In his third season of riding the buses in the American Hockey League and with 176 games as a Rochester American on his resume, Phil Varone finally got the call everyone in the minors dreams of.
Following a practice last week, Varone was told the Sabres were calling him up to the National Hockey League. The Vaughn, Ontario native then made a series of phone calls to share the incredible news with his parents, brother, grandparents and girlfriend. It had to be a special moment for all involved but maybe more so for his father Tony, who Varone says taught him everything he knows about hockey.
There were a number of turns in Varone's road to the NHL. If you look back at his junior career, you'll find that Varone played for three different teams over five years: Kitchener, London and Erie. His best season came in Erie when Varone scored 33 goals in 55 games and was named the Otters MVP.
He ended up getting drafted in 2009 in the fifth round by San Jose but the Sharks never offered him a contract. Varone decided to sign an AHL contract with the Sabres in the summer of 2011.
His first year with the Amerks was quite successful as Varone led the team in scoring with 52 points. His 41 assists led all rookies in the AHL. The numbers dropped a bit last season. His goal total of 11 was identical from his rookie year but the assists total fell from 41 to 24. At the time of the call up, Varone was once again leading the Amerks in scoring with eight goals and 33 points in 38 games.
Varone's Sabres debut was exactly that. He never played in a single pre-season game for Buffalo. The only other time Varone slipped on a Sabres sweater was for a prospects tournament in Michigan.
Varone has recorded one assist in his first two games while averaging 11:15 of ice time.