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Latvia, with Sabres' Nolan and Girgensons, eliminated at world championships

By John Vogl

There won't be any magical moments for Latvia.

The Latvians, coached by the Sabres' Ted Nolan and featuring forward Zemgus Girgensons, were eliminated at the world championships today with a 3-2 loss to Switzerland. Latvia fell to 3-4 in the preliminary round and failed to advance to the quarterfinals

Latvia captured the hockey world's imagination at the Olympics by being tied with Canada in the final minutes of their quarterfinal matchup before losing, 2-1.

Girgensons scored today to finish the tournament with two goals in six games. He served a one-game suspension for spearing Russia's Alexander Burmistrov in the groin after a faceoff.

Girgensons scores key goal as Nolan-led Latvia stuns Team USA; Hodgson's hat trick sparks Canada

By Mike Harrington

The standout NHL team at the World Championships today in Minsk? None other than your Buffalo Sabres.

With Ted Nolan behind the bench and Zemgus Girgensons getting the go-ahead goal with 5:25 left in the third period, upstart Latvia upset Team USA, 6-5. Girgensons' goal was simply spectacular -- and he burned Sabres/Team USA prospect Jake McCabe (No. 29 in white). Take a look at the play and the celebration on the Latvian broadcast, from both the announcers and the fans:

Keeping their momentum going from their strong showing at the Sochi Olympics, the Latvians have three wins in this tournament -- after not posting one since 2001. Latvia plays Russia on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Cody Hodgson notched a hat trick as Canada rolled past Denmark, 6-1. Hodgson had a goal in each period and Tyler Myers added an assist for Canada. 

Canada leads Group A with 10 points while Latvia is second in Group B with nine and Team USA is fourth with six.  The U.S. meets Kazakhstan on Friday and Finland on Sunday. You can see all the standings here. 

Latvian Locomotive down the middle: Girgensons back at center

By Mike Harrington

There's a Latvian Locomotive heading down the middle of the ice for the Sabres on what now looks to be a permanent basis.

Interim coach Ted Nolan said after practice today that moving Zemgus Girgensons back to center, his natural position, was not just a way to get him up to speed for playing there for Latvia during the Olympics. In fact, Nolan said, new GM Tim Murray and he have pushed aside Nolan's original thought of having Girgensons morph into a power winger and instead want him back in the middle.

Girgensons got some time there Monday against Edmonton and will be there Wednesday against Pittsburgh, with Phil Varone shifting to wing. The other winger in the current line configuration is Brian Flynn. Girgensons has five goals and 12 assists in 54 games this season.

"We talked about going forward and who we're going forward with," Nolan said. "It's really tough to find a real good center ice man. Wingers are a litle bit easier. We got a guy that grew up playing center ice. I had a good talk with him and he's real comfortable in that position."

Nolan made the change initially to relieve some of the pressure of playing center on Girgensons, who turned 20 this season.

"I was kind of flip-flopping back-and-forth when I first got here," Nolan said. "I put him at center ice because I thought he would be real good, Then you talk to some people and you have that thought, that maybe he’s a power forward. It kind of switched my mind a little bit too.

“All of sudden Tim comes in, who’s had a tremendous amount of experience in looking at this. So we kind of go back to sometimes your initial thoughts are probably some of the best. We’ll try him at that position.”

Olympic berths O-plenty for current and former Sabres

By Mike Harrington

There's been a slew of Olympic team announcements this morning, and the major one that has social media abuzz and our friends north of the border in a complete tizzy is the big reveal of Team Canada that comes at 11 a.m.

No Sabres are in line for a berth with Team Canada but several current and former Buffalo players have taken their spots for Sochi today.

The most recent announcement just in from Sweden is that Jhonas Enroth and Henrik Tallinder have been named to their country's team. Tallinder also played for Sweden in 2010. Enroth joins Detroit's Jonas Gustavsson in backing up Henrik Lundqvist, while Ottawa's Robin Lehner was a surprise omission. Enroth's gold-medal performance in last year's World Championships clearly helped his case.

(Enroth told me yesterday he was quite nervous about getting the call, so it has to be a big relief)

Elsewhere, three as-expected spots were made official today: Sabres rookie Zemgus Girgensons has been named to Ted Nolan's Latvian team while Thomas Vanek (Austria) and Andrej Sekera (Slovakia) were named to their clubs, where they're both expected to be key players.

Girgensons, who turned 20 yesterday, is the only current NHL player on Team Latvia. Its roster also includes 41-year-old defenseman Sandis Ozolish, a Stanley Cup winner with Colorado who has not played in the NHL since 2008.

Vanek has been red-hot of late for the Islanders, with five goals and nine assists in his last nine games. He did this conversation with NHL.com that was released today. In 28 games with the Islanders since the October trade from Buffalo, Vanek has 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists).

Sekera, a stalwart on the Carolina defense with Team USA selection Justin Faulk, enters tonight's scheduled game against the Sabres second on the Hurricanes in assists (17) and third in points (24).  He already has seven goals after never scoring more than four in a season for the Sabres and his 24 points are just five off his career high.

Former Sabre forward Jiri Novotny, the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2001, was named to the Czech team Monday.  Milan Bartovic, a second-rounder in 1999, will play for Slovakia. Both are currently playing in the KHL.

(And of course, there's Ryan Miller with Team USA that was announced last week).

Despite suspension, Senators' Cowen wouldn't change much about hit on Girgensons

By John Vogl

OTTAWA -- Despite getting suspended, Ottawa's Jared Cowen wouldn't change much about his hit on Zemgus Girgensons.

Cowen will miss tonight's rematch against the Sabres after getting a two-game ban for hitting Girgensons in the head Tuesday. The 6-foot-5 defenseman is disappointed he got suspended.

"I’ll make that same hit over and over again," Cowen said today in Canadian Tire Centre. "Just because I had a hearing or suspension isn’t going to get it changed, but it is harder to hit small guys when you’re taller.

"I wouldn’t do anything differently. If I don’t make that hit, I don’t play and I don’t play well. It’s just that maybe I move a little to the left an inch or two. That’s the difference. That’s all that it was."

Girgensons, who is 6-1, says he won't hold a grudge against Cowen.

"I definitely have made dirty hits in my life before, too, so it’s just how it is," the Sabres forward said.

Girgensons angrily went toward Cowen after the hit, but the players didn't fight.

"Obviously, he was OK because he came after me and wanted to do something," said Cowen, who mocked the display of anger. "I guess he was just faking it."

Said Girgensons about not following through with a fight: "I could’ve gotten an instigator if something happened. I think it was just better to leave it there."

Jared Cowen

Sabres' Nolan talks with players, making position changes for Leino, Foligno, Girgensons

By John Vogl

Ted Nolan has a reputation as a coach for whom players would run through a wall. He earns it through motivational techniques and by proving he's with them and believes in them. The latter trait is already shining through.

The Sabres' new coach sat down individually with players to learn about their backgrounds and desires. It's leading to a few changes designed to help the players -- and, by extension, the team -- perform better.

Nolan said erstwhile wingers Ville Leino and Zemgus Girgensons will play center tonight when the Sabres host Toronto in First Niagara Center. Marcus Foligno, who had been put in the middle recently, will move back to the wing.

"We want to put these players where they feel comfortable so there's no excuses," Nolan said after the morning skate, which ended differently than it had under former coach Ron Rolston.

The players congregated in the middle of the ice for post-drill stretching, an exercise done more for camaraderie than for the muscles. Players tapped their sticks when Henrik Tallinder skated to the middle to lead the stretch, and they talked and laughed throughout the maneuvers.

Under Rolston, players quickly went their separate ways at the end and a sense of team was lacking. Guys definitely felt "lighter" today, Nolan said. The coach said Tyler Ennis looked like he had "a 50-pound weight off his back."

Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson and Nikita Zadorov will be the Sabres' healthy scratches. Mike Weber (thumb) will return next week.

To hear from Nolan and his expectations on what's sure to be an emotional return to the Sabres' bench, click the audio file below.

Sabres' postgame thoughts from Miller, Girgensons, Rolston

By John Vogl

NEW YORK -- The Sabres have been mocked and trashed by outsiders all season. After a lopsided 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers -- only 44 saves from Ryan Miller kept it close -- it seems the team realized it has serious issues.

"It’s just everyone looking in the mirror and understanding how deep of a [expletive] we are in right now," rookie Zemgus Girgensons said. "You have to help the other guys work their way up, and if we keep playing like this, not helping each other, we’re going to die individually. We’re going to stop being hockey players. No one will want players like that."

"When everyone wants this to stop, it’ll stop," Miller said. "We seem to be making more situations for ourselves than even the other team can create. It’s on us to dig out of it and start having the right attitude and right approach. It’s been a lot of games searching, trying to figure it out. Enough’s enough."

Ryan Miller

Ron Rolston

Sabres' Girgensons, Ristolainen eager for NHL debuts

By John Vogl

DETROIT -- Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons were surprisingly calm Tuesday night. Ristolainen slept for 11 hours, while Girgensons said he had his best night of shut-eye in a long time.

The nerves are kicking in today, though.

Ristolainen and Girgensons will make their NHL debuts tonight when the Sabres visit the Detroit Red Wings. The uncommon poise possessed by the teenagers helped them make Buffalo's opening-night roster, but even the most mature player gets nervous for a first game.

"It should be a good one, I hope," Girgensons said this afternoon in Joe Louis Arena. "I just want to help the team, don’t mess up. Everyone’s probably nervous in their first game, not let that go in the head and just keep doing what I’ve been doing.

"The rush is going to be so high that you don’t need to do anything else to get motivated for the game. I’ve just got to go out there and do my thing."

Ristolainen has one goal for his debut.

"I hope we get that first win," he said. "That would be nice."

Girgensons will skate at left wing along with center Mikhail Grigorenko and right wing Brian Flynn. The other lines are Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Drew Stafford, Steve Ott-Tyler Ennis-Ville Leino, and Kevin Porter-Cody McCormick-Patrick Kaleta.

Ristolainen's defense partner will be Mike Weber. Christian Ehrhoff-Mark Pysyk and Henrik Tallinder-Tyler Myers make up the other pairs.

Ryan Miller will start in goal.

Sabres' Girgensons, Kaleta miss practice with hand injuries, Rolston says they'll be fine

By John Vogl

Hand injuries kept Sabres forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Patrick Kaleta off the ice today, but Sabres coach Ron Rolston doesn't expect either player to miss much time.

Girgensons was unable to take part in the shootout portion of the Sabres' 3-2 loss to Toronto on Saturday night.

"He's fine," Rolston said today in First Niagara Center. "There's just swelling right now."

Kaleta, who was a history of hand injuries, needed ice following a fight with Troy Bodie with two minutes left in regulation.

"He's just a little dinged up from the game, nothing major," Rolston said.

The Sabres play the Leafs again tonight, this time in Air Canada Center. Buffalo did not do any work with forward lines and defensive pairs during today's morning skate, but the lineup is as follows:

Forwards -- Cody McCormick, Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, Kevin Porter, Mike Zigomanis, John Scott, Luke Adam, Brian Flynn, Corey Tropp, Joel Armia, Mikhail Grigorenko and Johan Larsson.

Defense -- Jamie McBain, Chad Ruhwedel, Tyler Myers, Brayden McNabb, Nikita Zadorov and Drew Bagnall. Rasmus Ristolainen will travel with the team but will only play if there is a late scratch.

Goaltenders -- Ryan Miller, Matt Hackett.

To hear Rolston's news conference, click the audio file below.

Sabres, Kaleta out to prove early they have each other's back

By John Vogl

Patrick Kaleta didn't even see Jamie McBain get dropped with a clean, hard check Sunday night. He just knew McBain was a new teammate and he wanted the Sabres defenseman to know that Buffalo players stick up for each other.

"He’s a new guy, and he’s got to be welcomed on the team," Kaleta said today in First Niagara Center. "He’s got to know that we have his back."

Kaleta and Cody McCormick went after Canadiens who leveled big hits during the Sabres' 5-4 victory in the preseason opener. Kaleta says he might not have challenged normally mild-mannered Alex Galchenyuk during the regular season, but exhibition games are a time to send messages.

"We want to establish that we are a team and no one is going to take liberties on old guys, young guys," Kaleta said. "You’re going to have to deal with all five guys on the ice. We want to establish that early. We want to be a team that’s tough to play against, and you’re going to have to go through five of us, not just one."

The Sabres play their second of seven exhibitions Tuesday in Columbus. To hear coach Ron Rolston talk about the first game, the play of first-round picks Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, and look forward to the Blue Jackets, click the audio file below.

Around the Worlds: Sabres updates from the IIHF Championships

By Mike Harrington

Updates from the IIHF World Championships in Sweden and Finland: 

Thomas Vanek has team-highs of three goals and 20 shots on goal for Austria. The Aussies beat Slovakia in a shootout, with Vanek scoring the decisive goal. Christian Ehrhoff has been the workhorse for Germany, averaging 29:31 per game, while Andrej Sekera has done likewise for Slovakia at 24:55. Jhonas Enroth has a 1.76 goals-against average in the nets for Sweden.

In the standings -- go to the bottom of the page at this link -- Lindy Ruff-coached Team Canada has the tourney's best record at 4-0-1 for 13 points (losing only to Switzerland in a shootout). Finland leads the other group with 11 points. Team USA has nine points, tied with Russia and two behind the Finns.

Meanwhile, Rochester Amerks center Zemgus Girgensons, the Sabres' second first-round pick last June, has been suspended for one game for a butt-ending violation and will miss Latvia's game Saturday against Germany. The incident occurred during Thursday's 5-3 win over Slovakia.

It was about the playoffs for Amerks, and several Sabres prospects showed well

By John Vogl

Despite a key talking point lately, it is in fact about the playoffs. It's the best hockey of the year, and players build or enhance their reputations during the postseason.

Zemgus Girgensons sure did.

The 19-year-old had an non-descript regular season in Rochester, but he was the Amerks' best player as the team lost all three games to Toronto. (Read all about him here.)

“Best player on the team. Best player on the ice,” said Amerks forward Cody McCormick, the former Sabres tough guy who was no slouch himself against the Marlies.

Continue reading "It was about the playoffs for Amerks, and several Sabres prospects showed well" »

Amerks coach complimentary of Sabres' prospects Girgensons, Hackett, Larsson

By John Vogl

ROCHESTER -- The Sabres' season is done, and their minor-league club can't afford another loss. Rochester is in a 2-0 hole to the Toronto Marlies, and Game Three of the best-of-five series is Wednesday night in Rochester.

Though the team is in trouble, the prospects are getting rave reviews from Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy. Here are his thoughts from today on forward Zemgus Girgensons, selected in the first round last year, and center Johan Larsson and goalie Matt Hackett, who were acquired in the trade that sent Jason Pominville to Minnesota.

Continue reading "Amerks coach complimentary of Sabres' prospects Girgensons, Hackett, Larsson" »

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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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