When the Sabres take the ice wearing lavender sweaters in warmups on Thursday night, many of them will do so with a specific person in mind. It could be a family member, a close friend or one of the countless people they've met in visits to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, but just as Hockey Fights Cancer Night will have a personal meaning to most in the crowd, so will it for the players on the ice.
"It's a special night," Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly said. "I think everyone knows someone or has someone in the family or is close to someone who has been through the struggle. I myself have an aunt that's battling right now, pretty severe, and a grandmother that had it multiple times and it's not easy on our family. It's great for everyone to come together and it makes the game that much more special."
In addition to the special warmup jerseys, which will be auctioned off following the game, the game between the Sabres and the Minnesota Wild will also have a ceremonial faceoff and printable placards available so that all in attendance can show who they're fighting for. "Tickets and T-shirt" packages are availble for $99.
It's a special night every year at the arena, and an important one for the players. But their relationship with the people fighting cancer extends beyond one game and even beyond the month of October, thanks especially to the partnership between the Sabres and Roswell. The time they give means as much to the players as it does to those they visit.
Video: Sabres visit young cancer patients
"Its' eye-opening," said Sam Reinhart, who has also had family members and friends affected by cancer.
"It's so little for us to go there and to see the impact it has on their day makes it worthwhile. Everyone's always open to those [visits] as much as possible because it means so much to both sides."
"It's one thing going on the ice playing and doing something you love," O'Reilly said. "But when you can impact someone's life, even for a just a few hours … You see kids in and out of treatment and their struggle, and you come in and bring them a doll or the mascot comes in and you see them smile, to have that impact is just amazing."
It's not just the children who are affected, either. O'Reilly said he's touched by the sights of parents who are able to be excited just to see their kids smile.
"Being in a hockey market, you see the kids that watch the team and you visit them and you get to see the smile on their face. You're taking their mind off their struggles," O'Reilly said. "It's so tough. I couldn't imagine having a child or being a child going through that. The whole organization does a great job being in the community and helping out."
The puck drops between the Sabres and Wild at 7 p.m., with coverage set to begin at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B. You can also hear the game live on WGR 550.
Robin Lehner is still stick after missing the game in Philadelphia on Tuesday, so Anders Nilsson will get his second-straight start in net. He'll oppose Devan Dubnyk, who's coming off his first shutout of the season for the Wild on Tuesday.
About the Wild
Minnesota has had quite the start to its season, currently sitting atop the Central Division with nine points in seven games and coming off a 5-0 win in Boston on Tuesday. The Wild's 3.43 goals per game enterting play on Wednesday rank sixth in the NHL.
As impressive as their scoring has been early in their first year under new coach Bruce Boudreau, their league-leading penalty kill has been just as good. The Wild has given up one goal in 21 times shorthanded, a 95.2-percent success rate.
What makes that number particularly interesting is the Sabres' early-season success on the power play. They're tied for ninth in the League at 24 percent, and Matt Moulson leads all NHL players with four power-play goals. The special teams battle is a major factor in any game, and whether the Sabres break the Wild's penalty kill to stay hot is one of the more intrguing aspects of Thursday's matchup.
The game is only the second of the season at KeyBank Arena, and the first since the Sabres opened the season against the Montreal Canadiens with a 4-1 loss two weeks ago. Buffalo was 16-19-6 at home last season as opposed to 19-17-5 on the road.
"It's something we didn't do last year and it's something we talked about doing this year, making this a hard place sot play and getting this building to be a place nobody wants to come in and play," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "We need to come home and win hockey games."
26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
63 Tyler Ennis - 23 Sam Reinhart - 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
52 Hudson Fasching - 27 Derek Grant - 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 47 Zach Bogosian
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
31 Anders Nilsson
35 Linus Ullmark