A few days ago, Steve Shields was battling Andre Trefilov for the backup goalie's position on the Buffalo Sabres. Wednesday, Shields was in uniform for opening night while Trefilov was on waivers and probably headed out of town.
Such is life in the National Hockey League.
"It's different because you become friends, especially with the goalies," Shields said. "Andrei and I get along really well. But that's the way it is. Everyone is given an opportunity to play at this level, and you have to take advantage of it. I feel I've done that. For the past two years, I had great training camps and I felt I deserved an opportunity, but I was the one sent back to Rochester at the beginning of the season. It's not a situation for me to worry about."
Shields was brilliant in preseason. He had a goals-against average of 1.59 and a save percentage of 95.1. Trefilov's numbers were 4.72 and 85.7, respectively.
Shields's performance earned him the chance to watch defending Hart Trophy winner Dominik Hasek on most nights this season.
"If you're going to play second fiddle to somebody, it might as well be the best goalie in the world," Shields said. "It's a great opportunity for me, because I get to judge myself against Dom every day. Some days I'll know I'm getting closer than I was in the past. It's a really good sign that you are becoming a better player when you're competing against someone who's the best."
Erik Rasmussen knew for the last few days that Wednesday's game would be the first of his NHL career. When the Sabres' center was asked Wednesday afternoon how he slept Tuesday night, he responded, "Not well. I'm going to be wide awake for the next 24 hours."
Rasmussen figured the hours leading up to the game would crawl along.
"It's not that big of a step when you look at the long-term part of it. But as far as your lifelong dream means, it's everything. It's both ends of the spectrum," he said. "I just want to get on the ice and get into the game. This will be the longest National Anthem of my life."
Rasmussen played but did not record a point.
Jason Woolley rejoined the team for Wednesday's practice after attending the birth of his son, Carter William Woolley, on Tuesday in East Lansing, Mich. The mother, Danica, and future defenseman (7 pounds, 1 ounce) are doing fine.
Carter's arrival completed quite a week for Woolley, who was traded to the Sabres by the Pittsburgh Penguins and signed a contract all in the same week.
"It's been unbelievable -- I'll never forget it. And it's been all good things, too," he said.
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said talks with free agents Michael Peca and Alexei Zhitnik continue to move along slowly. He added that even if Peca were signed, the center still would be 10-14 days away from playing in games as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. . . . The Sabres' line combinations at the start of the game didn't last long, due to a game misconduct call on Donald Audette. They started the contest with Dixon Ward-Brian Holzinger-Audette, Randy Burridge-Wayne Primeau-Rob Ray, Michal Grosek-Rasmussen-Jason Dawe, and Miroslav Satan-Derek Plante-Matthew Barnaby. Brad May, Curtis Brown and Mike Hurlbut were the scratches. . . . Buffalo's power play was 0 for 6; St. Louis finished 1 for 6 with the man advantage. . . . Dawe needed six stitches to repair a cut on his face suffered during the third period. . . . Hasek was knocked down by Woolley during the third period, but he only needed a brief rest to recover as he finished the game. . . . Wednesday's game was the earliest season-opener in Sabre history. Buffalo is 16-9-3 on opening night.