It was a big, flashy goal celebration.
Sure it was partly because it was the goal that kick-started the Rochester Americans’ offense as they erased an early two-goal deficit.
But there was another meaning to the celebration for Mikhail Grigorenko. To score in First Niagara Center, in an NHL arena, in the home of the Buffalo Sabres, was a type of statement for the 20-year-old forward.
“I was really happy to score in this building,” Girgorenko said after the Amerks defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs, 3-2, Wednesday night.
He didn’t elaborate, but his reaction on the ice did much of the talking.
“By their celebration you know it meant a lot to them,” Rochester coach Chadd Cassidy said. “He’s had a rough couple of years just being in a tough situation. … I think scoring that goal, but also playing well tonight was a good step in his maturation process.”
With the Buffalo Sabres struggling to find any offense, spark or heart through their first 10 games, there has been a buzz about bringing up some of the younger talent, like Grigorenko and his linemate Joel Armia.
Grigorenko has played half seasons with the Sabres since being drafted 12th overall in 2012 by the franchise. His first two seasons were spent primarily between the NHL and his Quebec Major-Junior League team, a frustrating shuffle for the offensively gifted Russian center. He played well in Buffalo Sabres training camp but was assigned to Rochester, a move that initially stung.
“It was tough for a couple of days … now I’m just going to play hockey and don’t really think about other stuff going on with the management,” Grigorenko said. “I just try to focus on my game.
“Sometimes I think about it. Of course if I play bad, I’ll never come here, so I just focus on playing good and things on the ice. It’s not even all about points.”
The points seem to come naturally between Grigorenko and Armia. With the Amerks trailing, 2-0, they teamed up to assist on each other’s goals to tie the game in the second period. Luke Adam had the game-winner as the Amerks improved to 5-2-0-0.
Through the first seven games of the season, Grigorenko now leads the team with four goals. Armia is tied for the team lead in points with seven.
The maturity in the games of both Grigorenko and Armia comes from learning to play with structure and allowing their teammates to get them the puck.
But it also comes from staying focused on the task at hand and letting the NHL deal sort itself out.
“It’s not easy,” to keep them focused “because every player in our room thinks they can play here in Buffalo,” Cassidy said. “And that’s not saying anything about their team or anything like that. There’s a lot of players in the American league that can play in the National league. But are they ready to be consistent contributors? I would be the first to tell Mikhail and Joel Armia both, they’re not ready, maybe right now, to be a consistent contributor at that level. We’re not going to send you there … until you’re ready to do that. Because it doesn’t do any good for them to come up here and struggle and spin their wheels. We want to make sure they’re ready.
“There’s plenty for them to learn in the American league right now. ... They’ve been good players for us, but they’ve got to continue to grow. It’s a process. It takes a long time and when the time is right for them to be here they will.”