The Buffalo Sabres wanted to open doors for youth players in the area, so they created the Scotty Bowman Showcase. But tonight's event in HSBC Arena will also allow Mike Scheu to properly close the door on one stage of his life.
Scheu is one of Western New York's most accomplished players. The 18-year-old senior at Timon/St. Jude is this year's New York State Division 2 High School Player of the Year. He also made the All-State team last year, a year in which his Buffalo Saints travel team won the national championship.
The Saints returned to the nationals last month, but they went without their star forward. He suffered a serious groin injury in the state finals, and it forced him off the ice for three weeks. His youth career looked unceremoniously over.
Then the Sabres sent him a letter. He was one of 21 seniors named to the Buffalo squad for tonight's game against Rochester's best seniors. The chance to play one more time with kids he's been skating with for most of his life before they join different junior teams and colleges has left him with a look of wide-eyed amazement.
"It's a great thing to get showcased one more time," he said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."
The seniors are scheduled to face off at 8:30 p.m., with Buffalo's team of juniors facing Rochester's juniors in the opener at 6 p.m. Admission and parking are free, but seating is reserved and tickets are needed for admission. They are available at Sabres.com and at the arena box office. More than 6,200 have been distributed.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and former teammate Larry Playfair will coach the Buffalo seniors, while former Sabre Grant Ledyard will coach the juniors. Rochester's seniors will be led by Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and former forward Rob Ray, while former Sabre Ric Seiling will coach the juniors. Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman will present the Scotty Bowman Cup to the winner of the senior game.
"This event is great," said Timon coach Chris Panek, one of five coaches who selected the Buffalo teams. "It's great for the kids to have the experience of being on the ice with two guys like Lindy Ruff and Larry Playfair. It makes it exciting for the kids."
The excitement made Kevin Simson stop in midsentence. Scheu's teammate on the Saints and at Timon was talking when Ray appeared in the hallway. Simson was too blown away to keep the conversation on track.
"That's Rob Ray. That's Rob Ray," he said. "See what I mean? This is just awesome."
Scheu had people saying that about him throughout his career.
"He's just a tremendous talent," Panek said. "What's going to make him very good at the next level, and possibly a great player, is he hates to lose and he's a hard worker. He's always working on his game. For me it was just a tremendous honor to coach him."
Scheu, who led the Western New York Federation in scoring with 25 goals and 14 assists in 16 games, plans to play a year or two of junior hockey in an attempt to attract a Division I college offer.
"That's been my goal since Day One, to get to a Division I level," Scheu said, "and I'm going to do what I've got to do to get there."
The Sabres wanted to help players like Scheu get more attention, hence the showcase. Representatives from at least 15 colleges are expected, including Harvard.
"It's just another shot for a few players. Everyone's not set in where they're going," said Nichols and Saints forward Matt Rang, who also plans a year of junior to attract a college but is relishing this week first. "Everyone's just having a blast. It's not every day that you get to play like an NHL game, play with so many good players and have Lindy Ruff as your coach. It's a big deal."