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Sabres Notebook: Amerks sense recall competition; Bogosian debuts

When Jason Botterill arrived in Buffalo and installed Randy Sexton as the general manager in Rochester, he said increased attention on the Amerks would result in more competition to make the Sabres.

He was right.

"That's definitely true," Sabres center and Rochester call-up Kyle Criscuolo said Friday. "There's just so many young guys down there, and everybody's trying to get better every day. That builds a competitive atmosphere, which is obviously good for the team and keeps everybody on their toes.

"It's probably one of the reasons they're winning so much."

While the Sabres entered their game against Pittsburgh on a 1-7-2 slide that dropped them to 6-15-4, Rochester started its game versus Hartford in second place with an 11-5-3 record. The competition among forwards for playing time is among the biggest reasons.

Left wing C.J. Smith leads the Amerks with 19 points in 20 games, and there are seven other forwards with at least nine points. Recently healthy Evan Rodrigues has six points in six games.

"It's what we've tried to accomplish down there," said Botterill, the Sabres' GM. "We understand players in the American Hockey League don't want to be in the American Hockey League. They want to be up in the National Hockey League.

"Chris Taylor and his staff have done an excellent job down there on getting guys to buy into the system, getting guys to buy into working on their games to get up to the National Hockey League."

The Sabres have recalled three forwards this season as Criscuolo followed Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste.

"The players down there have specific things to work on to get back up here," Botterill said. "Guys are understanding if they play well down there, hopefully they're going to get the opportunity to come up. It's not going to be the same person over and over again."

Sabres coach Phil Housley has made a conscious effort to keep tabs on the prospects. He speaks regularly with Taylor, the Amerks' coach, and asks Botterill and Sexton if the players are working on their to-do lists.

"It's the future of our team," Housley said. "There's some really good players down there. They're enjoying some success. They're winning. Their culture's really good right now, so we want those players to succeed in that culture."

There's certainly a different atmosphere in Buffalo, but Criscuolo believes the Sabres will get it together.

"In Roch, it's fun around the rink, and when you're winning it's definitely a good feeling," the rookie said. "There's a tight-knit group in here, too. I think it's going to come. A couple things are changing now, and hopefully that will be the guys in here saying the same thing in a couple games."

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For the first time this season, the Sabres' blue line featured the six defensemen who were expected to be the starters. Defenseman Zach Bogosian made his season debut after recovering from a lower-body injury.

The pairs were Marco Scandella-Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe-Victor Antipin and Nathan Beaulieu-Bogosian.

"He's a spark plug," Beaulieu said of Bogosian. "You just feel his energy when he comes in the dressing room. He's always happy. It will be good for us to have him. It will help our back end out a lot."

Bogosian became the 11th defenseman to dress for Buffalo this season.

"Anytime you lose one of your top four defensemen it's going to be tough, especially over a long haul," Housley said. "It's hard to replace those guys. I think the guys that came in did a really good job and got an opportunity, but to have him back he's a powerful skater. He brings a lot of good energy in our locker room. He's upbeat and has a great attitude.

"Yeah, we missed that."

Defenseman Matt Tennyson cleared waivers Friday and reported to the Amerks.

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Botterill, a longtime member of Pittsburgh's management group, will make his return to the city Saturday when the Sabres visit PPG Paints Arena. The GM didn't travel to the game against Pittsburgh in mid-November.

The Penguins are expected to salute Botterill during his return.

"There was always good memories and stuff there," Botterill said. "I appreciate what people like" Penguins GM "Jim Rutherford did to put me in this situation. Obviously, the success the organization had and the things he did behind the scenes to help me get this position, I'm extremely appreciative to the organization."

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