Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) -- The Buffalo Sabres did make one addition to the roster on the first day of training camp by signing Jochen Hecht to a one-year deal. While the forward was not on the ice for the start of practice at the First Niagara Center on Sunday, he was greeted to a round of applause and stick taps as he joined his teammates midway through the skate.
Hecht said that the decision to stay home and not play for the first few months of the lockout had nothing to do with his health, but rather he wanted to be around his family more. The Mannheim, Germany product told the media that he was cleared by the team to play at the end of the 2011-12 season, so that was not an issue. He was quick to point out that when he did return to the ice, however, “I had a lot of fun there, played good was able to play with Pommer [Jason Pominville] too, and we had a lot of fun.” The results also bare that out. Hecht had 5 goals and 8 assists for the Mannheim Eagles of the DEL.
But going into the stint in the German league, Hecht said that he kept his confidence level in check, adding, “Expectations I set myself were low. I didn’t play for ten, eleven months to come back at a pretty good league that had already played about thirty games…stepped in there. I didn’t think that it would go that well, but it came back right away. The timing, and the situationing of the positioning out there came back right away.” Hecht skated in just 22 games last season, and missed the final two and a half months of the season due to injury last year.
One of the biggest questions for the Sabres’ offense in this shortened season is who will step into the third and fourth line centerman roles. Head coach Lindy Ruff acknowledged that that was one of the reasons for bringing back the veteran, saying, “it’s something that we felt in the depth for the organization and the fact that in the short season, and where our centermen were at, that it be important to get him in.” Once joining the group on the ice, Hecht donned an aqua jersey and skated between Patrick Kaleta and Nathan Gerbe.
In the same breath, Ruff noted that the top two lines have their middleman, but there is room for Hecht to contribute. The bench boss believes that “we have Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson that we feel that can step in and fill those top two roles. And then underneath that Jochen’s ability to help out in the third line role and center man role, you know, faceoff-wise we need our percentage to go up and I think there is some help to be done there too.” Buffalo ranked 19th overall in faceoff percentage last season, winning 49.5% of their opportunities. The Sabres were one of twelve teams to have a below 50% average in that category last year.
The Sabres will take to the ice on Monday for a scrimmage starting at 5:30 p.m. at First Niagara Center. Ruff said that several players from Rochester would be brought up to help fill out the lineup for the game. He added that there will be three line pairings for each side, instead of the normal four line rotations you would see in a regular season game. The head coach said there will be no restrictions on hitting during the scrimmage, but said that he will be looking to see “good, clean contact” to avoid injuries.
Gerbe (back) is not cleared for full contact situations just yet, according to Ruff. Gerbe and Cody McCormick are not ready for full practices either, Ruff noted.