It's unlikely any Buffalo Sabre had more fun after practice Friday than Nathan Paetsch. The rookie defenseman got to go home, sit on the couch and unwrap presents.
He also got to do it with his whole family, something he can't remember happening recently.
Paetsch's parents flew in from Saskatchewan this week and watched Nathan play in the NHL for the first time Thursday. He spent last Christmas with them in Rochester, but this holiday season also features a visit from his older sister, her husband and their two kids. They live in Edmonton, and Paetsch couldn't recall the last time everyone was reunited for the holidays.
"It's been a long time since the whole family was together at the same time this close to Christmas, so they were taking advantage of the opportunity," said Paetsch's father, Rick. "It's special coming down here. We've had a horrible winter at home. We had record snowfalls for November. I'm looking out the back window [here], and guys are golfing, and it's warm out. This is a real break for us."
Paetsch's sister and her family are heading home Sunday, but his parents are staying for two more games. Paetsch has six assists and a plus-5 rating while playing 21 games in place of injured Henrik Tallinder.
"We've seen him in Rochester, but that's not like this," Rick Paetsch said. "We watched NHL games, and it was always, 'Can you ever imagine if your son was to play?' We always said, 'Well, it's a dream.' But who lives their dream? He did, and we get to watch him."
Sabres defenseman Dmitri Kalinin skipped Friday's practice in HSBC Arena. Why, you may ask? Good question.
"Dmitri has just some lower- to mid-body soreness," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said with a wry smile. "It's supposed to subside tomorrow, like the tide."
Take that to mean Kalinin will be in the lineup tonight against the Ottawa Senators.
Chris Drury and Teppo Numminen did practice Friday, a day after returning from the flu and a broken toe, respectively. Numminen said his toe felt fine during Thursday's game. Drury said his energy level is back to normal.
"Surprisingly, I felt all right," Drury said. "The Jersey game I couldn't even get out of bed, so there was no point in that one. At game time [Thursday] night, I felt pretty good."
The Senators also practiced in HSBC Arena on Friday. They are expected to welcome forwards Daniel Alfredsson (hip) and Peter Schaefer (eye infection) back.
Concussed Sabres center Tim Connolly was in the arena again Friday. He has become a regular visitor after staying away for a long stretch. He hasn't played since getting hit by Schaefer in the playoffs in May.
"Attitude, atmosphere, personality, everything seems a lot better than it did two weeks ago, and I'm a lot more upbeat and positive of where he's at," Ruff said.
The Senators are expecting their season to return to the upswing tonight. They are playing win-one, lose-one hockey with a 16-16-1 record. They beat Detroit, 3-2, two games ago, then got pasted by Nashville, 6-0, Thursday.
"Unfortunately, that's how the season has gone," defenseman Chris Phillips said. "It's been a little bit of a roller coaster, up and down. We certainly want to have a better showing after what happened last game to salvage this road trip.