butler.
Darcy Regier said at the wrapup press conference that talks had not begun with Gerbe because the Eagles were still playing. BC is done now and it's time for the Sabres to get moving and get Gerbe signed. Didn't Larry Quinn say they're trying to win the Stanley Cup? Then make the statement. I think the Sabres realize Gerbe is a must-get and it will happen quickly.
Who watched Gerbe in the Frozen Four and what did you think?
(Photo: Gerbe in BC's celebration/Associated Press)
In today's sports section, I provided an update of three top Sabres prospects in the college ranks: South Buffalo native Tim Kennedy (Michigan State), Boston College center Nathan Gerbe and Denver defenseman Chris Butler.
Gerbe is second in the nation in scoring and is one of those mighty mites who can electrify a game with his slick skating and moves. Check out this penalty shot goal Gerbe scored Saturday in the Hockey East playoffs against Providence. Pretty close to being an illegal move (you're not supposed to be able to stop dead on a penalty shot), but pretty spectacular nonetheless. Love the Joe Cool reaction too.
Buffalo native Kevin Quick has the in-the-clubhouse lead for local collegiate dope of the year after getting booted off the University of Michigan hockey team, as Bucky Gleason's Inside the NHL documents Sunday morning. But Quick, a Tampa Bay draftee, is getting a second chance as the Lightning have signed him to play for Norfolk in the AHL.
The Sabres took today off, getting a chance to either forget about hockey or reflect on their nine-game winless streak.
It gives us the chance to reflect on Swedish goaltender Jhonas Enroth, the only Sabres prospect who participated in this month's world junior championship. He earned a silver medal.
It's merely a coincidence the story in Monday's paper comes while Sabres starter Ryan Miller is struggling. But it is an intriguing coincidence. Enroth thinks he's ready for the NHL. Miller thought so, too, while he was setting records at Michigan State. It took a few years in the minors to become an NHL starter. The guy who sits next to Miller, Jocelyn Thibault, is one of the few who did make it at a young age.
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.
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.
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.