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Locker room clean-out brings Sabres season to an end

The 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres season ended with a bang against the New York Islanders on Saturday. The overtime, 4-3 win brought not only smiles to the players, but relief.

Jack Eichel said he was ready for some “down time” with a tired smile, “I think it’s time for me to take a little break and unwind a little bit here, kind of take a deep breath for the first time in a while.”

The 19-year-old hopes that by separating himself from his skates and spending time with his family, he will be both mentally and physically prepared to come back next season and head to playoffs.

Brian Gionta was feeling good after scoring two goals in Brooklyn, and announced to the media he would play next season, the last year of his contract.

“I feel great. I still feel good out there,” the 37-year-old captain said. “I feel like I can contribute to the team and want to keep playing.” Gionta hopes that his experience will bring confidence to his fellow teammates and he plans to continue working every day to be the best he can be.

The future is looking brighter in blue and gold for Rasmus Ristolainen, who hopes to sign a long-term contract with the Sabres. He is on track to become a restricted free agent, but the Sabres want to keep their number one defenseman on hand.

Josh Gorges, his defense partner, had nothing but positive things to say about the 21-year-old Risolainen. “Here’s a young player with the ability to do everything … he’s the first-unit power play, first-unit penalty kill, in at the end of the games whether you’re up or down a goal,” Gorges said.

With nine goals, 32 assists, and a total of 41 points, Ristolainen also recorded the most ice time on the team. He admitted to enjoying a battle, saying, “I played against the best players, the top lines, and you’ve got to make it hard for them. It’s a good challenge. You have to be ready every night.” With the hope of signing a long-term contract, he hopes to be a member of a playoff team next season.

Forward Marcus Foligno looks forward to the summer to improve quickness and his overall finesse by “skating things like that I’m always trying to get better at.”

Foligno also aims to improve consistency and reflects on the second half of the season as motivation to continue strengthening his game. He ultimately hopes to land more of a power forward role next year.

Tyler Ennis is on his way to recovery after sustaining a concussion Dec. 30. After months of what were dark times for the hockey player, he is back in his skates working slowly to hopefully be back in time for next season.

Sabres GM Tim Murray was busy in the press room Monday. About Matt Moulson Murray said, “he has a contract with us. He’s a Buffalo Sabre. He knows it was a tough season; he’s going to work hard this summer.”

Looking toward the future, Murray said, “We will look at free agency. There are some good free agents out there. And we have some really good prospects already here.” Mostly, the GM just wants the team to be playing at this time next year.

“The goal is to make the playoffs. We will make some changes, but they won’t be as drastic as last offseason,” he said.

The 2016-17 season is a few months away, but the team is already mentally preparing to be a playoffs-ready team by September.

Alexandra Zurbrick is a senior at Orchard Park High School.