By Ryan J. Harr
Following a 3-0 shutout win over the Binghamton Devils back on Nov. 15, Amerks head coach Chris Taylor addressed the team in the locker room like he’s done after every game this season. He congratulated the team on the win, applauded goaltender Linus Ullmark on his second-career AHL shutout and then added something different to his post-game routine when he shared the news that forward Kyle Criscuolo was being recalled to the Buffalo Sabres.
“I was not expecting the news,” said Criscuolo. “I was sort of shocked and did not know it was coming. I was also very thrilled and excited about the opportunity.”
Prior to completing a quick cool-down workout, Criscuolo grabbed his phone and made a couple of phone calls to important members of his supporting cast.
“Colin Blackwell gave me the advice to call my family right away,” remarked Criscuolo. “He said I should tell them rather than them hearing about me getting recalled on social media or from another source. I made those important phone calls to my parents, brother and sister and told them the news. I told my girlfriend afterwards in person, and all of them were excited for me.”
When Criscuolo finally got back to his place in Rochester, the 25-year-old packed a bag for a week or so and then made the hour-long drive to Buffalo that night.
“After driving to Buffalo, which seemed to take forever, and getting to the hotel, I did not get much sleep despite being really tired.”
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Who can blame him? The recall to the Sabres was Criscuolo’s first-ever trip to the NHL after holding a share of the team-lead with 11 points (5+6) in 14 games with Rochester.
Criscuolo made his National Hockey League debut inside Little Caesars Arena against the Detroit Red Wings, the parent club of the Grand Rapids Griffins, whom he helped claim the Calder Cup last season as a rookie.
“It was a cool experience to play my first game in Detroit. I felt pretty comfortable as I played with some of the guys last season and played against them in a preseason game earlier this year.”
Criscuolo was recalled by the Sabres along with Amerks defenseman Casey Nelson for the first week, which helped the transition to the big leagues much easier for Criscuolo.
“Having Casey there with me early on was huge. He has been recalled before and therefore knows the ropes a little bit. ‘Nelly’ helped guide me in different areas off the ice which helped me feel much more comfortable.”
In all, Criscuolo appeared in eight games with Buffalo, and despite not recording a point, calls his short stint with the big club a success. Not to mention the new lifelong memories that were created, validating years of hard work to make it to hockey’s grandest stage.
“It was a fun couple of weeks. I will always remember taking a face-off against Henrik Zetterberg during one of my first couple shifts of the game. That, along with the first game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and seeing just how big Evgeni Malkin is and his skill-set, are just a few of the memories I will never forget.”