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Sabres Notebook: Pfalzer shows off gold; Eichel plays through pain

For probably the 1,000th time since Emily Pfalzer won Olympic gold last month, someone asked her to show off the medal. She was then asked if she ever tires of hearing that.

"No, not at all," she said with a smile Saturday. "It's fun to share."

Pfalzer and the U.S. women's hockey team have certainly done their part to share the Olympic experience. They've been on television with Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon, been feted at NHL games, traveled to the nation's capital and even watched Serena and Venus Williams play tennis.

On Saturday, Pfalzer started her homecoming.

The Getzville native dropped the ceremonial faceoff for the Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks in KeyBank Center. She repeated the feat for the Buffalo Beauts before their Saturday evening playoff game in HarborCenter. She'll be in Sunday's St. Patrick's Day parade with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

"I'm so happy to come home," said Pfalzer, who flew in from Florida on Friday night. "It's been insane. We came from South Korea to L.A., then we went back to Tampa, where we've been training all year, and then we went to Washington D.C. and then New York and spent some time there.

"Everything's been so incredible."

The U.S. women are riding the momentum from a scintillating shootout victory over Canada in the Olympic gold-medal game in South Korea. They're relishing the honors they deserve.

"We just worked so hard to win the gold medal, and I'm just kind of taking it all in right now," the 24-year-old said.

Pfalzer isn't sure how long she'll spend in Buffalo, but she plans to make a few more appearances with the medal. One of the stops will be Nichols School, which she graduated from in 2011.

"Nichols has been amazing to me," she said. "I was so fortunate to have gone there academically and athletically. I love Nichols, and they've supported me all along the way."

She wants to give back by inspiring girls across the country to lace up the skates and strive to give their best.

"I hope it inspires young girls to play the sport we love and to continue playing and to dream big," Pfalzer said. "Just don't let anyone tell you you can't do anything and keep working hard and make sure you have fun."

Pfalzer had fun with the faceoff, dropping the puck for the Sabres' Jack Eichel and the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane – fellow USA Hockey representatives. Pfalzer's older brother, Matt, played youth hockey with Kane in Buffalo. Emily Pfazler, a 5-foot-2, 125-pound defenseman, has modeled parts of her game after the 5-11, 177-pound Kane.

"I love watching him," she said. "He's a smaller player, so am I, so he was always someone I looked up to on the ice."

After helping the United States win gold, Pfalzer is the one who's being looked up to across the country.

"That was amazing watching that game," Kane said. "It was fun seeing a name that you know, seeing her in the shootout. She's a great skater. I played with her brother growing up, so I can remember her around the rinks always wanting to talk to the guys. We knew she was really big into hockey, so it's not surprising to see she ended up where she did.

"It's always fun to see someone representing Buffalo and Western New York like that. Her family and everyone in Buffalo should be very proud of her."

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Eichel knew he'd be in pain at some point. It didn't matter. He wanted to play.

He played pretty well.

In the Sabres' lineup for the first time since Feb. 10, Eichel recorded an assist, had five shots on 11 attempts and drew a penalty that led to the winning goal in Buffalo's 5-3 victory.

“I felt good," said Eichel, who missed 15 games with a high-ankle sprain. "It’s not easy to take that much time off, come back and feel like yourself. I thought before I got hurt I was playing some of my best hockey, and obviously you miss five weeks, you come back and you’re not as sharp as you want to be, your game’s not where you want it to be exactly.

"But you can’t be too picky. Obviously, a little bit of rust out there and a couple things I want to clean up, but overall it was just a lot of fun to get out there and play again. That was the biggest thing. I just really enjoy it. I enjoy playing the game, no matter what time of the year it is, who we’re playing, where we’re playing. It’s just a lot of fun to be out on the ice with these guys.”

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Eichel skated 18:14, two minutes below his average of 20:02, but he felt the grind at one point. During the third period, he tweaked the ankle and was clearly in pain on the bench. He didn't miss a shift.

"You can tweak it here and there and it stings for a minute, but it comes back around," Eichel said. "Last year dealing with the injury and what goes with it, you know you’re going to tweak it. It’s not an if thing, it’s a when thing.

"You just want to get it to the point where you’re not thinking about it on the ice. I thought maybe in the first period I was a little hesitant. It’s my first game in five weeks, but I thought as the game went on I started to feel more comfortable, started to kind of forget about it and just play.”

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Injuries continue to travel through the Sabres' dressing room. Forward Zemgus Girgensons left Saturday's game during the first period with an undisclosed injury. Coach Phil Housley had no update.

Defenseman Casey Nelson has a nagging lower-body injury and missed his first game since being called up from Rochester on Jan. 18. Nelson has two goals and seven points in 26 games while skating 18:18 per night. Housley expects Nelson to return Monday when the Sabres host the Nashville Predators.

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The long season for center Jacob Josefson continues with another lower-body injury. He's week-to-week with only three weeks remaining in the season. Ankle injuries have limited Josefson to just 39 of the Sabres' 71 games. He has two goals and two assists.

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Buffalo wore green St. Patrick’s Day jerseys for warmups. The sweaters are up for auction at Sabres.com/auction and will benefit the team's foundation. The auction will run until 9 p.m. next Sunday.

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