SABRES GO UNBEATEN IN 2022 PROSPECTS CHALLENGESep 20, 2022
By Suzie Cool
The first real event leading into hockey season always comes with rookie camp. It’s hard to believe that the 2022 Buffalo Sabres Prospects Challenge has already come and gone.
Six teams participated in this year’s camp – the Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins. Each day consisted of at least one game from Thursday through Monday and each team, other than Pittsburgh, played three games each.
Buffalo took on the Canadiens to kick off the tournament on Thursday, battled with New Jersey on Saturday and came out with a tournament sweep after another win in the finale on Monday against the Senators.
“We told them that we're really proud of them as an organization,” commented Rochester Americans head coach Seth Appert after the final game of Prospects Challenge on Monday ended in a 6-3 win over Ottawa. “It’s just a good start for the season for our organization. We are proud of the mentality that they have. You know, they're still young hockey players. They're not men yet. They're not necessarily – most of them aren't pros yet, they're embarking on being pros. But the only way to have three games like that is to come with the right mentality every day. We challenged them to play differently than maybe they've played in junior hockey, and we could see every player, and the group collectively, get better every day.”
Getting better with every effort is exactly what the Sabres young stars did over the last week. Combining for 17 goals in three games to complete an undefeated performance in the seventh annual Prospects Challenge.
GAME 1: MONTREAL VS. BUFFALO
The first game of the tournament was the closest contest for the Sabres, prevailing just 4-3 over the Canadiens.
In the first frame, Montreal got out to a two-goal lead about halfway through the period, however, the Sabres settled in and began to battle back. Less than a minute after Montreal’s second marker of the night, forward Josh Passolt would snipe a pass from forward Linus Weissbach into the net for the Sabres first tally of Prospects Challenge. Just 27 seconds later, forward Nolan Burke tied the tilt at two apiece on a deflection.
From then on, forward Tyson Kozak took control of the game for the Sabres as he racked up two tallies for his first multi-goal game of the weekend.
Kozak’s goals on Thursday night shaped the outcome of the Montreal game, with the young forward placing himself in front of Montreal’s crease to deflect a shot into the net in the second period for the go-ahead goal. Shortly when the final frame ensued, Kozak would force a turnover with Buffalo shorthanded and skated the length of the ice before backhanding a shot past the Canadiens netminder for the eventual game-winner.
Here's what Appert had to say about Kozak’s performance after Thursday night’s effort.
“He wins puck battles. He can win face-offs. I want him on the penalty kill. I want him on the power-play. I want him out there at the end of the game trying to…I'd probably want him out there trying to score it.”
Appert then finished with, “He’s just a very useful hockey player.”
GAME 2: NEW JERSEY VS. BUFFALO
Arguably the biggest storyline going into Saturday’s game against New Jersey was the fact that forward Jiri Kulich would, indeed, be in the lineup.
Kulich was originally ruled out for the tournament after he came to camp with a nagging lower-body injury. After further evaluations by the Buffalo medical staff, they deemed him fit to play, and he skated twice before making his tournament debut against the Devils.
"I thought Kulich had a very strong first game," Appert said when asked how he thought Kulich performed on Saturday. "Probably couldn't have been happier with his first performance."
Kulich was paired with fellow forwards Lukas Rousek and Isak Rosen, a line that’s a potential combination come Rochester this season. This trio went on to registered two goals and four assists in their first game together.
The scoring didn’t stop with the “second” line on the night, though. Defensemen Ethan Ritchie and Spencer Sova both registered their first tallies of the tournament, while forwards Filip Cederqvist, Alexander Kisakov and Matt Savoie helped in delivering a 7-4 win over the Devils on Saturday.
Game 3: Ottawa vs. Buffalo
Once again, Monday was a high-scoring affair for the Sabres and their talent was on full display to round out the Prospects Challenge with a 6-3 victory over the Senators.
In Monday’s matinee affair, there were two, two-goal performances by Savoie and Kozak. Savoie converted a one-timer for his first goal of the game before he went bar down on the man-advantage in the final frame to give the Sabres a two-goal buffer headed into the final minutes of the game.
Kozak went on to have himself his second multi-goal game of Prospects Challenge. While both of Kozak’s tallies on Monday were at even strength, he’d end the tournament with four goals total and one of them coming shorthanded.
Appert described Kozak as "a coach's dream,” with high hopes that he’ll be coaching Kozak “real soon.”
The other goals on the final day of rookie camp came from some 2021-22 Amerks in Rousek and Weissbach. Again, helping showcase their leadership over the weekend and making a case as to why they’ve earned their spots in Rochester.
“They got better every game, and then, it's hard to finish as strong as we did. It's a long week on nearly six straight days. They're probably on the ice a lot of days leading up to that because they wanted to be ready for this, and I thought we had a real dominant performance,” finished Appert when asked what his final thoughts were on the Sabres overall performance of the players at Prospects Challenge.
Main camp opens for the Sabres on Thursday, Sept. 22 with the first on-ice practices scheduled for 10 a.m. at KeyBank Center. These sessions will be closed to the public. Buffalo's first preseason game is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. on the road against the Washington Capitals.
Rochester will likely open its training camp on Monday, Oct. 3 at The Blue Cross Arena though details will be announced at a later date. The Amerks have two preseason games scheduled with the only home matchup slated for Sunday, Oct. 9 at 5:00 p.m. against the Utica Comets at The Blue Cross Arena. Tickets for the game start at just $15 while Amerks Season Ticket Members can claim up to four (4) free tickets as an exclusive Season Ticket Member benefit.