"I thought the kid played great and helped us win a hockey game. He gave us some energy and he made a couple of great plays. He could have had a couple of goals in the game and made several other good plays. He was responsible, and even took a run at Pronger. He didn't make out too good, but he took a run at him." -- Lindy Ruff
One minute you're preparing to be a bright light in an AHL game in Bridgeport, Conn., and the next you're on your way to Philadelphia to make your NHL debut and score your first NHL goal.
Ennis, Buffalo's second first-round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, woke up in Portland, Maine, Saturday morning, where he is the AHL Portland Pirates' second-leading scorer. He was preparing for the long bus ride to Bridgeport to play the Sound Tigers on Sunday when he was told to head to the Portland Airport for a flight to Philadelphia.
Injuries had sidelined Sabres' right wings Drew Stafford and Mike Grier, giving Ennis the chance to make his NHL debut against the Flyers after only 16 minor-league games. Nathan Gerbe, who played 10 Buffalo games last season, might have gotten the call, but he's hurt.
The announcement, shortly before 7 p.m., didn't make much of an impression on the Flyers' home crowd at the Wachovia Center: "Please add to the Buffalo Sabres' roster, No. 63, Tyler Ennis."
But close observers of professional hockey know Ennis, 20, as the offensive force who drove the Medicine Hat Tigers to the 2007 Western Hockey League championship and a star of the Memorial Cup that year when the Tigers lost the final to the Vancouver Giants.
The Edmonton native also starred in the 2006 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, where he was named to the All-Star Team along with John Tavares and James van Riemsdyk. And he helped Canada to the gold medal at the 2006 Under-18 World Championship and the 2009 World Junior Championship.
Ennis led the Medicine Hat Tigers in scoring in 2008, outscoring his closest teammate by 21 points, and 2009. Although he wasn't chosen in the 2004 WHL Bantam Draft, Ennis was one of two undrafted players on the WHL roster in the 2008 CHL Top Prospects Game.
It was at the Top Prospects Game that Ennis met Tyler Myers, whom the Sabres took with the 12th pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Myers has been a standout on defense for the Sabres this season.
Ennis, playing in his first NHL game, got the Sabres' second goal against the Flyers at 14:50 of the second period. Patrick Kaleta fed Tim Kennedy on the right boards near the goal line. Ennis was waiting behind the net. Kennedy skated in front of him. Ennis broke to his left and collected Kennedy's pass, turned and beat Flyers goalie Ray Emery from a sharp angle for his first NHL goal.
"It was a special night. I got in just in time for the game," Ennis said. "I had a lot of enjoyment and playing with Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek makes it a lot easier. The goal was a pretty awesome feeling.
"When I got the call, I was really excited and a little nervous I was trying to focus and concentrate on working hard. Tim Kennedy had the puck and we were down low, battling, and he sent it backward through the D-man's legs behind the net. I walked out and threw it on net because Emery looked a little off-balance. I got lucky. It bounced off him and went in."
"Yeah. The guy kind of started to go behind the net, and I went too early and found myself on the wrong side of the net," Emery said. "I tried to get back and got a piece of it. It’s one that you want to have back."
"I thought the kid played great and helped us win a hockey game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "He gave us some energy and he made a couple of great plays. He could have had a couple of goals in the game and made several other good plays. He was responsible, and even took a run at Pronger. He didn't make out too good, but he took a run at him."
Ennis's time in the NHL didn't last long. He was back in a Pirates uniform Sunday in Bridgeport and assisted on Portland's first goal in their 5-4 overtime loss. With 6 goals and 8 assists, he is tied for the AHL rookie scoring lead with two others.
Success in the AHL didn't come easily, but Ennis feels like he's on a roll now.
"I had a pretty slow start because it took me awhile to get used to the game," Ennis admitted. "I had a talk with Kevin Dineen, our coach, and he told me to play the game and have fun, don't be so stressed coming to the rink. After that, I had a good game against Hartford, started to feel comfortable and the results came."
"He's been our best player with the Portland Pirates," offered Sabres GM Darcy Regier, whose scouting staff deserves to take a bow for selecting Myers with the 12th pick in '08 and Ennis with the 26th pick. Myers has played very well all season and Ennis displayed excellent skating and stickhandling skills, also playing on the power play with Tim Connolly and Paul Gaustad.
"Myers and Ennis are the best of friends," Regier said. "It's funny, Ennis is 4-foot-8 and Myers is 6-8 so together they average 5-foot-8."
Ennis isn't that small, he's listed at 5-foot-9 and 163 pounds.
"(Myers) and I met at the (Canadian Hockey Leagues) Prospects Game a couple of years ago and became really good friends," Ennis said. "We played on Team Canada a couple of times and went up early to Buffalo this summer to train. I was thinking before the game about two good friends getting to play in the NHL. It's pretty cool."
"I couldn't be more happy for him," Myers said. "He's a good guy and a really good player. We were on the Canadian World Junior team together last year. We'll remember this game."