TORONTO – Jerry D’Amigo understands an opportunity like the one he’s enjoying with the Buffalo Sabres doesn’t materialize very often.
Injuries and trades have opened up a regular spot on the fourth line for the 24-year-old, a hardworking winger with 25 games of NHL experience. The rebuilding Sabres are the Binghamton native’s third organization since July.
The final 16 games could be D’Amigo’s best – and last – chance to prove he deserves regular NHL duty.
“I think you get only a few opportunities in your career to make the most of it,” D’Amigo said Tuesday inside the First Niagara Center after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s game against the Maple Leafs, his old club. “You just don’t want them to slip by.”
D’Amigo believes he blew a great opportunity by failing to make the Columbus Blue Jackets out of training camp this season. Columbus, which acquired him from Toronto on July 1, traded him to the Sabres on Dec. 16 for Luke Adam, a swap of talented AHL players looking for a fresh chance.
“Now here’s another opportunity, and you never know when another one’s going to happen,” D’Amigo said.
Five seasons into his professional career, D’Amigo has reached a crossroads.
“I’m still young, I’m still learning,” he said. “But I think it’s that time where I got to choose whether I’m going to be a full-time player in the NHL or a full-time player in the AHL. So it all starts here with Buffalo.”
The 5-foot-11, 208-pound D’Amigo played 31 games with the Rochester Americans before the Sabres recalled him March 3.
“When I came to Rochester, it was a perfect fit,” he said. “(I) played well and played into a call-up. So obviously it turned out pretty good.”
D’Amigo has skated about 10 minutes in three pointless appearances on the left wing, mostly beside center Matt Ellis and Zac Dalpe.
“Jerry’s giving us that energy we need from our so-called fourth line,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “But right now, almost all the lines, outside of a couple, are all the same. One thing with Jerry I noticed is he’s engaged. He wants to compete and he’s doing that job for us.”
Tonight’s contest against the hapless Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, the end of a five-game road trip, will be special for D’Amigo, the 158th pick by Toronto in 2009.
“You definitely want to show they made a mistake,” D’Amigo said. “But you always want to play your best against the team that gave you away. I’m going to bring my best game.”
D’Amigo was a pretty notable prospect as a teenager. Some fans might remember his world junior championship exploits. He starred during the 2010 tournament, scoring six goals and 12 points as Team USA won the gold medal. He won a bronze medal the next year in Buffalo.
“That’s going to be memories throughout my whole life, a good memory to have to win gold and actually be a contributor,” D’Amigo said.
D’Amigo played one NCAA season at R.P.I. before turning pro in 2010-11. He finally cracked the NHL last season, scoring one goal and three points in 22 games with the Leafs.
“Last year, I got an opportunity similar to this when there was a lot of injuries with Toronto,” he said. “You just got to take advantage of it and show your worth and show that you can play in this league. I think that’s what I have here and that’s what I got to prove.”
While D’Amigo has 66 goals and 144 points in 299 AHL games, he’ll stick in the NHL as a checker.
“Obviously, I’m not going to be (on the) top two lines on a skill line,” he said. “I’ve grown into my role to be a penalty kill and hardworking grinder guy. I’m not going to shy away from that anytime soon, unless I start putting up 20, 30 goals. I just got to start by keeping grounded in this league and go game-by-game and prove my worth in this league.”