If you’re old enough to remember Sabres Hall of Famer Don Luce, you can certainly close your eyes and hear the sound that filled the air in Memorial Auditorium for so many years virtually every time the crafty center touched the puck.
“Luuuuuuuuuuce” was one of several Sabres anthems of the glorious 1970s. Maybe someday we’ll hear something similar in First Niagara Center. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been getting a preview.
It started during the second day of the NHL Draft on June 25 and it continued during Saturday’s development camp scrimmage. It mimicked what became a clarion call for the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights during their run to a Memorial Cup.
The sound is “Puuuuuuuuuu.”
The Sabres picked up center Cliff Pu with their first pick of the third round, No. 69 overall. And pundits who follow prospects immediately tabbed it as one of the better choices of the round. The crowd in the building on draft weekend immediately proclaimed their approval too with the chant that’s become a calling card at London’s Budweiser Gardens.
“It started in the playoffs when the team really started playing well and I started playing well,” Pu said during a recent break in the Sabres’ camp. “It’s a really cool experience having 10,000 fans cheer my name and hopefully next year they can do it there too.”
The 6-foot-2, 192-pound Pu had 12 goals and 19 assists during the regular season but really took off in the postseason as London’s No. 2 center. He had eight goals and five assists in 18 games on the Knights’ Memorial Cup run and posted a plus-9 rating.
“I always had it in me. I was just getting comfortable with my game,” said Pu, who turned 18 on June 3. “I was using my speed to my advantage more driving the net. As you play better, you get more confidence.”
Pu grew up in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill and played minor hockey in Toronto for six years under Hall of Famer Paul Coffey, the legendary former NHL defenseman best known for his Stanley Cup days with Edmonton and Pittsburgh. And as good as Coffey was offensively, he’s impressed upon Pu to work on his defensive skills across the ice.
“He sent me a congratulations text after I got drafted and he’s a great guy to talk to,” Pu said. “Whenever I can talk to him, it’s a privilege. As a kid, you don’t realize how big he was back in the day. Every game he’s talking little things in the game and I brought that here. All the parents on the team were pretty ecstatic when he was the coach. I didn’t understand it at first and now I really appreciate his greatness.”
There was some talk after his big postseason that Pu could go in the second round but he fell to the eighth pick of the third round.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You hear some things before and you get pretty anxious waiting. But as soon as I got picked by Buffalo, heard the crowd and heard the chant, it was pretty cool.”
Pu has shown off some slick skating in this camp and he’s known as a heady player who became one of the chief penalty killers for London under coach Dale Hunter, the longtime NHL agitator.
The Knights entered the conversation of being one of the best junior teams of all-time as they had seven players taken in the draft. That was the most since they had eight selected in the 1998 draft also held in Buffalo. And remember, this was a London team whose lineup featured Mitch Marner, the fourth overall pick of the 2015 draft by Toronto.
In fact, the Knights had three first-round picks last month (Olli Juolevi to Vancouver, Matthew Tkachuk to Calgary and Max Jones to Anaheim) for just the second time in franchise history.
Pu’s father, Jun, immigrated to Canada from China when he was 25 and his mother, Carol, followed a year later. Pu said the support of his parents, who put him on skates at an early age, was huge to his development and he understands that Asian-Canadians will look up to him as his career progresses.
“There’s not a lot of us playing hockey right now but you’re definitely seeing more at rinks,” he said. “Hockey is a great sport. Whatever I can do to help.”
Even though he had a relatively short offseason with London’s Memorial Cup win not coming until May 29, Pu said it was easy to be ready for the draft and his first taste of NHL life.
“The Memorial Cup was a great experience for me and my teammates and hopefully I can do it again next year,” he said. “This is a learning week. Trying to learn as much as I can to get better. We have some pretty experienced players here, some guys have played in the NHL. You just try to look at their work habits and learn.”
More than a year after his arrest made headlines across the hockey world, Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly will go on trial for his outstanding traffic charges beginning Monday in the Ontario Court of Justice in London. O’Reilly’s trial opens at 10 a.m. and could last two days.
O’Reilly was arrested at 4:05 a.m. on July 9, 2015 and charged with driving a motor vehicle while ability impaired and leaving the scene of an accident. Police tracked him down about a mile away from the scene after his vintage 1951 Chevrolet pickup truck allegedly rammed into a Tim Hortons cafe in Lucan, Ont.
The arrest came less than a week after O’Reilly signed a seven-year, $52.5-million extension that was the largest in franchise history. That deal opens this season and O’Reilly will earn $11 million for 2016-17, of which $10 million is in the form of a signing bonus.
O’Reilly had seven adjournments in his case, not overly unusual in the Canadian judicial system, before a trial date was finally set last Christmas Eve. He could be facing up to six months in jail, fines and a suspended license.
Once the trial is complete and penalties are handed down, O’Reilly could also face a suspension for the start of the regular season by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
The Sabres prospects were off Sunday and return to the HarborCenter ice with a double session Monday. The practices run from 9:50-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-2:50 p.m. They are free and open to the public.
Camp wraps up with the annual 3-on-3 tournament beginning Tuesday morning at 9:15. Admission for that is $10.