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Sabres say they're more accountable now

The season is new. The buzzword remains the same.

Back in April, while the Buffalo Sabres cleaned their lockers and got ready to depart after a disappointing season, they talked heavily about accountability. The key players in the dressing room -- including captain Craig Rivet and franchise goaltender Ryan Miller -- spoke passionately on the subject. They wanted to see their teammates come back in the fall working harder and willing to accept constructive criticism as part of the job.

Five months later, nearly all the same players are back in training camp. Accountability has repeatedly been brought up again. This time, the Sabres are confident it will be an integral part of their season, a season that will include the playoffs.

"Leaving the season, we talked about having the right kind of attitude in the locker room," Miller said. "That was something we addressed, and we're hoping it does come together where these guys are here for all the right reasons."

Coach Lindy Ruff said his players have grown up and realized their mistakes. Gone, he says, are the kids who never saw their own faults. In their place are more mature men who realize everyone can always do better.

"That's why we had discussions during the summer because I don't think we were really fair with ourselves when the season ended in the postseason meetings," Ruff said. "To a man, I don't think we accepted enough responsibility for not making it.

"I think the players realized that. In discussions we've had, they realize now in their own way they could have been better. Each guy could have been better, and that would have made a difference."

It's all well and good that the Sabres concur with their coach. But the troublesome trend last season was they didn't always agree with each other. It started near New Year's, when at least one player reacted poorly to in-room criticism after a loss to Washington. The Sabres continually hinted that hurt feelings lingered, that thin skins needed thickening.

They've spent part of the summer realizing that.

"I think we're actually going to put in a little better effort to make sure we're picking each other up and not getting frustrated," right wing Drew Stafford said.

Just in case the players didn't get the message on their own, General Manager Darcy Regier brought in a player to help. Mike Grier earned respect in his first stint with the team by working hard on the ice and, when needed, delivering messages off it.

The right winger hasn't changed after three seasons in San Jose. He knows why he's here, and he knows why it's important.

"You enjoy playing for the coach and the organization, but it really comes down to the guys in the room and the guy sitting next to you," Grier said. "You count on them to do their job, and you'll do your job. Good teams that do that, you don't have to question if someone will be there to have your back.

"If I need to say something, I'll say something, but from what I've seen already, the guys here -- [Derek Roy] and some of those guys, [Jason Pominville] -- they've matured a lot since I've last seen them, so I think that's a big step. As long as guys show up every night and play hard, I think we'll be OK."

September is an easy time to say accountability is here. In fact, it's easy to pay lip service any time. Tough times coinciding with tough words will show the Sabres truly have mastered the art of accountability.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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