Coach Phil Housley promised a much tougher training camp and he delivered Friday as two groups of Buffalo Sabres combined to spend more than three grueling hours on the ice at HarborCenter.
The drills came rapid-fire and the pace was fast, with Housley's voice barking orders that echoed throughout both rinks. Afterward, the second-year coach said he was thrilled to see how his players endured the workouts.
"It was a tough go today, but I’m really pleased the way the guys responded," Housley said. "These guys are ready to go. They’ve trained hard throughout the whole summer. They know what’s at stake, there’s competition for places. Everybody’s trying to make a good first impression. ... They were very focused today. I was really pleased the way both groups went out and executed."
Housley said his team's preparation was helped by the amount of work players did over the summer and in their informal skates the last three weeks leading to camp. It was necessary, the coach said, because the real thing is a much more structured setup at a much higher tempo.
"As much as you can do in the offseason, how you try to prepare, there’s nothing like stepping on the ice Day One of training camp," he said. "Because that tempo and the pace just go up another level."
Defensemen Jake McCabe (shoulder) and Zach Bogosian (hip) both returned to the team at 100 percent after their seasons ended prematurely due to surgeries. They each set career lows for a full year last season by playing 53 and 18 games, respectively.
McCabe admitted Friday the shoulder had been limiting him for a couple of years and took advantage of the time he was going to miss anyway with another injury to get it repaired.
Said McCabe: "It was kind of a decision at the point where I broke my thumb so it’s kind of like, do I rehab my thumb and come back for 10 games but then maybe not be ready for training camp? I was kind of weighing the pros and cons and ultimately we all felt like it was the right decision for me to be 100 percent for training camp.”
Housley said the team is formulating a roster plan for the first four games of the seven-game preseason schedule. It opens Monday in Columbus and the home opener is Tuesday against Pittsburgh in KeyBank Center.
The only player injured and unavailable in the wake of the team's physicals on Thursday is newly-acquired defenseman Matt Hunwick, who is out with an upper-body injury. Housley did not specify the severity other than to say Hunwick would miss the first part of camp.
The Sabres have announced the entire preseason schedule will be on WGR Radio 550 and four of the games will be televised.
The home opener will be on MSG, with Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray on the call. Dan Dunleavy will join Ray for the other six games on the radio.
The home-and-home series Friday and Saturday with Toronto will be shown on MSG using Sportsnet announcers. The Sept. 25 game against Columbus in Clinton will be shown on NBCSN.
There is no television for Monday's preseason opener at Columbus as well as the Sept. 26 game in Pittsburgh and the Sept. 28 finale against the New York Islanders in Oshawa, Ont.
The Sabres return to the ice Saturday with practices stretching over both HarborCenter rinks from 9:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. On Sunday, practice opens at 9:45 and a scrimmage will be held from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. All sessions are free and open to the public.