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Adams' leadership left marks on former teammates, colleagues

Ellis, Brind'Amour confident in new Sabres GM

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Kevyn Adams has seen hockey from all its angles. Few are more aware of this than Matt Ellis. 

Ellis, the former Buffalo Sabres forward, first knew Adams as an on-ice opponent. Adams was a veteran who had achieved an 11-year career by playing the sort of heart-and-soul role Ellis hoped to one day carve out for himself. 

The two grew more acquainted when Adams joined the Sabres as a development coach in 2009, by which time Ellis was an NHL veteran. That bled into post-practice drills and conversations when Adams was promoted to an assistant on Lindy Ruff's staff two years later. 

Finally, Adams became something of a mentor to Ellis when the latter hung up his skates and signed on as an instructor for the Academy of Hockey, the development program for which Adams served as director since its inception in 2013.

All of this, Ellis says, is evidence of a passion and curiosity for the game that will serve Adams well as he moves into the role of Sabres general manager.

"The first time I ever met Kevyn, you could tell that he had some of that student aspect to him," Ellis said. "Wanting to explore certain things, wanting to know - especially if it was something that intrigued him or interested him, he would always investigate, explore, study and come out of it prepared. He's very detailed. 

"He's a mentor figure for me, taking notes and just being present and jotting everything down and going back and studying and looking at things and taking time away to reflect on certain things. Those are things that I've witnessed firsthand and tried to take with me moving forward."

Video: GM Kevyn Adams' introductory press conference

Adams' hockey journey began in Western New York. It carried him from his backyard pond in Clarence to an inscription on the Stanley Cup, which he won with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. 

Adams was an alternate captain on that team, a blood-and-guts forward who appeared in all 107 regular season and playoff games. He did not miss a shift after blocking a Chris Pronger slap shot and breaking his wrist during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and his character left on mark on former teammates that remains today.

"Kevyn Adams is first and foremost a great person," Rod Brind'Amour said in a text message to "His work ethic and passion in everything he does are second to none. The Buffalo Sabres have made a tremendous move in naming Kevyn as their next GM."

"As a teammate, Kevyn always had your back and would sacrifice it all for the good of the team," wrote Justin Williams. "He is a well-respected leader and an honest, hardworking man who has earned everything he's gotten."

Adams leaned on those principles from the ice and dressing room as he transitioned into the Academy of Hockey and then into Buffalo's front office as senior vice president of business administration: communication, inclusiveness, and open-mindedness among them.

"So many things are the same - how you treat people, do you do the work every day, are you dealing with the right people, at night when you go to bed, did you get a little bit better?" Adams said. "I mean, those are all things that I've tried to bring into the many different jobs over the last 10 years that I've had, and that's how we're going to march forward as a Buffalo Sabres hockey team. 

"We're going to push each other, we're going to be collaborative, we're going to hold each other accountable, we're going to be honest, we're going to have great debates, conversations around how do we get better? Our goal is going to be the same, and it's not always easy to just come out of a room arm-in-arm. You have to battle through some things. Ultimately, though, if you trust each other and you all get to the same place, which if you want win a Stanley Cup, then great things can happen."

Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula cited Adams' communicative abilities in particular when explaining the move. Together with coach Ralph Krueger - whose background is similarly diverse to Adams' - they envision a workflow and line of communication similar to what's been established with general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott of the Buffalo Bills. 

Who will fill out the remainder of Buffalo's hockey operations is still to be decided, but Adams expects to surround himself with people he can lean on and who will be willing to hold him accountable. Such was the atmosphere he cultivated at the Academy of Hockey.

"Kev was instrumental in putting together a team of people who had certain strengths, offset certain things, were able to basically take on a role and the people that he brought in, kind of allowing them the autonomy to do their thing," Ellis said. 

"And that was something that really, really struck me that I've carried with me. He understood strengths. He understood values and roles. He understood there are certain things certain people are better at and if you get the right people in the right seats on the bus, you're going to drive toward some great things especially if the vision if cohesive and connected."

There is work to be done. Adams had already spoken with captain Jack Eichel by the time he met with the media Tuesday, with more conversations with players to follow. The Sabres will have an elongated offseason to evaluate the roster and further prepare for a draft in the fall. 

In the meantime, Adams promised to be transparent and accessible. Ellis would expect nothing less.

"He's very real," Ellis said. "He's inquisitive. He's accessible. And that is one thing that I've always respected with Kevyn is even if it's a hard conversation, he's always accessible to answer certain things. He's very transparent to what he sees and he's very real. I think he understand exactly where things have been for the Sabres and where things are at. 

"But he's a guy who is all about where things are going and how to get there. I think that's one of his greatest assets is he has a plan, he has that pulse, and I truly believe he's going to be ready to go. He understands some of the frustration and the adversity that people have gone through. I think he's dialed into it. I think it's part of his fabric. He's going to be rearing to go."

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