BUFFALO – Tyler Ennis still remembers every little detail of Nov. 14, 2009, the day the slick Sabres winger made his NHL debut.
When Portland Pirates coach Kevin Dineen told Ennis the Sabres could recall him for a game in Philadelphia that night, the youngster left the rink – “It was like a 30-minute drive,” he said – and went home.
He needed to eat, so he “picked up a quick Subway sandwich.”
Ennis then packed. Dineen called and said the Sabres needed him.
“Rushed to the airport and got there just in time,” Ennis said Saturday prior to the Sabres’ 6-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs inside the First Niagara Center.
Ennis scored his first NHL goal that night in a 3-2 win against the Flyers.
“Time has flown,” he said about the last five years. “I remember exactly getting called up in Portland, the excitement and the nervousness of playing my first game. Being able to score my first game was pretty crazy, and just how fast time has flown by. It seems like just yesterday I was getting that call.”
The 25-year-old still has that puck mounted with the game sheet in his bedroom.
Back then, Ennis was just another young prospect in the Sabres’ arsenal. They returned him to Portland following the game, keeping him there until March. The Sabres won the Northeast Division as he developed with their old AHL affiliate.
“I’m really happy I spent time down there,” Ennis said. “It really helped mold players, and I think it’s really important a lot of players spend time down there.”
But Ennis’ time was limited. He only played 69 AHL games, scoring 23 goals, 65 points and winning top rookie honors. By the end of the season, he was the Sabres’ leading playoff scorer.
Ennis, who had a goal and three points Saturday, has been an NHL mainstay ever since, living a dream.
“Back then, you just don’t know what to expect in the NHL,” he said. “It’s your dream to play here. Now I’ve been here for five years. It’s everything it’s made out to be as a kid. We got treated very well. I’m excited every day to be able to play in the NHL.
“Obviously, it’s been frustrating the last couple years. When I first got here, we (made the) playoffs two years in a row. Now we’re in a rebuilding phase. Can’t wait to get back to the playoffs.”
Still, the likable Ennis isn’t going to pout about losing.
“You got to take a look around and realize how lucky you are,” he said. “When things are going bad up here, we had cancer kids come in, some terminally ill kids come in, just to kind of put things in perspective, we’re really lucky where we are.
“The losses are tough, but there are a lot more difficult things in the world. We’re very lucky. We’ll turn this ship around here. But playing in the NHL is a very special thing.”
Legendary Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret returned Saturday, calling the first period.
The video boards showed a montage of Jeanneret calls with a “Welcome back, RJ” message. The crowd roared when they cut to a live shot of Jeanneret in his broadcast booth.
Jeanneret said earlier this month he’s cancer-free. The Sabres announced in July he was battling throat cancer.
Patrick Kaleta’s home season debut will have to wait until later this week. Sabres coach Ted Nolan scratched the winger Saturday.
The Angola native played his first NHL game since Oct. 10, 2013 on Thursday, a 6-3 loss in Minnesota.
Kaleta tore his ACL almost a year ago in the AHL and took a puck to the face Sept. 28. Nolan thinks after playing eight minutes, six seconds against the speedy Wild, Kaleta should rest.
“He’s been out almost a year of hockey,” Nolan said. “You don’t want to put him right into the fire, put him into games. You want to break him in, give him a little time to adjust.”
Marcus Foligno replaced Kaleta. The Sabres made one defense change, inserting Andrej Meszaros, a healthy scratch the last three contests, for Andre Benoit.
There was some speculation Nolan might bench struggling forwards Cody Hodgson and Chris Stewart, who both have one goal and two points. Both played about eight minutes Thursday.
Nolan said Friday he wanted more anger from Hodgson and Stewart.
Hodgson has been meeting every day with assistant coach Bryan Trottier, Nolan said.
“When you go through something like this, the only thing that you can do is have some perseverance and keep doing it,” Nolan said.
Stewart, meanwhile, knows he must be better.
“You play eight minutes, I think the message is sent, your play’s not good enough,” he said. “So I got to rise to the occasion, and that’s fine.”
In injury news, Nolan said defenseman Josh Gorges, who suffered a lower-body injury Tuesday, will be “out a little bit.” He said the team will give more details later.
Speaking to reporters in Toronto prior to his Hall of Fame induction Monday, legendary Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek credited former Buffalo goalie coach Mitch Korn for letting him keep his unorthodox style.
“He knew my style wasn’t bad, he just wanted me to work on some other things,” Hasek said. “I was lucky to have a coach who never really tried to change my style.
“But sometimes it was difficult to listen to people (criticize). I could prove my style was good enough. Fortunately, I didn’t understand English very well so I didn’t know what was being written in the papers about me.”
Ennis on his first NHL fight Tuesday: “It was fun. I didn’t know it was happening until I took one in the nose.”