VANCOUVER – Good luck trying to wipe the smile off Nathan Lieuwen’s face.
The 22-year-old was born and raised less than an hour away in Abbotsford, BC. On Sunday he’ll be the starting goaltender at Rogers Arena facing the Vancouver Canucks, the team he grew up cheering for.
Lieuwen was grinning from ear-to-ear when he spoke with reporters following today’s practice.
“It’s incredible. Obviously this past week has been a whirlwind for me. This is just pretty special,” said Lieuwen, who was sporting a freshly shorn buzzcut. “The Canucks were my team growing up. It’ll be cool to play in this building.”
Sunday’s homecoming will cap off a wild first week of NHL action for Lieuwen. After playing on consecutive nights with the Rochester Americans, Lieuwen was recalled to Buffalo last Sunday when Michal Neuvirth went down with a lower body injury. He was then thrust into action that night against Montreal when Jhonas Enroth suffered a leg injury late in the second period. That was followed by his first career start in Calgary on Tuesday, where he made 23 saves in a 3-1 loss, after holding the Flames scoreless through the first 38:58 of action.
With everything that he’s gone through in the last seven days, Lieuwen says he’ll have to rely on his training and preparation to maintain his focus against the Canucks.
“I’ve just gotta kind of block it out. There’s obviously going to be a lot of emotions, and a lot of extra stuff that could creep into my head. I’ve just got to stay focused on my process and what I have to do on the ice. If I stay focused on that I’ll be fine.”
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan had anticipated having Neuvirth back Sunday, but said today the goaltender had a slight setback in his recovery process.
“We’re trying something different. He’s been feeling really good, and then he goes on the ice and it doesn’t feel well. We’ll try to keep him off until he feels over 100 percent, and then we’ll put him back on.”
Nolan also said that Matt Hackett, coming off his first NHL win in two years, will get the start in Montreal on Tuesday.
Nolan said there won’t be any lineup changes on Sunday, which means that Ville Leino will be scratched for a second straight game.
There was one minor line swap at today’s practice. Matt Ellis was shifted to a line with Matt D’Agostini and Brian Flynn, while rookie Nicolas Deslauriers was dropped back to the right wing on a line with Zenon Konopka and John Scott.
Deslauriers is pointless in eight games with the Sabres since coming over in the deadline day deal that sent Brayden McNabb to Los Angeles. Nolan believes it’s simply time to reel in the 23-year-old Deslauriers a bit.
It’s like anything else, you don’t want to give a young player too much, too soon. He has eight games in the NHL and it’s all about development. Truth being told, if we were a healthier group he wouldn’t be here right now. It is what it is. It’s up to us to watch and monitor. You don’t want to put a kid in a position of failure; you want to put him in a position of success. We’ll taper him back a little bit. I like his game, but we’ve got to get back to the basics with him and develop him."
SUNDAY’S PROJECTED LINES
Marcus Foligno – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Cory Conacher – Cody Hodgson – Torrey Mitchell
Matt Ellis – Brian Flynn – Matt D’Agostini
John Scott – Zenon Konopka – Nicolas Deslauriers
Christian Ehrhoff – Rasmus Ristolainen
Jamie McBain – Mike Weber
Chad Ruhwedel – Henrik Tallinder