Thirty years later, Lindy Ruff sounded as if that sick feeling was still churning in his stomach. He was a 19-year-old kid who didn't know what to expect in 1979 when he arrived for his first training camp and saw beasts like Jerry Korab, Jim Schoenfeld and Larry Playfair milling around the Sabres' dressing room.
Anyone would have been intimidated. Korab's nickname was King Kong for a reason. Schoenfeld was entering his eighth season and already had established himself as a tough customer in the NHL. Playfair would soon enjoy more knockouts than Hugh Hefner.
"Every guy was 6-4, 200-something [pounds]," Ruff said. "I thought, 'Oh, crap, get me back to juniors.' That's how you feel as a young kid."
Ruff spent his first season learning on the fly. In 63 games, he had five goals, 18 points and 38 penalty minutes as a part-time player refining his skills and adjusting to the league. A year later, he was stronger and grittier and finished with eight goals, 26 points and 121 penalty minutes. The next season, he had 16 goals, 48 points and 194 penalty minutes.
The Sabres should keep that in mind when they decide whether to keep 6-foot-8 defenseman Tyler Myers or send him back to juniors with nothing to prove. The 19-year-old is not eligible to play in Portland based on rules in the collective bargaining agreement. Clauses exist in which he can play 10 games or more and be shipped back, but they're not viable options for various reasons.
Basically, they have nine regular-season games to make up their minds.
Ruff sounded as if the Sabres were teetering on Myers, but it should be a no-brainer. Keep the kid in Buffalo and groom him. Surround him with NHL players and coaches. Give him a year under Doug McKenney, one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the business, and help him mature.
Myers was so skinny last year that the Sabres could have wired him back to Kelowna, but that's no longer the case. Ruff said he gained nearly 25 pounds since the beginning of last summer and was pushing 230. He's stronger and more confident after playing well for Canada in the world junior championships. Fifty or so games with the big boys would only make him better.
Ruff talked about the development process, making sure Big T goes from A to D without skipping B and C. Fair enough, but by keeping him they can accelerate the middle steps and make him the A-plus D-man they've lacked for years. He certainly wouldn't be the first teenager to make the leap from major junior to the NHL.
Let's hope money isn't an issue. History suggests the Sabres are worried about starting the clock on his contract, which would get him get back to the bargaining table for dough a year sooner after his three-year rookie deal expires.
If their roster is overcrowded, make room even if it means waiving a veteran. Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder, headed toward unrestricted free agency and not part of the Sabres' long-term future, are good candidates. The Sabres missed the playoffs with them, so they can certainly do the same without them.
No matter, the kid needs to stay. The Sabres would need to live with his mistakes knowing he'll improve as he becomes more comfortable. His teammates believe he belongs. Ruff acknowledged that Myers is pushing them more than they're pulling him.
Myers knew deep down last season that he wasn't prepared for the NHL. Now, he's certain he can. What a difference a year makes. Just ask his coach.
"I do think I'm ready," Myers said. "I need to show that consistency where I can play at this level. I wasn't ready last year. I came into camp wanting to make an impression. It's a lot different this time. I'm looking to make a team."