BUFFALO – On April 1, defenseman Matt Hunwick made his 521st NHL appearance, skating just over 12 minutes in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 loss to Washington.
More than eight months later, Hunwick, 33, hasn’t played another game. That should, however, change Wednesday for the Sabres newcomer, who has missed the first 30 contests this season recovering from a neck injury.
Hunwick will be assigned to the Rochester Americans for an AHL rehab assignment today, Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
The Amerks host the Binghamton Devils on Wednesday and the Cleveland Monsters on Friday. Housley said Hunwick could play both games.
“It’s nice to be healthy and to kind of get past the last step,” said Hunwick, who was acquired from the Penguins with winger Conor Sheary on June 27.
Hunwick, who was injured training during the offseason, started practicing almost two weeks ago. While the Sabres have had a decent amount of practice time in the last week or so, that can only help Hunwick so much. Game action simply can’t be replicated during practice.
Hunwick hasn’t played an AHL contest since March 26, 2014.
“Our practices are obviously high-tempo, but games, the intensity’s a lot higher,” Hunwick said. “So it’ll be good to get a couple games in before joining the team again.
“The NHL game, obviously, at the start of the season, maybe is a hair slower than it is at the midpoint. … Joining kind of halfway through will kind of be like just getting right in the fire.”
Naturally, waiting so long to play has “been frustrating at times,” Hunwick said.
“I’m not a very patient person, and this process has tested that,” he said. “Sometimes you have to let time do it’s thing and try to heal. We’ve done that.”
Hunwick is on long-term injured reserve, giving the Sabres relief from his $2,250,000 salary, according to capfriendly.com. The Sabres are $315,556 under the salary cap, according to the site.
Hunwick was one of a handful of Sabres on the ice this morning. The team hosts the Los Angeles Kings tonight at KeyBank Center.