Since Ted Nolan was named interim coach of the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 13, he’s made a big effort to get to know his players. He’s leaned on the teams’ veterans for both insight and to set a good example for the rest of the players.
Nolan cited Drew Stafford and Ville Leino as two players he’s seen improve in his time with the team. He thinks they’ve benefited from a fresh start.
“When I first got here, they seemed a little bit confused on their roles and responsibilities on this team. They were a little bit confused on how they fit into certain things,” Nolan said. “But I looked at them as those guys are the senior guys on this team. They have to be relied upon, they have to be looked upon as your leaders. We only go as far as our leaders go, so my initial thought process there was just try to get them playing the way they’re capable of playing.”
WATCH: VILLE LEINO INTERVIEW
One of the first changes Nolan made to the lineup was giving Leino more responsibility on the ice by moving him to center. Leino has also seen his ice time increase about 4:30 per game since Nolan took over.
He said he has developed a positive relationship with his coach over the past few weeks.
“It’s great. He tells you what he wants out of you and he wants you to work hard, compete, do the things you’re good at,” Leino said. “So far it’s been great and I think everybody here likes him, obviously, because he’s honest. You just have to compete and do your job out there. That’s all you need, so it’s been great.”
Cody McCormick, currently on the injured reserve list with an upper-body injury, is ready to return to the lineup. He’s worked out in full with the team over the past few days. He said long practices like the ones the coaching staff has held between games are extremely beneficial for the players.
The Sabres don’t play again until Thursday when they host the New York Rangers at First Niagara Center at 7 p.m.
PURCHASE TICKETS FOR THURSDAY'S GAME
“It starts in practice. If we’re doing it here, we’re going to bring it into a game,” he said. “If you kind of lollygag in a practice drill, it’s not something that you want to do in a game and everybody in the room will see it if you do it in practice. There are guys in here who will be the first ones to tell him, ‘Pick it up.’”
Nolan said that creating a mindset for the players in which they want to come to the rink every day and put forth a solid effort is critical to the process of putting a team in a position to be successful.
“We worked today hard on the ice, I thought. I told them, there’s nothing like a hard day’s work to make a person feel good,” he said. “We just have to make them feel good and their natural ability will take over.”
With Nolan still relatively new to the team, having a few days off presents a good opportunity for the players to get to know him. It allows the team time to bond as well.
“It’s just fitting in in the dressing room. I think everybody is on the same page here,” McCormick said. “Everybody is bringing their work ethic to the rink every day. You come to the rink excited. We have another day of practice and I think everybody in here is ready to play a game.”
Defenseman Alexander Sulzer missed his second day of practice with an undisclosed injury.
“We thought his injury was going to get a little bit better today, but [he took] another day to give it a rest and we’ll see how it is tomorrow,” Nolan said.
If Sulzer is healthy enough to practice Wednesday, he should be ready to go Thursday night, according to Nolan.
Nolan was asked about the possibility of loaning Mikhail Grigorenko to the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia so that the 19-year-old rookie center could compete with the national team at the IIHF World Junior Championship later this month. Nolan has had talks with president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine regarding their plans for Grigorenko.
“We’re not 100 percent sure exactly what we’re going to do, but we’re discussing all possibilities,” Nolan said. “…He’s got to be playing. I’ve never seen a player develop [by] not playing, so he’s got to play for sure.”
WATCH: TED NOLAN'S PRESS CONFERENCE
With McCormick set to come back from injured reserve, the Sabres could also return Grigorenko to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in order to make room on the roster.
“We have a lot of possibilities to look at,” Nolan said. “First of all, we want to make sure it’s a competitive field here and the people who are here are competing and earning the job versus just giving it to them. So we’re starting to turn that table, the guys are starting to earn it.”
26 Matt Moulson – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 23 Ville Leino – 27 Matt D’Agostini
72 Luke Adam – 63 Tyler Ennis / 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
32 John Scott – 65 Brian Flynn / 8 Cody McCormick – 82 Marcus Foligno
3 Mark Pysyk, 4 Jamie McBain, 6 Mike Weber, 10 Christian Ehrhoff, 20 Henrik Tallinder, 44 Brayden McNabb, 57 Tyler Myers
30 Ryan Miller
1 Jhonas Enroth