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Postponement catches Sabres players by surprise

The Buffalo Sabres had a full practice Thursday in First Niagara Center minus winger Patrick Kaleta, still stranded in his Hamburg home. Everything was normal with hockey talk although the players were, of course, marveling at the power of the snowstorm that has enveloped parts of the region.

Jhonas Enroth, for now the starting goalie with the injury to Michal Neuvirth, was chatting about how much he was looking forward to tonight’s game against the New York Rangers and his Swedish hero, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Backup Nathan Lieuwen discussed how it took him nearly three hours to drive here from Rochester via Route 104 because the Thruway was closed.

Most of the players had already showered and left the building when a surprise announcement came down just after 3 p.m.: The NHL has decided to postpone tonight’s game due to what it said were “the continuing weather-related difficulties in the Greater Buffalo area and out of respect for the fans of the Sabres.”

“I was surprised,” said Zemgus Girgensons, who was hanging around to do an interview with a visiting TV crew from his native Latvia. “I was actually in the shower when I heard someone say it and I thought it was a joke. I had no idea. But it is what it is. It’s Mother Nature and you can’t do anything about it.”

“Some of the pictures that have been on the Internet are crazy,” added Tyler Ennis. “I can’t imagine being buried in snow like some of these people are. You want to wish everyone the best, so it’s smart. You have to worry about saving people and getting them in better situations.”

No makeup date has been announced and fans should hold their tickets for the new date. So with downtown easily accessible, why is tonight’s game off when Tuesday’s game against San Jose went on?

Michael Gilbert, the Sabres’ vice president for public and community relations, said the decisions were made by the league in consultation with the teams in both cases. Gilbert also said the fact that Tuesday’s game was a national telecast on the NBC Sports Network was not a factor.

“We had a team from California that was already in town and wasn’t coming back this way until March,” Gilbert said. “There just weren’t as many options in play to get that game in. This is a team from New York that wasn’t here yet and you’d have a lot of chances to make it up.”

The Rangers were waiting for NHL officials to give them the go-ahead to travel to Buffalo when the league decided to call off the game. The Sabres, like many other businesses in Buffalo, continue to be stressed on the staffing end by employees stranded in the snow unable to get to work because of the weather and driving bans in their towns.

Tuesday’s game was a heavy lift, even with only 6,200 fans in the house. President Ted Black served a stint as an usher, many full-time employees joined him or worked as ticket-takers, and many concession stands were not open.

The team was likely concerned about the potential for more people in the house for a Friday game. In addition, Gilbert said the arena was fully stocked Tuesday but some concession items and supplies are now running low because deliveries have been interrupted by the closure of the Thruway.

The Sabres also had a game postponed Jan. 7 against Carolina because of a blizzard. That game was made up on Feb. 25 as the first one coming out of the Olympic break.

“The conditions downtown were worse for that game last season but we certainly understand the conditions just outside of Buffalo here are pretty bad,” Tyler Myers said. “Especially with a guy like Pat Kaleta who hasn’t even been able to come to the rink yet, you can understand why the game was canceled. It’s just an adjustment we have to make.”

“This is incredible what’s going on here right now,” said Drew Stafford. “I look out the window of my apartment and you see it out on the lake. The wall of snow is right there. Your thoughts and well-wishes are definitely there with the people trying to dig themselves out.”

Ennis, who is from Edmonton, Alberta, has seen plenty of snow growing up. But even he is amazed by this storm.

“We have hard, tough winters. It’s bitter but it’s not like this,” Ennis said. “There’s not the lake effect. … When it’s snowing in Edmonton, everyone is getting hit. It’s not like a mile away there’s blue skies, like here. When you’re getting snowed on, you’re getting snowed on.”

With the game off, the Sabres will practice again today and fly to Washington for Saturday’s game against the Capitals.

“It’s kind of tough to think about hockey when all your surroundings are in dire straits like they are now,” coach Ted Nolan said before the announcement was made. “The only thing I’ve been watching is the weather reports they have on TV. You hope and pray. Something like this hasn’t happened in 40 years. You get as much snow in two days as you do in a whole year, it’s hard to think about anything else but that.”

email mharrington@buffnews.com

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