Sabres Report: From St. Catherines to Charleston

By Ken McKenna

The traveling road show otherwise known as the 2001 Buffalo Sabres’ training camp will kick off in St. Catherines, ON on September 12th at the Jack Gatecliff Arena. This will begin a preseason odyssey for the team that will see them travel several hundred miles to points North, South and Midwest, all for the purpose of preparing the Sabres for the coming 2001-02 season.

Following the completion of the Canadian phase of camp on September 15th, the Sabres, in a move that is sure to pad their frequent flyer miles, will depart for that Southern hockey hotbed of Charleston, SC. Charleston, of course, is the home of Buffalo affiliate, and reigning ECHL champ, the South Carolina Stingrays. This portion of camp will run from September 17th-20th, with the team then returning to Buffalo to finish off their camp at both the HSBC Arena and the Pepsi Center in Amherst, NY.

The fun truly begins on September 21st, when Buffalo opens their slate of 6 preseason games with a contest at HSBC Arena vs. the Ottawa Senators. The 2001 preseason schedule looks like this:

Date

Opponent

Location

>

Time (EST)

9/21/01

Ottawa

Buffalo, NY

7:00

9/22/01

Columbus

Buffalo, NY

6:00

9/25/01

Columbus

Columbus, OH

7:00

9/27/01

Toronto

Toronto, ON

7:30

9/28/01

Ottawa

Ottawa, ON

7:00

9/29/01

Toronto

Hamilton, ON

7:30

Games 1, 2, 4 and 6 will be telecast on the Empire Sports Network, so prospect junkies with cable or satellite will have a chance to view the handful of Sabres’ prospects that will be vying for roster spots. All games will be broadcast on WNSA, 107.3 or 107.7 on the dial (I’m sure there will be webcasting of these games, as well).

The Rochester Americans will play a 2-game preseason slate against AHL “newcomers” the Cleveland Barons and the Manitoba Moose. The game against the Barons will take place on September 28th, at the Webster (NY) Community Sports Arena, while the game against the Moose will be played on the 29th of September at the ESL Sports Arena. Both games start at 7:35 PM.

For those fans eager to get a look at as many prospects as possible, your best bet would be to attend the St. Catherines portion of the camp. Unlike in recent years, Buffalo’s young prospects will not take part in a rookie tournament, so viewing time will be limited. Most of the players with junior eligibility will be returned to their teams once camp breaks from St. Cats, so that will leave just the players fighting for roster spots in Buffalo, and those players earmarked for Rochester. Practices in St. Catherines will begin at 8:00 AM each day.

Czech Happenings

While the majority of Buffalo’s prospects will get started next week, 3 of the Sabres’ 2001 draft picks playing in the Czech Republic have already completed their exhibition schedule. Michal Vondrka (pronounced Vahn-der-kuh), Marek Dubec (pronounced Doo-bets) and top pick Jiri Novotny all saw action in the Czech Elite league’s Tipsport Cup series. While I cannot give detailed reviews of how they performed, I can provide some statistical data for each player:

Player

GP

G

A

Pts.

PIM

Jiri Novotny

6

0

0

0

0

Michal Vondrka

4

2

1

3

2

Marek Dubec

2

0

0

0

0

Novotny and Vondrka played for Budejovice, while Dubec was on the Vsetin roster.

Coming To The Defense

There were a few signings by the Sabres during the offseason, with most of them being made with an eye toward improving the organization’s defensive depth. Some of these players may eventually wear the black-and-red of the Sabres, but the organization that stands to gain the most from these signings, at least in the near term, is the Rochester Americans.

The defensemen signed include ’97 2nd round pick Henrik Tallinder, ’99 2nd round pick Doug Janik, and free agents Rory Fitzpatrick and Mario Larocque. Fitzpatrick (6’2″, 208 lbs.), a native of Rochester suburb Irondequoit, was a ’93 2nd round pick of the Montreal Canadians, while Larocque (6’4″, 195 lbs.) was Tampa’s 1st round selection in the ’96 draft. Larocque should provide some toughness to Rochester’s defensive corps, while Fitzpatrick should provide solid two-way play. Janik and the two free agents will almost certainly end up in Rochester, while Tallinder will return to Finland if he does not make the Buffalo roster.

Up front, the signings of ’98 draft pick Ales Kotalik and free agent Christian Matte could make Rochester’s right side one to be reckoned with. Kotalik took his game to another level last season while playing for Budejovice of the Czech Elite league, where he was that team’s leading scorer. Matte (6’0″, 190 lbs.), a ’93 6th round pick of the Quebec Nordiques, has been a prolific scorer at the minor league level, where he has tallied 415 points in 401 games. These 2 players, coupled with young RWs Norm Milley and Milan Bartovic, certainly give the Amerks the potential for some offensive firepower on the right flank.

Offseason signings of player’s from last year’s Amerks team include D Doug Houda, C Chris Taylor, and G Tom Askey. Two subtractions from the 2000-01 roster include Jason Cipolla and Dane Jackson, who have moved on to other teams.

The combination of the players mentioned above, plus other possible new or returning Amerks (G Mika Noronen, LW Taylor Pyatt, C Francois Methot, LW Darren Van Oene, and D Mike Hurlbut) will not only provide Rochester with another solid team, but will also provide the Sabres with some of the best depth in the NHL.

Random Notes: According to a Sabres’ Media Relations spokesperson, D Luc Theoret, the hard-luck Buffalo prospect who has battled injury and illness the past two seasons, will be in camp next week…Buffalo’s ’99 6th round pick, Seneque Hyacinthe, is trying out with the Minnesota Wild…Buffalo’s MR spokesperson also indicated ’98 3rd round pick Mike Pandolfo, who is currently playing for Boston University, is still regarded as a decent prospect by the Sabres’ hockey braintrust.