By Erica Whyte
Sean Malone knows a thing or two about adversity.
After being drafted in the sixth round by his hometown Buffalo Sabres in 2013, the West Seneca native played four years at Harvard, tearing the labrum in both hips. Following consecutive surgeries over back-to-back summers during his junior and senior year, each requiring a six-month recovery, the 6-foot-0 forward headed into his final year of college looking better than ever.
That season, he went on to have a career-year while helping the Crimson to the ECAC Championship, the Ivy League Championship, the Beanpot title and a run to the semifinals at the Frozen Four.
He then signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Sabres and made his NHL debut on Apr. 8 of that year, tallying one shot over 12 minutes of ice time in a 3-0 Sabres loss at the Florida Panthers.
Then adversity came knocking again.
WATCH: SEAN MALONE AFTER HIS SEASON DEBUT ON NOV. 7
Following development camp last July, Malone sustained another injury and spent all of the Prospects Challenge, training camp and first two weeks of his rookie season back on the sidelines. Once he was back to full health, Malone finished his first pro season third among Amerks rookies for scoring, and established himself as a gritty, reliable centerman notorious for his penalty killing skills and for winning face-off battles.
This off-season, for the first time since his sophomore year four years ago, Malone remained at full health for the entire summer only to get hurt in the Sabres’ first preseason game in September. But instead of moping in his misfortune, Malone used the mental tools he gained through his previous injuries to keep his spirits up as he rehabbed.
"I put in a lot of work this summer that really prepared me for training camp, so getting hurt in the first game sucked,” said Malone of the injury that happened in the second period on back on Sept. 17. "But you learn from it, and you grow from it. I’ve been through it before and I think those experiences in the past have helped me sort of get back on the right track and stay sharp mentally and to not get too down.”
Back at full health again, Malone made his debut this season as the Amerks faced the Cleveland Monsters at the KeyBank Center in his hometown Buffalo last week. In front of friends and family, he notched two assists on the night.
And according to Amerks head coach Chris Taylor, that’s exactly the kind of play he is expecting of Malone this year.
"He can shutdown other teams’ top centermen. He’s great on face-offs, great on PK and he’s got good offense. We expect him to score some big goals for us. He’s got that creativity. And just his presence in the locker room, what he brings overall to our team is big,” Taylor said of Malone’s skill set. “It’s been a tough couple of years for him, but hopefully he gets on track here and stays injury-free.”
His teammates are happy to have him back in the lineup, too. Not only for his physicality and willingness to jump into any play or get his hands dirty, but also because of his offensive abilities.
“He’s not afraid to get in there, but he also has an unbelievable skill side to him that I don’t think people appreciate as much,” said fellow second-year forward C.J. Smith. “He’s willing to play a role, and he’s really good at whatever role he has to play, but he’s a big team guy, and he’s going to be a big part of our success here this year.”
Through his own successes and shortcomings, Malone’s long-term goals have remained the same.
“It's my childhood dream to play in the NHL and hopefully someday I’ll get there. I was fortunate enough to play one game after my senior season in college which was really special, because I did go through a lot with my body.”
But above all, Malone says, he’s just happy to be back doing what he loves.
"I’m just really excited to be playing hockey. Period.”