The season opener in far-off Finland is Oct. 7 but the plane headed for their European adventure leaves Saturday, so training camp is essentially over for the Buffalo Sabres.
After taking Monday off, the team reconvened for practice Tuesday in First Niagara Center and it could have been any winter's morning.
There was just one practice group, rather than the three you need to survive a camp with 60-plus bodies. And there was a tidy total of 22 players on the ice: Four forward lines (plus Derek Roy skating in a non-contact role), seven defensemen and two goalies.
The Sabres will have a public scrimmage downtown tonight at 7. They practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings (and head to Washington for a game Friday night). Then they leave Saturday night for workouts in Mannheim, Germany and won't be back until Oct. 9.
"It's nice to be out there as a group and start focusing on what's ahead of us," said winger Jason Pominville. "It's coming pretty quick. We leave Saturday and we have to be ready to play."
"Some guys I haven't skated with all camp because it's been separated by groups," added center Paul Gaustad. "So it's nice to have a single group out there, work with guys and develop more of a team atmosphere."
Forward and defense combinations appeared pretty close to what they figure to be for the regular season.
Luke Adam skated in Roy's spot between Thomas Vanek and Pominville. Ville Leino centered Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford while Gaustad was between Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta. The fourth line had Matt Ellis centering Brad Boyes and Cody McCormick.
Boyes, it should be noted, won't play Friday or in next Tuesday's exhibition against host Adler Mannheim after incurring a two-game suspension from the NHL from his elbow to the head of Toronto's Joe Colborne here Saturday night.
That group of forwards, plus the injured Jochen Hecht, are all expected to make the trip to Europe. On defense, Tyler Myers was playing with Robyn Regehr while Andrej Sekera was skating with Mike Weber and Christian Ehrhoff was going with tradeoff partners Jordan Leopold and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth tended goal, and Ruff said the team will bring a spare goalie, likely Drew McIntyre, on the trip as well.
"Players get more reps and the less numbers you have, you can go into more detail with what you want to work on," Ruff said. "We've kept the groups down to practice size but it's nice to get into four lines and more scrimmage-like and game-like situations."
"There's no better way getting back into game shape than playing games," said Pominville. "But I think you create good habits by having good practices. And I think we'll be able to do that a little bit more this week."
On the injury front, Ruff said Roy (shoulder) should be practicing fully in a day or two. Meanwhile, Hecht continues to be out of practice although the coach said he is "progressing."
The team has not said what Hecht's issue is although it's believed to be concussion-related, and Ruff acknowledged for the first time that it's possible Hecht may not be ready for the season opener against Anaheim in Helsinki.
"It's a possibility, a small amount of concern right now," said Ruff, who added that Hecht will be on the flight to Europe. "I wouldn't think we'll put it that we're there yet."