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Guhle proves he can play in the NHL

There were most definitely nerves. He had been in Buffalo just 12 hours, an emergency recall from juniors, and at 19 Brendan Guhle was suiting up for his first NHL game.

But in his first shift he had a shot on goal.

"Yeah, that was pretty cool," Guhle said with a smile.

And soon he realized he indeed did belong in the National Hockey League.

"After the first few shifts I was like 'Oh. I can play this,' " he said.

Guhle didn't look like a rookie fresh off a plane from his major-junior team in Prince George, British Columbia. Recalled by the Sabres after Josh Gorges went down with a foot injury, the defenseman was one of the better players on the ice for the Buffalo Sabres in their 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in KeyBank Center Saturday afternoon.

Guhle played 16 minutes and 20 seconds, was a plus-one, and had the most shot attempts for either team with seven, including tying for the Sabres lead with four shots on goal.

He blocked two shots and had a key defensive play in the third period.

For a 19-year-old on the blue line, it was about as good as a debut can get.

"He’s a great young talent," said Cody Franson, his defensive partner for the afternoon. "He’s a good kid. He stepped in and played very well tonight. That’s not easy to do coming out of juniors. He did very well tonight. He was very easy to play with."

The most impressive part of his game may have been his calm demeanor.

Franson was most impressed with Guhle's patience. "He didn’t show any panic," Franson said. "In puck retrievals in the offensive zone he was moving around like he would be in juniors, it felt like. Coming into D-zone situations he was comfortable and talking. You can’t ask more than that for a kid coming out of juniors."

Guhle may have come up from juniors, but he's logged some game time with NHL players. Drafted in the second round of the 2015 NHL Entry draft, Guhle has been to two Sabres training camps and has played in 10 NHL preseason games. So once he was on the ice, he discovered this wasn't so intimidating after all.

"The first couple of shifts I was not really sure what to expect and it was a lot like preseason really," Guhle said. "I’ve played in a lot of preseason games. I kept working at it, kept trying to get better every shift."

Early in the game, coach Dan Bylsma noticed a few issues for the rookie – communication with goaltender Robin Lehner, defensive puck retrieval, communication coming out of the defensive zone.

"But he certainly wasn't shy about using his skating and jumping into the play and he did that in the second period. Did that in the third period," Bylsma said.

"He was on the bench talking. He's played with a number of these guys in exhibition games and I thought he felt real comfortable stepping right in and playing with those guys."

Part of the comfort came from playing with Franson.

"Playing with him made it super easy," Guhle said. "He was talking to me all game and making good plays and not putting me in bad spots with the puck. If I made a couple little screw-ups we’d talk about it on the bench and we’d just move on."

While there may have been some communication issues and a couple little screw-ups, there were some pretty amazing plays as well.

Like the shot in the second period when he nearly notched his first NHL point. Guhle fired the puck from the blue line through a screen and Boston goalie Tuukka Rask had some trouble handling it. Brian Gionta was at the crease for the rebound and tried to kick the puck to his stick. Instead he kicked the puck in the net and the goal was disallowed.

"I just tried to get it past the first guy," Guhle said of the shot that came about three minutes into the second period with the Sabres trailing, 1-0. "There wasn’t too many guys after that I don’t think. I thought it was going in at first." Rask "seemed startled when it hit him and Gio was right there.

"In the WHL that’s a goal every time. There’s no kicking rule. I'm still getting used to those rules."

Guhle had another excellent scoring chance in the third period, jumping into the play and driving in on Rask, who made the save.

But Guhle had some solid defensive plays as well, most notably foiling a break by David Krejci with 8:23 left in the game and the Sabres trailing, 2-1.

Krejci had picked up the puck and was racing down the left side. Guhle used his speed to catch up, flipped his body to get in position, and knocked the puck away.

"He was coming down the left side so I knew, well I had a good feeling he was going to try and pull it to his forehand," Guhle said. "He probably wouldn’t get much off a backhand. Just get my stick in the lane and when he tried to make a move I poked him."

How long Guhle stays in Buffalo will largely be determined by the health status of the defensive corps. There was no update on Gorges, who took a puck off his foot against the New York Rangers on Thursday. Guhle can play in nine NHL games before the first year of his NHL contract kicks in.

But the business side will take care of itself for Guhle. First there are memories of his first NHL game that he will savor.

"I'll definitely remember that disallowed goal," Guhle said. "That shot in the third period I had on the rush that was pretty close. First shift, I remember that shot I had. Would have been nice to get the win but I think it was a good game for myself."


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