Sabres Report: Columbus Discovers Buffalo

By Ken McKenna

The Buffalo Sabres continued their exhibition slate with back-to-back games against the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets. The Sabres should be excused if they felt that their opponent seemed a little familiar, as Columbus had a total of seven former Sabres prospects/players on their training camp roster.

Those former Sabres still fighting for Columbus roster spots include D Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, RW Matt Davidson, LW Geoff Sanderson, LW Barrie Moore and RW Martin Spahnel. Two former Buffalo prospects, C Brad Moran and D Sergei Klimentiev, were assigned to the Syracuse Crunch this past week. Sanderson and Grand-Pierre are probably locks to make the Blue Jacket roster, while Davidson, Moore and Spahnel are still in the thick of the roster battle with several other players.

As for the games, Buffalo swept the weekend series, winning 2-1 Friday in Syracuse, and following that up with a 4-3 victory in Rochester on Saturday. The Sabres again played several young players in Friday’s game, including top prospect Mika Noronen, who saw his bid for a 2nd consecutive shutout come to an end in the 3rd period. Mika was forced to make some tough saves in the early going, and played well in the 3rd period to preserve the Buffalo victory. Brian Campbell continued his strong showing in this camp, as he blasted the game-winning goal past former Niagara University star Greg Gardner on a 3rd period power play. Maxim Afinigenov provided the primary assist on Campbell’s goal, and scored the first Buffalo goal during a 2nd period power play. Other prospects taking part in this game included J.P. Dumont, Barrett Heisten, Dimitri Kalinin, Norm Milley, Denis Hamel and Eric Boulton.

The Buffalo veterans took over in Saturday night’s game, where they appeared to be coasting to an easy victory in the 3rd period until the Blue Jackets scored a couple quick goals to make things interesting. Kenmore native Tom Askey, who replaced starter Mika Noronen in the 2nd period, made several difficult saves in the 3rd period to protect Buffalo’s one goal victory. The scoring stars in this game were Doug Gilmour and Miroslav Satan, who each picked up one goal and one assist. Chris Gratton added two assists to become the top scorer for the Sabres in the preseason. The only prospect to pick up a point in this game was J.P. Dumont, who assisted on Dave Andreychuk’s first goal of the pre-season. Mika Noronen was sharp again, giving up just one goal on nine shots. Jeremy Adduono took a regular shift and played a solid game, while Eric Boulton continued to effectively play the role of the tough guy.

Geoff Sanderson picked up a couple assists against his former Sabre teammates, while J-L Grand-Pierre made it onto the scoresheet with a two minute cross checking penalty in the 2nd period. The bad news for Buffalo coming out of this game is that they’ll be without D James Patrick for at least a couple weeks with a shoulder injury. D Jason Woolley is also nursing a sore groin at this time.

The Sabres have three games remaining in the pre-season, with Buffalo’s next game taking place on Wednesday vs. the Maple Leafs in Toronto, ON. Washington is the opponent on Friday in Erie, PA, while the final exhibition game will take place Saturday in Boston against the Bruins.

The Roster Battle Winds Down

With just one week left in the pre-season, it is probably safe to make some assumptions regarding who will stay in Buffalo for the start of the season, and which players will make the bus ride down the I-90 to Rochester.

The two players likely to have an extended stay in Buffalo are RW J.P Dumont and D Dimitri Kalinin. Both players have been impressive during this training camp, Kalinin in particular. The players that are virtually certain to be sent down to Rochester before the start of the regular season are RW Jeremy Adduono, RW Norm Milley, LW Eric Boulton, LW Barrett Heisten (if he signs- more on that in a moment), D Jason Holland and G Tom Askey. All of these players have shown well in this camp, but most of them would be better served by the added ice time they’ll get in Rochester.

Due to injuries and holdouts, D Brian Campbell, LW Denis Hamel and G Mika Noronen should stick with the Sabres to start the season. Once Mike Peca and Martin Biron sign their contracts, Hamel and Noronen will likely return to the Amerks. It is possible that Biron could end up in Rochester to start the season, as he would probably benefit from some game action, but he will eventually be Dominik Hasek’s backup. Hamel could stick with the Sabres if they decide they need some toughness in the lineup, which would probably leave Chris Taylor as the odd man out. Campbell will head back to Rochester once Patrick and Woolley recover from their injuries.

Heisten The Dough?

The 9/24 edition of the Buffalo News has an update on Barrett Heisten’s contract negotiations with the Buffalo Sabres. Rather than regurgitate the information that is in the article, here is the URL for the story- .

Barrett is out of his mind if he thinks he is going to get the kind of money he is asking for. Heisten has had two up-and-down seasons with the University of Maine, with his most recent season ending on the downside. He is not lacking certain talents, as he is a good skater and a feisty competitor, but his offensive ability is still a question mark. Only the most highly skilled players get the kind of money that Barrett is asking for, regardless of where they have been drafted.

Heisten’s situation has been compared to that of St. Louis Blues defenseman Mike Van Ryn, in that Barrett, should he opt to play junior hockey in Seattle, would become a free agent if the Sabres don’t sign him by June 1. This is the same route that Van Ryn took to the pros, with Van Ryn blowing off the Devils for the lucre being offered by the Blues. The difference here is that Heisten is not the talent that Van Ryn is, as Mike has turned some heads with his play for St. Louis, while Barrett has been just OK in Buffalo’s training camp. Perhaps a year in juniors would help Heisten improve his game, but he could also severely damage his bargaining power if he flops in the WHL.

Heisten would be wise to take Buffalo’s best offer (rumored to be $800,000- not exactly chump change), and begin his pro career with the Rochester Americans.