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Jack Eichel to play in Hockeyville game

Sabres center will make preseason debut after taking part in World Cup

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / NHL.com Staff Writer

MARQUETTE, Mich. -- Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel will make his preseason debut Tuesday, although it will feel more like a regular-season game.

Eichel and the Sabres will play the Carolina Hurricanes at Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan, the winner of Kraft Hockeyville USA 2016. The arena received $150,000 in upgrades and the game will be nationally televised (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

"This isn't the normal preseason game," said Eichel, who played for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. "It's a long way from the World Cup as well, but it's cool to get a little change of pace here and it should be a fun game."

Eichel had a goal and an assist in three games at the World Cup. Since returning to the Sabres, he has practiced but not played in any of their first four preseason games.

"A little bit different, obviously," Eichel said. "I think it's pretty cool to come up here and play a game. It's a little different for all of us than going into a bigger rink when there's nobody there for morning skate. It was pretty fun, a cool experience and all these people get to come out and see."

Video: Kraft Hockeyville Referee Clinic in Marquette, MI

Hundreds of fans lined up outside Lakeview Arena prior to the morning skate to take pictures and get autographs from players on each team.

"It's exciting for me because I just try to remember when I was in their position looking up to hockey players in the NHL, so I just think it's a great event and hopefully they all get to enjoy the game tonight," Eichel said.

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma went to Western Michigan Christian High School and played at Lakeview Arena. He also played against Northern Michigan University while attending Bowling Green State University.

"It was a lot bigger when I was younger," Bylsma said. "At the time I played here, I was a young kid. Northern Michigan played their games here, so it felt a lot bigger. It's still familiar. When I played here in college, we were at the new rink. I haven't been here in quite some time."

Bylsma said the fact the turnout was so great despite the Detroit Red Wings not playing in the game, the favorite team for most people in the area, shows the passion Marquette has for hockey.

"I came out to watch Carolina's morning skate and was amazed at not only the people in the stands but the energy in the stands and the cheering of the fans," Bylsma said. "Very few of them have a team in play here. They are cheering for hockey."

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Carolina took the ice first and was greeted with cheers from fans who packed the 3,100-seat arena to watch the practice.

"It's awesome," Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin said. "It's really good for the game. Just to come out here and meet all these fans who may not be able to see NHL games as much, it's a really cool experience. Hopefully we can put on a show for these guys tonight."

Detroit is about a seven-hour drive from Marquette, so the chance to see NHL players in their hometown was hard for many people to pass up. 

"It shows how much people really do care about the game," Hanifin said. "Obviously being up here in the [Upper Peninsula], these people probably don't get to see NHL games in person as much, so I think it's pretty cool to come up here and show them what it's all about."

Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said the scene brought back childhood memories of when he got involved in the game.

"It was awesome," Foligno said. "It kind of brings you back to your young days when you'd see pros and get pretty big-eyed. It was fun. Everyone was greeting you on the way in which was pretty exciting and nice to see. It's good to see the kids out here, too.

"Even when I was on hockey trips and tournaments around other cities, you kind of always had a chance to see a professional hockey game if you could. [It makes] you want your dream to come to life that much more."

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