Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
For Rochester Americans forward Tim Schaller, making the Buffalo Sabres roster out of training camp just might be the "easiest" part of his hockey journey thus far.
The undrafted free agent who signed with Buffalo out of Providence College last year only has his game to think about as he stands on the precipice of the NHL.
"It's there for me to take if I want it," he said. "From the coaches comments during [development] camp, if you work hard and play hard in camp then it's there for you. If I want it, it's there."
Schaller had a good showing at the Sabres development camp in July. He said he felt real strong after a full off season workouts, something he wasn't able to do last year as he was coming off shoulder surgery.
The surgery, and subsequent six month recovery time was staring him in the face after sustaining an injury six games into his senior season.
It occurred in November, 2012 game vs. Boston College. After a big check he felt his arm go limp. The doctor said that he needed surgery, but Schaller decided to put it off.
In an interview with Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle last October Schaller commented on his decision to gut it out, "It was so early in the season I couldn't call it quits. Your senior year is the most important."
Schaller fought it off and ended up playing the entire season with a torn labrum and ended up being selected as Hockey East's defensive forward of the year.
"That was pretty painful," he said, "but it was something I had to do."
One of the reasons he "had to do it" was to get noticed by an NHL team and land a contract.
Throughout his senior season, Schaller had been talking to a few NHL clubs, but with surgery and a six-month recovery time on the horizon teams would balk.
"It was tough," he said. "I wasn't playing the strongest hockey I could play with my [injured] shoulder, which turned some teams off a little bit. Luckily I had a couple of teams who threw offers at me. I sat down with my agent and we felt Buffalo was the best fit for me."
Toby O'Brien, an USA/NCAA amateur scout for the Sabres was at the fore of the signing. Being based out of Providence, he had plenty of interaction with Schaller throughout the season. He got the organization looking past the near-term injury obstacle.
Schaller fits the mold of what the Buffalo Sabres are looking for in a bottom-six forward. He's big (6'2" 216,) skates very well, drives to the net, loves to hit, is defensively sound, and can contribute offensively.
Even with those attributes, it's hard to get noticed as a bottom-six forward, whether your looking for that first pro contract or looking to make and/or stay on an NHL roster.
There are a ton of players with similar strengths all vying for that opportunity. Nothing comes easy for any of them.
But the difficulties Schaller and players like him may endure on their road to the NHL is nothing like dealing with external circumstances that can make or break a person.
In 2007, Schaller's older brother Dave was diagnosed with a very rare blood disease that affected his immune system--Aplastic anemia.
It's a disease in which the bone marrow does not produce enough blood cells and a bone marrow transplant is necessary for survival.
The closest match for Dave in the process was his younger brother who didn't even have the same blood-type. There was a 25% chance of a match. Fortunately it worked and Dave's system took to Tim's transplanted marrow.
The anemia was actually the second blow to Dave and his family in a year. He originally was diagnosed with testicular cancer and while it was in remission, that's when the family found out about his disease.
Back in 2009, wrote a wonderful piece about Tim's Selfless Act for U.S. College Hockey Online, "