SUNRISE, Fla. - As Sean Malone reaffirmed form the visiting dressing room at BB&T Center on Saturday morning, hockey is a game of bounces. Sometimes, those bounces can be the difference between playing for a National Championship in Chicago and making your NHL debut in Florida.
Specifically, Malone was referring to the two shots his Harvard team rang off the crossbar in the final seconds of their NCAA Semifinal game on Thursday night, one of which came off his own stick. If either of those shots had gone an inch or two lower, their game against Minnesota Duluth would have been tied and Harvard might be prepping to face Denver for the National Championship tonight.
Instead, Malone and his teammates flew back to Boston on Friday morning, which is when he got a call from his agent. A deal had been worked out with the Buffalo Sabres, who drafted him in the sixth round back in 2013, and it included an NHL game or two this season.
Tonight, Malone - a West Seneca native - will make his NHL debut for the Sabres against the Florida Panthers. How's that for a consolation prize?
"It sort of took me by surprise," Malone said. "I wasn't really expecting it. But at the end of the day when you're a kid growing up in that area your dream is to wear the blue and gold. Fortunately I was able to do that tonight and I'm really excited for the opportunity."
Malone is coming off of a successful senior season in which he scored 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points, more than doubling his previous career high of 20. In four seasons at Harvard, he amassed 99 points (42+57) in 115 games.
"My skating's improved over the past four years," he said. "I'm hoping to bring a quicker pace to this team, I think that's what I bring as an asset. To go with that, just my overall strength. When you're in college for four years you get a chance to develop. I think its really paid off for me on the ice."
Watching him in the morning skate, Dan Bylsma said he saw another promising aspect of Malone's game in the faceoff circle.
"Just seeing Sean take some faceoffs out there against Ryan O'Reilly, he fared OK against our best guy so we may give him more opportunity in the game if that's the case," the coach said.
Video: BYLSMA: Pregame Interview at Florida
Malone will begin the game centering a line with Zemgus Girgensons on the left wing and Nicolas Deslauriers on the right. He becomes the third Sabre to make his NHL debut since April began, joining C.J. Smith and Alexander Nylander.
Bylsma said that Smith will remain a healthy scratch.
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres. Linus Ullmark was recalled on Friday and will serve as the backup, with Anders Nilsson's season over due to an injury.
"He took a shot in the arm," Bylsma said, referring to Nilsson. "He practiced yesterday but just not able really to play in a game. It was something that got kind of worse as the practice went on."
Coverage begins at 6:30 with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Panthers at 7 p.m.