After a brief warmup, Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan gathered the team around the logo at center ice Thursday morning. He had them stand on the outer perimeter in a circle and gave them some words of wisdom.
Then, the team collapsed in and, with some chatter, broke off to start their morning skate drills.
Nolan, a member of the First Nations Ojibway tribe, is very much aware of the meaning circles and rings can have.
“I really believe in the power of a circle and the strength of a unit. There’s no stronger symbol,” he said. “Every journey begins with that first step so I thought it would be a nice gesture where we take that first step together. We have 82 games. It’s a long journey but let’s enjoy the ride”
The Sabres host the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 p.m. on Thursday (MSG-B, Bell TV) to open the 2014-15 season. A Party in the Plaza will begin at 4:30 p.m. in Alumni Plaza.
Jhonas Enroth will start in goal and the game will mark the NHL debut of 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart.
Reinhart played in five preseason games and while those have helped prepare him for the real deal, the 18 year old is aware of how grand the moment can be.
“I’m pretty relaxed now. It seems like a usual morning,” he said after the morning skate. “But there’s no question it’s the biggest game so far in my life, so I’m pretty excited.”
He’ll be the center on a line with Cody Hodgson on left wing and captain Brian Gionta on the right.
“Obviously I’m playing with some pretty good linemates tonight. I’m looking to jump in there and fit in right away,” Reinhart said. “There’s no question the pace is going to be that much higher than preseason and I’m aware of that. I’ve been preparing for that for a long time now. I just want to get things going now.”
Gionta has noticed Reinhart’s calm demeanor.
“He’s extremely poised for a young kid. You see him out there whether it’s on the ice or in practice, he’s able to slow the game down and show his poise,” he said. “Only good things are going to come from him and it’s the start of a great career, I’m sure.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Reinhart is the youngest of three brothers who have made their way up through the ranks of professional hockey. Max Reinhart has played 19 NHL games and is currently playing for the Adirondack Flames, Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate. Griffin Reinhart will make his NHL debut on Friday with the New York Islanders.
“Griffin’s playing his first one tomorrow so I beat him to it luckily,” Reinhart joked. “It’s nice having them in the same position as me. In everything I’ve done in my career so far or tried to do, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch them go through it and handle things. I owe a lot to them for sure.”
Their father Paul played 11 seasons in the NHL. He and their mother Theresa will be in town Thursday night to watch Sam play his first NHL game before heading to Carolina for Griffin’s game.
Nolan thinks having seen family members go through the process has helped Reinhart mature, but those natural jitters are probably unavoidable.
“He’s a young kid so I’m quite sure he’ll be under that controlled appearance on the outside,” Nolan said. “Inside, he’ll be jumping around like a jackrabbit.”
It’ll be Gionta’s first game as a Sabre as well.
The 12-year veteran grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and signed a three-year deal with his favorite team as a kid back on July 1. He was the captain in Montreal for the past four seasons and was named captain of the Sabres on Tuesday.
“The guys have been great, very accepting. It’s been a seamless transition,” he said. “Everybody’s excited for tonight and it shows out there. You look at the morning skate, guys are going and we’re excited and talking. We’re ready.”
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 80 Chris Stewart
19 Cody Hodgson – 23 Sam Reinhart – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick – 17 Torrey Mitchell
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
61 Andre Benoit – 41 Andrej Meszaros
6 Mike Weber – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Scratched: 24 Tyson Strachan, 51 Nikita Zadorov, 65 Brian Flynn
Injured Reserve: 3 Mark Pysyk, 22 Johan Larsson, 29 Jake McCabe, 31 Matt Hackett, 36 Patrick Kaleta