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Sabres Notebook: Tortorella has plenty of praise for Housley

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It was a little over a year ago when Phil Housley and John Tortorella were part of the same coaching staff.

Tortorella was the head coach for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey last fall in Toronto. Housley was chosen as an assistant coach for the team and it was an opportunity for the aspiring head coach to pick up some pointers from a veteran.

Wednesday was the first time they faced off head to head as head coaches in the National Hockey League as Housley's Buffalo Sabres visited Tortorella's Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I think he's just really intense," Housley said about Tortorella, who has coached more than 1,000 NHL games. "He's an up-front personality. He understands the game. He knows how to get the most out of his players. He's a terrific motivator. You know, you pick a little bit of everyone's brain as you go through and experience different situations, but John is a heck of a coach."

The United States lost all three of its games in group play, failing to advance. But Housley made quite an impression on Tortorella, who was effusive in his praise of the first-year Sabres head coach.

"He was really impressive. Almost too impressive," Tortorella said about Housley. "He was detailed. He was terrific. He ran our power play. We weren't there that long. We didn't win many games. We didn't win any games. But it was really rewarding for me to learn from him. In the short time we were together, to hear the different ideas from these young coaches. And that's what I wanted. I wanted a young staff to give them an opportunity in international hockey.

"It helped me tremendously just to get different ideas and Phil was terrific. He understood the athletes, had some really unique thoughts as far as the power play and five-on-five play. ... He's a good man. He's a really good hire for you. I wish him the best of luck. He deserved an opportunity and I'm sure he's going to do terrific."

* * *

Nothing says hockey rivalry quite like ... Buffalo and Columbus?

For the second straight season, NBC has made a matchup between the Sabres and Blue Jackets part of its "Wednesday Night Rivalry" package. Buffalo fans would be hard-pressed to call the series with the Columbus a "rivalry." That's usually reserved for, say, the Toronto Maple Leafs or Boston Bruins.

For its part, an NBC spokesman acknowledge that Buffalo-Columbus isn't a classic rivalry but the sports arm of the network likes the nature of the matchup.

"Our goal each week on Wednesday Night Rivalry is to showcase the classic rivalries of the NHL, as well as new rivalries that have formed in recent years," said an NBC Sports spokesperson. "However, due to the nature of the schedule and length of the season, some Wednesday games feature less traditional matchups. Sabres-Blue Jackets gives us an opportunity to highlight young stars like Jack Eichel and reward the Buffalo market, which consistently leads all local NHL markets each year, as well as showcase the growing hockey market of Columbus in front of a national audience."

And it may not be that bad of a budding rivalry. Columbus holds a 15-10-1-0 all-time record over the Sabres. Last year, the teams played three times, with the Blue Jackets winning the series, 2-1-0, as the home team won each game.

"I think it's an intense game for sure," Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly said of the "rivalry" with Columbus. "We're trying to find a way to win games and it's an important game for us, no matter who we're playing. I think we've had some pretty good matches against them. It's never an easy game. They're a really good team. It's a big challenge for us, for sure."

* * *

In his young pro hockey career, Jack Eichel has been selective about what charities he becomes involved with.

This one was easy.

Eichel, along with Dave & Adam's Card World, are donating all the profits from sales of Eichel's new line made Oct. 27-29 to the Susan G. Komen of Upstate New York.

"I'm just trying to pick charities and help them out a little bit," Eichel said. "We did a little Hurricane Harvey relief. October is Cancer Awareness Month. I just thought it was good to do something like that.

"I've definitely had people close to me that have been affected by it, whether it be breast cancer or other cancer. Pretty recently actually. I think any time you're able to help a foundation out that's had an impact in your life it makes sense."

The proceeds will be from sales on Oct. 27-29 only. Items can be purchased at The line includes "Train Like Eich" T-shirts along with hats and hoodies.

* * *

Zemgus Girgensons made his return to the Sabres lineup after missing three games with a lower body injury. He suffered the injury blocking a shot in the 5-4 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 17.

"It hurt pretty bad. It got me right where there is no padding on the side of the leg, so I'm just happy it wasn't anything major and didn't take me too long to get back," Girgensons said.

A key component of the Sabres penalty kill, he's ready to get back to action.

"This day in hockey, special teams is a big key to the game and I'm part of PK usually," Girgensons said. "It's an honor to do it and it's fun to do it."

Oh, and expect him to continue to block shots.

"He's that kind of player," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "He's gritty. His body in harm's way on the penalty kill. It's good to have him back obviously."

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