If you'd have taken off the baseball cap, given him a crew cut and filmed his most recent post-game interview in grainy black and white, Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe would've looked like he'd just finished a game circa 1949. The second year defenseman was answering questions post-game in front of his locker stall on Saturday looking like Frankenstein with stitched-up gashes above and below his swollen right eye courtesy of a walloping hit on Winnipeg Jets forward Patrick Laine.
Some are calling it the most crushing hit in Buffalo since defenseman Brian Campbell laid out the Philadelphia Flyers RJ Umberger back in the 2006 Eastern Conference Quarter Finals, and truth be told, both were huge, definitive hits. But unlike Campbell's only bone-jarring hit of his career, laying out an old-school body check is McCabe's style and has been since he first came into the league out of the University of Wisconsin in 2014.
McCabe played in seven mostly non-descript games for the Sabres late in the 2013-14 season save for one memorable moment at TD Gardens in Boston. With the Bruins ahead 3-1 in the third period, former Sabre Daniel Paille took the puck in the neutral zone and headed towards the Buffalo blueline. McCabe was there to greet him.
(thx, HockeyWebCastOfficial for the vid)
The 6'1" 210 lb. McCabe was tagged with a five-minute interference penalty and a game misconduct for what was really nothing more than a clean, old-school hit. "I wasn't trying to be dirty at all," said McCabe post-game. "My intentions were shoulder to the chest. He tried to go through me. I kept my hands down. It was just kind of an unfortunate play. His head was down. It’s too bad. I was just trying to play hard."
For those of us watching McCabe play, standing players up in the neutral zone is nothing new to us as it's a big part of his make-up. Whereas most players will let the puck handler back them off, McCabe is not shy about digging in his skates to knock the player off-stride or off of his feet. It's how he plays the game and if players around the league didn't know it, or they'd forgotten about the hit on Paille, McCabe completely leveling Laine sure will get their attention. Here's the TSN3 feed of the hit from Steve Szmilek:
Half-way through the video above, ice-level TSN analyst and retired NHL defenseman Shane Hnidy remarked, "You don't see those big hits anymore," and it's true. Yet, in 125 games played for the Buffalo Sabres, McCabe is now responsible for two clean, bone-jarring hits like that.
It's the type of play we haven't seen regularly in Buffalo since maybe Jay McKee was patrolling the blueline for the Sabres back in the late 90's/early 2000's. For those of us fans who've watched the vanilla play of Sabres defenders ever since McKee's departure, it's a part that's been sorely missed and hopefully it's now back and fully woven into the fabric of their identity.
McCabe went to the dressing room with those gashes around his eye after meeting Laine's head with it and absorbing some retribution from Laine's teammate, Mark Scheifele, although he said it was the hit that did the damage not Scheifele. After getting stitched up McCabe was back on the ice and was the focal point of an end of game scrum that featured six Jets versus six Sabres (including goalie Robin Lehner) and 26 minutes in penalties. Eighteen of those penalty minutes were assessed to burly Jets d-man Dustin Byfuglein as went after McCabe then Lehner.
In all it was an old-school hit that lead to some old-school hockey and what you see is what you get with McCabe. Former Rochester Americans head coach Chadd Cassidy, who recruited McCabe for the U.S. National Team back in 2009, had this to say about him a few years back, "He's an extremely honest player. He plays hard every night, gives you everything he’s got, he’s a team-first guy, and a guy that others around trust because they know he’s going to put it all on the line for them. He competes hard is hard on the puck, in the d-zone. He finishes off guys and is real difficult to play against."
Speaking for myself, I can't get enough of a player like that.
From Sabres.com, McCabe's post-Jets game interview:
For more background on McCabe you can visit my January 11, 2015 profile piece by clicking here.