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Blue-Collar Player

by Brian Wheeler / Buffalo Sabres
Paul Gaustad never stops trying to become better than he is. Two years ago, Gaustad was playing in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans and his future was uncertain. In true Buffalo fashion, the Fargo, North Dakota native worked hard over the next two seasons, improved his skills and earned his way onto the NHL stage.

"Every time I step on the ice I try to improve a little bit," stated Gaustad. "It's been a goal of mine to always get better, never plateau and never settle for being good. I want to be great."

Gaustad's game will instantly endear him to blue-collar workers. He hits anything that moves, gives his all on every shift and will never stop competing.

"I got to see him play a lot last year," stated head coach Lindy Ruff. "For a guy you didn't think a few years ago would make the club and maybe not play in the league, he's worked as hard as anyone I've known conditioning wise and skating wise to get to where he is at."

On Thursday, the smile couldn't be taken off Gaustad's face after appearing in just his second NHL game. He got on the ice for 15 shifts, recorded three shots and finished with a plus/minus rating of minus-three.

"I think right now as a young guy my role is to supply energy, do some hitting and do anything I can to help the team out," stated Gaustad.

Ruff has now challenged "Goose" – as he is called by teammates - with a new test. As the only center on the Sabres roster that stands taller than 6'1'', he must become proficient enough in the face-off circle to complete with the likes of Joe Thorton and Mats Sundin.

"(Having a larger center taking draws) is the asset we need and it's something I have personally tried to work with him on every day," stated Ruff. "We are going to need him on some nights to play against the other team's big men."

On Wednesday night against the New York Islanders, the 6'4'', 217-pound center won nine of 16 face-offs. Only Chris Drury, who was working with Gaustad on his technique during practice on Thursday, posted a better winning percentage at 60%.

"Everyday, I've been working on (face-offs) and that's something that I need to be strong in," said Gaustad. "I have been really focusing on it."

Gaustad will have to put what he has learned to use as the Boston Bruins travel to HSBC Arena to face the Sabres on Friday night at 8:00 PM.

"I'm still competing for a job out here. I'm going to do anything I can to win draws and beat whoever I'm against," said Gaustad.
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