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THE KELOWNA CONNECTION

by Joe Ray / Buffalo Sabres

When Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers learned that the team had acquired defenseman Josh Gorges from the Montreal Canadiens on July 1, thoughts of being teammates – and possibly even defensive partners – quickly danced in their heads.

Myers and Gorges have spent significant time practicing together during the offseason in Kelowna, British Columbia, and the familiarity with each other’s style of play will be beneficial moving forward.

“That day, I was watching and found out he was making the move to Buffalo,” Myers said. “I got pretty excited, knowing him and knowing what type of player he is. My first instinct was I wanted to be paired up with him; I wanted to see what we could do together.”

The two former Kelowna Rockets are paired together for the first skate of training camp on Friday, and the opportunity to play together has crossed both of their minds the past few months.

I think we can complement each other real well in what he does and what I do. Everything kind of fits. If that’s the case and that’s where the coaches see us, I think it’ll be a great opportunity for us to go out and have a great year together.Josh Gorges

“The fact that we’re paired up together at camp excites us both,” Myers added. “We’ve talked about it, and it not only excites us, but I think we’re going to demand a lot out of each other back there. We’re going to try and start right from the beginning back here.”

With Gorges being a left-handed shot and Myers a righty, it made even more sense that they may be paired together early on and Gorges hopes they’ll be able to build chemistry and keep it going through camp.

“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Gorges said. “I think it would be great. I think we can complement each other real well in what he does and what I do… Everything kind of fits. If that’s the case and that’s where the coaches see us, I think it’ll be a great opportunity for us to go out and have a great year together.”

The expectations in Buffalo are very high for Gorges. After spending seven years as a stalwart on Montreal’s blue line, he was acquired by the Sabres for a 2016 second-round draft choice. In addition to playing steady minutes, he’ll now be tasked with helping several of Buffalo’s younger defensemen grow into NHL-ready players.

“I think that’s a job of any veteran player,” Gorges said. “When young guys come in, it’s your job as a teammate to help them grow, and if there’s anything I can do with any of the guys to help out with confidence or learning different things, how to play different situations, that’s just part of our job as being a teammate.

“I welcome that challenge, and I’ll let the guys know that if they do have any questions about anything, they can come to me and I’m there to help.”

Myers has continually worked over the last few seasons on improving his mental confidence and consistency in his game. Quickly gaining the trust of coach Ted Nolan was a huge boon for the towering defenseman as well.

“For me, the confidence level I ended off with last year, I think that’s exactly where I want to take it here at the start of camp,” Myers said. “Ted showed a lot of confidence in me when he came in, and showing that and knowing that just helped me along. For me, it’s just focusing on keep building, don’t get too comfortable with where I am and keep focusing on getting better.”

Bringing in a defenseman who is as strong in the defensive aspects of the game as Gorges is will certainly be an aid for Myers, who can be electric advancing the puck offensively from the blue line.

“With a guy like Tyler, his ability to play the game, what he can do on the ice at and his skating ability and poise with the puck, there’s not much to teach,” Gorges said. “It’s a matter of staying in the moment and playing each game and each shift the right way. If we all do that, then success will come our way.”

The Sabres invested significant resources into adding veteran contributors at defense this offseason. In addition to the Gorges acquisition, the Sabres signed Andrej Meszaros, Tyson Strachan, and Andre Benoit as unrestricted free agents.

While all of those players may not be skating with Buffalo for the entire season, they will have the ability to mentor some of the organization’s younger defenseman such as Mark Pysyk, Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen.

Now 24, Myers is also capable of leading the younger players as he graduates from prospect to veteran. He’s played in 318 career games for the Sabres, more than any other defenseman in the organization.

He’s learned how to be a teacher in that time, but will continue to take cues from the veterans like Gorges.

“There are some younger guys moving in to the room now, and it’s definitely feeling like I’m moving out of that really young stage,” Myers said. “With as much time as I’ve spent in the League now, I do feel much more comfortable. I do feel like I’m moving into a leadership role.

“Especially with the guys we brought in this summer, there are a lot of guys that bring leadership to the room. If we work together and come together as a group, we can do something.”

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