With an old hockey barn as the setting, the Buffalo Sabres last Friday began the on-ice segment of their 2002 training camp. Sabres’ coach Lindy Ruff and his assistants began the process of weeding through 52 camp attendees in the hopes of putting together a hockey club that is both competitive and successful.
Of particular interest to the coaching staff was the series of scrimmages that took place during the first three days of camp. The players were split into three squads, with each team featuring a mix of polished veterans, maturing prospects, and fresh newcomers. Each squad wore practice jerseys featuring one of the Sabres’ primary uniform colors- black, white and red.
There was just one scrimmage scheduled per day, with the non-scrimmaging team practicing in a separate rink. The first scrimmage of training camp featured the Red team vs. the White squad, with Red posting a relatively easy 7-4 victory. The game featured very little hitting, some sloppy play early on, but a fair amount of end-to-end action throughout. Some of the scorers for Red included Miroslav Satan (3), Derek Roy and J.P. Dumont, while Dimitri Kalinin, Norm Milley, Adam Mair and Jochen Hecht tallied for White.
In spite of the number of goals scored, there were several good saves by goaltenders on both squads. Mika Noronen started for Red, giving up just one goal in his two periods of work. Noronen’s backup in Rochester last season, Kenmore native Tom Askey, played well in the third period, but gave up three goals to a White squad that was more cohesive than they had been in the first two periods.
Meanwhile, the White squad featured the Sabres’ prospect that might receive the most attention during the early portion of camp, goaltender Ryan Miller. Although he gave up four goals in two periods of work, Miller nevertheless showed flashes of the form that made him such a hot commodity coming out of college. He had several stops in close, including a couple point blank saves on Andrew Peters. Ryan didn’t just turn aside shots by enforcers, however, as he also made tough saves on the likes of Satan and Dumont. Miller positioned himself well for many of his stops, looking like a poised veteran rather than an out-of-control rookie. Still, Ryan looked every bit the rookie on goals by Satan, so he is not yet a finished product.
Playing goal for White in the final stanza was 2002 draft pick Marty Majers. Majers, who played Junior B hockey in Ft. Erie, ON prior to playing in the USHL, turned in a surprisingly solid performance, making several tough saves on Red attackers. Marty’s best saves included a point-blank stop on the unfortunate Peters, a sliding save on Jochen Hecht off of a 2-on-1 break, and three consecutive stops on Derek Roy during a flurry around the White goal. The Illinois-native clearly is rough around the edges, as the three goals he gave up in one period will attest, but Majers certainly showed signs that he could be a good goaltender in time.
While Ryan Miller might get the most attention of any of the new youngsters in camp, the prospect that had the most impressive showing over the course of the first two days was center Derek Roy. Roy spent a good bit of the first day flanked by Miro Satan and J.P. Dumont, with the trio seemingly clicking right from the start. Derek, who came into camp off of a good performance at Canada’s World Junior Tryout Camp, showed great speed, good puck-handling skills, and a deft passing touch throughout much of the scrimmage. He is clearly playing with a good bit of confidence, and is starting to show that he can play effectively at the next level. Roy seems eager to make a good impression, as he continued shooting pucks after the other players had left the ice following the game.
Other prospects on Red who made a good impression in this scrimmage included Jiri Novotny, Jaroslav Kristek, Doug Janik and Radoslav Hecl.
Novotny got off to a shaky start, but improved steadily as the game wore on. The solidly built Czech made some good defensive plays in his own end, while also displaying some good stick-handling ability in close quarters. As for the negatives, Jiri looks somewhat lost when he is in the offensive zone, and he needs to keep his head up a little more, but those are deficiencies that can be worked on in the minors. Jiri’s fellow countryman, winger Jaroslav Kristek, showed signs that he could be an effective player if he can stay healthy. Kristek has good speed and a skilled passing touch, two qualities that were on display in the scrimmage.
Janik and Hecl turned in solid performances on defense, making safe plays to clear Red’s defensive zone. While neither player is an offensive wizard, they both displayed good puck-handling skills, good speed, and a penchant for making a good breakout pass.
As for Team White, the most notable prospect performances, aside from that of the goaltenders, came from Norm Milley and Ales Kotalik.
Milley played right wing on a line with Stu Barnes and Chris Thorburn. Their line turned in some solid shifts, which eventually resulted in a goal for Milley off of a nice feed from Barnes. Kotalik displayed more of the speed and nifty puck-handling skills that he exhibited last season, but he and his linemates Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht had trouble clicking for much of the game.
As for the other prospects on White, left wing Dan Paille showed some speed and a nice passing touch, but he was mostly ineffective. Chris Thorburn showed a willingness to battle along the boards, but his overall game still needs a good bit of work. Defenseman-turned-winger Sean McMorrow used his size to station himself in front of the net, but he was otherwise fairly quiet throughout the scrimmage. And on defense, Martin Cizek struggled for much of the game, with perhaps his skating being the one attribute that impressed.
Day 2 of Buffalo’s training camp featured a scrimmage between the victorious Red team and Team Black. While the results in this matchup were similar to the first game (8-4 in favor of Red), this game was definitely a more crisply played affair than the Red-White contest. Some of the scorers for Red in this game included J.P. Dumont, Chris Taylor, Andrew Peters and Jiri Novotny, while White received goals from Curtis Brown and Brian Campbell.
As in Friday’s game vs. White, center Derek Roy turned in another eye-catching performance. Roy played with the same gusto that he displayed the previous day, helping to create several scoring chances for his linemates J.P. Dumont and Jiri Novotny. Perhaps the one negative with Derek is that he passed up a couple good scoring chances to make a pass, but that is a minor flaw in an otherwise impressive performance.
Novotny looked more confident on Saturday, particularly in the offensive zone, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a goal. Kristek also continued to play well for Red, as did defensemen Janik and Hecl. Tough guy Andrew Peters skated hard, creating scoring opportunities for himself in the process. Peters hooked up with Eric Boulton of Team Black in the only fight of the first two days, with Eric getting the takedown victory.
The most notable performance by a prospect on Team Black was easily that of defenseman Henrik Tallinder. At times, the big Swede seemed to be all over the ice, making solid defensive plays in his own zone, then joining in the offensive rush to help create scoring chances in the offensive zone. Tallinder is clearly playing with a good deal of confidence, which bodes well for his chances of making Buffalo’s roster.
Aside from Tallinder, Team Black also featured some good work by prospects Paul Gaustad and Michael Tessier. Face-offs are a definite strong point for Gaustad, as he seemed to win virtually every one he took against Red centers. In addition to his work on face-offs, the big center also was reasonably effective in the offensive zone, creating chances for himself through hard work along the boards. As for Tessier, the left wing’s strong suits would appear to be his passing skills, and perhaps his work along the boards. On one play, Michael sent Jeremy Adduono in alone on Mika Noronen, with Adduono flubbing the opportunity.
Some other prospects on Team Black, such as Karel Mosovsky, Milan Bartovic, Jeremy Adduono and Dennis Wideman, seemed to struggle throughout most of the contest. Jason Pominville missed the second period, possibly due to an injury, so it is difficult to judge his effectiveness.
The St. Catherines portion of the Sabres’ training camp culminated on Sunday with the Jack Gatecliff Cup. The final, oddly enough, featured Team Black vs. Team White, with White taking an 8-7 victory.