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THE BLOG: Drew Stafford

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
THE BLOG is an inside look at hockey that comes right from the players themselves. Each installment will feature a player talking about whatever is on their mind. THE BLOG is a "behind the scenes" look at professional hockey.

I'm having a good time during my most recent call up. It's a great experience any time you play in the NHL, but it's even better when you know that you are up here for a while. Having that little bit of stability, due to injuries, allows me to work on improving my game. With being up for a longer period of time than in the past, I get to hang out with the guys on and off the ice a little longer, and that also helps. I think knowing that you are going to be contributing for a while makes a world of a difference, just in my confidence in playing my own game.

When you are able to go out there and stay with one line day in and day out, it just helps to get your rhythm down. That way, you can just worry about putting the puck in the net. It has been fun to play with great players such as Roy and Vanek. We've been producing and I've just been trying my best to fill the void of all the injuries that we have come across.

It's difficult to replace a player like Max Afinogenov because he is such a great player. He's got world-class speed. I've never seen someone skate like him before. With the offense that he can create just with his speed, it's really fun watching that line (Roy, Vanek, and Max). When he went down, I knew that I was supposed to step in there and at least try my best to produce. That's all I've been trying to do, to work hard and get them the puck, as well as create plays for them and myself.

The coaching staff has also given me the opportunity to play on the power play. I played on the power play in Rochester, so I do have prior experience. They're giving me a shot on the man advantage, and if they are going to give me an opportunity, I'm going to try my best to take advantage of it. That's another facet of my game that I think I can help this team out in.

When I had made the decision to leave college, I felt that it was the right time for me to make the leap to the pros. It was a tough decision because I had a great time at the University of North Dakota. I miss my coaches and my teammates. I also miss the rink and the town. I had a great time there, but I felt as though I was ready to move on.

I had pretty high expectations of myself, because I want to do well in anything I do. I have that competitive nature. I thought that coming out early and coming into a new situation would be a good challenge for me. I really didn't know what to expect coming in here, being a first year guy and all. Based on what guys told me, I knew that it was tough for a first year guy to get any kind of shot. I'm just fortunate that the team has given me that opportunity early on.

I haven't been up here that much, but just looking around the locker room, you can see that Buffalo's kind of a younger team right now. There is a good core group of guys that are in their early to mid 20's.

When all of the Rochester guys came up, everyone that was here treated us well. There was no kind of veteran silent treatment. Everyone was very nice. They took care of us and treated us like we were part of the family. That type of atmosphere has obviously worked out, because everyone has had success. It's a fun group to be a part of.

Getting to play teams like Colorado and Minnesota this upcoming week is going to be fun. I kind of wish we were playing Minnesota in Minnesota so I could get back home. To play at the Excel Center, and in front of my family, that would have been fun. We've played a lot against our division rivals lately, so it's good for something new where we don't know too much about each other besides on paper.

It should also be fun for the fans to watch a new team come into HSBC Arena.

Playing against Colorado is going to be amazing. I get to see Joe Sakic, so I'm pretty excited to get the chance to play against him. He was one of my favorite players growing up.

He's such a good player. Just look at his career and how many years he's played. He's a true leader. He leads by example, by playing and working hard. There are only a handful of guys in the history of the league that are that kind of leader and have that kind of ora about them. Guys like Yzerman, Gretzky, and Messier are or were all great leaders in this league. I look now at our team, and even compare Drury and Danny to those great leaders.

You also look at the skill and the shot that Joe has. I think that if I could have any shot in the world, I would probably want his.

I'm looking forward to playing him Wednesday. Hopefully I can learn a couple of things when he's here.
FEBRUARY 19, 2007 -- Clarke MacArthur

This is the third time that I've been called up and it's a little different than the first two times. I know that this is going to be a little bit more long term with all of the injuries that the team has sustained. The past two times it was an up for one game, then back to Rochester. I have to work hard while I'm up here. You get better with the more games you play in a row, and that’s my plan, to just try and get better each game until I feel comfortable.

With all of the injuries, I got some quality ice time on Saturday against the Bruins. The coaching staff and the rest of the team is expecting me to perform for them, so when I get on the ice, I just have to make the best of those shifts and hopefully put a couple of goals in the net.

It was great being on the same line as Chris Drury. I remember watching him play on TV for the last four or five years, and next thing I know I'm on the same line as him. It's a little nerve wracking at first, but he's an unbelievable leader, so he was able to settle me down. He gave me a lot of little tips during the game, which was great.

It's really unfortunate to lose Ales Kotalik. It seems like the lines get switched up all the time now. Three or four key players have gone down in the past couple games. It's always tough on a team to lose that many players in such a short period of time, but there are some great leaders in the locker room. The defensemen and the goaltenders have been playing really well in the past couple of games. We're going to have to work hard to overcome the losses and hopefully we can keep on winning.

With so many Amerks getting called up in the past couple of days, I think it makes it a little easier to make the transition from the AHL to the NHL. It's nice to know some of the guys in the locker room. It's tough for one guy to go from a team where he knows everybody, to a team where he knows almost nobody, so getting called up with Drew Stafford and Mike Ryan helps with the adjustment to the next level. They just help you become comfortable quicker with the different surroundings.

Mikey's a good buddy of mine and I think we're going to get to play together, too. It's going to be a lot of fun and we're going to have to work hard to help this team out.

It was amazing to get the call to take one of the shootout shots against Boston. I think that I was the sixth or seventh person to shoot for us, so I just wanted to go out and get a good shot off. Tim Thomas played unbelievable for them in the shootout.

I went in there and I had a good shot on my attempt. It just trickled over the top of the net, an inch away from going in. Unfortunately, that's what the game is, a game of inches.

Playing in Rochester has been great. We have a good team and I've had some good line mates to play with. I mostly played with Janis Sprukts and Anthony Stewart, both Florida prospects, and Drew Stafford. I was fortunate to play a lot of minutes down there.

I guess I was pretty successful down there, but I think the reason I have been is that I just got used to the league, and I was comfortable with the play. Good things happen when you're not worried about making plays or losing the puck.
FEBRUARY 12, 2007 -- Nathan Paetsch

The main reason for our improved success has to be that we just have been putting more pucks to the net. That has seemed to work really well for us. If you don't get a shot on net, then you aren't going to get an opportunity. That has been key in our last two games. Even though we haven't scored on all of them, we've had a lot of really good opportunities.

I think it's important because to get our special teams units on track. There have been a lot of games where our five-on-five has had to carry the load, and there were actually a few games where we lost because of our special teams play. Improving our special teams has been our goal after the all-star break, and I think we have done that so far.

Playing against playoff teams the last three games, and coming out on top, has been great. Those are three huge wins and they weren't easy wins by any means. We really earned every one because they were all one-goal games, including a couple of shootouts. Those are the type of games where you have to battle through them. I think our team went through a lot of adversity to get those wins, and by pulling out on top, it has really boosted our confidence going down the stretch.

It was horrible learning that Paul (Gaustad) was out for the rest of the season and Jaro (Spacek) would be out for several weeks with a broken hand. You don't want to see anybody go down, but injuries are going to happen. You can't prevent them from happening because they're a part of the game.

A good thing that comes from this is that every time we've had injuries so far this season, we've had guys step in and play great. Guys are just going to have to step up by either playing more minutes or playing a bigger role.

It's amazing, but not surprising, to see all of the people from the Western Conference teams in Canada (Vancouver and Calgary already) show up and cheer on their team in our building. I think there's a reason why that's the case. There are a lot of people who have moved out here from there and when you grow up in Western Canada, you have some pretty strong hockey roots. When you grow up a fan of a certain hockey club, you're pretty much a fan of that team for life. No matter where these people move on in their life, they're still die-hard fans of their original hometowns.

It's going to be weird this Thursday because I grew up rooting for the Edmonton Oilers and we're playing them. I think it will be kind of cool, playing my first time against them.

I was a huge Gretzky fan growing up. Edmonton was the closest hockey city to my hometown, so my whole family grew up watching them. I've been long removed from those days of rooting for the orange and blue, but it will be fun anyways.

I had a blast working this past Friday at our charity event, Aces and Blades. For those who aren't familiar with it, the Sabres players get to play the role of the dealers while the fans get to be the gamblers. We raised money for our Sabres Foundation. The only part that was bad about the whole night was that we had to leave early because we had a game the next day. It was a great event and I think that everybody had a lot of fun. We definitely would have loved to stay longer and spend more time with the fans.

For me I loved just sitting back, relaxing a little bit, and maybe showing a little different side of myself. I got to play a little cards, which is always fun, but just interacting with the community was a great experience.
JANUARY 30, 2007 -- Brian Campbell

Playing in the All-Star game and being able to experience all of the festivities was something that I have dreamt about for a long time. It was a lot of fun and I had a really good time.

The skills competition was a fun event, but there were a lot of little non-public things that took place as well. There were a lot of parties where we got to see and mingle with a lot of people, including some celebrities. Of course it's always a good time when you are able to share the experience with your family and friends.

During one of the days, I got to drive a NASCAR racecar. I like NASCAR and I've been to a couple of races, so it was a thrill for me to get behind the wheel and feel that power of driving a car like that against those 43 other drivers out there. It's really amazing to be able to open it up and get that speed rush going. It was probably one of the best experiences that I've had, and it's definitely one of those things that I would love to do again.

The car was a stick shift. I know how to drive stick but driving one like that is actually easier than you think. At the beginning you have to go through the gears to get up to speed, but by the time you're ready to go in an actual racing setting, you're at fourth gear. In a mile and a half track like the one I drove on, you really don’t switch gears. The distance of the track allows you to just stay in fourth gear. If I had to drive on a smaller track or a road course, then I would have had to shift a little bit more. I think most of the NASCAR tracks are set up where you don't have to shift that often.

After some practicing, I think I got my top speed up to165 mph. I was actually going into a corner one time and got it going around that corner at that speed. I felt very comfortable out there and I think I did all right.

There were four other NHL players that went with me and I was making a few passes on them. I've raced once before on a smaller-scale track and car so that may have helped me. My instructor was pretty happy with me, especially with getting the car going 165 mph into that corner and trying to hug the low line going around it.

Comparing myself to the professionals, I think they do around 185-190 mph around the track. I also got to go around the track with a professional. I wasn't able to see how fast we were going, but we were going at a pretty good click. It was pretty crazy, I can tell you that. I don't know how they do it, going that fast.

Getting to participate in the Skills Competition was really fun. In the "In the Zone" event, I scored a goal so I'm pretty happy with that. In the "Fastest Skater," I kind of clipped the wall coming out of turn two, which cost me a lot of time. It was a lot of fun to see and hang out with the guys and watch the goalies do their work.

Obviously it's disappointing to lose in the All-Star game, but it was fun. The game was kind of relaxed but we tried to play it a little bit up-tempo at times. The best part of the game had to be just getting out on the ice and playing with different guys and even watching some of those guys play. It's hard not to get caught up in the moment because some of those players are really amazing.

Out of all the players to play with or watch, I really liked watching Teemu Selanne from the West squad. I think that he's a very powerful player and somebody that I have watched a lot.

He's really a good guy too. I played on the same team with him in Finland when we were over in Europe during the lockout. He took good care of me and talked to me a lot so I have a lot of respect for him as a player and a person.
JANUARY 16, 2007 -- Jiri Novotny

I decided to come over from the Czech Republic to play pro hockey at the age of 19. It has been tough trying to adjust to the game, and the American lifestyle, but it's also tough for everyone else who comes over from Europe. Each player has different problems that they have to get through. For me, my biggest problem was that I didn't speak the English language, which presented a barrier between others and myself. It's hard to get close to the guys when you can't understand what they are saying to you. I was lucky enough to play in Rochester where I played with two Czech guys and a guy from Slovakia, so they helped me improve on my understanding of the English language. If someone asked me to do something back then or even now, I could ask my friends for help in understanding what they wanted to do. They have helped me so much.

A great help to getting over the language barrier for the Europeans is having other countrymen on the team. It's always good when you can talk to someone from the same country and they know exactly what you're talking about, concerning events going on back home. Dmitri Kalinin and Max Afinogenov (Russia) and Teppo Numminen and Toni Lydman (Finland) can talk to each other in their own languages if they want. For me, I'm really lucky because I get to play on the team with one of my best friends, Ales Kotalik. I've known him for a long time because we lived in the same town in the Czech Republic. If I need something from Al, I know he will always help me with anything that I need.

Another difficulty to adjust to is that the NHL game is a different kind of hockey than the European game. It's a more physical hockey where the European hockey is more of a finesse kind of hockey. I think it was good for me to come over at such a young age because my goal was to play in the NHL. It has been difficult adjusting to the NHL game but I am working at it.

My teammates at Rochester and Buffalo have been great in helping me adjust to the pro-style game. Everybody on the team tries to push the guy next to them on the ice and off to become a better player and person. It's really great to be a part of this team.

This is my rookie year, so I'm just trying to enjoy it. I'm happy everyday that I am here. For every rookie, the first year is a little different than the others because you really don't know what to expect with the demands of the NHL game both on-ice and off. Your teammates and coaches can give you hints on what it's going to be like, but until you experience it yourself, you really don’t understand the difficulties of being an NHL player.

I am very fortunate to be a part of this great group. We are probably the best "team" in the NHL as we get along on and off the ice. Sometimes it's just about being in the right situation of where you play and who you play with, that helps you compete to the best of your ability. I'm just going to enjoy every day that I'm here and help this team work towards our goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

The coaches have put me out on special teams, killing penalties and it's a great feeling to know that somebody trusts you with that responsibilities. It's a great confidence boost to play in those situations. We have a lot of guys that play on the powerplay and penalty kill, and even some that play both. I hope I can do my best for the team and in whatever situation I'm put in.

With the new rules for the NHL, the game has changed towards the skilled guys. There's a lot of speed in the game and there's a lot of penalties that come with it. People mistake how much speed players have, so they will take penalties to save a scoring opportunity. I think if a team has great special teams, then they will be very successful in the standings. The game has definitely changed, but it has changed every year and it will change every year in the future. If you watched the games 15 years before, it was different than today. The next five years could be different than today, so you never know how or when the game will change.

We have scored a lot of goals this year so far, and that was mostly because we had a great start to the season. It also helps that we have a lot of skill on the offense. If you watch our first three lines, I think that everybody has a chance to score 20-25 goals in a season. That production is important for us as a team, because then teams can't key in on stopping one or two players. You look at some teams and two guys score 40 goals, but all of the other guys maybe have 10 goals in the whole season. Not many teams are successful with that kind of offense production. I wouldn't be surprised to see this team have maybe eight guys that score more than 20 goals this season.

Next week is the All-Star break and it will be good to get some rest and get ready for the rest of the season. We won't get too much time off, but it will be good to get some days off. I plan to go to Las Vegas with my fiancT. It will be my first time in Vegas so I hope that I enjoy it and not lose a lot of money.
JANUARY 9, 2007 -- Martin Biron

It might be difficult to stay mentally prepared when you get sporadic starts, but if you don't think about the irregularity of those starts, and you don't sit down and count the days or games in-between them, then you can keep the games you play, fresh in your head.

It might look like a long time for most people, but all you can do as a professional is to stay well prepared and focus on looking ahead instead of looking at the past. As an NHL player, we're all physically in shape to do what we have to do. It's really about trying to stay mentally conditioned so you can have success in games.

When the coaching staff does call on me to make a start, I just have to focus on what I have to do, focusing on the little key points of the game that will make me successful. From that point on, I get my routine started and prepare as if it was any other game. It doesn't matter if I play 60 games or 20 games in a year. When it's game day, I should be doing the same thing as I would always do.

My success (9-2-1 on the season) has come from the guys' success in front of me. There were some games when Ryan was hurt that I played where we won 5-4 or we had to win in overtime. Those games could have easily gone the other way. It's not too often that you're going to give up four goals and still end up winning the game. I was very lucky in that sense. I really am fortunate to be on a great team. You're going to get the success because the whole team is playing well. Team success and personal success go hand and hand.

Just because we can light the lamp around four times a game, doesn't mean the goaltenders can relax and not focus on being perfect. Our style of trying to be explosive and create offense can sometimes backfire and lead to breakdowns. Sometimes there will be some two-on-ones and other odd-man rushes, so the defense and the goalies have to be aware of that.

Our game has to be at the top every night to be able to give the guys the chance to go on the offense. We want them to have the chance to feel that they can try to take more risks to try and start a scoring opportunity. If the defense had let downs and weren't focused, then the forwards wouldn't be able to create as much offense as they have, because they would have to worry too much about helping us complete our job.

To hear that Danny Briere called me the best teammate he's ever played with is amazing. It's really a great compliment for me. He's a great player and a star in this league, and when a guy that is one of the captains of your team compliments you, it's something that hits home with you.

It's funny that Razor (Rob Ray) said I should get the guys to autograph my mask to liven it up. I don't think you can consider any advice from Razor. He's a little bit out there. I'm kidding.

We're actually getting three or four masks on Friday for me to try out then I'll go from there. If I find something that works for me then where it fits and is comfortable for me then that would be great. Once I do find one, then I'll get it probably painted with the same design that I had on the other one. It's really a long process to find a mask you like and get it painted. If worse comes to worse, I'll have my two-and-a-half year old and nine month old kids finger-paint the mask and we'll try to make something cool out of it.

JANUARY 5, 2007 -- Andrew Peters

In the fighting world, you will win some, and you will lose some. I've been on the receiving end in a few of those fights so I know what it's like to not have the upper hand. It's nothing to brag about when you beat your opponent.

There really aren't words or a real reason why fights start. In Brashear's case, the Capitals were down by a few goals and I'm sure he was trying to get momentum back for his team. Before we fought, we just looked at each other and knew that a fight would take place. We both know what our roles are and have an understanding of what we are going to do because that is what we are paid for.

I try to never watch other players' fights. I will watch my own to try and learn from them. I'll watch the tapes once or twice and see where I've made mistakes and see what I can improve on. I've never seen Brashear fight and I've never fought him before, so I talked to Razor (Rob Ray) about him. He has fought Brashear a couple of times so he helped me figure out what he likes to do, and I just tried to prepare myself for his tendencies as best as I could.

It's really nice to get my first career NHL assist, but the most important part about it is that we won the game. It's kind of ironic that they announced it to the crowd while I was sitting in the penalty box. I really didn't know that I had the assist in the first place. I did know that before I went for a line change, I had tipped the puck into the Washington zone and as soon as I had reached the bench, we had scored. After the score, Chris Drury asked the officials to review it and they ended up giving me the assist. It's great to help this team on the score sheet whenever I can.

Over the past couple of games, the fourth line has gotten some scoring opportunities. We are coming close to helping the team on the scoreboard. Our line just has to work hard and we have to try and stay in the other team's zone as much as possible. Through hard work, by driving to the net and getting as many shots on net as possible, we're going to develop some opportunities through rebounds and that's all we're really trying to do.

Our line's job is to provide energy by going out and getting pucks on net and getting some hits. If we can do that over and over again each time we're on the ice, then that's a successful game for us. It's not always about scoring a goal or getting into a fight to help the team.

It seems that I'm getting closer and closer to scoring a goal. If that happens, I'm sure I'll black out. Just kidding. I haven't planned any special celebration once I do score. I don't have any kind of traditional celebration after a goal either. I'm sure that once I do score, I'll be excited since I don't score too often.

You have to give Ottawa some respect. They beat us on Thursday and on three other occasions. All of their special teams are very lethal. Even when we happen to be on the powerplay, they still find ways to frustrate us. They have a very good team and when it comes to our games against them, I just don't think we've played our best hockey.
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