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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres

Just like the last day of school as a kid, locker cleanout day for a professional athlete is never an easy chore. It’s especially difficult for a team that didn’t qualify for the postseason after such lofty preseason expectations. Such was the case for the Buffalo Sabres, who gathered at First Niagara Center on Monday for the final time in 2011-12.

The Sabres battled a rash of injuries throughout the year, but rallied to make a late-season run that saw them eliminated from playoff contention last Thursday in the second-last game of the season in Philadelphia. After being mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings on February 17 with a record of 24-27-6 (54 points), the Sabres went 15-5-5 over the final 25 games to finish 39-32-11 (89 points) -- just three points behind Ottawa for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Following are a selection of comments from the players as they met with the media today, giving their thoughts on what they think went wrong for the team this season:

Ryan Miller
“You have to prove you’re a good team over the course of the season. You have to prove you’re a contender. You have to prove everything every single year. Every time you step on the ice, people can question your abilities so I don’t think we ever qualified and I don’t think we ever stepped up to that level that we talked about in where we needed to be. So, yeah, that’s embarrassing and missing the playoffs is embarrassing … The only solace I kind of take from it is I don't think we quit. I really don’t. I think we got ourselves in a position and we weren’t successful and that hurts. Don’t mistake me for being happy about it, but we didn’t quit. We showed some pride and you can base a season next year on that pride and we can learn some lessons.”

Jason Pominville (click here to watch the video)
“Obviously we’re really disappointed and frustrated. I think as a team or as a group we can’t be satisfied with having a good run at it or having a good second half. I think it’s been back-to-back years where we had a good start but that middle part of the season, you have to play it and you have to be consistent to make a run at it and I think that’s probably our biggest issue right now is inconsistency. We saw on good nights that we can be an elite team and on other nights, we’re not even close to being that team we need to be … There’s a lot of things. Injuries are a part of it. They’re part of the game. At one point we had to deal with a lot more than probably some other teams had to deal with. But I don’t like sitting here and making excuses and finding ways that we couldn’t make it happen but we just didn’t do it and it falls on us to be better … We gave ourselves a chance. We had a good run. We did some good things. We had our destiny in our hands after the Washington game and didn’t pull through. But again, at the same time, we can pinpoint the Philly game where we had a lead and ended up not winning. I think it’s easy to say that game but there were games in November that we probably could’ve won and we wouldn’t have been in that situation.”

Tyler Ennis (click here to watch the video)
“Yeah, it’s weird. You always want to be still going and playing in the playoffs. It’s the best time of the year. It’s pretty disappointing and I never want this feeling again … I think everyone knows there was a bunch of injuries, and it was tough to get any kind of chemistry going. Throughout the year it seemed like everyone was hurt. Pommer did a really nice job of playing in all the games, and playing well in all the games. Other than that, it seemed like everybody got hurt. But again, it’s tough to just make an excuse like that. It just wasn’t good enough.”

Derek Roy (click here to watch the video)
“It’s very disappointing. All the hype at the start of the season; everybody was excited. Everybody was putting us as contenders. And obviously from that stretch that we put on at the end of the season, we were contenders. We waited too long to get going. We basically waited until our backs were against the wall to get started. I think even during games we did that as well. We got down in the first period a lot and tried to climb back into games. We’ve gotta have urgency right at the start of the season. Urgency has got to be there at the start of games. Especially at home when you’ve got the crowd behind you, that urgency has got to be there.”

Patrick Kaleta (click here to watch the video)
“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. My outlook on the season is we obviously didn’t play well enough, but I’m definitely proud of the way we came back. We didn’t roll over and die. We kept clawing and clawing. It’s a hard thing to do, but I’m proud of myself and our guys for that accomplishment. When I look back, I try to think of the positive things. I try to find the positive in things that maybe not other people would. The fact that we came together as a team when everyone counted us out, we still had belief that we could do it in this locker room. That’s gotta mean something.”

Thomas Vanek (click here to watch the video)
“It’s real difficult. It’s a tough thing to take. Obviously with the team we have, the expectations we had, at least just to get into the playoffs and give yourself a shot, I think that’s all you want nowadays. The parity is so close, it doesn’t matter if you get in at the eight spot or the one spot, you have a chance and we didn’t give ourselves a chance. I thought we started the year out good, got into a little funk, obviously had some injuries, but still had a lot of good guys in the lineup. When we finally got out of it, I thought we had a great run to come close, but at the end of the day we didn’t get it done. … I still think we have a good team and probably should have been in there. But again, you lose defensemen, which is a tough position to play in this league, doesn’t help and then once we got going I think we had better depth. I think Ryan was playing real well so who knows? It’s not for us to judge in here what’s wrong. I think these guys believe in themselves. I think at one point we were last and we came close so I don’t there’s a character issue in here because I think a lot of other teams would’ve probably shut it down.”

Drew Stafford (click here to watch the video)
"I think [expectations] can play a factor in anything. When you have going into a season where the expectations were this high obviously with the first season with Terry, the new acquisitions, how we played in Europe, when we came out we were playing great. Obviously that can sneak in there, I’m sure, mentally. I think it definitely wasn’t the only issue, the only problem that led to us not performing, not playing well enough to not make the playoffs."

Christian Ehrhoff (click here to watch the video)
"I think we had a good camp and a pretty good start in Europe to the season but then it somewhere went a little downhill for us and we lost our confidence and we dug ourselves [into] a pretty big hole. We just woke up a little too late and had a real good run and showed our potential, the potential the team had, and it was just too late."

Tyler Myers (click here to watch the video)
"We finished the year very well, but it’s not a good feeling leaving the year like this. Knowing the mistakes we made at the start and throughout the middle, you look back on it and you leave with some regrets and that’s one of the toughest feelings to leave with. … It’s very hard. I didn’t think we lost the playoffs in the last five games of the year, though. We lost it during that road trip and the mistakes we made before we made our big run, before the All-Star break. It’s hard when you come that close to not push through but we didn’t lose the playoffs those last three games.”

Jhonas Enroth
"I haven’t really been thinking about next year but next year hopefully we have a good group of guys together and hopefully we can live up to expectations next year."

Cody Hodgson (click here to watch the video)
"I think you saw a lot of the character of the guys. Nobody gave up since I’ve been here. I think we had a real strong team. It feels weird coming to the rink knowing you’re not going to be playing a game but I think it’ll probably hit home in the next few days. … We had a pretty good run here, but just falling short hurts. I think we have a really good team and next year coming back hopefully even stronger.”

Jochen Hecht (click here to watch the video)
“Obviously we had a good start to the season but went into a funk and didn’t recover in time. When you’re second to last in your conference, to make the playoffs is a real long shot. The guys put all they had into the second half but it wasn’t enough. It shows the league is tight, every team is good and you can’t take a week off in this league.”

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