ST. LOUIS – The Buffalo Sabres are facing more injuries to their defensive corps and it looks like the situation will lead to Jake McCabe making his NHL debut Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues.
Mike Weber and Henrik Tallinder did not partake in Buffalo’s morning skate at Scottrade Center. Right wing Drew Stafford also did not skate.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan declared all three as game-time decisions, but made it sound like Tallinder is the least likely of the three to play. With McCabe and Nicolas Deslauriers available and John Scott able to play both forward and defense, they should be able to field a full squad.
The Sabres announced Wednesday that McCabe, 20, had signed a three-year, entry-level contract and he joined the team for its three-game road trip that starts at 8 p.m. EST in St. Louis on Thursday.
“Yeah, I think I’ll have some nerves, that’s for sure. Even out in the pregame skate, I’m sure my heart rate was getting up there,” McCabe said after the morning skate. “This is a whole new level than anything obviously I’ve ever been to so it’s exciting. The guys have been great so far. I can’t wait to get out there tonight.”
McCabe, at 6-feet, 195 pounds, just wrapped up his junior season with the University of Wisconsin. He by registering a career-high 25 points (8+17) through 33 games and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors.
His point total was fifth-best for the Badgers, who captured the Big Ten conference tournament championship, and fourth-best among defensemen in the Big Ten. In 2013, he served as captain of Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, where the United States took home the gold medal.
“He’s going to be full of energy and full of enthusiasm, but especially against the first team he plays against, St. Louis Blues, they’re the cream of the crop of the National Hockey League right now,” Nolan said. “So he can’t be admiring his passes and he can’t be going back on a normal college speed. He has to jump right in with them with the best in the League.
Forgoing his senior season at Wisconsin was not one McCabe took lightly. He had discussions with both his family and the Badgers coaching staff, including coach Mike Eaves. All supported his decision to go pro.
“I think giving away that senior year was a big, big decision. I can’t talk enough about Coach Eaves and the coaching staff there,” he said. “It was an all-around awesome experience and I would suggest anyone to go the college route.”
Injuries to Tyler Myers and Alexander Sulzer have required Buffalo to field a young crop of defensemen on the blue line. Rookies Rasmus Ristolainen and Chad Ruhwedel are already up with the team on an emergency basis.
“There’s quite a few young guys up right now so it’s fun just talking to them, seeing how things work,” McCabe said. “The veteran guys have been great as well, kind of showing me the ropes. It’s been a welcoming experience so far.”
Buffalo’s schedule down the stretch isn’t an easy one. Following the game against St. Louis, they’ll face Detroit twice, Philadelphia, the Rangers, Boston and the Islanders to close out the season. McCabe said he checked out the schedule almost immediately.
“I looked there right way. The only way I’m looking at it is, it’s exciting to get my feet wet a little bit and see what it takes to play up here at this level and work my butt off over the summer to try to stay up at this level,” he said.
McCabe will wear No. 29.
Nathan Lieuwen will start in goal against the Blues and Nolan plans on playing Matt Hackett in Detroit on Friday.
Lieuwen earned his first career in a shootout against the Devils on Tuesday.
“He has to try to do the extraordinary thing again and that’s how you make a name for yourself,” Nolan said. “We’re putting a kid in a real tough situation, but we’ll see how he responds.”
The Sabres received an unexpected early-morning wakeup call on Thursday. At around 5:30 a.m., a tornado warning was issued for the St. Louis area. Everyone at the team’s hotel was then instructed to head down to the basement until the warning expired. By 6 a.m., everyone was back in their rooms.
“You usually get fire alarms at that time in the morning, never a tornado warning,” Nolan said. “It was something different but I think everybody went to bed, I hope half-decently.”
Chris Stewart made the trip and skated with the team for the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury on March 6 against Tampa Bay. It was thought that he could miss the rest of the season, but he’s progressing ahead of schedule and there’s a chance he could see some game action before the season ends on April 13.
Stewart was acquired by the Sabres on Feb. 28 as part of the deal that sent Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to the Blues.
He said he’s been skating for the past five or six days and looks forward to pushing harder every day. What he didn’t realize was how much he missed being around his teammates.
“You get traded and then you get hurt and then they’re on a two-week road trip so you’re sitting there in Buffalo by yourself for a little bit,” he said. “You’re kind of down and this is the stuff you miss – just the locker room camaraderie and joking around with the boys and the chirps here and there and just having fun. It’s the little things that you miss and you don’t think about.”
He was also able to meet up with some old friends on the Blues. Kevin Shattenkirk invited Stewart over for dinner, but things didn’t go accordingly to plan.
“You can tell he’s a bachelor; He was out of propane five minutes into the barbecue,” Stewart said. “[So] he put it in the oven. He said that’s what they used to do in the college days so it must have been a [Boston University] thing.”