If you want some perspective on how many fans will be in First Niagara Center for Friday night’s Blue & Gold development camp scrimmage, consider this: The crowd is almost certain to be bigger than the average Arizona Coyotes or Florida Panthers regular season game.
The team said late Thursday it expects a record crowd in excess of 15,000 for the 7 p.m. event, the first game-condition look at Jack Eichel. The Sabres’ top draft pick said he is “super excited” to show off his wares in Blue & Gold for the first time, just as the fans are to see him.
“I know everyone is pretty tired right now,” Eichel said after Thursday’s on-ice testing sessions in First Niagara Center. “So we’re going to need to recover in the next 24 hours to be at your best. It seems like I’ve been doing the media tour, doing a million things and there’s nothing I love more than to just play hockey. Nothing I love more than preparing for a game and just playing.
“The atmosphere and the feeling of playing against another team and trying to win a game. ... I imagine there will be a lot of people here and I can’t wait for the opportunity.”
Tickets are $10 and are available at Sabres.com or the arena box office. The team is strongly encouraging fans to purchase online and use print at home, or to come to the box office during the day to buy tickets to avoid lines. It opens at 9 a.m. Seating is assigned and not general admission.
Parking will feature reduced prices of $5 for the FNC and HarborCenter ramps and $3 for arena surface lots on Perry Street.
The scrimmage will be a regulation game with three 20-minute periods and two intermissions. Concession stands will be open on the 100 and 200 levels, and the team said they will open on the 300 level as needed. Based on demand, the team began selling seats in the arena’s upper bowl Thursday.
Just like on a regular game day, the Sabres will hold morning skates Friday, beginning at 9:45 a.m. They will be free and open to the public, and should run until about 12:30 p.m. The two teams will take the ice for pregame warmups at 6:30, just as they would normally.
The Sabres had about 8,700 fans in the house for the scrimmage last year. The Edmonton Oilers had about 6,500 fans on hand for their version earlier this week in Rexall Place. The team didn’t charge but accepted donations to a fund for an Edmonton police officer killed in the line of duty last month.
No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid had five of the 14 goals scored in that event but the game was played solely in a four-on-four and three-on-three format.
Thursday’s Sabres sessions were limited to testing, with players’ skating a key component. They were timed in sprint drills and also skated while tethered to the boards and to parachutes.
“I work a lot on my skating,” Eichel said. “A lot of it is off ice and part of it is on ice. You’re explosive your first three steps getting at top speed right away and I take a lot of pride in that. I just try to have a long stride and get as much out of every push and every stride that I can as efficient as I can. It’s something I’ve worked on and continue to work on.”
Eichel’s thoughts on rooming with fellow No. 2 overall pick Sam Reinhart this week: “He’s a really good guy to be around. He can laugh and have fun. He’s super focused, a great player and an awesome kid. It’s been really fun to get to know him and spend time with him.”
The Sabres have hired Anders Forsberg to their European scouting staff. He was fired last year as head coach of MODO in the Swedish Elite League and was a scout with the Ottawa Senators from 2007-2010 when Buffalo General Manager Tim Murray was assistant GM there.
The hiring was reported Thursday by SportExpressen in Sweden and later confirmed by the Sabres. The Swedish report listed Forsberg as the Sabres’ new director of European scouting, but the team simply said he was being added to the staff.
“Tim is perhaps the best hockey man I encountered,” Forsberg said of Murray in a translated version of the Swedish story. “He is very good at so many levels and very straight and simple ... and usually get what he wants. He is perhaps the most important piece for this organization.”
Bought-out Sabres forward Cody Hodgson was blunt about his final season in Buffalo during his introductory chat with Nashville reporters Wednesday. Said Hodgson, “It was a rough year all the way around, on the ice, off the ice, everything that could go wrong went wrong. It was a disaster of a season by all accounts.”
Hodgson signed a one-year, $1.05 million contract with the Predators on July 1. He will wear No. 11 there after wearing 19 in Buffalo.
The Rochester Amerks announced they have signed veteran forward and former captain Matt Ellis to a one-year AHL contract. Ellis, 33, has been in the Sabres organization since 2008 and split time last year between Buffalo and Rochester, with 39 NHL games and 38 in the AHL. He has played 286 games with the Sabres the last seven years.