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Buffalo Sabres in Europe, NHL Premiere

7:20 AM, Oct 11, 2011   |    comments
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Video: Sabres Players Meet with Fans in Germany

Video: Sabres Fans Come Out in Germany

Video: Fans Follow Sabres To Europe

Video: Sabres Inspired by Wounded Warriors and Loyal Fans

  • Sabres start their first practice in the SAP Arena in Mannheim
  • Sabres arrive in Mannheim Germany
  • Sabres pack into one bus to ride to customs.
    

SUNDAY / MONDAY , OCTOBER 9-10

After posting a 4-2 win over the Kings in Berlin, the Sabres boarded a plane and flew back to Buffalo overnight.   After a brief stop for a crew change in Halifax, Nova Scotia the Sabres landed back in Buffalo at 5:45am Sunday morning.

Lindy Ruff gave them the day off Sunday, and upon their return to the arena for practice Monday morning, they were greeted by the new and improved locker room.   The 30-thousand square foot project is still in the final stages of being completed, but the main locker room is essentially done and the path of entry from the room to the ice surface is in the final stages of completion.  The room is circular in shape, and the walkway to the ice is flanked on the left by a mural recounting the history of the franchise.   On the right is a limestone slab from the Aud that's surrounded by retired Sabres numbers.

Every player we talked to on Monday said they were amazed by what they saw and very appreciative of what new ownership is doing for the players and for the franchise.   

If anything, the trip to Europe has helped the all important chemistry develop on this team.   The key off-season additions seem to be blending in well after two very solid and complete wins against the Ducks and Kings in Europe.   The investment by Terry Pegula on the ice and off seems to be providing early returns in a new chapter for the franchise and the trip overseas seems to have done much to speed that process along.

The home opener is Friday night at the First Niagara Center against Carolina.

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 8 - DAY SEVEN

It's been quite a 24-hour period for the Sabres.  After the game last night the rush was on to pack up the gear and get to the airport.  The team was able to get on the buses about 35-minutes after the game for the quick ride out to the airport in Helsinki.  Everything seemed to be going smoothly until they got on the plane.  The flight was delayed for close to two-hours for what I'm told was a baggage related issue.  The flight from Helsinki to Berlin was just under 2-hours, and that put the team back into Germany at about 3:00am local time.   It took another hour to get to the hotel.  

Given the delays, Lindy Ruff gave his team the morning off deciding sleep would do them more good than hitting the ice at the o2 arena. 

The Sabres will face the LA Kings who also had to travel overnight.  The Kings beat the Rangers Friday night in Stockholm, Sweden 3-2 in overtime, so they too will face the challenge of fatigue.

After this game, the Sabres will head to the airport and fly back to Buffalo.   The flight is due in very early Sunday morning.

 

 

 

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7 - DAY SIX

It was about the best start possible for the Sabres in Helsinki Friday night.  New captain Jason Pominville had a three-point night along with Thomas Vanek who scored twice on the power play.  Newcomer Ville Leino scored in his first regular season game as a Sabre and did it in his native Finland.  Youngster Luke Adam had two assists and Ryan Miller was very solid out of the gate in a 4-1 win over the Ducks.

Eariler in the day, Jason Pominville, Lindy Ruff, and Thomas Vanek all talked this morning about choosing the team's new captain. Check out our Sabres vs Ducks game preview for their comments.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6 - DAY FIVE

The big question we had today heading over to Hartwall Areena (that's the proper spelling here in Finland) was who was going to wear the "C" for the Sabres this season.   Lindy Ruff wouldn't answer that at practice, instead waiting until later in the evening to announce it at a team dinner that wasn't open to the media.   By now you probably know the answer... Jason Pominville.

During practice I shot isos of all the guys who I thought were candidates, and Pominville was among them.   But I have to admit I'm a bit surprised by the pick.  I really thought Ruff was going to go with Thomas Vanek.  I felt like Vanek had grown into the role.  He always seems to respond well when Lindy Ruff challenges him, and I thought the added responsibility of being the captain would translate well for him.

Having said that, I've got no problem with Pominville.  He's a first class guy who is a member of the core group of talent as he enters his seventh season.  He's extremely versatile on the ice, and is always there to deal with the media when things aren't going well.  My biggest question would have to do with his personality and the fact that I've never known him to be all that vocal in my years of covering the team.   I'll be interested to hear how he handles that part of the job when he's got to call someone out.   Having said that, the guys who are in the room between periods are the ones that know the full deal.   I don't have a problem with the pick, I just  thought he was going to go with Vanek.

Earlier in the day, I had the chance to talk with owner Terry Pegula towards the end of practice.   With his team set to open the season, he said he was going to tell the players that he had "no expectations," that he wanted them to go out and "just play the game."   It's obvious he doesn't want to apply pressure, but I feel like he's being straight on this because he refers to "his own inexperience" in dealing with a hockey operation firsthand.   He was quick to point out that he thinks the team is developing a good chemistry, and having traveled along for this trip I would agree.  This seems like a very relaxed group that gets along, and the newcomers seem to be blending in.   That's important and I think the trip over here is having the positive impact that the organization hoped it would to this point. 

Now the games start for real and I'm anxious to see how it translates.   Friday is a typical game day for both teams.   The Sabres will take their normal morning skate.   We'll be there and with the seven hour time difference, will have a report on our Daybreak show as Jason Pominville speaks for the first time as captain.  We'll also get Lindy Ruff's reasons behind making the decision.   After the game, the Sabres will board a plane for a roughly two-hour flight to Berlin where they play the Kings Saturday night.   The schedule condenses now over these final days of the trip with the two regular season games and then the long flight back to Buffalo right after the game on Saturday night.

By the way, cold and rainy here in Finland but the people are friendly and very helpful.   For those who wonder, there is reindeer on the menu, but I can't bring myself to place the order...LOL.

-abenigni@wgrz.gannett.com

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5 - DAY FOUR

The Buffalo Sabres were up early Wednesday morning for a flight to Helsinki, Finland.

The team's flight landed in Helsinki around 2:30 local time. Helsinki is 7 hours ahead of Buffalo.

The Sabres plays the Anaheim Ducks on Friday at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki.

The trip to Finland is a homecoming for Sabres forward Ville Leino and assistant coach Teppo Numminen.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4 - DAY THREE

The Sabres will treat this as a normal gameday.  They will play an exhibition against German Elite team Adler Mannheim at SAP Arena Tuesday night.   

Head Coach Lindy Ruff says he will start Jhonas Enroth in goal, and expects a very competitive game.

"They've got some guys that can skate.  They've got some guys that can shoot. They have a lot of pride. I think any time you play a team from the NHL and you can knock them off that's a feather in your hat. So I think the game is going to be real competitive."

Sabres forward and Mannheim native Jochen Hecht will not play in the game as he continues to recover from a concussion.  

"The way it has worked out now is disappointing, but that's the way it is.  I've got to get healthy for the season."

Hecht grew up five minutes from SAP Arena.  His father Kurt, and mother Lioba were in attendance at Monday's practice. 

WEB EXTRA: 

 - Sabres Rip Adler-Mannheim 8-3

 - Sabres Inspired by Wounded Warriors and Loyal Fans

 - Sabres Face Off Against a Batavia Native

MONDAY, OCTOBER 3 - DAY TWO

MANNHEIM, GERMANY - The Buffalo Sabres returned to practice on Monday morning, and there was a good crowd.

Among the people watching practice on Monday morning were Sabres fans who traveled to Mannheim to follow the team.

West Seneca family stationed overseas meets the hometown team.

This afternoon, the Buffalo Sabres will travelled to the Landstuhl Medical Center at Ramstein Air Base to visit wounded service members.   It was an inspiring afternoon and the team was greeted by Major Dan Bridon of West Seneca.  He is the Chief Information officer at the hospital.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 2 - DAY ONE

MANNHEIM, GERMANY - The Sabres arrived on an overnight charter at Baden airport in Germany touching down about 15 minutes early at 8:45 and rolling to the gate on schedule at 9:00 am. In many ways, day one was about the schedule.

Lindy Ruff didn't waste any time getting right to it. The players boarded their own bus and went straight to SAP Arena which is just outside the city of Mannheim. The club is staying in nearby Heidelberg which is about 15 minutes away. Ruff had his team hit the ice for about a 45 minute workout, and then stressed the importance of staying up for the remainder of the day.

"I think just to get the legs underneath you, and break up what's going to be a long day. You want to make sure everyone stays on schedule. We want to get back on what would be our North American schedule."

The key to that most times you fly to Europe off the east coast is to stay awake for the first day. Generally you leave either late afternoon or early evening, which was the case with the Sabres and a 7 p.m. departure Saturday night. Most get some sleep on the plane but certainly not the kind most of us are accustomed to. Having said that, getting through that first day without napping usually gets you adjusted to the six-hour time difference once you are there.

Thomas Vanek says that's the exact approach to take.

"That's the key to getting used to the time. You've got to stay up until nine or ten o'clock.... until you're real tired... then get a good night sleep and you should be good to go tomorrow."

At the end of practice Lindy Ruff basically confirmed what most of us thought would be the case, saying that he's all but certain Jochen Hecht won't play against his form team Adler Mannheim in Tuesday night's exhibition here. That's a shame because he grew up five minutes from the arena, and his return has been heavily promoted here. Hecht has been wearing a grey jersey in practice and hasn't been able to get through a full one yet as he continues to recover from a concussion.

The Sabres are also playing on a larger Olympic sized ice surface for this game. Thomas Vanek referred to it as an "ocean" and noted how much more ground you have to cover to get to the net and get a good angle on a shot when coming out of the corners.

After practice, the team was free for the afternoon. We caught up with Hecht who spent about a half hour with us giving us a tour of historic Heidelberg and the market section. He's usually fairly reserved when you talk to him in the locker room, but he opened up a bit for this story and we had a good time shooting it.

Monday will be a busy one and includes a visit to the U.S. military hospital at Ramstein Air Base. Lindy Ruff said it's a visit that will help keep things in perspective.

"You know we get to play a game we love, and they get to defend a country. I think it's a little bit of time for us to share with them and realize the job that they've been doing and appreciate what they've done for us."

abenigni@wgrz.gannett.com

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