With the Olympics just about over, teams are getting back to practice to prepare for the remainder of the NHL regular season. The Buffalo Sabres are no different as they get ready to enter a pretty tough stretch of hockey that begins Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at First Niagara Center.
The game, which was originally supposed to be played on Jan. 7 but postponed due to inclement weather, opens up a three-game homestand over four nights for Buffalo. The team then hits the road next week for three games in five nights against Dallas, Tampa Bay and Florida.
Sabres forward Cody McCormick, who has missed 24 games since sustaining an upper-body injury on Dec. 17 against Winnipeg, is anxious to get back into the swing of things.
“I don’t care if it’s going to be five-in-five. I’ve missed too many games,” he said after practice at First Niagara Center on Saturday. “I want to play. That’s what it’s about right now. My personal feeling is, ‘Let’s play some hockey.’”
McCormick has been a full participant in practice the past two days and has shed a red non-contact jersey in favor of a white one that means he’s ever so closer to returning to the lineup. The team would still need to officially activate him from injured reserve before he can return to action.
Like many members of the team, he was able to use the two-week Olympic break to heal up and he rehabbed his injury to the best of his ability.
“I think everything’s a go, so hopefully – barring any setbacks – I think we’re all set,” he said. “It was something where I could focus 100 percent on it and do everything I had to do to get it to where it needs to be.”
Sabres captain Steve Ott was also able to use the break to rest up and recuperate from any injuries that may have been bothering him. He was also able to spend some time relaxing with his wife and daughter in warmer climates.
“I think every guy in the dressing room and throughout the League probably has a lot of bumps and bruises right around now,” he said. “We’ve played a lot of games in a short period of time and there’s nothing better than to refresh your brain and refresh your body. Just take in the two weeks to get away.”
However, with the upcoming schedule, the next few days of practice are vital for the team when it comes to getting back into a rhythm, especially in terms of on-ice drills.
“After a couple weeks, everyone did something, but there’s nothing like skating to replace or replicate the workout that we go through,” Ott said. “We start right away with a three-in-four situation and it doesn’t get any easier the rest of the way out. We want to be as prepared as possible.”
Buffalo currently has both of their goaltenders, Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth, in Sochi for the Olympics. Enroth, Henrik Tallinder and Team Sweden will face Canada in the gold medal game on Sunday while Miller and Team USA lost on Saturday to Finland in the bronze medal game.
Since Miller will be heading home first, Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said he may lean toward starting him against Carolina. That would likely mean Enroth would play Wednesday night when the Sabres host the Boston Bruins.
With Tallinder also in Sochi, the Sabres have been practicing with five defensemen.
The Sabres sent Chad Ruhwedel back to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League to play during the break and he’s one of a few defensemen, including Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb, who could be called up in the next few days to fill out the roster.
Nolan said that’s an area president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine and general manager Tim Murray are focusing on.
“I’m quite sure come gametime, we’ll have six,” Nolan said. “Not too sure who it’s going to be, but we’ll have six.”
After practice, Ott was preparing to head out to the Buffalo Zoo as part of his “Ott’s Otters” program. Last month, Ott and the Sabres teamed up with the Zoo to sell a limited number of stuffed otters. The otters, each wearing an Ott jersey, came with a card autographed by the Sabres captain.
The Sabres Store at First Niagara Center sold out of the stuffed animals in one day.
“I was blown away with the success,” Ott said. “We completely underestimated it with the amount of actual stuffed animals that we had but maybe next year we’ll have another round at this, we’ll see.”
All proceeds from the sale directly benefit the Buffalo Zoo.
“It’s just the smallest token since we’re all pretty much animal lovers in this dressing room,” Ott said. “It’s just a fun little project I thought about.”