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Sabres Notebook: Ullmark focused on growing in Rochester; Scandella returns

TORONTO – It would be easy for Linus Ullmark to be bummed.

The goaltender figured he'd paid his minor-league dues last season. It was a workhorse year that showed he could compete every night.

But before free agency even opened in July, word came that Buffalo was signing Chad Johnson to back up Robin Lehner. That meant Ullmark would start another season in Rochester.

"You always want to be the guy that plays in the NHL, but I'm just going to bide my time," Ullmark said. "It's like I always do it: Just go day-by-day and enjoy the moment. It's fun to be here."

Sulking simply isn't in the 24-year-old's nature, which was evident as he prepared to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night. Still, no matter how well he plays and looks during the preseason, Ullmark will head to the Amerks (provided Lehner and Johnson stay healthy).

"It feels like I can play there," Ullmark said of the NHL. "I'll just make an effort down there. I just have to be very professional every day, go 100 percent and no 50s or anything because then you have guys coming underneath that want to take your spot. I've got to do the same thing. I've got to earn my spot."

The situation is a reversal for Ullmark. The Swedish goalie was supposed to ease into North American hockey in 2015-16, but Lehner went down in the opener. Ullmark came up and spent the first three months of the season in Buffalo.

This seemed to be his time to return. He led the American Hockey League in games played, minutes and shots faced last season while being voted the Amerks' Most Valuable Player. He went 26-27-2 with a .909 save percentage on a team that was just 32-41-3.

The Amerks should be much better this season, and Ullmark is eager to lead them.

"I always try to think of it as personal development," he said. "If I can develop myself as a person, as a human being, I can grow as a goalie. That was one of the main topics I did during the season. There was a lot of things that happened – good things and bad things, like it always is – and I grew from it. That's just what I do.

"I'm 24. I've still got lots to learn, lots of hockey in me, so that's just how it is."

The netminder will again focus on the mental side of the sport. He wants to get better at reading plays and anticipating what the shooter is going to do.

"I try to get my head into the saves," Ullmark said. "That's one of my biggest strengths, too, and if I can develop that even further it's going to create more opportunities for me to be the guy that controls the play instead of just reacting to whatever happens."

Scandella taking his time

The only date Marco Scandella is concerned with is Oct. 5. He wants to be ready when the Sabres open the regular season.

As for the days between now and then? If he can get on the ice, great. If not, that's fine, too.

"It's good to be out with the boys, but some days is not going to be as good as others," Scandella said Friday. "I'm just coming off surgery, so I'm just getting back to playing at the NHL level, practicing hard. We're just taking our time with it so I don’t get reinjured."

The defenseman returned to practice Friday in HarborCenter after sitting out the previous two days. He had offseason hip surgery, and he's easing back.

Scandella has taken three maintenance days so far. There will certainly be more before Montreal comes to town for the opener. Buffalo has three preseason games left, and it's possible Scandella misses them all.

"I definitely feel that getting a game helps – it can't hurt you to get a game – but right now the most important thing is getting back to being me, playing at the high level that I play at and not trying to rush things," he said.

Scandella and coach Phil Housley are both in their first season with Buffalo, so the missed days hinder the defenseman's knowledge of the system. He's been asking extra questions to make sure he gets it.

"I played the same system for about seven years, so just coming here and learning new things, it's never a bad question to ask about how he wants things done," said the former Minnesota Wild blue-liner. "I'm programmed now in a different system, and I just want to make sure I figure out and ask as many questions as I can.

"Missing days isn't ideal, but at this point it's better to be smart about it."

Forward Alex Nylander, meanwhile, has yet to take the ice. He suffered a lower-body injury during the Sabres' Prospects Challenge. He's been watching practices in street clothes.

"He's doing well," Housley said. "He's making strides every day. It's something that we're going to be slow with, but he is making improvements. I don't know when he will be on the ice, but I would say it's going to be in the near future."

'Party in the Plaza'

The Sabres' season opener will again feature a "Party in the Plaza." It will run from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 5 outside KeyBank Center. The event is free to the public.

Sabres alumni will sign autographs and Sabretooth will provide giveaways. Food samplings will be provided by Tim Hortons, Yancey’s Fancy and Wegmans Sushi, with additional food and beverages available for purchase.

There will be live music by Rochester's Joywave, inflatable games and a fan photo area. All outdoor events are weather permitting.

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