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Future Sabres hard at work Kennedy, Butler stand out at camp

One of the most tumultuous weeks in the history of the Buffalo Sabres -- OK, probably the most tumultuous week in Sabres history -- is over. And, in a change of pace, it didn't end with beloved players leaving or team executives facing a barrage of pointed questions.
It ended the way hockey usually starts, with a bunch of kids skating laps on a fresh sheet of ice.

The Sabres' prospects, recent draft picks and a few free agents gathered Saturday for Day Two of the team's six-day development camp. The young men, clad in sandals and backward caps, made their way to the dressing rooms free of leadership losses and $50 million expectations.

The only thing weighing them down was layers of sweat as Sabres coaches and staff members pushed them through two hours of drills at the Amherst Pepsi Center. That followed a full morning of off-ice workouts at HSBC Arena.
"That's a pretty hectic day, but that's what it takes to play," forward Tim Kennedy said. "That's what the Sabres expect out of you."
Two of the more promising recruits in the Sabres' corps -- Kennedy and Chris Butler -- will enjoy hockey without hassle for one more year. General Manager Darcy Regier said last month he wanted the college juniors to spend one more year on campus. Instead of salary caps and backroom bickering, Kennedy can focus on repeating collegiate glory, and Butler can try to achieve it.
Kennedy and Butler are intrigued by the thought of going pro. The Sabres, with a shared minor-league affiliation in Rochester, have a limited number of roster spots to offer and would prefer they remain amateurs.
"It's not really up to me as much as a lot of people think it is," said Butler, who will be a junior at the University of Denver. "Whatever they want to do with me, if they want me to turn pro, it'll be something I'll consider. If not then I have no problem going back to school. Denver is a great time. But obviously my ultimate goal is to be in Buffalo someday."
Kennedy, the South Buffalo native acquired via trade at the 2005 draft after being selected by Washington, had an unforgettable sophomore season at Michigan State. He scored one of the most dynamic goals of the year, led his team in scoring and came home as a Frozen Four champion.
"I signed up to go to school for four years. If anything happens down the road, we'll see," the 21-year-old said. "There are [benefits to staying in school], but when your dream is to play in a professional hockey league, if you get that offer, it's hard not to jump at it."
Many scouts believe Butler is ready to earn a paycheck. The 20-year-old was the top defenseman at Denver last season, scoring 10 times and adding 17 assists. He is solid with the puck and in stature (6-foot-1, 193 pounds). If Butler can accomplish what Kennedy has done -- win the NCAA title -- he'll get to do it minutes from campus. The 2008 Frozen Four will be held in Denver.
"It'll be something in the locker room just trying to get there all year," Butler said. "I think we have a real good shot."
But before they compete in the NCAAs, Kennedy and Butler will spend four more days alongside guys who could be future teammates. For many, it's their first time together. It likely won't be the last.
"You try to picture what some of these kids are going to be like a couple years from now," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "You like what you see, and you know that you're watching some players and you know that it's going to be a tough road for them. For others, you look at them and think they may have a promising career ahead of them."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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