ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. –
Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek
had a surprise waiting for him on his jersey yesterday.
A large letter C stitched to the front of it.
Coach Lindy Ruff, who has rotated the captaincy every month, chose Spacek to represent the team for the month of January. Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht will serve as alternate captains.
“It’s very well-deserved on his part,” Ruff said. “He’s played very well. He’s played very hard. I think of any guy on the team he’s having the most fun playing and is probably playing, on our team right now, probably playing as hard, or maybe harder, than anybody else.
“We’ve got guys that are playing hard, but he is really committed to playing hard hockey. From a physical standpoint, to an offensive standpoint … he’s playing a tough game. You wouldn’t want to play against him because it’s four or five hits a night, it’s two or three really hard hits. His competitive battles below the circle have been really good. I’m really impressed with the way he’s been playing.”
Spacek is tied for third in the League among defensemen with eight goals, and his 12 assists and 20 points are second among Sabres’ defensemen to Brian Campbell.
"I've shared a lot of good moments with him this year and he's improved my game a ton. I think we benefit by being paired together," Campbell said. "He's a guy that's very well liked in the room and it's nice to see that for him."
Spacek and Ruff didn’t always get along, but those bridges appear to have been mended.
“I get a little more trust from the coaches right now,” he said. “Can see a little more trust on both sides (but) I was a little bit surprised.”
Hecht (October), Toni Lydman (November) and Campbell (December) preceded Spacek as captain.
"It's just a letter, but sometime after you've finished your career, you can look back and say; 'Once, I had it on my jersey.' It's a very nice feeling," said Spacek.
And The Answer Is – Come Tuesday afternoon, Ty Conklin will be the answer to a rare hockey history question: Who started in goal in both the Heritage Classic and NHL Winter Classic?
Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien confirmed Monday that Conklin, who is 4-0 with a 2.71 goals-against average for the Penguins, will start Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres.
Conklin played for Edmonton in the Heritage Classic, allowing four goals on 27 shots in a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the freezer that was Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 22, 2003.
“It’s strange how things work certainly, but it’s pretty neat,” Conklin said. “In (the Heritage Classic) I didn’t play that great. It was a cold night. It was a lot different. Hopefully (the NHL Winter Classic) being during the day and not under the lights will help a little bit.”
Gearing Up – Both the Penguins and Sabres skated onto the ice wearing their throwback uniforms, and Sidney Crosby said members of his team thought their new/old powder blue jerseys with black, white and gold looked quite sharp in the team picture.
“It’s nice,” Crosby said. “A lot of guys were commenting that they’d like to wear that jersey more. It’s a sharp jersey. It’s fun for us to switch it up a bit and get some new clothing, things like that. We all look forward to that.”
Stafford Out – Drew Stafford took his twirls on the ice and posed for the team picture, but the Buffalo Sabres’ right wing will not dress for Tuesday’s game.
Stafford suffered a concussion against Ottawa last week and has to be symptom-free for at least seven days before going back to full contact drills.
“I think being out there was more for the photo and just getting a little piece of it,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to be? I think if you broke your leg you’d still try to get out there. It was an opportunity I don’t think he wanted to miss.”
Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen also skated in Monday’s practice, but he didn’t have a number on the back of his jersey and is out for the foreseeable future as he tries to get back into shape after undergoing open heart surgery in September.
|Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell has good reason to check his skates after he almost took a tumble during his first skate onto the Ralph Wilson Stadium ice.
Not the Best Start -- Brian Campbell was the first NHL player on the Ralph Wilson Stadium ice, but his first trip almost didn’t take him around the ice. More like nearly face-first into it.
Campbell stumbled stepping onto the ice, but quickly righted himself, and saved himself from any embarrassment in front of the throng of media and workers putting the last touches on the set-up.
“There was some ice on the step there,” he said with a chuckle. “Usually that’s not icy at HSBC Arena, so I almost went for one.”
Ray of Hope – "Heart," Rob Ray said, and Ray is a guy who knows a little bit about heart, having played 16 rugged NHL seasons from 1989 through 2004, 14 in Buffalo and two with the Ottawa Senators.
The winner of the 1999 King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community, now works as a Sabres broadcaster. That gives him excellent insight into the team's character.
Ray didn't have to be told that NHL analysts predicted a bleak future for the Sabres after the top two centers, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, on last year's Eastern Conference finalists signed free-agent contracts with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, respectively. Those predictions haven't come true. If the season ended today, the Sabres would be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Every time this team has faced a challenge, it has met it," Ray said. "They had a hard couple of games recently with Philadelphia. People said Buffalo is too small, Philly's too big and tough. They stood up to the Flyers and did very well. That's just one example. It's been happening all season.
"A lot of these players came up through the Rochester Americans and have been here a couple of years. They're growing up together and they're willing to play hard for each other."
Barnaby the Dad -- Matthew Barnaby, who played for both the Penguins and the Sabres, now lives in suburban Buffalo and is coaching his son, Matt Jr., in local youth hockey. Barnaby also is working this game for TSN, the Canadian communications company.
"This is a great area to live in, plus I married a girl from Buffalo so I think I'm like a lot of NHL players who wind up retiring in their wives' home towns."
Barnaby was asked how his son has taken to hockey and what Dad's expectations are. Barnaby offered the traditional response; "Anything he wants to be," but took it a step farther.
"That's what I want for him, to be anything that he wants to be," Barnaby said. "On the other hand, he loves hockey. Sometimes, it seems it's all he thinks about. So, if that's what he wants to be, fine."
The King and Malkin -- Evgeni Malkin played his last season in Russia for Magnitogorsk Metallurg under coach Dave King. Malkin was told King said some wonderful things about Malkin in his recently released book, King of Russia.
"Dave King is a good man," said Malkin. "Good coach. You know who I saw here? David Smith (the skating and conditioning coach for NHL officials). His brother, Barry, is coaching in Russia now. He's coaching SKA St. Petersburg."
Barry Smith was an assistant and associate head coach for the Detroit Red Wings when they won three Stanley Cups from 1997-2003. He also was an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won two Stanley Cups in 1991-92. The Smiths are from the Buffalo area and Dave Smith conducts power-skating clinics locally.
Bridging Two Countries -- Daniel Paille is from nearby Welland, Ontario, and is the Sabres' player who grew up nearest to Buffalo, but an effort to bestow honorary citizenship fell flat yesterday.
"So, you're basically from Buffalo, right?" Paille was asked. Wouldn't bite. Asked again, still no bite. One last time.
"OK," Paille surrendered. "I'm from Buffalo. Buffalo, Canada."
True patriot love in all thy sons command!
The First Critic -- It shouldn't go unnoticed that the first person to skate on the Winter Classic ice sheet Sunday after it was completed was an Olympian. Icemaker Dan Craig selected Chie Chie Sakuma, Director, NHL Events and Entertainment, to be the first skater and give him her evaluation.
It was a good choice.
The fluid-skating Sakuma was a member of Team Japan in the women's hockey tournament at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. She also played for Brown University.
Peter Rabbit -- Andrew Peters, at 6-foot-4 and 247 pounds, adds strength and size to the Sabres' lineup. Any speed he adds is a bonus. Thus, Peters' comment today might be the only time in his career he gets to describe himself this way: "With the wind at my back, I was really flying out there (from the adjacent stall, Paille shoots him a look). I was Pavel Bure-like. I came back to reality when I turned up ice and the wind was in my face. Then, I felt like myself out there."
With Peters on a roll, we couldn't tell if he's the Winter Classic's biggest booster or he wants everyone else in the league to have to experience an outdoor game in the middle of winter.
I think the NHL should do this every year," Peters said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It's a really cool atmosphere."
Dan Rosen, John McGourty and Adam Kimelman contributed to this report.