BUFFALO – John Gilmour had never waited so long to play a game. After appearing in the Sabres’ preseason finale Sept. 27, the defenseman sat out 11 contests before making his season debut Friday.
So Gilmour, the Sabres’ spare defender, patiently waited 28 days for his opportunity to materialize as the blue line remained healthy.
Gilmour, of course, acknowledged being a healthy scratch can be difficult. But he still reveled in the Sabres’ early-season success.
“I embraced my role,” Gilmour said prior to Monday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes. “The team was doing so well. It’s fun for everybody, from A to Z in the organization, when things are going so well. So we were just riding the wave.
“If he needed me to go in, I wanted to make that transition seamless.”
Gilmour did that after defenseman Marco Scandella suffered a lower-body injury, skating 17 minutes, 28 seconds in the 2-0 road win over the Detroit Red Wings.
“He played a great game,” said Sabres defenseman Colin Miller, Gilmour’s partner. “It’s tough, I mean, when you’re waiting all summer to play some real hockey and then he hadn’t played for that long.”
The poise and confidence Gilmour showcased following the four-week layoff wowed Sabres coach Ralph Krueger.
“To be able to step in and put the pressure defensively on Detroit as he did and his hunger to play right within the boundaries that we want him to play (was impressive),” Krueger said. “And then with the puck, the confidence he showed in his playmaking ability and the way he uses his feet to get into open ice to make plays. …
“A very, very strong performance.”
The 6-foot, 188-pound Gilmour, 26, spent the opening weeks of the season preparing to play his first game with the Sabres.
Long after most of his teammates left the KeyBank Center ice each day, the Providence College product would stay on with assistant coaches Steve Smith and Chris Taylor for extra work.
It paid off when Gilmour jumped into the lineup Friday.
“A lot of it had to do with his attitude, really, truly begging for more every day and working extremely hard at the sessions we had out there,” Krueger said. “I think if you let your guard down 5% in those sessions for three weeks, you can’t enter like that.
“But it’s his experience and hunger to make the National Hockey League on a regular basis, I think, that drove him. Without that experience, he probably wouldn’t have been able to bring such a calm game.”
Gilmour said: “Just staying in shape, staying focused and dialed in and staying ready.”
Fresh off a monster 20-goal, 54-point AHL season with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Gilmour signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $700,000 with the Sabres on July 1.
Many expected Gilmour would be ticketed for the Rochester Americans this season, at least early on.
But Gilmour looked terrific throughout the preseason. The hand injury defenseman Brandon Montour suffered early in the exhibition schedule also helped him.
While Gilmour played 34 games with the New York Rangers, he had never cracked an NHL team out of training camp.
“It was everything,” Gilmour said. “I think it was my best accomplishment in my hockey career and (in) my life is making an NHL team out of camp. It’s not easy considering how many guys are trying out, the quality of player.
“It was a tremendous feeling, and I’m so happy to be a part of this organization.”
The Sabres welcomed back former coach Phil Housley by showing a highlight package from his playing days with Buffalo and mentioning his Hall of Fame career. Housley acknowledged the warm ovation he received.
The Sabres fired Housley on April 7 after two losing seasons. He’s in his first season as an assistant coach with the Coyotes.
General manager Jason Botterill told WGR on Monday top goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, 20, will start playing games with the Cincinnati Cyclones, the Sabres’ ECHL affiliate, this week or next week.
The Sabres recently assigned Luukkonen, who underwent hip surgery in late April, to the Amerks to begin practicing.
The Finn hasn’t played since April.
Notes: The Sabres have recorded three shutouts in the opening month of a season for the first time in franchise history. … The Sabres scratched defenseman Will Borgen (healthy). … Sabres captain Jack Eichel turned 23 on Monday. … The Sabres have today off.