VANCOUVER — He was more than 2,500 miles away, but Sabres winger Cory Conacher got tuned into Saturday’s Atlantic Hockey championship game in Rochester on the Internet shortly after practice ended.
It didn’t have the same triumphant finish as last year, but Conacher was nonetheless thrilled to see Canisius get oh-so-close to defending its conference title. The Ice Griffs lost to Robert Morris, 7-4, in Blue Cross Arena so the freshman season for Conacher’s brother, Shane, ended one game short of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s fun to watch. You become a pretty proud alum when you see them get that close,” Conacher said prior to Sunday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks in Rogers Arena, which the Sabres lost, 4-2. “More and more guys from Canisius will be able to play hockey after their careers are over as well. Dave Smith is doing a great job. He’s a good family friend. It’s nice to see the team succeed, to see him succeed and it can keep growing.”
The Golden Griffins were down, 2-1, after the second period but simply couldn’t shut the Colonials down in the third.
“It was a tough game, certainly tough for the goalie in the third period,” Conacher said, referring to the five goals allowed by Canisius standout Tony Capobianco. “He’s been solid all year. Maybe he wanted some of those back that went in but he’s a guy who’s going to play somewhere after college.”
Conacher entered Sunday’s game coming off a three-point effort Thursday in Edmonton. It was the second of his NHL career, with the other coming Feb. 1, 2013 for Tampa Bay against Winnipeg. He’s played at least 14 minutes in all seven of his games since joining the Sabres, ice time he found hard to get when he was in Ottawa.
“You get a little more confident. You’re not as stressed every time you’re out there,” Conacher said. “And it helps me that this team is in a position where the games aren’t as important as they were in Ottawa in the standings. You want to prove yourself every day. It’s important to gain respect in this league.
“It’s important for me to take every shift as seriously as I can. Use all this time to my advantage and don’t take it for granted.”
The capacity crowd gave a roaring standing ovation to Canucks captain Henrik Sedin during a pregame ceremony honoring him for playing in his 1,000th NHL game March 14 in Winnipeg. Selected third overall by the Canucks in 1999, he’s the first player in franchise history to reach 1,000 games and only the 10th Swedish-born player in NHL history to do so.
Henrik’s brother, Daniel, returned to the lineup after missing nine games due to a hamstring injury. The Sabres opted to watch the ceremony from their bench rather than stay in the locker room.
“The way they treat other people off the ice as well as on the ice is something I remember,” Sabres defenseman and former Canuck Christian Ehrhoff said of the Sedins. “They’re two class acts. It was a pleasure for me to play with those two guys.”
Sedin was presented with several gifts, including a trip to the Royal Ascot in England, a framed painting of himself in the Canucks uniform and a check for $10,000 to be advanced to the charity of his choice.
Sabres general manager Tim Murray flew with the team to Calgary but has not been in the building for the team’s games on the road trip, opting instead to see top junior players in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Among Murray’s likely viewing targets are center Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice, a top candidate to be drafted No. 1 overall, and Leon Draisaitl, the standout German center playing for the Prince Albert Raiders.
Williamsville native Justin Bailey, a second-round pick by the Sabres last June, was named MVP of the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL after finishing second on the team in points with 43 in 54 games. Bailey, who had 25 goals and 18 assists, had his season cut short by an upper-body injury and missed 14 games.
Kitchener finished a distant last in its division at 22-41-5. Its division included three 100-point clubs, including Connor McDavid-led Erie and London, whose blueline includes Sabres first-round choice Nikita Zadorov.
Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe, Buffalo’s second-rounder in 2012, was named to the All-Big 10 first team. An assistant captain for the Badgers, McCabe’s team plays North Dakota on Friday in an NCAA first-rounder.
The Sabres practiced hard Saturday for about an hour and one reason is that they won’t have much practice time in the coming days.
There was no morning skate Sunday with a 5 p.m. local start and the team is going to take today off after making the long flight to Montreal. The next full practice is thus not scheduled until Wednesday in Nashville.