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McCormick works on skill set Sabres winger adds skating to his grit

Cody McCormick's chore over the summer, aside from finding a job, was to improve his skating. Judging by the comments of his new coach, McCormick is good at doing chores.

"He's held his own through this camp," Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We've noticed his skating."

McCormick previously has been lauded for grit and team play. But through 190 games and parts of five NHL seasons, he's rarely heard anyone praise his skating. Until now.

"I've never really been told that before, but I knew that was something I had to work on this summer," McCormick said after a recent practice in HSBC Arena. "That really helps my game when I get on the forecheck and backcheck, and that's something I really want to bring to the team."

The 26-year-old signed with the Sabres on Aug. 1 after playing a career-high 55 games for Colorado last season. It would have been more if he hadn't missed 15 with a foot injury and two because of a high-sticking suspension. But not many people noticed the Avalanche's best players last season, let alone the role guys. McCormick had one goal, 11 assists and 92 penalty minutes on a team that finished last in the Western Conference.

Ruff admittedly knew very little about McCormick coming into training camp. That changed the first day the veterans arrived for on-ice testing.

"He was able to maintain a real high level for every bout he went through," Ruff said. "He may have dropped off close to the least of anybody, which is real good.

"But there's a lot of good skaters who haven't been able to play hockey."

McCormick's next chore is to prove he can. He played right wing alongside center Jochen Hecht and left wing Daniel Paille in the Sabres' preseason opener, recording two hits in 12:43.

"You're trying to work at what you're good at out here," McCormick said. "For me, it's just a lot of energy out there, being physical, that sort of thing, getting pucks to the net and making sure there's a little havoc.

"You've got to come and earn your spot. Somebody's watching every shift, so you can't really take a shift off."

McCormick's reputation includes having a nonstop motor. His other strength is his size and the way in which he uses his 6-foot-3, 215-pound body. He had eight fighting majors last season, including bouts with capable scrappers Darcy Hordichuk, Ben Eager and Jarome Iginla.

"I'm not going to go out there and fight for no reason really, but if it benefits the team and is something that has to be done, that's not something I'll shy away from," McCormick said. "They mentioned that they were looking for a player like me. They sounded really excited when the call came, so it was something that brings a smile to my face when somebody needs a player like me."

The next two weeks will determine exactly where the Sabres need him. There may be a spot for McCormick on the fourth line or as the reserve forward who dresses in hostile environments. It's just as likely he will go to Portland to show the youngsters in the minor leagues how to compete every game.

"I'm not guaranteed anything," he said. "I just want to come in and work hard, just do the best I can, and hopefully I'm here at the end of the day."

The Sabres play in Washington tonight for a rematch of Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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