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Sharpen Up: March 31, 2017

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

C.J. Smith is the newest member of the Buffalo Sabres and he practiced with the team yesterday after signing a two-year, entry-level contract in the morning. 

Smith finished his collegiate career with UMass Lowell with 125 points (56+69) in 120 games over three seasons. This year, he was tied for eighth in NCAA scoring with 51 points.

Here's what you need to know.

Video: Sabres in :90 (3/30/17)

Smith's college career ended on Sunday with a loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament and he found himself with quite a few options when it came to signing a pro contract. He eventually narrowed it down to a handful of teams and found that Buffalo, despite having never been to the city before, was the best option for him.

From the Ice Level Practice Report:

 Video: SMITH: After Practice

His decision to come to Buffalo was predicated on two things: a good young core and an identity match. 

"I think it just kind of fits the person I am," he said. "I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, kind of a blue-collar city, played in Lowell and played in Austin, Minn. … all kind of blue-collar communities and they all play blue-collar hockey. I think that's what the Buffalo Sabres are about and I think I kind of fit their identity."

Jourdon LaBarber also talked to his college coach Norm Bazin to find out more. 

For a player who possesses speed and goal-scoring ability - and in spite of being listed at 5-feet-11-inches tall - Smith said playing a heavy, physical game is also a part of that identity. It's something that comes with the territory of playing at UMass Lowell.

"He has no choice because that's kind of the style we play and the type of kids we attract," Bazin said. "He's somebody that does get involved away from the puck. I think he's gotten progressively better away from the puck throughout his three years and that's what makes him an attractive player now for all of you so it's great when you see a kid come that far."

Smith will play at least one game for the Sabres prior to the end of the season, but until then his time will be utilized growing accustomed to the team and seeing where he might fit into the lineup. 

Video: BYLSMA: After Practice

Two of the players seen talking to him on the ice and in the dressing room Thursday happened to be guys he played against in college: Boston University alumni Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues.

As Eichel was quick to point out, Boston University won all three of their matchups against UMass Lowell two years ago, including the 2015 Hockey East Championship. But the former rivalry didn't stop him from trying to make Smith comfortable on his first day.

"Just treat him like he's been here all year," Eichel said. "It's good for him to join us at the end of the year obviously and get a bit of experience. He's taking off from school so it can't be easy. It's a bit of a transition for him, so just try to make him feel like he's at home."

It's not all fun and games for Smith, however. After practice, he had about an hour to prepare for an online finance test as he continues to work on his degree. 

Also from yesterday's practice…

Cody Franson returned to practice after missing the past five games with an injury. 

Sam Reinhart addressed his full-game benching on Tuesday, punishment for being late to a morning stretch in Columbus:

Video: REINHART: After Practice

Kyle Okposo did not practice as he's still fighting an illness that kept him out of the lineup Tuesday. 

Sunday kicks off Fan Appreciation Events 

The Sabres will hold Family Appreciation Day when the New York Islanders visit KeyBank Center on Sunday at 3 p.m. As part of the festivities, there will be a family-focused party in Tops Alumni Plaza beginning at 1 p.m.

At the Party in the Plaza, you'll find:

  • Live music
  • Food samples
  • An appearance by Sabretooth
  • A prize wheel for a chance to win a free Sabres jersey
  • A Tops Monopoly Collect & Win ticket giveaway
  • Fun activities for kids

RJ and Rayzor will call the game from the 300 level and an auction through My One Buffalo will allow fans the chance to bid on an in-seat visit from Sabretooth. 

The final run of the BlueCross BlueShield Live Fearless Frenzy will take place during the first intermission to decide the Sabres 7th Man Award winner.

There will be several special ticketing offers to celebrate the event:

  • The Sabres will offer a special $15 discounted ticket for children with the purchase of a regularly priced 300 level ticket, presented by Tops Friendly Markets.
  • Family packs with four tickets, four sodas, four hot dogs and four popcorns are available for $199.
  • Hat packs featuring two 300 Level II tickets and a Sabres New Era cap can be purchased for $99.

Auctions are now live

The Sabres now is holding an Alumni Wine Festival Pink Jersey auction at The auction will go until Sunday, April 9 at 9 p.m. Proceeds will benefit Breast Cancer Care in WNY.

In addition to the Wine Festival jerseys, the team is also holding an auction of Jack Eichel game-worn items. Fans will be able to bid on equipment worn by Eichel during the season and from the 2017 World Cup of Hockey. The auction will run until Sunday, April 9 at 9 p.m. Proceeds will benefit the Buffalo Sabres Foundation and Carly's Club at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. 

On tap today

The Sabres have a scheduled day off and will return to practice tomorrow at HarborCenter. 

Be on the lookout for Brian Duff's final #Duffalo blog of the season. He's got some stories to share…

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