BUFFALO – Their paths never crossed last season. Hours before the Sabres promoted Ron Rolston from Rochester on Feb. 20, they waived Cody McCormick. As Rolston was starting his NHL career the next day, the gritty forward was beginning his first AHL stint since 2010.
But McCormick’s 28-game stay in Rochester didn’t signal the end of his Sabres career. In the summer, general manager Darcy Regier said the 30-year-old likely wouldn’t clear waivers again.
McCormick would either stick with the Sabres or get traded.
Right away, McCormick found Rolston open and “really approachable,” he said.
“Instead of coming in blind, he told me a couple things he wanted to see me do,” said McCormick, who played a season-high 7:49 in Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks inside the First Niagara Center. “When you’re on the ice or in the gym, that’s what you’re focusing on.”
McCormick “put a hell of a summer in here in the gym,” Sabres co-captain Steve Ott said. He carried that into the preseason, fighting three times and earning another roster spot the tough way.
“He stayed committed to the Sabres and wanted to push for a spot in training camp and proved it,” Ott said. “I think he was top two if not second on the skating test. Not only (is he) in great physical shape, but then he came in and he’s fighting in exhibition (games) like he’s a 20-year-old trying to make the team again.
“You add all those elements together and it just shows you the value in how much the guy wants it. It’s a blessing because we need a guy like that.”
Through seven regular-season appearances, McCormick has fought an NHL-high three times while playing all three forward positions.
“I think it’s what’s kept me in the league my whole career,” McCormick said about his versatility. “I always had to battle to be in there. I have a drive to play in the NHL, and think that’s what the No. 1 thing is.”
That drive involves the 6-foot-2 McCormick fighting any takers, one reason Ott was “really upset” the Sabres waived him last season.
“I think he’s a great veteran player,” Ott said. “He plays for the team. He’s not out there fighting guys for Cody McCormick. … He’s done that his whole career, and he’s battled and battled and battled. Just that element of having him around, you can’t put a value on that.”
Rolston called McCormick a “heart-and-soul guy” who’s “great in the locker room.”
“He works extremely hard,” Rolston said. “He’s great around the young players. He gives you every ounce he has during the game. He’s plays limited minutes but he gives you everything that he’s got. … So he’s a great team guy, a great teammate.”