There will always be gratitude for Buffalo from Chad Ruhwedel. The defenseman signed as an undrafted free agent with the Sabres after three seasons of college hockey with UMass-Lowell. He found success in the American Hockey League but a healthy Sabres’ blue line kept him in Rochester.
After four seasons in the Sabres’ organization and just 33 NHL games he was ready to explore free agency.
There was homework to do and plenty of it to find the right fit.
That’s how Ruhwedel ended up with the Pittsburgh Penguins, making his return to Buffalo with the team for Tuesday’s game in KeyBank Center. He had one shot in 22:49 of ice time in the Penguins' 3-1 win over the Sabres.
Ruhwedel looked at how the Penguins used players from their American Hockey League affiliate along with how he could fit in with the organization.
“It’s a really good organization, right?” Ruhwedel said of Pittsburgh Tuesday after the Penguins pregame skate in KeyBank Center. “They have a really good history, a really good recent history, and they had a good track record too of getting guys from Wilkes-Barre in the organization. Last year they had a playoff run and a lot of players came up and made an impact. That was weighing a lot on my decision.
“You’ve got to find the right fit. You’ve got to look at depth charts, all the players in the organization, see where you stack up. It’s an interesting game you play. Once Pittsburgh did come around and reach out to us, it wasn’t too difficult of a decision to choose them. Like I said, they have a very good history with a lot of talented players on this team.”
Ruhwedel had to be patient for his opportunity with the Penguins. He started the season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton where he ranked second among the team’s defensemen with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 28 games.
He made his debut with the Penguins on Dec. 20 and scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 23 against Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils. He earned his next recall on Jan. 16 and has been with the team since.
“His mobility fits into the style of play we’re trying to play in Pittsburgh,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said about Ruhwedel. “But I give Chad a lot of credit. He’s a competitive guy. He’s worked on every aspect of his game. But I think he’s fit into our defensive corps just because of his overall two-way play.”
Sam Reinhart scored his first goal in four games, following up his own rebound early in the third period. His 17th goal of the season tied the game, 1-1, at 2:09 of the third.
But the Sabres couldn't gain much momentum off that goal and the game began to lull until the final six minutes when the Penguins put two more up on the board for a 3-1 win.
"I think we should have pressured them more after that goal especially and took it to them," Reinhart said. "They're one of the best teams in the league for a reason. We've got to find a way to compete with teams like that on a nightly basis and beat a team like that."
"We actually had a chance at the net to make it 2-1 in our favor," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I can't remember who the shot was to the net but there was a rebound there and a second chance and then a pile-up at the net that I thought was our chance to take the lead in the game. After that for six or seven minutes I don't think there was a shot in either direction. The game kinda settled in at that point in time and it felt like you were heading to a one-shot contest or maybe an overtime."
Justin Bailey and Jack Eichel each had shots on goal after Reinhart's tally with Eichel recording a game-high nine shots.
Hudson Fasching helped set up the play on Reinhart's goal, picking up his first NHL assist this season in his 10th game with the Sabres.
Robin Lehner wants to get a better look at the second goal, the eventual game-winner from Nick Bonino with 5:29 left in the game.
Ian Cole skated into the zone with the puck and into Sabres' defensemen Jake McCabe and Brady Austin. The broken play resulted with the puck on Bonino's stick who shot it through traffic and past Lehner's stick.
"I wish I would see the second goal," Lehner said. "I've got to watch it again but kinda feels like it's not much of a threat that turns into a threat when you shoot through one of our guys, one of their guys. It didn't bounce the way I wanted. It was kind of a broken play, a little backhand pass with two guys crossing. Just tried to hold my position. Felt it go off my stick and unfortunately into the net."
With Rasmus Ristolainen ejected from the game for an interference call early in the game, Zach Bogosian set a new career high in ice time, logging 33 minutes and 29 seconds. His previous career mark was 32:23 set on Feb. 19, 2015 at Philadelphia.
Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan donated $100,000 to Sault College in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. The money from the Ted Nolan Foundation will be used for two yearly scholarships worth $2,500 each.
The donations, known as the Rose Nolan Scholarship in honor of Nolan’s mother, will go to First Nations women who accomplishing their goal of a college education.
“I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without my mother’s love and support and encouragement,” Nolan told CTV News. “I just really think the stronger the woman, the stronger the family; the stronger the family, the stronger the community.”
Nolan started his foundation to help Indigenous youth in 2002. It has awarded 121 scholarships totaling more than $300,000 to First Nations women. In recognition of the latest donation, Sault College renamed its health and wellness board room in honor of Rose Nolan.
Nolan is a Sault Ste. Marie native who began his coaching career with the city’s junior team in 1988. He coached in Buffalo from 1995 to 1997 and 2013 to 2015.
There’s good news on the injury front for the Sabres as both Kyle Okposo and Will Carrier have been back to the ice.
Okposo missed his 10th game Tuesday with a rib injury while Carrier missed his 24th with a knee injury.
“Both Kyle and Will Carrier have returned to the ice, have had conditioning skates and are doing well and are quite possible for getting back with the team in the next week,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.