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Sabres notebook: Age improves Grigorenko's comfort level

A high skill set and outgoing personality couldn’t help Mikhail Grigorenko overcome one of his biggest problems the previous two years – his age. It’s tough for most 18- and 19-year-olds to fit in. Grigorenko, who bounced from the NHL to juniors, found that out.

Things are going much better this season.

“I feel more comfortable around the guys and in the locker room,” the 20-year-old said Wednesday before a 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay. “I remember my first year, sometimes it was hard to understand things, even just the language and stuff. I was 18 years old and guys thought I was too young, which I guess is normal.

“When you’re a kid around men, it’s a little different. Now I feel like I’m not a kid anymore, and that’s the big difference.”

Grigorenko, who excelled in training camp before starting the season in Rochester, played his seventh game for the Sabres on Wednesday. The center hopes there are plenty more in his future.

“I’m back in the NHL, and hopefully I’ll stay here forever,” he said with his usual smile in First Niagara Center.

Grigorenko, who has seven goals and 22 points in 30 games with the Amerks, seems to have absorbed coach Ted Nolan’s message that nothing will be given to anyone. Many in the organization thought the No. 12 overall pick in 2012 carried an air of entitlement during his first couple of go-rounds with the club.

“I’ve been around for a couple years, so I understand things better,” Grigorenko said. “I understand what it takes. I understand everyone is fighting for their jobs, and the best players are going to play.

“Obviously, people are going to help you, but no one is going to make you play if someone is better than you, which is a different mindset.”

Nolan likes what he has seen from Grigorenko, who has no goals and one assist with the Sabres while skating alongside wings Cody Hodgson and Chris Stewart.

“He’s been good,” Nolan said. “Sometimes you’ve got to really look for those subtle, smart plays that smart players do. Sometimes they don’t show up on the score sheet, but he’s made some really shifty, nifty passes to Stewart and Hodgson the past few games. Direct of that, I think both those players got better because of it.”

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Seven years ago today, the Sabres took the game outside for the first Winter Classic. Pittsburgh visited Buffalo and Ralph Wilson Stadium, and the memories remain strong for the lone Sabres player left – even if he didn’t skate in the game.

“Unfortunately, I had a concussion for the game, but they let me go out for warmups,” right wing Drew Stafford said. “You kind of get numb to playing in front of 18,000 fans, but when you have 80,000 screaming fans in a big bowl and it’s snowing out, it’s pretty incredible.”

After taking part in the pregame, Stafford watched the Ice Bowl from the suites with his parents. He hopes Buffalo gets another chance to host the Winter Classic, which is being played Thursday between the Capitals and Chicago in Washington.

“I’m kind of hoping someday they bring one back to have it at The Ralph because I think the experience the fans had there, and also the players, it’s got to be one of the better venues for it,” Stafford said.

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Buffalo babies born at two Kaleida Health hospitals will again be welcomed to the world with a message from the Sabres. The Sabres will provide all newborns at Women and Children’s Hospital and Millard Fillmore Suburban with a “Future No. 1 Draft Pick” Halo SleepSack Swaddle, a signed letter from team owner Terry Pegula and a sleep safety packet.

Sabres President Ted Black and Kaleida President and CEO Jody L. Lomeo will relaunch the program with the area’s first babies at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in Women and Children’s Hospital. The two Kaleida hospitals deliver 5,000 babies annually.

“It’s very special for our organization to be a part of such an important and intimate moment for the families of these newborns,” said Black. “The Sabres share a great bond with this community, and it’s our hope that this program helps to strengthen that bond and usher in a new generation of Sabres fans.”

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Sabres defenseman Tyson Strachan returned to the lineup after missing five games with a lower-body injury. He replaced Andre Benoit. Blue-liner Rasmus Ristolainen, who missed 1½ games with the flu, took part in the morning skate but did not play.

“This is the first time he touched the ice in four, five days,” Nolan said, “so we’re going to let him get his feet back underneath him and put him in next game.”

email: jvogl@buffnews.com

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