With defenseman Henrik Tallinder sidelined by a sprained knee, the second phase of Buffalo Sabres training camp will include only one player who has never stepped onto NHL ice.
Winger Norm Milley, a 21-year-old from Toronto attending his third training camp, has never before traveled with the squad on a "team-building" trip away from the Buffalo area. Last year he was assigned to Rochester instead of staying in the Sabres' camp.
Milley also is a stranger to playing in the majors. While Amerks staples such as goalie Mika Noronen (two games) and defenseman Brian Campbell (20 games) have seen limited time with the parent club, Milley has never gotten beyond healthy-scratch status in an NHL game. He was understandably excited to accompany the more experienced Sabres to North Charleston, S.C., where the team arrived safely Sunday night.
"It's a big step for me," he said. "I'm just going to go down there and work hard and go up and down the wing, bump and grind and hopefully put the puck in a few times. My goal is just to go out there, feel 100 percent and have no regrets out there."
In his first year with the Amerks last season, Milley scored 20 goals and 24 assists in 77 games. He played the previous four seasons for his junior team in Sudbury, Ont., scoring 52 goals and 68 assists in 1998-99 and 52 goals and 60 assists in 1999-2000.
"He's a goal-scorer, and that's something we want to take a look at. He scored 50-plus in junior, and he's in great shape, he's got a tremendous work ethic, and he's a player that's going to vie for a position, probably," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's more than just finesse. I think sometimes you confuse finesse with being just a guy that plays a perimeter and looks to score goals. He's a guy that gets right in there and will pay a big price around the net to score goals."
Milley has already shown that touch, netting two goals in scrimmages this week at St. Catharines, Ont. Center Chris Taylor, who played alongside Milley last season before being called to Buffalo, expects Milley's success to continue.
"He's got great skills and he's really good in the corners one-on-one, and he deserves to be on the trip," said Taylor. "He's pretty focused on what he wants to do and he's a determined kid, so there's only good things to come for him."
Newly acquired center Tim Connolly, a standout through camp so far, skipped Sunday's morning skate and scrimmage at the Amherst Pepsi Center with a strained groin. Connolly said he sustained the injury during Saturday's intrasquad game and that it worsened overnight. He hoped to be back on the ice today.
"It's just a little bit sore," he said.
Forward Stu Barnes left the ice in mid-scrimmage Sunday, one shift after taking a blow to the head while being checked into the boards. Barnes, who did not return, said the training staff examined him as a precautionary measure.
"No big deal at all. I'm totally fine," he said.
General Manager Darcy Regier said he did not speak with holdout winger Erik Rasmussen's agent Saturday, as he had planned, because he was still "mulling" his next move in negotiations. Regier said that each side has proposed one-, two- and three-year deals, but they still differ on price. . . . Ruff has one day of the South Carolina trip set aside for off-ice bonding exercises. He also plans to try Vyacheslav Kozlov and Connolly on special teams.