Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is one of three goalies on Buffalo’s roster. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

As goalie Devon Levi thrives as Sabres’ starter, Eric Comrie, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen wait for chance

BUFFALO – Having started all three games, Sabres goalie Devon Levi earned a well-deserved break Wednesday, giving Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen an opportunity to practice in their own net.

Levi usually patrols his own crease, so for the first time this season, they each faced their own shots and found a rhythm they wouldn’t have during a three-goalie session.

Carrying three netminders creates problems, including limited practice reps. Each day, Comrie, 28, and Luukkonen, 24, are on the ice early working with Mike Bales, the assistant coach in charge of goalies. When practice ends, they stay out for extra action.

“We’ve been maintaining the best we can,” Comrie said following Wednesday’s practice in KeyBank Center.

After the Sabres utilized three goalies much of last season – at the end, they briefly had four – it seemed highly unlikely they would do it again. A trade or an assignment to minors would materialize, and they’d be back to having the normal two.

But Comrie, who began last season as the starter, enjoyed a stellar training camp. Not long ago Luukkonen, the No. 1 most of last year, was considered the Sabres’ goalie of the future.

If they try to send one of them to the Rochester Americans, another team would almost certainly make a waiver claim. They’d be giving away an asset.

So right now, the Sabres, who host the Calgary Flames tonight, have three goalies again.

“It’s an unusual situation, so you never kind of expect to be in it,” Luukkonen said. “But you just try to make the most of it. Get your reps in and be ready when you’re called upon.”

Comrie or Luukkonen, who’ve been alternating as the backup, should be called upon soon. The Sabres continue their four-game home stand Saturday against the New York Islanders before closing it Monday versus the Montreal Canadiens. They play a road game Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators.

One of them should start one game of the back-to-back set.

Of course, the Sabres can carry an extra goalie because each one has the proper temperament to make a unique and sometimes difficult situation work.

“We take a lot of pride in bringing the right people in here who have a deep care and sense of care for the team and have respect for situations,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “We decided to carry three goalies right now. They know their job is to be ready for the next game that they’re going to be called upon. People with varying degrees of integrity might not be able to do that.

“But I think these two guys in particular, you watch in practice and they’re in it for the team but they’re also making sure they’re going to be ready for that opportunity.”

Levi, 21, said “everyone’s just really good people.”

“There’s no hatred, no negative competition between anyone,” he said last week. “I think we all want to see each other succeed for the betterment of the group. I think that kind of bonds us a little bit.”

Comrie said “the team will bring out the best individually in us.”

“If we have success as a team, it will help us succeed as individuals and get what we want in our careers,” he said. “So I think we understand that, hey, let’s get this team as far as we possibly can. It doesn’t matter how we have do it, we have to be the best possible person we can be for this team and for the guy next to you as we can because you want to hand off.

“As Donny always says, ‘Hand off a better shift to the next guy.’ We want to always hand off a better game to the next guy. So we always want to make sure we’re ready. It doesn’t matter what you get in practice, Bales is going to make sure we get as much as we can.”

Luukkonen said he can handle his current situation because he’s used to fighting for his opportunities. Despite being a top prospect, he started his pro career with the Cincinnati Cyclones.

“I’ve worked for it,” he said. “I’ve been in the East Coast (League) … played in the AHL, been a backup there, been a starter there. I’ve had my good training camps, my not-so-good training camps. I feel I earned a spot to be in the NHL now after last year. I’ve been battling through it, not only here, but in the East Coast and AHL, too.

“I’m going to say it’s nothing new to me. It’s an unusual situation, but I feel like I earned my spot here.”

As Comrie waits for his chance to play, he’ll keep watching Levi’s development.

“He’s just getting going,” he said. “I mean, there’s so much more to his game that you guys are going to see each and every day. I mean, you don’t understand how hard of a worker he is in practice, how much his attention to detail is, how much he brings to every single day.

“It’s exciting to watch for me because it’s going to be very special, and he’s got a lot of talent that I think we’re only just getting to the bottom of it. I think there’s only more to come.”

Granato said Sabres defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, who left Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning after suffering an upper-body injury, is day to day.

The Sabres will have more information today. Samuelsson did not practice Wednesday.

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