BUFFALO – When Alex Tuch mentioned the number of fans who would be watching him play Saturday afternoon, no one was sure if the Syracuse native was joking.
“Maybe a little bit more than 400,” the Vegas Golden Knights rookie winger said Friday.
Cheering sections for local players and even some from further locales are common at KeyBank Center. Following games, family and friends often congregate around the Zamboni entrance and wait for their hero to arrive for a few moments.
But more than 400?
Sure enough, after the first-place Golden Knights’ 2-1 shootout win against the Sabres, a sea of people – probably around 400 – remained in the stands.
Tuch, 21, wasn’t kidding. In a season full of special games and moments, he had been pointing to Saturday’s contest, his first in Buffalo, for a long time.
“Just a bit, yeah,” he said. “I was a Sabres fan growing up, I lived next to (former Buffalo center) Tim Connolly. My parents and his parents still live next to each other. I watched him a lot, (the) Sabres were my team. I played against Ryan Miller a couple weeks ago for the first time and I thought that was really cool. I got to play with Jason Pominville last year in Minnesota. That was pretty cool, playing against (Thomas) Vanek and guys like that.
“Just little things that really kind of made the season special, playing against those guys I grew up watching.”
Like most Sabres fans Tuch’s age, the post-lockout teams, which roared to consecutive Eastern Conference final appearances, hold a special place in his heart.
“It was that run,” said Tuch, the 18th overall pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2014.
“The guy’s just a really smart guy, he’s a smart player, he’s committed, he’s hardworking, just like he was when he was playing,” Tuch said of Ellis. “He’s committed to making you better.”
Quietly, Tuch, a Boston College product the expansion team acquired from Minnesota, has been one of the NHL’s best rookies, compiling 13 goals and 30 assists in 64 games.
Tuch said he might move to Buffalo this summer to train. Ellis still keeps in contact with him and helps dissect his game.
“I welcome it any chance I can get,” Tuch said. “That’s why it was the right fit for me, because he was committed to helping me get better and I was committed to getting better.”
Tuch’s younger brother, Luke, plays with the Junior Sabres’ 16-and-under midget team, which is coached by former Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta. Luke Tuch also lives with former Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters.