By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Say farewell to our Boys of Summer.
No, not the Buffalo Bisons of baseball. They’ve been done for close to a month.
We’re talking about the other sports figure that fits that description for the moment – the Buffalo Sabres. They squeezed in one home game in the preseason schedule before the nights become longer than the days.
What’s more, they teamed up with the Toronto Maple Leafs to play a relatively entertaining game on Saturday nigh.t. The Sabres even sent the non-QEW-dri ving share of the audience home happy with a 5-3 win. OK, the score will be forgotten in less than a week, but it easily was worth the $15 some fans paid for a ticket in the upper reaches of the KeyBank Center.
“It was a battle, a physical game,” Jack Eichel said. “It was back and forth. We stuck with it and came up with the win.
“You want to win anytime you are on the ice – preseason, regular season. We’re all trying to get better.”
Olafsson shows some skill
At this point in the young hockey year, preseason games serve the basic function of offering clues on how the new faces on the roster look and how they might do when the games start counting. In that sense, there was some good news to be had.
Start with Victor Olofsson, who had an eventful evening. Olofsson had an early goal on the power play, taking a pass from Jack Eichel and zipping the puck home.
“You just try to find an opening,” Olofsson said. “He’ll get the puck through. He made a great pass between a skater’s legs.”
Olofsson got deposited into the Toronto bench (no friendly faces in there) on a heavy check that led to a short-handed tying goal by Trevor Moore in the third period. But he came back to score the deciding goal with 2:36 left on a nifty play from Sam Reinhart.
That definitely felt good,” Olofsson said. “It’s special to get the game-winner that way.”
Reinhart was handing out gifts to his teammate throughout the night. His long pass from his own zone sent newcomer Jimmy Vesey off on a breakaway. Vesey scored his first goal in a Buffalo uniform in the process.
Reinhart also was in the right place in the right time when he had a first-period goal off a nice rebound. So that was encouraging, even if he doesn’t count as a newcomer. All of the Sabres’ goals featured some high-level of play. It’s tough to know what that means at time of the year, but it’s not a bad sign.
Another new face, Colin Miller, had a fine game in his first appearance with his new team in front of his new fans. Miller, acquired from Vegas over the summer, displayed a shot that looked like it was approaching escape velocity a couple of times.
“That was the first time I’ve seen him play,” teammate Rasmus Ristolainen said. “He kept it simple. He made good passes, and had good shots on the net. That’s what you want from your D-men.”
Happy to be here
The happiest man in the building, though, might have been the Sabres’ new head coach. Ralph Krueger has spent some time in the KeyBank Center since his hiring back in May, but the place was always empty. This was … different. And better.
“Just having a game in the KeyBank Center – that was my favorite part of it,” he said. “The journey has begun at home. The atmosphere was good. Having a game like this against Toronto was good. The best part was to experience it, and feel the building.
“It’s an excellent building. You can really feel the fans. I know we didn’t have a full house, but we’ll get this place rocking. But I love working here. You can feel the spirit.”
It’s all well and good. But the idyllic summer days must come to an end. Autumn arrives at 3:50 a.m. on Monday, and a cold front slated to bring fall-like temperatures into the region will remind us that every summer must end and the shorts must head to the closet for a winter hibernation.
In the Sabres’ case, fall means that it will be time to start assigning players to Rochester. Nothing is permanent in this business, but no one likes to be told to head down the Thruway.
“We’ve had 10 unbelievable days of intensity here,” Krueger said. “In the next 24 hours, we’re going to be making some big moves. Rochester’s camp starts Monday and it has a game Thursday, so we need to make the split. It’s been a real pleasure to have this group here. Everyone has been on board. We worked really hard. The players who are going to Rochester have helped pushed the ones that will remain here to work for their spots and their place.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)