It’s Dominik Hasek Day in Buffalo, with all the focus on the jersey retirement of the Sabres’ famous No. 39 in a pre-game ceremony. But there will be a familiar face in the lineup tonight when Buffalo hosts Detroit at First Niagara Center. Veteran forward Matt Ellis was recalled from Rochester this morning, as Chris Stewart is expected to miss tonight’s game as he tries to shake the flu bug.
Stewart was on the ice in a limited role at the morning skate after being absent for the past two days. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said he was going to talk with Stewart after practice, but didn’t seem optimistic about his return.
“(Stewart) was feeling very weak and still lightheaded this morning,” said Nolan. “He wanted to try it on the ice, and we’ll see how he responded. But right now it doesn’t look very good.”
This is the first recall of the season for Ellis, who was centering a line with Zac Dalpe and Patrick Kaleta this morning. The 33-year-old Ellis has 13 points (7+6) in 36 games for the Amerks in what has been an up-and-down season for Buffalo’s AHL affiliate.
“It’s been a good year, other than the fact our record isn’t where we want it to be. There have been some battles in trying to find the consistency in our game,” explained Ellis. “Our biggest thing has been trying to find our team identity night in and night out. We’ve had some real high points where we’ve beaten some really good teams, but we haven’t been able to maintain that consistency.”
Ellis’ presence in Rochester is to help the organization’s young players battle through those peaks and valleys in the schedule. Look no further than his location in the Amerks locker room where he is situated directly between Johan Larsson and Mikhail Grigorenko.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the young guys in the locker room, and I’ve had a lot of time to chat with Grigo. He’s really opened up, and has been sounding a lot of ideas off me,” said Ellis. “It’s been nice to build a relationship with guys like him and Joel Armia, and some of the other guys that are starting to come into their own.
“Part of a leadership role is you get really excited for the guys when they have success. When you see guys like Timmy Schaller and Phil Varone come up here and have success, there’s no better feeling.”
On a night when the Sabres honor one of the game’s greatest goalies, a pair of Hasek’s countrymen will square off between the pipes. Michal Neuvirth gets the start for Buffalo, fresh off a 45-save performance in a 2-1 loss to Tampa on Friday. At the other end of the ice will be 22-year-old Petr Mrazek, who backstopped the Wings to a 6-3 win over the Sabres at Joe Louis Arena on Dec. 23.
Mrazek was six years old when Hasek won gold for the Czech Republic at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, and has vivid memories of seeing his boyhood idol in action.
"I stayed home with my dad and mom to watch the semifinal against Canada, and the final against Russia, so I remember those days," Mrazek told Fox Sports Detroit on Monday. “I think it's a special thing for everyone in here who played with him. That was my growing-up hero. So I'm pretty excited.”
Fans attending tonight’s game are asked to be in their seats for the ceremony that will begin at 6:45 p.m. For those watching at home, MSG will carry the ceremony in its entirety. The TOPS Gamenight pre-game show will get underway at 6:30 p.m. on MSG.
All fans in attendance will receive a commemorative banner presented by First Niagara, the official bank of the Buffalo Sabres. The front of the banner features Hasek’s number and years of service while the back of the banner lists his career statistics and trophies he earned during his career.
The Sabres will also be selling limited-edition autographed Hasek hats, pucks and lithographs at First Niagara Center tonight, with proceeds benefitting Hasek’s Heroes, an organization Hasek founded in 2001 dedicated to help bring the game of ice hockey to underprivileged inner-city youth living in Buffalo. Items will be available for purchase in the 100 level pavilion.
In addition, Hasek’s No. 39 has been painted on the ice behind each net, and members of Hasek’s Heroes will be on-hand for the ceremony.
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 84 Phil Varone – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
20 Zac Dalpe – 37 Matt Ellis – 36 Patrick Kaleta
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
61 Andre Benoit – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 41 Andrej Meszaros
34 Michal Neuvirth
1 Jhonas Enroth
Scratched: 8 Cody McCormick (injured, blood clot), 24 Tyson Strachan, 51 Nikita Zadorov, 80 Chris Stewart (flu)
Injured Reserve: 12 Brian Gionta (upper body), 82 Marcus Foligno (hand)