Friday, April 20, 2007

Reporting in from the Sabres morning skate

The Sabres held a light practice this morning at HSBC Arena, which looked like an optional skate, and about 15 of the players participated, including all of the reservists (Paetsch, Paille, Peters). Also on the ice was recovering forward Paul Gaustad, wearing the red "non contact" jersey and he was the last one off the ice, participating for about 70 minutes of ice time.

Thomas Vanek said that the Sabres aren't taking their opponents lightly. "They are a good team and they have been in every single one of these games because they have the talent to do so and have worked to get to that point." Vanek said that the team has to play smarter and expects to see that on the ice tonight.

I also chatted with Paul Gaustad, starting with the same question he hears five times a day.. "How's the ankle?" "It's getting better every day and I am skating with more authority every time" Gaustad replied. His comeback schedule is still up in the air, and his doctors participate with him almost daily to evaluate his progress.

Gaustad admits that he is dying to get out there and compete in the playoffs. "It's so tough just watching and being helpless to do anything" he said. "But my job and the other guys who aren't dressing as well have a role to lift our teammates and offer support in any way we can." Gaustad did make the trip with the team to the Island.

Has the team played its best game? "No", was the unequivocal response by Lindy Ruff. "We can play a stronger all around game." He gave props to his defense which he says is maturing nicely, and also shrugged off any questions about the video reviews. "I'm going to continue to stay out of it."

Islanders Coach Ted Nolan has faced adversity all season, and when asked if the team thrives on the sudden elimination scenario, he replied "we know where we are and we know what we have to do." He called out his big guns, Yashin and Satan and said he expects more. "Our hitters have to hit, our scorers have to score, everyone has a role."

He spoke of the changing culture in the Islanders organization, bringing in players such as Sillinger and Smyth and the roles they play in the clubhouse. "That has helped in these do or die situations" Nolan said.

Couple rapid takes -
-Much of the Buffalo media camped out by the Satan stall waiting for his comments. We should have brought our ponchos instead and just joined him in his verrrrrrrry lengthy shower. That interview didn't happen.

-Markerboardgate update: no lineups in the Isles room on display today, just the bus schedule to the hotel and the buffet time. Judging from the history here, if I'm an Islanders player and the display reads food at 2PM, I'd probably have the number of Jim's Steakout as a backup plan.

-Chatted with Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star and Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun, both Leafs beat writers and now down here covering the Sabres run. I get the sense they are really rooting for our guys. Probably because they just want to see more hockey. I gave them advice on some good wing places and other restaurants; when I asked them to reciprocate and advise me on where to find a good $6 pitcher of beer in Toronto, one could hear the crickets chirping in the background.

Puck drops at 7:08 or so... I've got the pressbox chair tonight; Pete will be in the stands. Let's hope the boys put an exclamation point on round one with a convincing wih tonight. My heart and my head tells me that will be the case.

New York Islanders defenseman Sean Hill has been suspended 20 games for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. The suspension begins with tonight's Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Quarterfinal game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the suspension is accompanied by mandatory referral to the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health for evaluation and possible treatment.

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