Mattias Samuelsson played just 41 games this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

After battling injuries, Sabres’ Mattias Samuelsson mentally stronger

BUFFALO – The days and weeks after Sabres defenseman Mattias Samuelsson underwent season-ending right shoulder surgery took a mental toll on him.

He wore a sling for six weeks, forcing him to use just his left arm. When the team traveled for road games, he stayed in Buffalo.

It made for a frustrating and lonely time.

“It was some hard days there, for sure,” Samuelsson said Thursday as the Sabres held end-of-season meetings in KeyBank Center following their disappointing 84-point finish.

In that difficult time, he learned a lot about himself – “How hard I can be on myself sometimes,” he said – and others.

“The biggest thing you learn is who’s really in your support system,” said Samuelsson, who kept re-injuring his shoulder this season before undergoing surgery in February. “I’m lucky enough to have a lot of really good friends and family that have my back.”

Samuelsson, 24, said he spent time with Sabres winger Jack Quinn, a close friend who was also recovering from a long-term injury, and playing video games with his friends in Philadelphia, his hometown.

He also tried to talk to people about topics other than hockey.

“(Getting) to know people on another level helps,” he said.

Everything helped the 6-foot-4, 224-pound Samuelsson get through what he called “probably the hardest mental year of my career so far.”

Having recently been cleared to skate, he reached one of the final stages of his recovery.

“No contact right now, but not too far off,” he said.

As a shutdown defender, Samuelsson thrives on contact. His penchant for it has contributed to several injuries, forcing him to miss 68 total games over the past two years. He played just 41 times this season, his last appearance coming Jan. 23.

“Definitely had the injury bug here the last couple years,” said Samuelsson, who committed uncharacteristic turnovers in the first season of his seven-year, $30 million contract. “I mean, I could flip and I could go five years and play all 82 for five years. So just trying to stay positive, train a little different this summer. But … injuries, they suck.

“When you’re not around the group that long and miss out on everything, it’s hard, it’s really hard. I definitely struggled with it this year.”

At the end of the season, Samuelsson often watched practice from the bench in a hoody and shorts.

Before battling shoulder problems, he broke his hand and suffered a knee injury last season. He had ankle problems as a rookie in 2021-22.

Some injuries, like the one he suffered blocking a shot in a rookie tournament game in 2021, just happen.

“One-timer’s off the ankle, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do about that,” he said. “The skates just keep getting lighter and thinner so everyone can get faster.”

Other injuries, however, might be preventable.

“Some of them, like my knee injury last year in Vancouver, like (a) freak accident,” he said. “But, I mean, I can definitely not stick my leg in there like that and try to hold him off. …

“It’s a hard game. I play a hard style. Like, I’m going to be banged up. … But I think some of them are probably avoidable.”

Samuelsson knows the Sabres probably could’ve avoided firing coach Don Granato on Monday if they had won more games. He knows Granato well, having also played for him in junior at the US National Team Development Program.

“Shocking,” Samuelsson said of Granato’s dismissal. “… I’ve got nothing but respect for him, and just tough to see him go. He gets fired because of the way we played in this room. So you take some of that burden as well. So it was a tough day.”

Accountability – from the new coach and players – and a desire to be pushed more has been a big topic after the Sabres missed the playoffs for the 13th straight season.

Samuelsson believes the Sabres must have better focus – “Just more mentally engaged, maybe a little more of a purpose or objective,” he said – during practice.

“That’ll start in training camp next year,” he said. “… I don’t think we got too off the rails, but I think everyone still believes in the group. Maybe just a little kick in the butt from a new head coach with some experience, yeah, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Sabres defensemen Bowen Byram and Owen Power and center Dylan Cozens said Thursday they will play for Team Canada at the World Championship next month in Czechia.

Winger JJ Peterka said he will play for Team Germany.

One thought on “After battling injuries, Sabres’ Mattias Samuelsson mentally stronger”

  1. They need to learn to hate losing. It’s alright to be accountable for not performing, but it’s an empty gesture if the behavior doesn’t change. Each player needs to do something about it, even if some feathers get ruffled. They all too often looked mentally unprepared to play in the first period. At least they seemed to take winning at home m9re seriously. It’s unfortunate Don Granato had to he the fall guy for the seemingly weak commitment some Sabres showed at times.
    The Sabres individually need to work on faceoffs. Most of the season they were under, but usually near 50%. After the Okposo and Mittelstadt trades, the Sabres were closer to 40%, with a couple games in the 35% or so range.

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