Devin Cooley, shown here in training camp, began the season in training camp. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

With Sabres goalie Eric Comrie injured, Devin Cooley earns first NHL recall; Buffalo changes up lines

BUFFALO – Sabres goalie Eric Comrie’s lower-body injury will likely sideline him at least few weeks, general manger Kevyn Adams said. Meanwhile, rookie Devon Levi is still recovering from his lower-body injury.

So on Saturday, the Sabres, the same team forced to scratch a healthy goalie four times earlier this season, recalled Devin Cooley on an emergency basis from the Rochester Americans.

Cooley, 26, will back up Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen for this afternoon’s game against the Colorado Avalanche at KeyBank Center.

With Levi sidelined, Comrie, 28, had taken over the net, starting three times during a four-game stretch. Adams said Comrie underwent an MRI on Saturday morning after leaving halfway through Friday’s 5-4 road loss to the New Jersey Devils.

“The one thing about Eric Comrie is he’s about as hard a worker as you’ll find,” Adams said prior to Saturday’s practice. “So whether it’s practice, games, rehabbing, he’s going to always attack it. So whatever the timeline is for him, he’ll be at the front end of it just based on what I know about him.”

Adams said Levi, 21, had productive days skating on his own Friday and Saturday. The Sabres hope he can practice Tuesday and be available for Wednesday’s road game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So the undrafted Cooley’s first NHL recall might be short. His only previous taste of the big leagues was on the Nashville Predators’ taxi squad in 2020-21.

He said learning he had been summoned “was a pretty special feeling.”

The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Cooley has spent most of his four-year pro career moving between the AHL and ECHL. He finally stuck in the AHL last season, posting a 2.93 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage in a career-high 26 games with the Milwaukee Admirals.

“In training camp, he was exactly what we were hoping where you saw some real good signs from him,” Adams said. “He was a guy that didn’t play a ton of pro experience coming into this year, but we liked his age, his athleticism, and the body of work that he’s done so far.”

Cooley said he considered “finances, location and then team” before signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Sabres in free agency. His girlfriend’s sister also lives in suburban Buffalo, which he said “was a big deal.”

“I thought there was going to be good opportunity here,” the California native said following Saturday’s practice. “I thought that I was going to be able to come in and prove myself. Nothing was for certain. … I just wanted a chance to compete. That’s all I wanted.

“If play well, I get an opportunity. If I don’t play well, then, you know, that’s life. You got to figure out a way to play better and hopefully get more opportunity in the future.”

With veteran Dustin Tokarski injured, Cooley started four of Rochester’s first six games, compiling a 3-0-1 record with a 3.46 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.

“I feel average about it,” he said. “I feel I can be better. I’m also seeing a lot of shots (an average of 36 per game), which is really good for development. I’m getting comfortable, I’m playing consistently and we’re winning.”

Cooley’s known for showcasing an aggressive style.

“Maybe a little bit too aggressive sometimes,” said Cooley, who played three seasons of college hockey at Denver. “But definitely using my size and my speed and my mobility are probably my strongest, best strengths.”

Sabres coach Don Granato changed his forward lines Saturday, most notably moving rookie Zach Benson, a scratch Friday, up to right wing beside top center Tage Thompson, and Dylan Cozens back to center, his natural position.

The new trios from left to right: Jordan Greenway, Thompson and Benson; Jeff Skinner, Casey Mittelstadt and JJ Peterka; Victor Olofsson, Cozens and Alex Tuch; Zemgus Girgensons, Peyton Krebs and Kyle Okposo.

Benson, 18, spent much of the preseason alongside Thompson.

“It’s easy for Zach to go anywhere because he’s a very intelligent player,” Granato said. “(He has) hockey sense. He’s fresh and that helps. He can shift anywhere, he really can because he’s got a very high hockey IQ and a very developed situational awareness, way beyond his age or experience level.”

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