Just three short months removed from their gut-wrenching Stanley Cup Final loss, the Buffalo Sabres opened their 1999 training camp with high hopes for a return to the Big Dance. Although some of the pieces to the puzzle are currently missing (free-agent holdouts), the Sabres have enough good prospects to keep things interesting during the drudgery of the exhibition season.
Prospect junkies view the NHL pre-season as a good time to evaluate where certain prospects are at in their development, so they look forward to receiving any scrap of information they can get regarding their favorite team’s prospects. People such as this writer are only too happy to provide the prospect junkies with their fix, but getting information from NHL training camps is sometimes easier said than done. In the case of the Buffalo Sabres, the embargo on information regarding the current camp has been truly disappointing. Given the small numbers of people that attend practices, as well as the limited number of news outlets covering camp, it has been somewhat difficult to cobble together worthwhile information on the play of some of the prospects in camp.
Still, rather than make excuses, I will take the information I have and present as accurately as I can the noteworthy events of the first two weeks of the Buffalo Sabres ’99 training camp.
“Defense? What’s that?”
The Buffalo prospects took part in a 4-day rookie camp that was held in Kitchener, ON prior to the Sabre’s training camp. Other teams participating in this camp were Toronto, Carolina and the New York Rangers, with the Sabres playing each of these teams once. Following are short summaries of each contest.
Rangers 10, Sabres 5
Not exactly a defensive gem by either team, but particularly galling for the Sabres coaching staff. Milan Bartovic (2), Norm Milley (2) and Kamil Piros scored the Sabre goals. In spite of the lopsided score, the best player for the Sabres was defenseman Dimitri Kalinin, with Milley and Bartovic also turning in decent performances.
Hurricanes 6, Sabres 3
Another tough game for the Sabres, as they were manhandled by the bigger Carolina rookies. Carolina outshot the Sabres by a 2-to-1 margin, so it is not surprising that the game result turned out as it did. Three ’99 draft picks (Tim Preston, Bret Dececco, Mike Zigomanis) tallied for the Sabres, with Kalinin once again being one of the better players on the ice for either team.
Sabres 3, Maple Leafs 1
Buffalo’s youngsters finally figured out that there are two ends of the ice to be concerned with, as they turned in their best performance of the mini-camp. Defensemen lead the way on offense, as Kalinin and Matt Kinch (2) scored the goals for the Sabres. Mika Noronen turned in a good performance in the nets, but I’m sure he was helped by the fact that the team in front of him provided better support than was evident in the first 2 games (it should be noted that Noronen was not the only goalie for the Sabres in this camp).
Ultimately, it is probably not a good idea to read too much into the sub-par performance of Buffalo’s prospects in this tourney. What is a little distressing is that the Sabre’s rookies were continually referred to as being much smaller than the competition, which makes one grimace at the thought of seeing Buffalo revert back to the bad old days of the pre-Muckler era. Hopefully this trend of drafting predominately smaller players is just a one-year phenomenon.
Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah…
Training camp officially began on 9/5, with a total of 62 players reporting for duty at the Pepsi Center in Amherst, NY. A team coming off a Stanley Cup appearance rarely has openings to fill, but eight holdouts provide an opportunity for some younger players to show the coaching staff their stuff.
The prospects generating the most interest in the first week of camp were Czech RW David Moravec, and prize rookie RW Maxim Afinogenov of Russia. Moravec, a savvy 27-year old rookie, has impressed with his good offensive instincts and heady play. Although David is not a great skater, he appears to be one of those players that are always around the puck. As for Afinogenov, he impressed the coaches with his great speed and his ability to make plays in high gear. What left the coaches shaking their heads a bit, however, was Maxim’s defensive play. Simply put, he needs a lot of work in this area, which could mean an eventual ticket down the Thruway to Rochester.
Game One- Sabres vs. Bruins
In an early rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Semi-Final, Buffalo and Boston traveled to Rochester, NY to do battle. In a surprisingly entertaining game, the two teams battled to a 2-2 deadlock at Blue Cross Arena. The star of the game for the Sabres was David Moravec, who picked up a goal and an assist. David continued to display good offensive skills, particularly in close to the goal. He made a nice play on his goal, holding the puck until a screen was set in front of Boston goalie Rob Tallas, then beating the goalie with a perfect shot- truly a goal-scorer’s goal.
Other prospects performing well in this game were Maxim Afinogenov, D Brian Campbell and D J-L Grand-Pierre. Both goaltenders for Buffalo (Martin Biron and Mika Noronen) played well, with Noronen stopping all 13 shots he faced.
See You Next September
The Sabres returned several players to their respective junior teams early in camp. The players needing more development time were Norm Milley (Sudbury), Jaroslav Kristek (Tri-City), Bret Dececco (Seattle), Tim Preston (Seattle), Milan Bartovic (Tri-City), Karel Mosovsky (Regina), Scott McQueen (Red Deer), Mike Zigomanis (Kingston), Seneque Hyacinthe (Val D’or), Matt Kinch (Calgary), Aaron Goldade (Brandon), Brad Self (Peterborough) and Edo Terglav (Montreal). Contrary to some of the training camp rosters you may have seen, prospects Barrett Heisten, Doug Janik, Mike Pandolfo, Ryan Miller and Henrik Tallinder were not in camp.
One player still with the Sabres who was expected to be an early returnee is LW Andrew Peters. I have heard conflicting reports as to why he is still with the team, but I do know he was nursing a hip flexor injury as of late last week. I had heard that he impressed the coaches with his physical play, but I had also heard that he does not want to return to Oshawa for another season. For the Sabres and Andrew’s sake, I hope his play has improved because he had a forgettable year last season.
Games Two & Three- Sabres vs. Lightning
The Sabres squared off with the Tampa Bay Lightning in a weekend series, with Tampa taking the first game 5-2, and Buffalo returning the favor the following night with a 3-1 victory.
In Saturday’s contest in Cleveland, OH, Mika Noronen let in 4 goals on 21 shots as Tampa jumped out to a lead and never looked back. The most impressive line for the Sabres was the line of Peca-Ward-Afinogenov, as they netted both goals for the Sabres. Afinogenov displayed some of the offensive skill he has shown throughout training camp, as he scored one goal and assisted on another. Other prospects that performed well in this game were David Moravec and Brian Campbell, two more players who have impressed since the start of training camp. For Tampa, goalie Dan Cloutier displayed good stick work as he nearly decapitated Dixon Ward during a second period scrum. Not surprisingly, Cloutier was ejected.
Sunday’s rematch in Erie, PA saw the Sabres break open a tight game in the third period on a goal by Stu Barnes. The prospect that impressed the most in this game was Brian Campbell, who netted a power play goal in the first period and displayed good play at both ends of the ice. Martin Biron was strong in goal again, which would seem to indicate that he might be ready for a move to the NHL.
The Rochester Shuffle
The Sabres continued paring down their roster to its current level of 28 players after they sent several players down to the farm team in Rochester. Added to the American’s roster were:
Center- Craig Fisher, Brad Moran, Francois Methot, Scott Nichol, Kamil Piros, Jason Cipolla
Right Wing- Craig Brunel, Alex Kotalik, Jeremy Adduono
Left Wing- Randy Cunneyworth, Darren Van Oene, Denis Hamel, Eric Boulton
Defense- Doug Houda, Dimitri Kalinin, Luc Theoret
Goal- Mika Noronen, Gene Chiarello, Dieter Kochan
In the case of Denis Hamel, it appears that his standing as a prospect has fallen considerably. He needed to make a good impression in this camp to avoid another trip to the minors, but he didn’t make it past the first cut. On the other hand, Jeremy Adduono probably sees Rochester as a step in the right direction, as he was not very impressive in camp last season. Jeremy put up big numbers offensively 2 season ago in the OHL, but his lackluster ’98 training camp eventually led to his joining the Canadian National Team. So far, at least, this experience may have helped Jeremy to slightly improve his standing as a prospect, but he is still a longshot to play in the NHL.
Players still fighting to make the Sabres include Brian Campbell, Maxim Afinogenov, David Moravec, Martin Biron, Jason Holland, Cory Sarich, Mike Hurlbut, Andrew Peters, Domenic Pittis and Matt Davidson.
One Sabre prospect off to a good start is ’99 draft pick Seneque Hyacinthe. Hyacinthe, a left wing for Val d’Or of the QMJHL, has picked up 10 points in 6 games (3G, 7A, 10PIM) for the Foreurs. He is currently amongst the top 10 scorers in the Q, so it would appear that Seneque is poised to improve greatly on his totals of last season.