The second day of Buffalo Sabres Development Camp placed a heavy emphasis on skills and skill development – but not necessarily in the ways you might typically think.
The afternoon session, divided into two groups and in front of roughly a thousand fans, didn’t focus on target shooting, stick-handling around pylons or racing against a clock.
Rather, it was a heavy dose of 3-on-3 play – sometimes running the full length of the ice – but also in half-ice situations and width-wise played below the hash marks.
Leading the skills drills was coach Angelo Ricci, who returns for a second-straight summer.
“Well, I was fortunate last year that [Player Development Coordinator] Jason Long reached out to me in late June,” Ricci said. “So I came in for one day last year and they asked me to focus on puck control.
“And after the first day [general manager] Tim [Murray] and Jason came up and said they really liked what I did so they asked me back. I worked with Rochester a few times this past season and now with Coach [Dan] Bylsma, it’s a great staff and I can see that things are going in the right direction with the synergy and chemistry among everyone.”
An Illinois native now based in Colorado, Ricci played at the University of Denver, followed by a stint in the minors, Italy, and in professional roller hockey.
“I’ve always done skill stuff, that was my game. I was an offensive-type guy,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to learn under Real Turcotte who was a stick-handling guru when I was young. And then you just develop your own patterns.”
Ricci’s emphasis now in working with elite level players is focused on game specific situations.
“You can’t just do stuff without a purpose,” he said. “My drills were quick hands, quick feet, protecting the puck, small area stuff below the dots and that type of stuff that I really think can translate into games.”
And from Ricci’s vantage point, the instruction doesn’t change whether you are talking to a top pick or an undrafted invitee.
“No matter who you are, they all came and wanted to learn. And that’s the key. I don’t know it all – none of us know it all – so we’re always learning,” Ricci said. “My type of stuff is repetitive training and if you don’t keep doing it, you’re going to forget it. It’s muscle memory; it’s that type of stuff.”
Among the half dozen invitees on the blueline, one name may ring a bell with diehard Sabres followers.
David Henley, a 6-foot-4 defenseman out of Charlottetown of the QMJHL, is the youngest brother of Cedric, who was drafted 173rd overall by Buffalo back in 2010, but never signed with the Sabres.
“Cedric had some offers for contracts but decided to stop,” David explained. “He had some problems with his back so he just decided to stop it. He didn’t want to play his entire career in the American Hockey League.
“Now he is back home in Quebec, going to University, and with his girlfriend, and starting to think about having kids, a family, and just starting his life. I think it’s a great choice for him.”
From Val-d’Or, Quebec, the Henley’s put the emphasis on a BIG hockey family.
Cedric, now 23, is 6-foot-5, as is the middle sibling, 21-year old Samuel, who just completed his first season of pro with the Avalanche organization. Samuel played 54 games with the Lake Erie Monsters.
Ranked 95th by NHL Central Scouting, this past season didn’t end as expected for David.
“It was an up and down season for me and for the team,” he said. “I had a lot of expectations for the year, but I guess it wasn’t enough to get drafted. But I did my best all season long. I was expecting to be drafted but that’s hockey. I’m not the only one who didn’t get drafted.”
The disappointment of June hasn’t carried over into his play, at least based on Tuesday’s session, where Henley was involved in plenty of heavy contact.
“That’s my game! I love to play physical. I can still put some weight on my body but I think I’m strong enough to perform at this level.
So will contact lead to a contract?
“Cedric didn’t sign with the Sabres, but I’m here to show the Sabres that a Henley can sign a contract with them!”