It’s a special day for Phil Varone.
The Rochester Americans’ leading scorer will finally have a chance to prove himself on the NHL stage Thursday night.
The Sabres called up Varone from the American Hockey League on Wednesday and he’s ready to make his NHL debut against the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center.
“It’s been a long time coming. I’ve worked for it. I’ve worked my whole life for it,” Varone said after Buffalo’s optional morning skate Thursday. “When it finally comes, you don’t expect it but I feel extremely fortunate to be in this situation right now. I’m going to try and take advantage of it.
Varone was called into Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy’s office after practice in Rochester on Wednesday and had a feeling that something was about to change, but he wasn’t exactly sure what it might be.
“When Coach Cassidy called me in, a number of things were going through my head. I thought maybe I got traded. They pulled me off the ice right away,” he said Thursday after the team’s optional morning skate. “Then I thought maybe he just wanted to talk about this weekend’s games down in Rochester.”
However, when he was given word that he was headed to Buffalo, he was overwhelmed with emotion.
“When he told me the news, it brought some tears to my eyes,” he said. “I called my parents right away. It’s something I’ll never forget for sure.”
The Vaughan, Ont. native said he’s already reserved a handful of tickets for family and friends and expects more to show up at the door.
Varone was a fifth-round pick by the San Jose Sharks in 2009 but was not signed to a contract. The Sabres invited to their development camp in 2011 and he impressed. He recorded four points during the 2011 Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament and earned a one-year contract with Rochester.
After a 52-point season with the Amerks, he signed a three-year, entry level contract with Buffalo in March 2012.
This season in Rochester, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound center leads the team with eight goals and 25 assists through 38 games.
“He certainly has worked for his opportunity. I’m really happy for him,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “This thing only happens one time. You only play your first game in the National Hockey League one time. His parents are close by, his family’s close by, so it’s a special day for him.”
Marcus Foligno said he played on a line with Varone in Rochester and is looking forward to playing with him again Thursday night. Varone will center a line with Foligno and Brian Flynn on the wings against Carolina.
“It was great when I played with him in Rochester,” Foligno said. “We had some good connections so hopefully it can relate to here.”
Varone will wear No. 84.
Alexander Sulzer has been a healthy scratch the past three games but will make his return to the lineup against Carolina.
“I felt pretty good about my game. There were a few shifts where I wasn’t really happy with it and I guess the coaches saw it the same way,” he said.
Sulzer said he expects to be paired again with Christian Ehrhoff, but didn’t have a definitive answer after practice.
Mark Pysyk is still day-to-day with an injury and will not play against Carolina. Forwards Linus Omark and John Scott will be healthy scratches for the Sabres. Zenon Konopka will be back in.
Jhonas Enroth is expected to start in goal.
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 19 Cody Hodgson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno – 84 Phil Varone – 65 Brian Flynn
23 Ville Leino – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 52 Alexander Sulzer
20 Henrik Tallinder – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 4 Jamie McBain
1 Jhonas Enroth
30 Ryan Miller
Scratched: 3 Mark Pysyk (injured), 17 Linus Omark (healthy), 32 John Scott (healthy)