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Sabres’ Florentino has (unused) bragging rights over Eichel

When Providence and Boston University met in the 2015 NCAA championship in April, a current Buffalo Sabre scored the game’s opening goal. But not the player you’re probably thinking of.

Unless you were thinking of Anthony Florentino, the Providence sophomore defenseman and the Sabres’ fifth round pick in the 2013 Draft.

The 2015 NCAA final was played at Boston’s TD Garden, just 10 miles from where Florentino grew up in West Roxbury. He had 30 family members at the game, which Providence won, 4-3, for the school’s first title. Florentino called stepping on the ice at TD Garden “one of the best feelings.”

Ask him about adding a goal on top of that and he almost doesn’t know what to say.

“After I scored, I don’t really remember what happened, I just remember everyone coming over to me,” said Florentino, who scored just three goals the entire season. “It was kind of just a blur after it went in. I saw the celebration, I don’t really remember doing that but it was an unbelievable feeling afterward.”

Florentino’s squad was the underdog against Jack Eichel’s Boston University. He knew it. But that made the victory even more special for the defenseman.

“That was probably the biggest thing,” Florentino said about facing BU in the final. “With them being so close, they had a lot more fans than we did and we were kind of going in as the underdog, which we all knew, and that was difficult to handle at first because we knew the atmosphere would be on their side.”

Providence was one of the few teams in the country to have relative success against Eichel – which can largely be credited to the defensive play of guys like Florentino. Providence split its two regular season contests in Hockey East against BU in the 2014-15 season. Eichel – the nation’s leading scorer – had one goal and three assists in the three games, including the NCAA final where he had one assist. Eichel averaged nearly two points a game last season (26 goals, 45 assists for 71 points in 40 games).

But don’t think for a minute Florentino will miss going up against Eichel.

“I’m glad I don’t have to anymore,” Florentino said. “He’s an unbelievable player. … Defending him, he’s definitely the hardest player I’ve ever played against in my life.

“I just did my best to try to put a body on and shut him down, but it’s not an easy task to do.”

Florentino hasn’t bragged – or even discussed – his championship victory with BU’s Eichel and Evan Rodrigues at camp. He has no plans to, either.

“The game hasn’t come up with Jack or Evan,” Florentino said. “I kind of hope it doesn’t because it’s over with and they both have a long career ahead of them to focus on.”

Florentino said his role on Providence was to be a leader, shut down the defensive zone, create offense via the first pass and kill off power plays. Also to hit. And hit a lot.

As the youngest of five children, including four boys, Florentino is no stranger to hitting. His older brothers also played physical styles of hockey.

“It’s the easiest thing for me to do, I think. I just run into people,” Florentino said. “That’s my biggest aspect for my game, my biggest strength. I had three older brothers; I’ve always been getting hit. I’m always a little bigger than most guys, so it just makes it easier for me and creates an outlet for the forward, just being physical down low.”

That toughness was on display at last year’s development camp scrimmage. Florentino and Justin Kea did something rarely seen in intersquad scrimmages – they took off the gloves and fought. Some people thought Florentino was fighting just for the sake of fighting. He explained that wasn’t the case.

“We went down a third goal I’m pretty sure and the team needed a little spark,” Florentino said. “I can play that role and although it’s a development camp, you’re supposed to show what you do best and being a physical guy and not afraid to fight, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.”

His next step for the Sabres is returning to Providence for his junior season after completing his third Buffalo development camp and continuing to improve. Florentino wants to get faster, stronger and build his leadership skills at school and eventually bring those attributes to the Sabres’ roster.

When he gets back to Providence, his mindset is simple. “Last season’s over and we achieved our goal,” Florentino said, “but now it’s time to start over and set that new goal and get back to where we were.”

Thursday’s camp runs from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at First Niagara Center. The event is free to the public and there is free parking in the First Niagara Center parking ramp.

email: oobrien@buffnews.com

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