BUFFALO – Michael Hora can’t make it to HarborCenter this afternoon, but one way or another, he’ll find a way to watch his son, Frank, a Cheektowaga native the Sabres are evaluating at development camp.
“He always finds a way to watch my games,” Frank Hora, a 20-year-old defense prospect, said Friday after preparing for the annual Blue and Gold scrimmage.
His father, who’s at a hockey camp in Virginia with another son, Anthony, bought 16 tickets to the game, meaning his family and friends can relay updates. He plans to try to watch the scrimmage online later.
“It’s just amazing how supportive he is,” Frank Hora said.
By Michael Hora’s count, he missed only one or two of Frank’s 66 games with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers last season.
“That’s a Buffalo hockey parent right there,” said Rangers coach Jay McKee, a former Sabres defenseman.
Kitchener is about a two-hour, 100-mile drive from Buffalo. That ride, however, is easy compared to some of the other OHL trips.
Michael Hora said he drove about 20,000 miles to watch his son in 2015-16. He might, say, leave Buffalo on a Friday morning for Sault Ste. Marie, a nine-hour drive, watch the game, and then drive three and a half hours to Sudbury for another tilt before coming home.
He went from Sudbury to Pittsburgh last season to see one of Anthony’s games.
Michael and Linda Hora have seven children – three sons and four daughters – so their home, naturally, was “hectic” years ago, Frank said.
“I feel bad for my parents now that I think about it, because they were always on the move, always taking one kid to a sport,” he said. “They were never really home. … They definitely did their part.”
His father is just matching the commitment his son has given to hockey. Michael Hora said a girl once asked Frank to a prom at the same time the Buffalo Jr. Sabres needed him for a game.
“Frank told the girl, ‘I can’t take you to the prom, I got a hockey game,’” he said. “Frank’s always put hockey first.”
When the Sabres invited Frank Hora to camp last week, he called his father right away.
“I was as happy as I could be,” Frank Hora said. “Coming to camp with the Buffalo Sabres, it’s amazing. A lot of kids dream of it, and I’m actually doing it. It’s pretty special.”
Hora, of course, grew up rooting for the Sabres. His family had season tickets, and he smiled recalling two of his favorite memories: Maxim Afinogenov’s overtime winner in the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinal and the Sabres’ brawl with the Ottawa Senators earlier that season.
“Watching all those guys growing up, it’s really something really cool to be a part of,” he said.
Earlier this week, he looking at his old seats inside the First Niagara Center gave Hora “a very special feeling,” he said.
Like McKee, one of his favorite players, the 6-foot-2, 192-pound Hora is a stay-at-home defenseman. Hora, who scored one goal and 16 points last season, was voted the No. 2 defensive defenseman in his conference by coaches.
“He’s definitely a very good defensive guy, moves very well,” McKee said. “He’s got great vision and he’s got a real good mindset. He knows where to be in position, he thinks the game well. But I actually think he’s underrated offensively, too.”
If the undrafted Hora, who also attended the Columbus Blue Jackets’ camp last week, doesn’t sign a pro contract, he plans to return to the Rangers for his overage junior season.
“I’m thrilled,” Hora said. “Playing in Kitchener for the last three years, it’s been a great experience, great time. I love it.”
Still, McKee believes Hora can play professionally. Attending NHL camps will show him how close he is to moving up, McKee said.
“No doubt that he’s going to fit right in (in Buffalo),” he said. “Guys of his age, getting an opportunity is kind of the main thing. I think Frankie, if you put him in the AHL as a (20-year-old), he’d be a good hockey player.”