In the past intrasquad scrimmages have drawn a couple of thousand fans to downtown Buffalo, and with the bitter taste still left in plenty of fans’ mouths, the turnout for Monday’s skate was anything but certain. Team president Ted Black told the Howard Simon Show earlier in the morning that he told the team’s concession vendor to be prepared for 7,000 fans.
Next to the size of the crowd, the reaction the players would come out to was another big question. However, being booed by the hometown crowd did not cross Jason Pominville’s mind. The captain believes that, “We have such good fans, I mean, I think in different cities some players might get the blame, some owners might get the blame, but I think here…the only thing is people are just excited to get hockey back and I think that’s what it’s all about. That’s what’s so fun about this city.”
That sentiment was echoed by head coach Lindy Ruff. When asked after practice, the bench boss said he knows that the team is “a big part of our community. You know, our fans, I’ve always said we have the best fans in the league and I think again they keep showing it through this. They showed it through the Rochester game here after Christmas by selling this place out. To have just a scrimmage that you put together and have that number of people show up is pretty impressive on a Monday night, no less.”
Pominville was part of “team white” that won 2-1 in a shootout, thanks to line mate Cody Hodgson. It took about a full fifteen-minute period for the two sides to settle in and give the fans assembled something to cheer about. Both regulation goals came late in the first period of the scrimmage. Mikhail Grigorenko did not show any jitters on the ice, competing against NHL talent for the first time since being drafted by Buffalo last June.
Expectations could not be higher for the eighteen year-old prospect. Another player that will feel the heat this week and beyond is Drew Stafford. Back paired with Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, the forward will be called upon to help carry the offensive load this season. After the long layoff, and missed playoff opportunity last year, Stafford was more than excited to be back in front of the home fans. After taking part in the practice, the six-year veteran was relieved, adding, “It’s been a long time, obviously, [I] haven’t played a game in about eight so just to get out there and be in that atmosphere again is pretty cool. [I] Can’t thank the fans enough for coming out and supporting us like that.”
Training camp continues on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in preparation for the Sabres season opening game on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.