In front of 17,115 eager Buffalo Sabres fans, Sam Reinhart stole the show.
While much of the buildup to the highly anticipated scrimmage focused on 2015 2nd overall pick Jack Eichel, Reinhart quickly reminded the Sabres faithful of why the club selected him second overall a year ago.
Reinhart finished the night with three points (2+1) and powered a dominant Team Blue effort to a 5-2 victory at First Niagara Center.
“There is always things you can do better, whether it’s fatigue in certain points or whether you’re a little off it mentally, it’s tough to jump into game action,” Reinhart said. “But I thought I handled it pretty well and I felt a lot more comfortable as the game went along.”
While Reinhart may have highlighted Team Blue’s high-scoring night, an unexpected source of offense opened the scoring with 7:43 played in the first period.
Following an attempted clearance that Jake McCabe prevented from leaving the zone, 2012 third-round pick Justin Kea shoveled a backhanded pass from the corner to winger Tyler Andrew. Andrew, who has taken part in this week’s camp as an undrafted invitee, ripped a wrist shot past Team Gold goaltender Calvin Peterson.
Minutes later, Team Blue would double its lead thanks to a highlight reel worthy effort from a hometown product.
After receiving pass from Jean Dupuy behind Peterson’s net, Justin Bailey stumbled to one knee, but still managed to roof a wrist shot past Peterson high on the goaltender’s blocker side from a tough angle.
“I think Cal was looking over his shoulder for where I was and couldn’t find me because I was on the ground,” Bailey said. “I think he kind of panicked and I just saw an open net and shot. I’ll definitely tell all my friends and family that the stumble was meant to happen.”
A physical first period of play culminated in a heavyweight fight with just 34.2 seconds left.
Following a big open ice hit on Maxwell Willman, Team Gold defenseman Josh Chapman was forced to answer for his actions by Kea. With both players being no stranger to dropping the gloves throughout their respective amateur careers, the crowd was treated to a scrap that saw both fighters land several big rights before the intermission.
The second period saw Team Gold begin to find its footing after spending much of the opening interval in their defensive zone. However, despite the greater share of possession, Gold couldn’t manage to get a puck past Team Blue’s starting goaltender Jason Kasdorf.
Kasdorf, who was acquired by the Sabres as part of February’s blockbuster trade that also saw Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian come to Buffalo, made several impressive saves in his debut with the club. With 10:56 left in the second period, Kasdorf wrapped up his night with a big glove save that kept the score at 2-0. The Winnipeg native departed the game without allowing a goal and was replaced by Jonas Johansson.
With 8:07 left in the second, Team Blue would stretch its lead to 3-0 with Reinhart’s first tally of the night.
After a nifty neutral zone move and cross-ice pass from Hudson Fasching, William Carrier broke into the offensive zone and dropped a pass to McCabe. McCabe then fired a hard shot that caromed off of Alexandre Belanger’s glove directly into the path of the hard charging Reinhart. The young center made no mistake and tapped the rebound into the back of the open net.
“It took a while to start hitting the net,” Reinhart said. “But it’s mid-July and if that’s my biggest problem, then I’m happy with my effort.”
Team Gold almost pulled a goal back with minutes left in the period. After Reinhart brought down Eichel just outside the offensive zone, Eichel was awarded a penalty shot. As the crowd rose to its feet, Eichel performed a series of dekes, but was unable to get the puck past the left pad of Johansson.
“[Johansson] was kind of backed into the net, and if I had to do it over, I would’ve shot it earlier,” Eichel said. “I probably made one too many moves, and he read it pretty well and made a good save.”
Shortly after the second intermission came to a close, Team Gold would finally get on the board thanks to Victor Oloffson’s successful conversion of a penalty shot. Unfortunately, Team Blue would push the deficit back up to three shortly thereafter.
Following a beautiful pass from Hudson Fasching, Reinhart nearly had his second of the night, but was denied by a sprawling Austin Lotz. However, William Carrier picked up the rebound and neatly tucked it into the open net to put his team up 4-1.
Blue would make it 5-1 minutes later, and once again, Reinhart and Carrier were at the center of the action. Carrier and Reinhart broke into the zone 2-on-1, and Carrier fed a slick pass under the stick of the defenseman to Reinhart, who promptly fired a one-timer into the net for his second of the game.
Team Gold would score once more with just under two minutes. Andrew Potularski fired a wrist shot that found its way past Jonas Johansson to make the final score 5-2.
Much to the delight of the fans that remained in their seats until the final horn, the Sabres finished the night with a five-man shootout for each squad. While the results had little standing on the decisive 5-2 victory, Reinhart relished an additional opportunity to perform in front of the crowd in attendance.
“To see the crowd tonight, that was something else,” Reinhart said. “I don’t even really know how to describe it, but it was awesome.
McCABE 'WAS ON OF THE BEST 3 PLAYERS ON THE ICE'
In his fourth developmental camp with the club, McCabe put forth his best performance to date. The 2012 second-round selection had two assists and consistently made life difficult for Team Gold’s forwards.
“I felt good out there and it definitely felt like it was my fourth year and lot of guys’ first year,” McCabe said. “It was eye-opening to me how much better I felt compared to last year or the years previous because of the year of pro hockey I have under my belt.”
Bylsma came away impressed with the young defenseman’s performance.
“It was evident tonight that Jake McCabe has played pro hockey. There is no question about it,” Bylsma said. “For me he was one of the three best players on the ice tonight.”
While his coach’s praise is welcomed, the defenseman is already looking ahead.
“First impressions are definitely nice to make, but it’s only July. There is a lot of summer left and a lot of improvements to be made,” McCabe said. “So with that said, I’m going to go back to work for the next few months, get in the best possible shape for training camp, and then make an even better impression.”
WRAPPING UP CAMP
Following a scheduled off day on Saturday, the Sabres prospects will wrap up this year’s Development Camp with a 3-on-3 tournament Sunday morning.
The final meeting is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. and will be open to the public.