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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres
TRAVERSE CITY, MI --- Sabres University opened for business on Friday, and everything seemed to be running smoothly for new Rochester Amerks coach Ron Rolston. His voice boomed throughout the Northtown Center in Amherst, NY, as he put Buffalo’s prospects through their first official on-ice workout of the season, even stopping several times to deliver instructions to his new students via animated discussions or whiteboard diagrams.

But just like any teacher on the first day of school, Rolston had to deal with group of unfamiliar faces. At the start of one drill, Rolston stood at center ice behind Jacob Lagace waiting for the other players to get in proper position. Seemingly frustrated, Rolston looked around and yelled, “Okay, who’s on … this guy’s … line?”

Rolston will be behind the bench today when the Sabres open the 14th annual NHL Prospects Tournament against Minnesota at 3:30 p.m. Fortunately, this time he’ll have some help in identifying the players on his own team.

“We didn’t have numbers on the back of the helmets or jerseys (yesterday),” Rolston said with a smile. “That made it difficult for the coaches to figure out who’s who. That will change over time. But just as importantly, this trip gives us a chance as a staff to get some chemistry too.”

In addition to giving Rolston and his assistants some time to bond, the tournament also provides them a high-tempo, on-ice forum to evaluate Buffalo’s young players for the first time as a group.  

“There are four games in five days, so it’ll be a good showcase for the players as individuals, but obviously we want team success,” explained Rolston. “We want to look at our prospects and see where they’re at. This also gives the guys a chance to go out there and play in a Buffalo Sabres uniform, and that’s a big deal. There are a lot of things that are important about this trip.”

As many as a dozen players from this camp could end up starting the season with Rolston in Rochester. Considering he hadn’t met any of them before Friday’s practice, a tournament like this can go a long way in creating their individual expectations for the season ahead.

“With all the guys who could possibly end up in Rochester, it’s a good opportunity for them to take key roles on this team,” said Rolston. “Even for the other players on the team, they’re fighting just to stay in the Sabres organization. They all want be a big part of our in the future. There’s a lot on the line for all the players.”

But don’t expect Rolston to be spending much time integrating these youngsters into the Sabres style of play over the next five days. While Buffalo’s July development camp involves analytical video sessions, Rolston is in the unique position of putting his renowned teaching skills to use rather than spending time trying to implement systems.

“There probably isn’t going to be a lot of system stuff,” he says. “And that’s good, because the guys can go out and be more instinctive in the way they play, and showcase what they can do as players before a lot of system stuff gets put into place.” 

Eight teams will take part in the five-day event, and they are broken into two divisions. Buffalo will play in the Howe Division along with Columbus, Minnesota and Detroit. The Gretzky Division features Carolina, Dallas, NY Rangers and St. Louis. The tournament consists of four games each day on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday (playoffs).  Admission is just $10 per day, with games and practices taking place at the Centre Ice Arena complex. Daily morning practice sessions are open to the public and free of charge.

*Today, 3:30 p.m. vs. Minnesota
*Sunday, 2:30 p.m. vs. Columbus
*Tuesday, 7 p.m. vs. Detroit
*Wednesday, time TBD (playoff game)
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