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SCHNEIDER, RODRIGUES TO MAKE NHL DEBUTS ON FRIDAY

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

Cole Schneider hadn’t yet checked his phone since he left the ice at First Niagara Center on Thursday afternoon, but he had a pretty good idea what would be waiting for him once he did. It'd been going off constantly since his first career recall was announced three hours earlier.

"I might turn my phone off," he said, smiling.

Schneider was recalled along with Evan Rodrigues on Thursday morning, and both joined the Buffalo Sabres for their final practice of the season. They'll make their NHL debuts on Friday night when the Sabres host Columbus.

For Schneider – a native of Williamsville, N.Y. – it will be his first time playing in the arena since he played in the Scotty Bowman Showcase as a senior at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute. Growing up, he was a Sabres season ticket holder.

"It was always fun going to games but it was a little different this morning," he said.

Schneider's journey to the NHL has been a long one. Despite going undrafted, he joined the Ottawa Senators organization after spending just two years at the University of Connecticut and began his professional career with the Binghamton Senators, Ottawa's American Hockey League affiliate, at the end of the 2011-12 season.

He scored 35 points (17+18) in 60 games the next year with Binghamton and saw that number rise each of the following two seasons, scoring 54 points (20+34) in 2013-14 and 58 (29+29) in 2014-15. Yet through all of those years, he never got his chance in Ottawa.

He was on pace for similar numbers this season, posting 42 points in 54 games with Binghamton. When the call still didn't come, he decided it was time for a change.

"I think that’s kind of why I asked for a trade," he said. "I thought I was playing pretty well in Binghamton. I'm glad it's going to be here."

He got his wish on Feb. 27, when he was sent to his hometown organization as a piece in a seven-player trade between the Sabres and Senators. Schneider has scored 12 points (3+9) in 15 games since for Rochester.

"He's paid a lot of dues to get here," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's been a point leader and a leader for us down there since the trade from Binghamton to here and we want to see if he can do it at the National Hockey League level, if he can rise up to the pace and the speed of the game."

Zemgus Girgensons played with Schneider this past summer in the Fattey Hockey League, a summer league organized each summer in Buffalo. The two developed a friendship and attended a few Bills preseason games together.

"He's a really skilled player," Girgensons said. "Good hands, good vision. He's got a lot of speed, a good shot. Summer leagues aren’t really your full out, so we'll see what he brings tomorrow."

Rodrigues, meanwhile, also joins a room with some familiar faces. He spent time with the team as a whole at Training Camp – he played one preseason game – but his relationship with Jack Eichel goes back to last season, when they were linemates at Boston University.

"He had a big part in my success last year," Eichel said. "He's one of the reasons that our team was so good and he was a big part of it."

Yet while Eichel entered this season as the No. 2 overall draft pick, Rodrigues graduated as an undrafted free agent. He signed his first professional contract with the Sabres over the summer and made himself impossible to miss over at Training Camp due to his relentlessness.

The tough part was learning how to bring that consistently in the AHL.

"My message to Evan is he stood out at rookie camp and [Training Camp] because of his tenacious, relentless, hound on pucks and [he] did it in the hard areas," Bylsma said. "He came in not as a high-profile guy and you had to notice him with the way he played in rookie camps. That's something that he's been much better at the last 20 games, 18 games or so in Rochester."

Rodrigues admits to that adjustment, and it's one that's paid off. He's scored 28 points (9+19) for Rochester this season, ranking second among Amerks rookies in assists and points. His goal in Buffalo is simple.

"Just to continue to develop," he said. "I'm going to go out there and play as hard as I can and it's obviously a dream come true to be here so I'm just going to take it all in and enjoy it."


THURSDAY'S LINES
If lines at practice are any indication of what we might see against Columbus on Friday, then Schneider will slot in on the right wing alongside Girgensons and Ryan O'Reilly while Rodrigues will begin on the fourth line with Matt Moulson and David Legwand.

Hudson Fasching and Cal O'Reilly skated with Tyler Ennis, who returned to practice in a red non-contact jersey, on a fifth line, suggesting they may be healthy scratches to make room for the new recalls.

Here's how the Sabres lined up on Thursday:

28 Zemgus Girgensons – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 10 Cole Schneider
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
71 Evan Rodrigues – 17 David Legwand – 26 Matt Moulson
52 Hudson Fasching – 19 Cal O'Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis

4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 3 Mark Pysyk
34 Casey Nelson

31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen
33 Jason Kasdorf

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