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Sabres notebook: Hackett, back from knee surgery, gets call-up

Matt Hackett was sweating and he was thinking, the latter part being the most problematic for a goaltender.

The 24-year old returned from reconstructive knee surgery after blowing out his knee at the end of last year’s season.

He returned to the net in Rochester, getting his physical and mental groove back after seven months away from the game. It took him three starts to earn his first win – a 21-save performance in a 3-2 win over Adirondack on Friday.

That earned Hackett another call-up to the Sabres and a chance to continue reconstructing his game.

“Goaltending is basically all between the ears, right?” Hackett said at HarborCenter, joining the Sabres on Monday. “My first game back I was sweating the whole time, I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. Even just thinking about, ‘oh it could happen again. I could tear it again.’ But I trust it. I trust the doctors. The mental part will come. It just takes a few games to get back into it. After the first 10 minutes you kinda forget about it and get back in the swing of things.”

Hackett was recalled Monday after Michal Neuvirth suffered a lower body injury in a workout. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said Neuvirth would not be making the trip with the team which features four road games starting in Calgary Tuesday. Neuvirth’s injury would be “not long long but long enough” Nolan said.

So welcome back, Matt Hackett.

This trip is familiar for Hackett, who made his Sabres debut in a 3-1 win at Edmonton last season. He appeared in eight games for the Sabres, including the second-last game of the season where he suffered the extensive knee injury.

“I was happy” with the rehabilitation Hackett said. “Seven months. They said it could be six to nine months so seven months. Did some good work, got back early. ... There’s a few things I still want to work on, but there’s nothing like a game. You get into a game you’re back into those different situations you don’t see very often. You’ve just got to react to them and just compete as hard as you can. It’s all about competing no matter what happens.”

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Nolan likes to remind the media that Nikita Zadorov is a teenager.

He certainly had a teenage moment on Monday.

The 19-year-old defenseman did not make it back to Buffalo in time for the team’s first practice back from the All-Star break. As such, general manager Tim Murray announced he was suspended. In the press release, which officially called the offense “failure to report to the team on time following the NHL All-Star break,” Murray did not spell out how long the suspension would be but said “we anticipate Nikita joining the team at some point during this week’s western road trip.”

“When you’re a 19-year old kid, sometimes if you’re not instructed to do things, you know how kids can be sometimes,” Nolan said. “This will be a big, big learning curve for him. We’ll deal with it when he gets back.”

Added captain Brian Gionta, “It’s part of learning to be a professional. I’m sure that message will be sent.”

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Speaking of Gionta, the captain will return to the lineup against the Flames after missing 13 games with an upper body injury he suffered Dec. 21 when he was hit by Boston’s Matt Bartkowski.

Gionta still won’t specify what the injury was but did seem to rule out any type of concussion. “Upper body. It was not the head,” he said.

Marcus Foligno is getting closer to returning after missing 13 games with a hand injury, but there still is no timetable.

Mike Weber, who missed two games with an undisclosed injury, will return.

Matt Ellis was recalled for the second time to the Sabres. He played in four games for the team before the All Star break. Serving as an alternate captain for the Amerks he has 13 points in 38 games for the AHL affiliate this season.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com

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