UPDATE (4:53 p.m.): With Kasdorf ready to play, the team announced on Friday that goalie Nathan Lieuwen has been reassigned to Rochester of the American Hockey League. Lieuwen has been with the team since March 18 in a backup role but has not seen game action.
Lieuwen is 14-10-0 with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in 26 games with the Amerks this season.
When the Buffalo Sabres take the ice to warm up for their final home game of the season Friday night, it will be a new face leading them out from the tunnel. Goalie Jason Kasdorf, over three weeks removed from signing his entry-level contract, will make his NHL debut.
Kasdorf becomes the third Sabre set to debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Forwards Evan Rodrigues and Cole Schneider were both recalled for the first time in their careers Thursday morning and will also be in the lineup.
Kasdorf, acquired as a piece in the deal that brought over Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian from Winnipeg last season, signed on March 14 after concluding his senior season at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). A groin injury limited him from practicing with the team until last week.
In the meantime, he's been working hard both to learn and recover with potential game action in mind.
"It's good motivation in practice to work hard and do things right and learn the systems and everything," Kasdorf said. "I'm just really excited about this opportunity."
He'll become the fourth goalie to start a game for the Sabres this season along with Robin Lehner, Linus Ullmark and Chad Johnson. Of those three, Johnson is the only one who isn’t signed through next season, but General Manager Tim Murray has expressed interest in re-signing him over the summer.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that this start will be a chance for Kasdorf to show where he stands on the organizational depth chart. Bylsma liked what he saw from Kasdorf in Development Camp last summer, when he started the intra-squad Blue and Gold Scrimmage and didn’t allowed a goal in nearly 20 minutes of ice time.
"He's a guy I've seen at rookie development camp and I think his strength in that time was when he got in the game, when he had game situations," Bylsma said. "I kind of expect to see the same thing I saw in rookie games."
Not only is he trying to impress his coaches, but Kasdorf also joins a Sabres team that has its sights set on winning its last two games of the season to finish with a record above .500. Sounds like a lot of added pressure on the rookie, right?
"I'll definitely be nervous," Kasdorf said. "But I kind of like the feeling of nervous going into game so I'm feeling pretty good."
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Carlo Colaiacovo has sat for the last six games while rookie defenseman Casey Nelson has had his chance to show what he can do at the NHL level. But after seeing Nelson "fight the puck" over the last few games, Bylsma made the decision to reinsert Colaiacovo in the lineup on Friday.
The chance to play would mean a lot to Colaiacovo regardless, but it's especially important given it's the last home game of the season and Fan Appreciation Night at First Niagara Center.
"It means a lot," he said. "I'm really, really grateful for the chance to be back in there, especially for tonight. I've been here all year, I've gone through the grind, I've battled with these guys and I've done what I had to do to keep myself ready. For me to top it off and finish it off in front of our fans, where we're getting a chance to thank our fans and appreciate their contributions, it means a lot."
Colaiacovo already knew a bit about Buffalo's fan base from his years in the League coming to town as an opponent, some of which came with arch-rival Toronto. But this season, he said, he learned just how hungry they are for a winning team. After a slow start at home, he said the players in the room made it a point to start giving them one.
Buffalo has responded with a 5-1-3 home record since the beginning of March.
"We brought that up because it was a topic of discussion that needed to be addressed," Colaiacovo said. "You want to be a playoff team in the NHL you've got to have a good home record.
"…We let a lot of games early in the year slip away but it doesn’t hold against the fact of how much we love playing at home. Buffalo's a city known for bad weather in winter time but these people don’t make an excuse. They find ways. They enjoy hockey and we enjoy playing in front of them."
Bylsma, too, has learned a great deal about his new fan base in his first season as coach of the Sabres, going back to his first day on the job. He was on the balcony at the arena, he said, when a construction worker at HARBORCENTER started shouting to him about his excitement for the season.
Since then, he said, he's been amazed at the support even through a learning season.
"I don’t know what it would be like when we put together a winning season and head into the playoffs, I can only imagine what the response would be," Bylsma said. "They're starving for success. They're starving for a win. They're starving for a winner. I feel that every conversation I have with a fan … Man, I look forward to that time when we can it to them."
On Friday, the Sabres will settle for giving the fans one last honest effort to wrap up the season. After the game, select season ticket holders will be brought down to ice level for players to personally give them their game-worn jerseys. More information on Fan Appreciation Night can be found here.
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 10 Cole Schneider
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
26 Matt Moulson – 17 David Legwand – 71 Evan Rodrigues
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 3 Mark Pysyk
33 Jason Kasdorf
31 Chad Johnson