The prospects broke up into two teams and scrimmaged so they only used one rink instead of both of them. I know a lot of people feel like the best way to watch hockey is from above so you can really see plays developing. I agree with that generally speaking and when we go to games we always sit way up (although that's partly because we're broke and cheap), but when we can get to stuff like this, I like to sit up close and see things from a different perspective. So we sat in the third row. I'm not going to pretend like I really know enough to judge these kids' performances - I can barely stand on ice skates so to me everyone out there looked amazingly talented - but here are some non-expert opinions.
Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber both looked really good. It's weird to call them the veterans at 22 and 20 but they did a lot of talking with the other prospects and just looked a touch more self-assured than some of the younger, less experienced guys. They were on different teams during the scrimmage so we didn't really get a look at them together, but I don't really see why either of them won't make the team out of training camp unless Darcy Regier brings in a veteran defenseman and/or Nathan Paetsch plays out of his head. I get why Paetsch is being referred to as the incumbent, but to me he's the one who really has to earn his spot going in. I've never been super high on him though so I could be biased.
Weber continues to be a pretty firm next-in-line as Heather's Favorite Sabre. I just really like the way he plays and handles himself. I'm in no rush to get rid of Henrik Tallinder - no worries, Hank! - I'm merely doing a little scouting. At one point Weber made an absolutely beautiful stick poke against his opponent and it made my defense-loving heart go all pitter-patter. Okay, I totally missed it because I was futzing around with my camera. But Mark assured me that it was exactly the kind of play that I would've loved. I also noticed that he's started referring to Mike as "your boy" which is probably a sign. We only do that with a few select players.
Nathan Gerbe is very small. No, it's true. He is very reminiscent of Derek Roy however in that he doesn't seem the least bit bothered by his size on the ice. Granted, they weren't really hitting each other during the scrimmage but they were playing hard and he wasn't the least bit afraid to stick his nose in there against players much bigger than him (i.e. everyone). The other thing I really liked about him is that he wasn't hesitant to put the puck on the net and go from there. After getting used to watching the Sabres refuse to shoot unless they have the perfect opening, it was a refreshing change. Gerbe's team killed the other team in the scrimmage and he roofed one absolutely beautifully placed shot over the opposite shoulder of the goalie. He's definitely very skilled and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him on the big team sooner rather than later.
I didn't get a really good picture of Tyler Myers - those little brats wouldn't stand still long enough, the nerve - but I'm happy to report that he really is very tall. He definitely seems thin for his height but I know he's talked about how getting stronger is one of his goals. It's clear why everyone talks about his skating as a strength though. I know tall guys - especially tall guys who are still very young and new to their bodies - are often kind of awkward and unsure and that wasn't the case with Myers at all. He looked very strong on his skates, very smooth, almost graceful. I can definitely see why the Sabres were so high on him. Sadly, the BFG does not wear a visor.
Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff were there, of course, watching from above. (Dad in front of us to his small son as Lindy entered the building and walked across the ice: Look! It's Lindy Ruff! Small son: Lindy Ruff?! What's HE doing here?!) Both Darcy and Lindy seemed to be in a very good mood. Every time I looked up they were grinning at each other and laughing about something. I'm sure someone in the crowd was grumbling about Darcy being so happy when he should be out signing free agents and re-upping contracts but I enjoyed seeing them both looking so mellow. I know they are very good friends in real-life and it certainly appeared that they were enjoying each other's company. There was one point where Darcy was on the phone ("Darcy's on the phone!") so I'm sure the Sabres will be announcing the acquisition of Nicklas Lidstrom any day now.
Jhonas Enroth did play in the scrimmage and while I meant to keep an eye on him, I didn't really. Sorry. Goalies aren't my thing. He wandered out of the net a few times but unlike a certain other goalie we all know, he mostly handled himself well. Otherwise, sure he looked great.
After practice a handful of players came over to the corner of the rink and signed autographs and took pictures with the kids in the crowd which I thought was really sweet. Some of the kids were so clearly excited that it was pretty cute to watch. Their faces just completely lit-up every time someone new turned to walk in their direction instead of going the other way. The players seemed to really be enjoying it too. Must be nice to be able to make someone else that happy. I'm sure getting stopped by fans all the time gets old eventually so it was cool to see the younger players embracing it while it's fresh and new.
Mike Weber signed for quite a while. He'd start to walk away but came back immediately every time someone called his name.
Tim Kennedy looks to be 22 going on 12. Dude is rocking a serious baby face. Mark usually rolls his eyes at me when I comment on how young someone looks but this time he was the one who actually said, "Holy crap, look at him!" He didn't look that much older than some of the kids he was posing for pictures with. He looked good on the ice though.
I have no idea who this kid is. I did kind of half-heartedly flip through some photos but I couldn't make a match. He was my favorite though. He walked over with a pretty hearty, "Hey, guys!" and really talked to every single kid he signed something for, calling the kids "buddy." He was super cute with them. If anyone knows who he is, please share.
The spot where the kids were standing was not in the path of where the players departed the ice so players had to walk out of their way to come over. Originally everyone was at the top of a little staircase but as things started clearing out the kids started inching down the stairs and eventually onto the floor beside the rink. One little guy was totally cracking up all the adults in the area. He kept screaming, "Hey! Hey! We're over here!" you know, in case the players couldn't figure out where the sound of the screaming kids was coming from exactly. This kid was the most aggressive about moving out toward the players and eventually he was standing about halfway between the stairs where the kids were and the stairs where the players were exiting. When one player started walking toward the exit this kid started jumping up and down, literally waving his hands back and forth over his head, yelling, "Over here! Hey, you! Over here! Please come over here!" The player hesitated for a second before finally heading toward the kids. This little guy started cheering triumphantly and as he handed the player whatever it was he had to be signed he said, loud enough that those of us in the stands could hear, "Hey, who ARE you anyway?!" It was hysterical. The player in question - Dylan Hunter according to the man standing in front of me which I'll just go with because I couldn't see his face very clearly through his pulled-down baseball cap - took it in stride though. And Mark refrained from yelling, "Your dad was an asshole!" so that was nice too.
All in all, a very entertaining day. Mark was complaining that it made him excited for the season to start and then he remembered it wasn't even July yet but it was a nice little sip of real Sabres hockey. It still amazes me that I can just walk into a building, totally free of charge, and plop myself down a few feet from professional athletes, not just here but during training camp and game day skates as well. I can't tell you how many bloggers in other NHL cities have said to me, "You can go to morning skates? You just walk right in?!" It's pretty cool.