Ott looks good at Sabres skate

Jordan Leopold skates by the net in a small-sided drill.

Jordan Leopold skates by the net in a small-sided drill.

I checked out the Buffalo Sabres’ optional practice Wednesday morning at the Northtown Center in Amherst. It was tough to really gauge who looked ready to play (everyone looks good when no one’s really playing defense and the goalies aren’t professional caliber) but here’s what stood out to me:

—Steve Ott looked good. Everyone on the ice had his way with the goalies (even “coach” Andrew Peters), but Ott’s shots were particularly well-placed and he continued to create openings and finish when they broke into small-sided games.

—John Scott skated for the first time this week, donning New York Rangers gear and green socks. The 6-foot-8 newcomer’s biggest talent seems to be just that: being a large person. All pros are great puck-handlers and shooters, but other players on the ice were clearly a step above him talent-wise. Scott hasn’t scored since 2009-10, but that’s OK — his job is to be large and intimidating (and/or take out Milan Lucic) and he certainly accomplishes that.

Continue reading

Canisius planning to play at Webster Block

Click to enlarge.

The Buffalo Sabres development proposal for the Webster Block was given the go-ahead Wednesday from the City of Buffalo. Team owner Terry Pegula’s $123 million “HARBORcenter” includes a hotel, sports bar, parking structure and a dual-surface ice rink that will likely be the future home of Canisius’ Division I hockey team.

“Our hope, and I know their hope, is that we would be an anchor tenant for them down there,” Canisius athletic director Bill Maher said. “That would mean that our Division I hockey program would have a locker room down there and would practice down there and we would have our competition down there.”

Continue reading

Sabres bid for rink that would house Canisius

The Buffalo Sabres have officially bid on land downtown that they would use for a multi-rink hockey complex that would serve as the future home of the Canisius hockey program.

The Webster Block is highlighted in orange. It’s currently a parking lot across from the FN Center.

The Sabres were in talks with Canisius last summer about the possibility of building a rink on the Main Street campus that would double as a Sabres practice facility. Those talks stalled last fall and didn’t pick back up.

According to a report from Buffalo Business First, the Sabres are one of three groups to bid on the Webster Block, a piece of land across from the First Niagara Center nearly two acres large. The report says the property would be “used as a practice facility for the team as well as the home base for some of the area’s collegiate hockey teams.”

Canisius officials said today the school is still working with the Sabres and the college team mentioned is “definitely still us.”

Continue reading

Puck focus

I like looking at people’s faces in the stands when I look at the pictures in sports section. The photographer is going for the action, but the people in the background help tell the story, giving instant feedback to whatever happened a split second before the shot.

The picture in Wednesday’s sports page has Ryan Miller looking up, probably swearing in his head, while Jared Cowen and Peter Regin celebrate their overtime winner.

The people in the stands are captured seconds after witnessing a defenseman sneak in from the point and release an uncontested shot that gave the Sabres their eighth loss in their last 11 outings.

The guy in the yellow hat is my favorite. He doesn’t have any outward display of emotion but you know he’s angry. His eyes are already cast off into the distance and his face tells you his thoughts aren’t fit for print.

The little boy over his left shoulder wears a Sabres-themed Santa hat and leans in for a better look. He seems caught off guard — the goal came only 45 seconds into overtime, after all — and a little upset that his hometown heroes had been defeated.

Cohen and Regin are about to skate past the boy and meet up for a celebratory hug, but right now their exuberance is separated by Miller and the goal. They wear bright white sweaters and have their arms up in victory, but space between them shows a stark contrast: in the shadows sits a goateed man with a shirt so dark you can hardly make out the logo. He shows no emotion but wears a rock-hard stare, perhaps aimed at Miller, who has now lost more games this season than he’s won.

Everyone in the stands has an angry look on his or her face. That will happen when you leave people wide open in front of the net.

I’m not sure what Drew Stafford was doing in overtime. Just count the players in front of you and assess the situation. Instead, he gets major puck focus.

It’s 4-on-4.  Stafford (21) let his man go to the net and watched the puck instead, apparently deciding two defensmen could handle three attackers. Andrej Sekera (44) is the only player allowed to be watching the puck because his man, Erik Karlsson, has it. Robyn Regehr takes a peek back at the play and picks up Regin (13) when the pass came across. Derek Roy (9) is also watching the puck and doing nothing, but at least he could claim to be covering the point, where his man, Jason Spezza, curled.

The only guy not doing a thing is Stafford. So what if he’s at the end of his shift. He lets his guy go, curls away from the net at the hash marks and stands and watches the play happen without even attempting to pick someone up. That’s a good way to get your name in the headline of a Bucky Gleason column.

The Sabres got caught watching the first goal too. It was a crazy series of bounces but somebody has to pick up the man in front. Forget the puck, find a man.

Wide open player, wide open net.

Again, it was Regehr and Sekera on D, and they could hold hands from where they were standing in front. Neither one thought to pick up Milan Michalek (9), who came into the game tied for the league lead in goals. They should probably know where he is on the ice.

Jason Pomminville skated in circles as Senators passed around him and Paul Szczechura (not pictured) gave Spezza enough time to find a man wide open in the slot. Thomas Vanek, meanwhile, saw Ottawa shooting and thought it would be a good idea to hang out by the point. He barely got back into the screen for the goal. Miller got drawn too far out of the net and gave Michalek the whole net to shoot at … give a pro 3,456 square inches to choose from and he’ll hit one.

If you can’t protect your own net you better be able to score a bunch of goals. The Sabres were lucky to come out away with a point. The offense scored two quick goals towards the end of the first period but struggled to put together a consistent forecheck. The power play didn’t do much, now 0 for its last 11.

Szczechura finished his goal nicely, taking the puck to his backhand and roofing it, which was good because it wouldn’t have gone over well if he didn’t. The guy playing in his fifth game with the Sabres gets a pass in front of the net, has an uncontested 2-on-0 with Thomas Vanek, and keeps it. Tyler Ennis’ goal was the result of a nice passing play that salvaged Stafford and Roy’s day as he faked Craig Anderson down and put the puck in the open side.

Pretty goals are great but they count the same as ugly ones. We’ll see if players are willing to take the punishment in front of the net — ours and theirs — Friday night when the Maple Leafs come to town. If not, there are going to be a lot more unhappy faces inside the First Niagara Center.

Also, great tweet from something that happened during the broadcast.

Rick Jeanneret gives you the facts in an excited manner, Harry Neale says something that isn’t necessarily relevant to the conversation and … well, that’s Rob Ray being Rob Ray.

Sabres/Canisius rink update: No progress on talks this semester

It has been nearly five months since The Griffin first reported in July that the Canisius athletic department was having discussions with the Buffalo Sabres about potentially partnering to build an ice rink on campus. As a full semester goes by with no new developments in the talks, The Griffin looks for answers.

Athletic Director Bill Maher sits at a table in his office. He’s slightly on edge, but well within reasonable expectations of someone discussing a potential project he previously said would cost over $20 million.

“There’s not much to report there,” he says. “The Sabres continue to look at a number of options. We’ve continued to have discussions with them, but at this time, there’s really been no change and no meetings with the Sabres organization.”

The sides last met early in the fall and haven’t talked since. There have been several meetings since last spring but discussions seem to be cooling off.

“I’d love to be able to make an announcement and tell you [things have changed], but they really haven’t,” Maher said.

“I don’t think we’re any closer, I don’t think we’re any further apart.”

Though Sabres owner Terry Pegula has not been involved in any negotiations, he caused quite a stir last week when he and his wife Kim donated $12 million for athletic facilities to Houghton College (Kim’s alma mater). Maher thought it was a generous gift but said he isn’t concerned the owner of a business he is working with just gave eight figures to a different college for a similar project.

“I don’t look at it that way,” he said.

The discussions are yet to reach a point where the sides are hammering out individual issues — right now, they’re still talking “opportunities.” Maher remains optimistic that Canisius College will someday house its own rink, but right now, it’s a waiting game.

“When there’s the next opportunity to talk, they’ll come to us and we’ll certainly have that dialogue,” Maher said. “I don’t think there’s anything more we can do at this point in time. We can continue to make ourselves available … and from there, we’ll see.”

The ball may be in the Sabres’ court, but they aren’t talking. A team spokesperson declined to give any additional information this week. There have been discussions, but nothing new has happened. A practice facility is something the Sabres would like to have, but it’s just another item on the laundry list of improvements the team would like to make.

Without a partnership with the Sabres, it’s unlikely the school would get a rink in the near future, Maher said, a reminder that Science Hall is the school’s top priority.

C-Block Vice President James Millard was excited when he first read about the possibility of Canisius getting its own rink, but he isn’t upset that nothing has developed over the course of the semester. However, he hopes talks don’t die out completely.

“I think it would be good for the school to have our own rink on campus for two reasons,” Millard said. “One, fan attendance would skyrocket. Driving 5-10 minutes to Buff State may not seem like a big deal, [but] people would walk over just for the fun.”

Secondly, and more importantly: “You would attract a much larger audience when scouting. I ate lunch with head coach Dave Smith a couple weeks ago and he said that’s one of the main reasons people turn Canisius down when they’re looking at schools, because we don’t have our own rink.”

Until the ice freezes inside a new arena, the Griffs will continue to use Buffalo State for every practice and every home game, and administration will continue handing out money from its athletic budget to another college. Someday, local schools and youth organizations may dream of playing in the city’s only Division I facility, but until then, Canisius will travel to play its home games at D-III Buff State, home of the Bengals.

Getting a rink on campus was thought to be something Canisius had to achieve if it were to change conferences. The Griffs may not have left Atlantic Hockey even with a rink, but without one, the team will not move conferences.

“Not right now, for sure,” Maher said. “Atlantic Hockey has always been a good option for us … in the end [moving] wasn’t a better option that what Atlantic Hockey provides us right now.

“There were discussions in the summer; those discussions have closed. We’re a member of Atlantic Hockey and that’s where things stand.”