BUFFALO – Instead of dressing at the First Niagara Center and busing to the Riverside Ice Rink or another local facility Thursday, the Sabres simply put on their sandals or sneakers and walked across the street in their uniforms to HarborCenter, the new $170 million facility that opened earlier this fall.
Practicing outside the First Niagara Center is no longer a hassle. Naturally, the Sabres’ first session inside the sparkling facility had a huge “wow” factor.
“It’s beautiful,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said inside HarborCenter. “It’s a great facility for us to have.”
Nolan knows the Sabres are lucky to have a state-of-the-art facility on their turf.
“Few teams in the league have luxuries like we have,” he said. “To have a facility this close by, just walk over, it’s ideal.”
Sabres winger Drew Stafford believes the building and its amenities are “phenomenal.” Stafford has always lived downtown near the waterfront, just a short drive from the facility.
“To see this being built over the last couple years and planned and finally being inside and looking outside some of those windows, a different view, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “I like how they kind of kept it a little bit classic in here with the ceiling and stuff, it’s pretty cool. If I was a member of Canisius or the Jr. Sabres (the main tenants), I’d feel pretty lucky. It’s a great setup for us to just walk across the street.”
How was the ice?
“It’s OK,” Stafford said. “It’s very similar to our rink. Sometimes it gets a little hot, a little sloppy right away.”
The Sabres haven’t had their own practice facility since the team sold Sabreland in Wheatfield in 1996.
Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges, out the last two games with a left pinky injury, said he should be able to play Saturday against Colorado.
“I think so,” he said. “Then again, I thought I was playing the last two.”
Meanwhile, forwards Cody McCormick and Torrey Mitchell and defenseman Tyson Strachan (all lower body) missed Thursday’s practice. Strachan had a maintenance day. McCormick and Mitchell are week-to-week, Nolan said.
Struggling forwards Cody Hodgson and Chris Stewart practiced without a regular linemate. Nolan shifted Brian Flynn to center with Stafford and captain Brian Gionta.
The Sabres practiced with only 11 forwards, so one will be recalled before Saturday, Nolan said.
Following Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Winnipeg, Mikhail Grigorenko’s first NHL game in more than a year, the Sabres sent the center back to Rochester.
“I thought he did good,” Nolan said about Grigorenko. “I watched the game on TV last night. He’s just one of those guys you look at and say, ‘There’s a lot of potential in this kid.’ … I thought he had his moments.”