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Sabres see chance to do something special as they arrive at camp

Jack Eichel knows how to make an entrance. His arrival in 2015 brought hope to the Sabres' fan base.

His arrival at training camp Thursday set the tone for the season.

"If you look at what I've done, it hasn't been a whole lot: two mediocre seasons on a losing team," Eichel said. "I think I have a lot to prove. Actually, I think I've proven nothing.

"It's a huge year for me personally and as a team."

While Eichel quickly re-established himself as the Sabres' competitive conscience, Phil Housley walked into KeyBank Center as the breath of fresh air. To him, it doesn't matter what happened with Eichel and the Sabres the last two seasons.

All that matters is there's a chance to do something special.

"We're hopefully going to write a new chapter for the Buffalo Sabres' organization," Housley said. "It's a good hockey team. There's a lot of great players on this team.

"I just tend to try to move forward. Whatever happened last year, we're coming in with a clean slate, a fresh start for these players. I think they're going to like that."

Make no mistake, the players are happy to see Housley.

"There's a little bit of a different vibe going into the rink," goaltender Robin Lehner said. "It's a positive vibe, refreshing."

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Housley is promising many of the same things pledged by previous coach Dan Bylsma. The difference is that Housley's main theme – aggressive play – sounds more achievable than Bylsma's mantra of playing with pace.

That's because Housley has better players. The additions of defensemen Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Victor Antipin give the Sabres the skill needed to create offense from the back end.

"We've talked about playing aggressive offensively, but we need to play aggressive defensively," Housley said. "The days are gone when a guy makes a breakout pass and the D just watches the rush go up and play. They have to get up in the play, not only to maybe join the rush and add to the attack, but be in the offensive zone being able to keep pucks in, or else you're going to start playing defense."

The thought of playing offense appeals to a team that allowed an NHL-worst 34.3 shots per game last year. Housley's plan to heavily involve the defense should allow the potent forwards to do more.

"The way that Phil wants to play is right up my alley," Eichel said. "I'm excited for it. D down the walls, D in the rush, that's me. That all sounds good."

As the Sabres showed last year, Housley can only do so much. The players have to buy in. Without rehashing all the details, let's just say that didn't happen last year.

"As a team I didn't think we always played the game the right way to where we were going to give ourselves the most success," right wing Kyle Okposo said. "There were some times where I know we all thought in the room that we could be better, and I know some guys spoke out about the accountability factor.

"We do need to be more disciplined. This is a league where the margin for error is so small that you have to be at your best all the time. There's no more room for having an off night or having three or four games where you're not at your best. You've got to bring it every night because even if you do bring it every night you're not going to win every game.

"We definitely need to mature as a team. I think that that's probably a really big thing with our squad is we have a lot of young players, but they have the ability to play older, to play a more mature game. I think that was something that was just lacking a little bit. It was from everybody, myself, too.

"We can all be better, and we can cut that learning curve down significantly if everybody really buys in and we have some maturity to our game."

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The first steps to buying in come Friday morning when they take the ice in HarborCenter. The Sabres will have 45-minute workouts that start at 9:45 and 11:45 a.m. Fans are welcome to attend.

They'll see whether the words and game plan laid out Thursday might make a difference for the end of the season.

"We're going to try to represent the Buffalo Sabres' organization the best way we know how moving forward here," Housley said. "It's a new chapter, a clean slate moving forward here, so I'm excited."

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