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Sabres embracing 'connected' game following Day 1 of camp

Players express optimism for new style of play

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

The last thing players will see as they step out of their KeyBank Center dressing room this season will be a newly placed sign above the doors, a trio of swords containing the mantra that coach Ralph Krueger hopes to instill into Sabres hockey. 

It reads: Play Connected.

Krueger has used the phrase as a basic tenet of his coaching philosophy throughout the offseason. His goal for the next three weeks and beyond is to establish a recognizable brand of hockey that's unique and identifiable with the Sabres. 

Video: Sabres in 50: 1st Camp Practices

Players were already able to offer an idea of what that might look like following the first on-ice sessions of training camp on Friday. Their answers suggested a simplified, intuitive style of hockey that will promote individual creativity.  

"It's on the ice and off the ice," forward Evan Rodrigues said. "On the ice, it's coming up with a five-man unit, having support, knowing where everyone's going to be and just being there for your teammates. 

"[It's] being able to make plays without really looking, just knowing that there's going to be guys around you and you're going to be connected. It'll make our game be that much faster and it will make it easier on us as players."

One day after Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner suggested that their new coach's enthusiasm could be contagious, optimism seemed to be the prevailing emotion Friday. 

Kyle Okposo, for example, told reporters he felt ready to go play a game after Krueger delivered a 15-minute speech to players on Thursday. C.J. Smith said that players sat in the dressing room after the first practice session and discussed how much they enjoyed the drills. 

"He came in and he established himself as the guy," Sam Reinhart said of Krueger. "When he talks, guys are going to listen.

"That's just kind of the way he is and the way he holds himself and conducts himself whether he's conducting a meeting or you're talking one-on-one or just kind of joking around in a loose conversation. That's just kind of his manner, and it makes it very easy, very contagious for guys to pick up on."

The goal is for communication to promote clarity. On the ice, the coaching staff has worked toward establishing a consistent and clear set of terms they hope will be conducive toward keeping players on the same page.

"It's going to be simplified this year," Rodrigues said. "There's not going to be the questions of what we're doing, where guys have to be. You're going to be able to make plays without looking, you're going to know where guys are at all times. 

"There's going to be no question on what we're doing. It's going to be plain and simple. We're going to play fast and play aggressive."

Off the ice, players will know where they stand and why. 

"Whether it's good or bad or easy or hard to hear, he's going to be honest and we need to be honest with each other," Reinhart said. "I think a lot of that comes into buying in with one another and kind of accepting, embracing that we're all here to help each other and get on one page."

Krueger explained how honesty in difficult situations goes hand in hand with a "positive" approach.

Video: Ralph Krueger after 1st Sabres practice

"Positive isn't always friendly," he said. "Positive is constructive. Positive is working towards solutions. If a player gets sent down, that's an opportunity for him too. We'll be really clear on why, what has to be worked on, how you get back here and be number one in the slot to get the call. 

"For me, it's not about [being] smiley, friendly. I'm not a smiley, friendly guy. I'm not here to be popular. I'm here to get a job done and be respected. So, I'll work hard on that and that's the way I see positive. I see it in the way you drive people towards getting better and towards working towards solutions."

One day in, it seems that message has been embraced. At the same time, Krueger explained that establishing their "connected game" is going to be a process.

"We have to work on that unity and it's not going to happen overnight," the coach said. "We've got new players in the group; we've got a new mix coming in here. Coaches are new. All kinds of newness, which takes a few weeks until it settles into a comfortable zone. 

"We'll work on that naturally. We'll do it organically. But on the ice, we need to feel an identity."


Injury report

The Sabres announced that defenseman Zach Bogosian will not participate in training camp as he continues to recover from hip surgery. 

"He's just training off-ice," Krueger said. "We haven't put a timeline on him yet. We'll see how the next few days go, and we'll give you feed back there. We're not expecting him in the near future."


Lines at Friday's practice

Gold Group 

21 Kyle Okposo - 17 Vladimir Sobotka - 73 Matej Pekar
49 C.J. Smith - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 23 Sam Reinhart
20 Scott Wilson - 25 Arttu Ruotsalainen - 15 Jean-Sebastien Dea
90 Marcus Johansson - 74 Rasmus Asplund - 68 Victor Olofsson
12 Kevin Porter - 82 Kyle Olson

19 Jake McCabe - 3 William Borgen
44 Brandon Hickey - 45 Casey Fitzgerald
62 Brandon Montour - 8 Casey Nelson
61 Devante Stephens - 38 Zach Redmond

35 Linus Ullmark
36 Andrew Hammond

Blue Group

13 Jimmy Vesey - 9 Jack Eichel - 43 Conor Sheary 
53 Jeff Skinner - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 27 Curtis Lazar
81 Remi Elie - 42 Dylan Cozens - 72 Tage Thompson
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 52 Andrew Oglevie
47 Sean Malone - 46 Eric Cornel

6 Marco Scandella - 33 Colin Miller / 10 Henri Jokiharju
58 John Gilmour - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 78 Jacob Bryson

40 Carter Hutton 
34 Jonas Johansson
50 Michael Houser

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