Prior to their game against the Florida Panthers on Friday night, the Buffalo Sabres will take the ice for warmups in camouflage jerseys, which will then be auctioned off in support of the Sabres Foundation. It's a tradition that occurs on Military Appreciation Nights across the NHL.
On Friday, Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will take the tradition one step further. Lehner's name plate will read "C. Lehner," in honor of fallen Buffalo police offer Craig Lehner, who tragically passed during a training accident in October. He'll also wear No. 43, a nod to Officer Lehner's radio call sign.
Afterward, the goalie will present the jersey to Officer Lehner's family.
"It's been a huge presence here," Lehner said. "You really felt the loss through Buffalo the last weeks. I have a few friends that told me a lot about him, that served with him. And a lot of fans actually on social media too sent me a lot of messages.
"It just feels right. What they do for this country, being in the army and being a police offer, and it's not just him. It's for everyone he represents. I feel like in the City of Buffalo, it's a big presence. I take a lot of pride in it."
The passing of Officer Lehner, who also spent 16 years serving in the Army National Guard, proved to be a rallying point for Buffalo. Thousands showed up to pay their respects at a funeral service held at KeyBank Center on Oct. 25.
The Sabres were on the road at the time, but the players took notice. Lehner said it's reflective of the respect he's seen from the city toward servicemen and women during his three seasons as a Sabre.
"Being here in Buffalo, it's a thing that's important to this town and something I'm very proud and honored to be a part of since coming here, the respect being given every game," he said.
On the ice, the Sabres will look to replicate the success they had in a 3-1 victory over Washington at home on Tuesday. Phil Housley praised his team for staying the course and sticking to their game plan in that contest, even when faced with a third-period tie.
"It was a big game last game, but that game's over," Lehner said. "We have to replicate it. We have to come out and do the same things. Win or lose today, I just want to see us play the same way and I want to have a big game too."
The Sabres lineup will remain the same from their win over the Capitals, save for one addition on defense. Nathan Beaulieu will make his return to the lineup after missing the last seven games with an upper-body injury.
Josh Gorges is also ready to return form a lower-body injury, but will not be in the lineup Friday. Housley said the decision to scratch Gorges was made for consistency's sake.
"We played a pretty good game last game with the D corps that we had," Housley said. "We wanted to keep some of the consistency together. Nate, obviously, will be really good for us as a puck-moving defenseman to get him in and get him some action. Josh, we'll see for tomorrow."
The Panthers enter the night winless in their last five games, with a 0-3-2 record in that span. Forward Jonathan Huberdeau (5+11) and Vincent Trocheck (7+9) lead the team with 16 points apiece. Roberto Luongo is expected to oppose Lehner in net.
Coverage on Friday begins at 6:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
13 Nicholas Baptiste - 23 Sam Reinhart - 25 Seth Griffith
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 17 Jordan Nolan
6 Marco Scandella - 41 Justin Falk
19 Jake McCabe - 27 Taylor Fedun
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 93 Victor Antipin
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson