Brian Campbell wants to be an elite defenseman in the National Hockey League. James Patrick is doing everything he can to help.
The lessons are starting to show.
The Buffalo Sabres went to overtime with the talent-laden Colorado Avalanche on Monday. When Avalanche Olympians Milan Hejduk and Joe Sakic started a two-on-one break with about one minute left, it looked like another loss for Buffalo.
Despite the 67 goals and 73 assists staring at him, Campbell didn't blink. He dropped to the ice and blocked Hejduk's pass to Sakic. The Sabres turned up ice and won the game.
No way that play would have happened earlier in the season. First of all, Campbell couldn't get on the ice, getting scratched in 11 of the opening 12 games. When he finally did lace his skates, Campbell wasn't the man the Sabres looked to during the closing minute of overtime.
That started to change when 23-year-old Campbell buddied up with 39-year-old Patrick.
"The second half of the year he's continually got better," Patrick said Tuesday after the Sabres practiced in HSBC Arena. "With the injuries (on defense) he's been able to get 24, 25 minutes of ice time a game.
"I think this has been great for him defensively because now we've used him on the penalty kill, we've used him four-on-four in the overtime -- situations that he wouldn't have gotten the opportunity otherwise -- and he's responded."
Campbell has 11 of his 19 points in the past 20 games. The next outing is 7 tonight when the Sabres host the Florida Panthers in the arena (Empire, Radio 107.7 FM). About 6,000 tickets remain.
Campbell has the speed and offensive instincts to play in the NHL. But like anyone in his first full season, he was prone to getting burned by players with experience. He knew where to look for advice.
"I just tried to pick James' brain as much as I can because he's been through so much," Campbell said. "I think you can learn a lot from him, whether it's off the ice or on the ice. He's played 20 years, and it's not just skill when you play 20 years. There's something else that's involved with it."
Patrick isn't a coach yet -- he's having way too much fun and success playing to investigate a career change -- but he adopted the role with Campbell when the two were paired on the ice earlier in the year.
"As an older player I'd like to give advice to any of my teammates," Patrick said. "My philosophy is if I can help a teammate, that makes our team better and that makes us all better.
"We'd talk after the game about what happened every game, little things that went on, what we could do different, what we could do a little better to support each other."
Patrick found a willing listener in Campbell, who won numerous player of the year awards in junior hockey but knew that wasn't a ticket to pro stardom.
"I don't want to just be here," Campbell said. "I want to try and be the best hockey player I can be, and that's with hard work."
"His biggest quality is he wants to get better. He comes to the rink every day and he wants to be a better player," Patrick said. "I don't think all players are like that, but Brian certainly is.
"That's the attitude that got him this far, kept him here this far, but it's also going to someday make him . . . I think he has the potential to be a top player."
Forwards Jochen Hecht and Tim Connolly did not practice Tuesday because of flulike symptoms. Left wing Taylor Pyatt (concussion) took part in noncontact drills.
The injured defensive quartet of Radoslav Hecl, Jay McKee, Dmitri Kalinin and Henrik Tallinder was on the ice, but only Hecl (concussion) is available for tonight's game. Tallinder's return is still up in the air because of a high ankle sprain, but McKee (knee) and Kalinin (shoulder) are cleared to play Friday when the Sabres host Montreal.
The Sabres are encouraging fans to arrive early at games for the remainder of the season because the NHL has implemented new security measures that could cause entry delays.
Security will check each patron with metal-detecting wands and ask those wearing coats to open them. The team asks fans to not bring bags into the arena (aside from diaper bags), and if a purse is necessary ensure it is small. Gates open at 6 p.m., but the Headlines concession area opens at 5 p.m.
Michael Gilbert, the team's vice president of communications, said the Sabres have added staff to help offset entry delays.
SABRES VS. PANTHERS
7 in HSBC Arena TV: Empire Radio: 107.7 FM
Season Series: Series tied, 1-1-1
Who's hot: D James Patrick has two goals and two assists in his last four games.
Record last 5: 2-2-0-1
Power play: 44 of 328 (13.4%)
Penalty killing: 285 of 335 (85.1%)
Injuries: D Jay McKee (knee), D Henrik Tallinder (ankle), C Adam Mair (foot), D Dmitri Kalinin (shoulder), LW Taylor Pyatt (concussion).
Fast fact: LW Jason Botterill's sister Jennifer was named top player in women's college hockey last weekend.
Who's hot: RW Kristian Huselius had an assist in each of the past two games.
Record last 5: 1-4
Power play: 46 of 321 (14.3%)
Penalty killing: 273 of 336 (81.3%)
Injuries: LW Darcy Hordichuk (ankle), D Branislav Mezei (foot), D Paul Laus (wrist).
Fast fact: The Panthers have scored only one goal in each of their past three games.