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Pysyk Headlining High Hopes for Oil Kings, Team Canada; Pysyk’s Camp Blog

Mark Pysyk is taking a high road on his way to the NHL.

Pysyk will likely remain with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings for the upcoming season. His birthday is 11 days shy of the cut-off point for AHL hockey, which means he would either have to play exclusively for Buffalo, or be returned to his Junior team after the NHL preseason. Sabres fans will remember Tyler Myers in a similar position in 2009. Myers was able the Sabres’ lineup, but with the current logjam of staunch defenders already entrenched along the Buffalo blue line, a real opportunity for Pysyk to stick with the big club just isn’t there.

And the Oil Kings could not be happier about that. From the Edmonton Journal:

Lost in all of the Hockey Canada world junior championship buzz is the fact that the Edmonton Oil Kings are actually hosting the event, which is good timing because the Western Hockey League club looks ready to turn the corner and become a legitimate contender.

This is Year 5 for the former expansion club, and the pieces are starting to fall into place.

“We’ve got 10 kids going to NHL camps,” said Oil Kings general managerBob Green.

The list includes captain Mark Pysyk (Buffalo Sabres), Keegan Lowe (Carolina Hurricanes), Michael St. Croix and T.J. Foster (New York Rangers), goalie Laurent Brossoit (Calgary Flames), Dylan Wruck (San Jose Sharks), Klarc Wilson (Winnipeg Jets) and Travis Ewanyk, Cam Abney, Kristians Pells and Martin Gernat (Edmonton Oilers).

Pysyk, who was at Hockey Canada’s summer development camp at Rexall Place as one of 17 defencemen auditioning for head coach Don Hay and assistants Ryan Huska and George Burnett, is the closest to being an NHLer. He’s a first-round draft pick and a mentor to Lowe, who was selected in the third round by the Hurricanes. They should have the first defence pairing.

“I think we can finish in the top four in our conference and compete for the league championship,” said Green, whose club has missed the playoffs twice and managed one round in the other two years, losing to the Calgary Hitmen and Red Deer Rebels.

With Pysyk leading the defense on a potential top-4 team, his experience in Edmonton this season should be developmentally golden.

Meanwhile, hopes for Team Canada in the upcoming World Junior Championships are also golden, with Pysyk just finishing up his audition to take part in one of the more talented groups that Canada has iced in the last 17 years. From Mike Morreale of NHL.com:

(Coach) Don Hay hopes the players chosen to represent Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship are in some way similar to those he helped lead to a gold medal at the 1995 tournament in Red Deer, Alta.

That team, which went 7-0-0 and outscored its opponents 49-22, included as part of its 22-man roster Bryan McCabeEd Jovanovski and Wade Redden on defense and Jason AllisonJeff FriesenRyan Smyth and Alexandre Daigle at forward.

“I think players need to skate hard and compete hard at a high level,” Hay said. “I’m looking for a high hockey IQ. It’s a short tournament and there’s really no time for teaching, so you have to play smart and pick up different aspects that the coaching staff throws at them. You want them to compete and execute, but we all know it comes down to winning.”

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Pysyk taking on the highly-touted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins during scrimmage.

Those words bode well for Pysyk, who already boasts a great hockey IQ to go with his top of the line skating. Still, he is facing a lot of competition from his peers for a spot, as TSN noted:

The years 1992 and 1993 produced a bumper crop of defencemen for Canada. Of the 17 invited to the national junior hockey team’s summer camp with week, 10 are first-round draft picks of NHL clubs. Even if one or two make the jump to the NHL this season, Canada’s strength at the 2012 world junior championship in Edmonton and Calgary will be its blue-line.

Eric Gudbranson of the Kingston Frontenacs, the lone returning defenceman from the 2011 junior team, was the third overall pick in last year’s NHL draft by Florida.

Nathan Beaulieu (Montreal), Brandon Gormley (Phoenix), Mark Pysyk (Buffalo), Doug Hamilton (Boston), Joe Morrow (Pittsburgh), Ryan Murphy (Carolina), Stuart Percy (Toronto), Duncan Siemens (Colorado) and Jamie Oleksiak (Dallas) are the other first-rounders.

Murray was Canada’s captain at the world under-18 championships this year in Germany, where the team finished fourth. Murphy, from Aurora, Ont., was his defensive partner and named the best player at that position by the International Ice Hockey Federation directorate.

Those two are safe bets to wear the Maple Leaf when Canada opens the tournament Dec. 26 versus Finland at Rexall Place. Murphy is just 18 and there is less room on Carolina’s roster for him since the club signed Tomas Kaberle as a free agent.

As we noted above, Buffalo’s defense corps is likely far too deep for the burgeoning Pysyk to make the Sabres, so he is in a similar position to Murphy regarding availability. Pysyk, who was cut from the team last season, is ready to make an impact statement for Team Canada now. From Fox Sports:

Pysyk, drafted 23rd by the Buffalo Sabres in 2010, captained the Edmonton Oil Kings last season and finished with 6 goals and 40 points in 63 games.

The 6-foot-1, 174-pound Pysyk has been paired mostly with 6-1, 182-pound Nathan Beaulieu of the Memorial Cup-winning Saint John Sea Dogs. Beaulieu was taken in the first round (No. 17) by the Montreal Canadiens in June.

“During the first game and half of another, I was a little bit cautious and just feeling out the waters,” Pysyk told NHL.com of last December’s camp. “This time, I can’t do that. This camp is way too short to feel out the competition, so you just have to go in, and right from Day 1, make a statement.”

The Captain of the Oil Kings is saying and doing all the right things as he continues to work his way into the Team Canada roster and on up to the NHL.

Finally, you can read Pysyk’s blog on Canada’s Development Camp here.

Go Sabres.

 

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Pegula Era, Cap Crunch Changing Fans’ Perception of Players

It’s nothing personal.

We’re running a business now here in Buffalo, and our business goal is the Stanley Cup. Anything or anyone that gets in the way of that better watch out, because we’re all becoming a little bossy when it comes down to the employees that wear Blue and Gold sweaters.

It wasn’t too long ago when stop-gap players like Shaone Morrisonn were appreciated in this town. Hey, he showed up to work, did his best, and we rooted for him. Heck, even Steve Montador was put up on a pedestal last season, supported with hope and fervor by the fan base despite his glaring inconsistencies that were bad enough to earn him a healthy scratch for Game Seven against Philly (only the most important game of the season).

Still, we rooted for those guys. Now, Montador is out, and Morrisonn’s name is being typed into pink slips on Twitter and message boards across the Web. And it doesn’t stop there.

Jason Pominville, one of our longer tenured and favorite pieces of our Buffalo “population,” and the subject to much of the fan base’s great concern since his tendon was sliced in Game Five of the playoffs last year, is a topic of trade talk among us. No matter that he has a no trade clause – the guy carries a $5.3 million cap hit until the 2013-14 season. He’s not good enough for that. Off with his head.

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I'm not innocent, either.

We are a long suffering fan base who not too long ago would do a spit take upon hearing about the signing of a Ville Leino. Well, we did – but the real spit take happened when we heard how much we paid for him. Plus, he’s not really a center, all the time. And we wanted Brad Richards. Leino, you’re on notice.

How about that Christian Ehrhoff – contract? The best offensive defenseman to join the team since Brian Campbell, and the winner of the Babe Pratt Trophy in Vancouver as the team’s best defenseman in 2010 and 2011, carries a bankroll with him so large that folks were shocked not so much that we signed him, but were shocked more so by the dollar signs. Is he really worth this much money? Ehrhoff, you’re on notice, too.

This is, of course, uncharted ice for Sabres fans. Blame it on adjustment – blame it on this ridiculous heat wave if you want, but aren’t we all a little to eager to lop off some heads?

Andrej Sekera, our best up and coming offensive defenseman* and easy member of a top-4 pairing, was locked up for four years in a clever contract that only pays him $1.75 mil for his last two seasons. That is an incredible bargain on a player who has shown consistent growth, and last year began to wow fans with his rink-long rushes. But a $2.75 million cap hit has fans yelling “Trade him now, while he has value!” Yes, we’re over the cap sports fans, but does this mean we’re giving up on one of our brighter futures, over $500k? Give me a break.

*Marc-Andre Gragnani is our best up and coming defenseman, you say? Let’s argue that point after he plays half a season.

The most obvious candidate for the guillotine has been the returning Ales Kotalik. AlKo carries a $3 million cap hit this year. Instead of giving him a shot with the coach that knows him best, we’re already demanding that he gets the blade before trial on ice. “Bury him in the AHL,” many say. “Trade him for a bag of puck buffer!” say others (even though he does have a no trade clause).

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This could use some blue accents.

No one said that building a champion would be easy. I just never realized it could be this ugly. Here’s some other ideas being bandied about by fans, and even some media, alike:

  • Jhonas Enroth played some good games, so why not get rid of Ryan Miller? He’s got that “trade value” thing going on, and his cap hit is $6.25 mil. Surely there’d be a good return for an all-world, franchise goalie.
  • “Thomas Vanek for Ales Hemsky” is a trade proposal I read online recently. Yea, Vanek emerged as captain material last season and is one of our strongest players with the puck, but then again, his $7.142 million cap hit is just too much. Apparently switching him for the oft-injured Hemsky would be a good idea, because, you know, he’s cheaper.
  • Brad Boyes – it’s been fun. You put up some nice points in the regular season before you were taken out of your natural wing position and forced to play center during the playoffs. AHL or trade, we really don’t care, Buffalonians just want you and your $4 million cap hit out of town.
  • Jordan Leopold? That guy and his $3 million cap hit can stay, but only if Sekera goes.

Curiously, the only veteran name not tossed around has been Derek Roy. Suddenly people are looking past his sometimes selfish style of play and are buying into his bargain $4 million cap hit.

Goodness.

How things have changed.

Again, no one said building a champion would be easy, and fans have always berated certain players throughout the year. But this roster-berating is getting a little out of hand.

Being over the cap is a fun but unsettling place for Sabres fans to be. We all want the right players, at the right price, in the right position, and staying committed once the skates hit the ice. Fair enough.

But until they hit the ice, can’t we give them all a little breather? It’s time to lay the pitchforks and torches down, and let Darcy and Lindy work this roster “mess” out. “Mess” being in quotations, because it’s actually a blessing to have this much veteran and youthful depth to do business with, for once.

I guess that is the key word – “business.” This new kind of business is going to take some real gettin’ used to in our town.

Go Sabres.

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World Cup Weekend!

We apologize for the lack of posts this weekend.

But there is something huge going on here.

The United States Women’s National Team is going to battle Japan for the World Cup today. This is a big deal, whether you like soccer or not.

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We have Hope on our side.

That’s Hope Solo – our all-world keeper. The nation is falling in love with her, as well as with her mates on the field. A quick Twitter guide:

Check ’em out, folks. You’ll be pleased with their WNY connections.

And don’t forget, we have our own mighty pitch here in Buffalo – FC Buffalo, to be precise.

Support the girls. Support your local team. This is a big thing – most of our kids play this sport, and most of us grew up playing it, too. It’s about time we all clamored around the TV for a taste of the beautiful game.

And a shot at Glory.

Go USWNT.

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The “Regehr Effect:” All NHL Teams are On Notice

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So you wanted Brad Richards?

Then the Sabres might just bring him to you: on a platter. Ain’t no Brad on the face of this earth that wants to go up against the defense that the Sabres just put together.  Just ask Mike Weber.

He’s always been a fan of Robyn Regehr. In fact, Weber has modeled his game after Regehr, the newest and arguably the best defenseman on the roster right now (though he has yet to play a game for the Blue and Gold).

Regehr is going to make us cringe. Regehr is going to make us yell things such as, “REGEHR SEZ NO!” when some complacent forward tries crossing the blue line on his side of the ice (bad idea).

Hey fans – there’s a sign/banner idea for the 300’s – “Regehr sez NO!”

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"Teeth, meet fist. Fist, teeth."

Something tells me that the Sabres defense will be very eager, and very expedient, at expelling NHL forwards from the defensive zone in the coming years. If a certain Danny Briere wants to angle his brakes on Ryan Miller after a save, maybe giving Ryan the old “snow job,” or just getting close enough to sniff a whiff of his pads, it’s pretty certain that Briere might find himself knocked a few strides back.

With extreme prejudice.

Yea, Myers, Weber and the boys are going to have a heckuva time this season. We are all very much acquainted with the hulking Myers (see aforementioned GIF). We’re getting to know what Regehr brings to the ice: 180 hits in 79 games, along with 142 blocked shots – he would have lead the Sabres in each category last season. Mike Weber piled up 158  hits and 99 blocked shots – but he did that in only 58 games.

Goodness. Gracious.

All we can say is no goodness, nor gracious, will come upon those that dare enter our half of the ice this coming season. You better believe that opposing teams are already taking notice: no one wants their stars on the ice when these guys are on patrol.

And I say to those teams: good luck. You’re all staring down the three-barreled cannon that is Regehr-Myers-Weber (in no particular Lindy Ruff pairing order).

Folks, these guys hit hard, and these guys hit smart. Regehr’s 180 hits were accompanied by a miserly 58 penalty minutes. Weber’s 158? 69 PIM’s.

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Weber also knows how to feed some fist.

For years, Mike Weber has been following Regehr’s footsteps/bodychecks on the ice. Now, Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier have brought the two together. Could they be the best one-two punch in the NHL? I’m sorry, it should be one-two-three, right? Don’t forget Tyler (Myers). He had 107 hits with just 40 PIM’s last season.

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"No one makes me bleed my own blood since this. C'mon. Try it."

Hits and PIM stats aside, only the blueline will let us know in 2011-12. They’ll let us know, and they’ll let the NHL know – things are about to get very loud in the B-lo. I say, bring it on. Screw Brad Richards – we score plenty enough. It’s about time we put enough snarl into this league to make teams regret a frown at a face-off.

Oh, and by the way, Sabres scary-mean prospect Brayden McNabb models his game after Regehr as well. Danny Briere, you’re on notice:

Hell’s a comin’.

And reinforcements are on the way.

Go Sabres.

See Also: “Stanley Cup 101: Sabres Cup Dreams Hinge On Bolstering Defense” 

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You don’t Hate Jagr like I Hate Jagr

First things first:

I am ri-donk-ulously happy that Jagr is back in the NHL. We need as many able-bodied NHL94 vets to stay in this game as long as possible. And by “we,” I mean “I,” because these guys that were in that version of the popular EA Sports hockey rendition were my guys – when I was a youngin’.

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Jagr's mullet. Circa 1994.

Not that I’m old. But for each retirement, each transfer across the pond, I feel one step closer to leaving my old, happy, drunken sober, naive college days behind. One step closer to looking up to, or really, down to, the new generations of NHlers.

As you read this, you will be treated to a glorious barrage of tweet-captures that I took as I played a game of the ol’94 tonite. Such as:

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Tip-o-the-sunglasses to those sunglasses!

Crosby? Ovechkin? Is that all you got, New NHL?

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Actually, every sip of Yueng brings me back to 2005-07. BW3's. Jacksonville. Fun times, and two very loud sad trombones.

Try Federov. Coffey. Bure (Pavel). Selanne (he grew up so fast).

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Ledyard? Wow.

Roenik. Gilmour. Fleury. Robitaille.

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Follow Frankie. Any friend of NHL94 is a friend of mine.

Modano and that punk Hull.

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Double-whammy! Yet Jagr survived.

Lemieux. Oates. LaFontaine. Mogilny.

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That would be "Barrasso," for those of you that continue to live outside of 140 characters.

Messier. Gartner. Sakic.

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Wood always had that "draggin' my knuckles" style of skating, but it was dang effective.

Recchi (one more year)!

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I will never tee off at Transit, or strike me dead.

Turgeon. Jagr. Yes, Jagr.

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Bettman will pay for this.

Bourque.

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In your face, Gary!

Stevens.

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No idea how Jagr survived this, but props to Sutty for unleashing the Kev-racken.

Iafrate. Roy.

Oh yea, and Wayne freakin’ GRETZKY. “The Magnifique.”

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Always nice to see Randy Wood leading the evolutionary charge.

Nice victory, for sure. Some real high-lights in there (much of which were horrifically missed checks on #68 by my agein’ fingers). Maybe I’ll have another try, but until then:

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And deal with him with "extreme prejudice."

Time to turn in, and dream of better days. And better All-Stars.

Go Sabres.

*Oh, and thank you, Mr. Lidstrom, for signing on for one more year. I say we make it one more.

 

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