When it comes to watching victories on the ice, my first two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres have obviously been tough.
It has not been easy on the players, coaches, management and ownership. They’re judged on those wins and losses. And not having the success you want can be tough not only on them, but also on the fans who wanted to see them do well.
With over a decade of time spent in the Canadian Hockey League and eight years alongside Hockey Canada, I have watched players who have graduated into today’s NHL and are now on this grand stage trying to attain greatness and become a champion.
So what have I seen in my two years with the team that has me convinced Sabres fans are definitely in for better days?
While it’s true that you can’t finish any worse than 30th, you can digress as a team if the right pieces are not put in place to steer the ship the proper way, in the right direction.
Leaders have left this team and new leaders have stepped in almost seamlessly. Even in tough times when the win and point totals fell well below expectations, some of those leaders who were already here and have developed into the players they’ve strived to become.
This is where I feel good for those fans looking for a light at the end of the tunnel.
Let’s start with the play of forward Tyler Ennis. During his time in the Western Hockey League with Medicine Hat, Ennis’ play progressed from three goals in his first season to 26 in his sophomore season and then 43 each in the next two years.
During his time with the Canadian World Junior team in 2009, Ennis had seven points in six games and won a gold medal. Then it was onto the American Hockey League where he was named Rookie of the Year.
When Tyler was given a chance to show his wares at the NHL level, he registered nine points in 10 games with Buffalo and then tied for a team best four points in the six game playoff series against the Bruins.
Tyler has put up progressively better point totals in each season he has been with Buffalo. But beyond the points and any analytics someone may come up with, the maturation of Tyler Ennis is what sells me on his being a leader made by his own effort. And he delivers on a nightly basis.
Tyler has developed a way of making players around him better.
While some players would rest on that progress alone, Tyler has looked inwards to find ways to continue getting better. He will represent Canada at the upcoming IIHF World Championship starting on Friday.
You don’t have to watch the game too closely to see who is competing at their highest level possible and who is competing at the highest level they are capable of. For me, the two levels of effort are vastly different.
To compete at the highest level possible means continuing to give more of yourself in an effort to achieve more than you even expected.
On the other hand, competing at the highest level one is capable of suggests to me that a player is giving all they think they have without pushing beyond that self-imposed marker in an effort to become more than even they expected. In many cases, that effort is put toward becoming a champion.
The hunger Ennis has displayed to improve rather than take time off and rest up for next season – or at least until it’s time to start training again – is what opens the door for Tyler Ennis to perhaps become the champion all of Buffalo hopes he can be.