ST. THOMAS, Ont. – When the Buffalo Sabres arrived via a police escort at Joe Thornton Community Centre to prepare for tonight’s Kraft Hockeyville game, defenseman Jacob Bryson, who grew up in nearby London, left the bus first to greet excited fans.
“I would say I was ordered,” joked Bryson, who will play in tonight’s preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Of course, Bryson gladly, as he said, “led the charge.” He occasionally practiced at the 2,220-seat rink growing up.
“It’s very special,” he said. “This will be one of the games I remember in my career, for sure.”
The Sabres greeted throngs of Leafs fans – this is Ontario, after all – and signed autographs before going through a normal pregame skate in the packed rink. Playing a game in a community venue will be a unique experience.
Coach Don Granato pointed out the low ceiling and high boards.
“Definitely different sight lines,” he said. “It will definitely be a situation the players will have to feel their way through it.”
Granato believes the Sabres can identify with all the children in the stands. Center Dylan Cozens, who grew up in Whitehorse, Yukon, said he whenever an NHL player visited, “it was a huge thing.”
“There was a charity game I remember,” he said “Everyone wanted to go to that. It was pretty awesome, a cool experience for us getting to meet some NHL players. (Future teammate) Craig Anderson was one I got to meet when I was like 10, 11 years old, so that was cool. We know how much it means to these kids.”
The rest of the line combinations and defense pairings from the morning skate are below.
– Lukas Rousek, Cozens and Victor Olofsson
– Linus Weissbach, Tyson Jost and Michael Mersch
– Brett Murray, Peyton Krebs and Brendan Warren
– Justin Richards, Graham Slaggert and Aleksandr Kisakov
– Owen Power and Henri Jokiharju
– Bryson and Ryan Johnson
– Mats Lindgren and Norwin Panocha
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is scheduled to start in goal and be replaced by Michael Houser, who played junior hockey for the London Knights, after the second period.