BUFFALO – Josh Gorges considers himself old school. He believes defensemen should wear single-digit numbers. So after sporting No. 26 with the Montreal Canadiens for years, the veteran wanted a low number when the Sabres acquired him.
Gorges had a couple of choices. He settled on No. 4, partly because iconic Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau, who died Tuesday at age 83, wore it during his illustrious Hall of Fame career.
Beliveau is hockey royalty.
“What a great number to wear,” Gorges said Wednesday. “I got to meet him, and of all the guys I met in Montreal, he was always the one that stood out in my mind as, ‘This is who you should strive to be, this guy right here.’ I thought it would be something that could remind me every day when I come in, you see that No. 4. ‘Oh yeah, that’s right, Mr. Jean Beliveau, and he did things this way.’ So it’s a good reminder for myself every day.”
Sabres captain Brian Gionta wore the ‘C’ with Montreal for four seasons. Having both captained hockey’s most storied franchise, they shared a special bond.
Gionta cherishes the time he spent with Beliveau.
“The talks that I’ve had with him, the private one-on-ones, (he was) the nicest guy ever,” he said. “He’d sit down with you, really engage with you. So I really enjoyed my time learning from him, talking to him, just being around him.”
Gionta said Beliveau “had that presence about him.”
“But at the same time was the biggest gentleman, down-to-earth, knew your name, took time for you … didn’t blow you off,” he said. “He was really connected when he talked to you.”
With forwards Cody McCormick (concussion protocol) and Drew Stafford (lower body) available, the Sabres sent center Tim Schaller back to Rochester on Wednesday.
The rookie played his second NHL game Tuesday.
McCormick has been cleared and will likely return tonight in Tampa Bay. Goalie Jhonas Enroth will make his sixth straight start.
The Sabres also play Saturday in Florida.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan doesn’t think center Zemgus Girgensons, the No. 1 vote-getter for the NHL All-Star Game, should face any criticism because fans in his native Latvia are so rabid and supportive of the 20-year-old.
If Girgensons is voted into the game, he would be a worthy choice, said Nolan, who’s also Latvia’s national team coach.
“I think it’s very supportive of his country,” he said. “But his play’s supportive enough that he probably doesn’t necessarily need his country for his support. … He’s our No. 1 center. He plays on power play. He plays on penalty killing. You show me another 20-year-old that has that much responsibility on their team in this league.
“I think it should be, ‘Who is this kid? Let’s see him. Let’s watch him.’ He’s the type of kid that brings people to our game.”