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DUNLEAVY: SABRES SHOWING SIGNS OF GROWTH AS MIDWAY POINT OF SEASON APPROACHES

by Dan Dunleavy / Buffalo Sabres
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Yes, finally 'tis the season that Sabres fans, players, and staff throughout the organization are holding their heads and hopes high as the “Next Chapter” begins to unfold. Now 34 games into the season, we have seen many presents unwrap themselves from underneath the 2015 Sabres' Christmas tree.

A game under .500 in both their home and road records is a big enough sign to show me that this team is making strides in the right direction.

Even with the improved roster, the first and possibly biggest challenge for the new coaching staff at the start of the season was to work on changing the mindset or culture with respect to the young players who had been part of the last two disappointing seasons.

From my vantage points – in the broadcast booth, at practice, at morning skates, and in conversation with players – I label this mission accomplished.

Just look at the growth demonstrated by players like Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons and Jake McCabe. All three have a professional attitude that any team would be happy to have in their room and on the ice.

Growing into a championship team is not always about points right away. While those points do and will continue to matter, the mindset of all on your roster has to be one of never giving up, always communicating and never being satisfied until you have your name on Lord Stanley’s Cup.

It continues to be a pleasure to watch the development of a player like Ryan O'Reilly. What can’t this guy do for his teammates and this city?

And despite not having a ton of points at this point of the season, I have been impressed with the never-quit attitude of Johan Larsson. Yes, Johan has been challenged by this coaching staff, but he has responded with effort and finally rewarded with that elusive first goal of the season in Detroit. He must build off that game and continue to find ways to affect a game.

I think we also should not overlook the contributions of veteran David Legwand. The 35-year-old, former No. 2 overall pick has taken on many roles within the fabric of this newly constructed team. No matter how many minutes the 17 year NHLer plays on the ice, he has helped ease the leadership load placed on the shoulders of players such as Josh Gorges and captain Brian Gionta.

The ultimate gift all Sabres fans want to unwrap this holiday season is a guarantee the team will produce a playoff date this season at First Niagara Center. At the very least I think we can agree on one thing. It has so far been fun to watch a team that – for the most part – has given us the gift of not accepting defeat and seems to be determined to head in the right direction, which is north in the Eastern Conference standings.

Happy holidays, Sabres fans and see you again live from Boston on Dec. 26, or, as we Canadians call it, Boxing Day.

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