There are jobs to be won in the Buffalo Sabres' training camp this year. The coaching staff has said they’ll try to give every player a fair shake when it comes to battling for a roster spot. Looking at the depth chart, Tim Schaller’s name may not have been one that received much of a reaction.
However, after a week of camp, coach Ted Nolan has rewarded Schaller and his strong practice habits with a spot in the lineup for Buffalo’s preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center.
“I’ve been working pretty hard all camp here to get the start tonight. It’s awesome,” Schaller said after the morning skate. “It shows that he is giving guys opportunities. Hopefully I can be that guy to fill a spot during the year.”
Nolan said he didn't know too much about Schaller when camp opened last week, but since then Schaller has impressed him. Finding players that surprise you is one of the unpredictable aspects of training camp that Nolan finds joy in.
“It’s funny. Some guys will dazzle you with some really good moves and scoring goals or making a nice pass. I just really noticed his intelligence away from the puck,” Nolan said. “Almost every practice we had, you look at his size, he can skate, I just felt his hockey intelligence was evident.”
BLUE & GOLD CARPET EVENT BEGINS AT 5 P.M.
Schaller, 23, made his professional debut last season with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League after playing four seasons at Providence College. He became known for his defensive acumen and his play improved as he gained more and more confidence. He won’t look to change his style much just because he’s dressing in an NHL preseason game.
“This is a dream come true. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. It’s a preseason game, but it’s a tryout for me,” he said. “I was waiting for this all of last year, didn’t get it so it’s my time to shine tonight. I’ll bring my “A” game for sure.”
The game can be heard live on WGR 550 and seen in the Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse markets on MSG.
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 23 Sam Reinhart – 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 80 Chris Stewart
65 Brian Flynn – 59 Tim Schaller – 8 Cody McCormick
29 Jake McCabe, 41 Andrej Meszaros, 57 Tyler Myers, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 6 Mike Weber, 51 Nikita Zadorov
34 Michal Neuvirth
35 Andrey Makarov
Three other Sabres will make their preseason debuts on Friday. Cody Hodgson and Marcus Foligno return as well as Cody McCormick, who will play for Buffalo for the first time since March.
McCormick was traded from Buffalo to Minnesota at the NHL Trade Deadline with Matt Moulson. They clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Wild and after the season was over, they both decided to re-sign with the Sabres.
“This is the best-case scenario, to come back to Buffalo,” McCormick said. “When I got traded, we were focused on Minnesota and the task at hand. After everything was done there, it was in the back of my mind and my family’s mind that we could stay in Buffalo.”
He hopes to use that playoff experience to motivate not only him, but the team as a whole.
“It was refreshing to get back into the playoffs,” he said. “That’s why you play. You want to be in the playoffs. That’s what our mindset in this room is. Bringing what I experienced there, it’s a drive to get back.”
NO BULLY ZONE
McCormick has been known to drop the gloves to defend his teammates over the years. He got in eight fights last season and had a career-high 16 fighting majors back in 2010-11. Nolan’s Sabres teams of the mid-’90s were known as a tough bunch and Nolan says that while he still sees a place in hockey for fighting, it shouldn’t be at the detriment of other parts of the game.
“People are always questioning whether I’ve softened. I’ve never softened. I don’t like bullies. I’ve never liked bullies,” Nolan said. “I don’t think there’s a place for them. Sometimes when bullies are out there, you have to defend yourself and that’s what happened in the past. They’re not as relevant now. Some guys are still signed just to fight.
“We do everything in our power to stop an offensive guy from scoring goals. We do things to break a system. Yet, when we have fighters on the other team, we want to fight them. I say, ‘Why?’ There’s a purpose for fighting and a purpose for aggressive play. But there has to be a purpose. Without it, there’s no reason to do it.
“With Cody, we want him to play tough and we want him to play aggressive and we want him to play a little nasty. But that doesn’t necessarily mean fighting all the time. He’s done that and once in a while – fighting’s still a part of the game – I’m quite sure you’ll see him do that occasionally too.”
‘PROVE US WRONG’
The Sabres are expected to make some cuts to their NHL roster either in the next day or two. Those would include some players headed back to their respective junior clubs or to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.
“It’s always tough when you make those decisions, but those decisions sometimes are necessary for the players to get better,” Nolan said. “Some need a little bit more time, some are first-year pros that think they should be here and are disappointed, obviously. To those ones, you say, ‘Prove us wrong; There are 30 other teams in the League.’ Those types of things.
“You always want to make sure every player has the good old feeling of there’s hope, that there’s a place in this organization for them, whether you’re a free-agent walk-on or a first-round pick. It doesn’t matter.”