Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Jack Eichel and Team USA have the day off, plus, an eye on USA's Dan Sexton

Reprinted with permission from

As an 18 yr. old playing amongst men for the first time in his hockey career, prospect Jack Eichel has plenty to learn. Like speed. Being a gifted skater is one thing. Catching up to the speed of the game is a little bit different.

After two games at the IIHF World Championships in Prague, Eichel has yet to hit the scoresheet and has an even plus/minus rating while centering the third line between veteran Trevor Lewis and fellow collegian Jimmy Vesey. Team USA is 2-0 in the round-robin portion of the tournament thus far and has outscored their opponents--Finland and Norway--by a combined score of 7-2. Eichel logged 14:47 of ice-time vs. Finland and 18:12 against Norway yesterday.

Those Norway minutes are interesting in that Eichel spent 7:52 on the ice in the third period with the US clinging to a 2-1 lead and was on the ice in the last minute. "This was a tough game," said Team USA head coach Todd Richards (CBJ,) "and we knew it would be. Our guys battled, and in the end, we were fortunate enough to come away with the win."

Norway jumped on the US early. "The first period Norway carried the play," Richards said. "They were faster, battled better than us. We were fortunate to get out." What they "got out of" was nothing more than a 1-0 deficit early in the first period with Lewis knotting the score at the 12:14 mark.

A couple of penalties late in the first period would put the US squad on their heels as Nick Bonino got called for high sticking at 14:31 and Eichel was sent to the box for hooking four minutes later. USA killed both of those penalties off and at 5:58 of the second period, Brock Nelson (NYI) would put the team up for good.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Cassidy fired plus, 10,000-1 odds against Mike Babcock landing in Buffalo

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When Buffalo Sabres president Ted Black sent a magazine along with invoices to season ticket holders entitled “Buffalo Sabres 2015-16: The Next Chapter,” perhaps it should actually be taken as the first chapter in a new book. After the firing of Rochester Americans head coach Chadd Cassidy yesterday, nearly everything left over from the previous regime is gone including it's identity, or what was described as it's identity.

As of this moment there are still some key personnel in the front office who are holdovers from the Darcy Regier-era like assistant GM, Mark Jakubowski and Director of Player Personnel, Kevin Devine. A number of scouts like Jon Christiano, Toby O'Brien and Yuri Khymlev are still on board. Player development coach Randy Cunneyworth is still around and the young players GM Tim Murray wants to build with at this time--including Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, and Rasmus Ristolainen--have survived a roster purge over the course of two trade deadlines and one off season.

But the two coaches in the organization for the 2014-15 season, didn't make it through. From an historically objective standpoint, the numbers will show that Ted Nolan's 30th place Sabres team had a 23-51-8 record while the Amerks finished 27th in the AHL with a 29-41-6 record. What history won't reveal fully through those numbers is the maelstrom of the Sabres scorched-earth rebuild that was going on during this time period. Kudos to both Nolan and Cassidy for their work during this hellacious time.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

USA's Jack Eichel in Prague, hittin' the ice with the big boys

Reprinted with permission from

It's not a bad thing that Buffalo sports fans will have a keen eye trained towards the Czech Republic for the 2015 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships. After all, the future centerpiece of the Sabres is Team USA's Jack Eichel whom Buffalo will end up selecting with the 2nd-overall pick in June barring anything weird happening.

Eichel is the youngest member of Team USA, edging out fellow collegiate freshman Dylan Larkin by just about three months, and he'll have the opportunity to see how he measures up against some of the best hockey players in the world. In a harbinger of things to come should he land in Buffalo, Eichel will be the focal point (along with a few other younger players) up front amidst a sea of pluggers and grinders. Although USA management, headed by Stan Bowman (CHI) and Dean Lombardi (LAK,) plucked players from every professional league above the ECHL-level, talent looks to be very limited. Eichel and Larkin, along with Harvard junior Jimmy Vesey, will lead the forwards when Team USA opens up the tournament on Friday versus Finland (10 am EST.)

A list of Team USA's forwards (alphabetical) and their 2014-15 stats:

Mark Arcobello (EDM, NSH, PIT, ARI)--77gm, 17g, 7a
Nick Bonino (VAN)--75gm, 15g, 24a
Jack Eichel (Boston U.)--40gm, 26g, 45a
Matt Hendricks (EDM)--71gm, 8g, 8a
Dylan Larkin (Michigan U.)--35gm, 15g, 32a
Trevor Lewis (LAK)--73gm, 9g, 16a
Stefan Matteau (Albany Devils, AHL)--61gm, 12g, 15a
Jeremy Morin (CHI, CBJ)--43gm, 2g, 4a
Steve Moses (Jokerit, KHL)--60g, 36g, 21a
Dan Sexton (Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik, KHL)--49gm, 19g, 28a
Ben Smith (CHI, SJS)--80gm, 7g, 7a
Jimmy Vesey (Harvard U.)--37g, 32g, 26a

Being an offensive centerpiece a daunting task for an 18 yr. old like Eichel, but he's managed to succeed at BU with a target on his back all season while playing against players four, five or even six years his senior. His 71 points were second only to Paul Kariya (100) in NCAA history and he won the Hobey Baker Award. At 6'1" 191 lbs he's got the size to compete with the pros, but maybe even more important, Eichel has the strength and attitude to have an impact at the next level.

“He’s got the strength of a 25-year-old," said BU head coach David Quinn earlier this month (via NESN.) "He’s incredibly tough. You see his stats and his skill and all those things — don’t get me wrong, they’re elite — but he’s a tough son of a (gun). He’s competitive, and he’s withstood a lot.”

In addition to size and age discrepancies, Eichel will get a pretty good taste for the speed of the game at the next level as well, but there's no reason to think that it will phase him once he adjusts. He displays top-notch skating and the ability to process the game full speed.

With franchise-level talent and ultra competitiveness, probably the only question with Eichel revolves around his off season decision on whether to turn pro or stay in college for another year. Despite the "unfinished business" argument for him to stay in school, unless the World's are a total disaster, the odds of him heading back to Boston University in a quest for the national championship are pretty long.

Which is good news for Sabres fans as most want the future to begin now, not next year.

For the uninitiated, here's the lowdown for the 2015 World Championships via Broad Street Hockey including the tournament format, tournament schedule and TV schedule.

Jack Eichel in Prague, Sabres season ticket increase and what, no year-end presser?

Reprinted with permission from

At 10am today, probable 2nd-overall draft pick, and probable future Buffalo Sabre Jack Eichel will be joining the USA squad as they hit ice in Prague, Czech Republic in the IIHF World Hockey Championships. Although it's down a ways on the list of important tournaments for those of us in North America, having Eichel in it should pique many a Sabres' fans interest.

Eichel and two other collegians--Dylan Larkin and Jimmy Vesey--who are expected to help provide some offense for Team USA. Eichel and Vesey finished No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in NCAA scoring while Larkin was 11th. The trio will be joined by KHL scoring forward Steve Moses who set a KHL scoring record playing for Jokerit and was recently signed as a free agent by the Nashville Predators. The rest of the US forwards at this point feature a bevy of two-way players and checkers meaning that goals may be pretty hard to come by.

One should not that the IIHF rosters will undergo some changes as NHL teams fall out of the playoffs and their players opt to play in the tournament. Added to the US lineup up front yesterday are NY Islanders forwards Brock Nelson (82 games, 20 goals, 22 assists) and Anders Lee (76gm, 25g, 16a) which represents a significant upgrade in offense over the previous lineup.

Of note on the US squad, 17 yr. old phenom Auston Matthews played in an Team USA's only exhibition game of the tourney and scored a goal in the 4-1 US triumph. According to SI's Alan Muir, it's the first time a player hit the ice for the Worlds before being draft-eligible. Even though the US could use his skills, the game was just a pit stop for "the next one" on his way back from Switzerland.  Matthews just finished leading the US squad to gold in the 2015 World U18 Hockey Championships. He had eight goals and seven assists in seven games and was named tourney MVP.

On tap for the Americans this morning is a bout with Finland who finished with the silver medal last season.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Individual player development in Rochsester and were to go from here

Reprinted with permission from

This is the second of a two-part series reviewing the Rochester Americans season

In deciding Rochester Americans head coach Chadd Cassidy's fate, the black and white of an AHL won/loss record isn't the only factor to be taken into consideration. Buffalo GM Tim Murray will be looking at how the young players developed in Rochester, from stars down to rookie free agents.

With a 27th place finish by the Amerks and the opportunity for Murray to have a fresh start in Rochester, the odds looked to be stacked against Cassidy at this point. Yet the Amerks bench boss, who was in his second full season as head coach, had his share success stories in player development. "If development is what matters most to Sabres general manager Tim Murray," wrote Amerks beat writer Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, "then Cassidy and his staff seemingly will be back. The kids got better. They grew, they didn't repeat mistakes and they were, in most cases, effective when called up to the NHL."

Forward Johan Larsson is a prime example.

Larsson finally broke through at the NHL-level last month after strong year over year development in Rochester. He took his pesky two-way game from top-six to top-line for the Amerks and was able to up his production as well. After fits and starts to his NHL career, and despite a tinge of self-pity after being sent down back in January, Larsson, with the help of the coaching staff, worked through some deficiencies (mostly mental) and he was finally able to take his game to, and succeed at, the NHL level

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Flux, player movement and lack of sandpaper undermines Amerks season

Reprinted with permission from

This is the first in a two-part series reviewing the Rochester Americans season.

While the majority in Sabreland was obsessing over the NHL lottery last Saturday night, hoping that the gold logo would come up Buffalo, the Rochester Americans were in the midst of a three-game-in-three-night season finale' that featured two road games in a row to end the season. When the ping-pong balls came up Edmonton, Rochester was in Binghamton in the second to last game of a long, trying season.

In contrast to the supreme focus of Buffalo hockey fans and media on the circus that was "McEichel" all season, those in Rochester, a mere 60 miles east, were of the casual, detached variety, even when it came to the climax that was the NHL lottery. "We were in the middle of a game," said long time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens of the lottery draw. "I don't think there was a lot said about it."

Saturday, April 25, 2015

An early look at the Sabres free agents

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Back-to-back 30th place finishes and a general manager who's talked consistently of not wanting a long rebuild is a recipe for some definitive turnover in an NHL organization. Add in an AHL affiliate that just finished the season 29-41-6, good for 14th in the conference and 27th in the league, and one could imagine some major personnel changes and a decidedly different look in Buffalo as well as Rochester.

The Buffalo Sabres have gone through major personnel changes already as less than half the players from the 2013-14 opening game roster are still with the organization. Of the 11 that are still around only three--Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen--have top-six forward/top-pairing defenseman potential.

This season because of turnover and injuries to both clubs, over 50 players pulled on a Rochester Americans sweater. Murray was grabbing players from everywhere to try and fill the Amerks roster, which, be it known, is typical in the relationship between an NHL club and their AHL affiliate. Yet, that much turnover might be a little extreme.