ROCHESTER – As his first game in more than eight months approached, defenseman Matt Hunwick said he started feeling anxious and experiencing some nerves.
Hunwick, 33, has played 621 games as pro, but Tuesday’s contest for the Americans, the start of an American Hockey League conditioning assignment, held special meaning.
The Michigan native hadn’t played a game since April 1, his final appearance with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After injuring his neck working out during the offseason, he has missed more than two months of his first season with the Sabres.
So Wednesday’s pregame nap didn’t last long.
“I took my nap, I was up at 2 o’clock ready to go,” Hunwick said following the Amerks’ loss 5-1 to the Binghamton Devils in Blue Cross Arena.
Hunwick, who skated beside Jack Dougherty, was one of the Amerks’ few bright spots in an otherwise ugly night.
“You can tell there’s a reason why he’s played so many NHL games,” Amerks coach Chris Taylor said. “I thought he played really well for his first game. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t play well as a team.”
Taylor utilized Hunwick in all situations, giving him big minutes.
“It’s good just to get the first one over with,” said Hunwick, who assisted on Sean Malone’s second-period goal. “I think I’ve been waiting a long time for it. I did have some nerves before, just because it’s been so long.”
Hunwick spent nearly two weeks practicing with the Sabres before Wednesday’s appearance. Still, nothing can replicate game action.
“I guess you can only practice so much,” Hunwick said. “I think at some I need to get into a game. So this is a great first opportunity.”
Early in Wednesday’s contest, Hunwick said his body felt like he hadn’t played in more than eight months.
“Seven or eight months is probably the longest I’ve been off other than the lockout year,” Hunwick said. “I think I felt it a little bit in the first period just trying to get my mind going, just the speed of the game.
“Like anything, you adjust, you pick up things as the game goes along.”
While Hunwick had made more than 100 AHL appearances, he hadn’t played in the league since 2013-14.
“I don’t really know anyone on the other team anymore,” Hunwick said of the AHL. “It’s been a while, the leagues turns over so quick nowadays, a lot of young guys. Just the speed of the game, even the American Hockey League is fast.”
Hunwick doesn’t have a timetable for his return to the NHL. He will likely play for the Amerks again Friday against the Cleveland Monsters.
“Another game I’ll have a better idea,” Hunwick said. “After the first period, I maybe did feel a little slow with decision-making. I just got to get back to that pace, reading the play, going back for pucks.
“That’s probably the biggest thing as defensemen, just get used to going back, skating, checking your shoulders, seeing what’s available and making the right play.”
The Sabres, who acquired Hunwick on June 27, have placed him on long-term injured reserve, according to capfriendly.com. Hunwick has a $2.25 million salary this season.
Johannson's rough night
Even though the Sabres returned goalie Scott Wedgewood to the Amerks on Tuesday, Taylor started prospect Jonas Johansson against Binghamton.
“It was warranted that he got that start,” Taylor said of Johansson, who won two starts last week after the Amerks summoned him from the ECHL.
Johansson, 23, didn’t last long, allowing four goals on 10 shots before Taylor yanked him after the Devils scored twice in the first 1:53 of the second period.
Taylor wouldn’t pin all of the goals on Johansson.
“Would he have liked one or two back? For sure,” Taylor said. “You have to make a big save. The spiraling just kept going and I had to stop it. It wasn’t fair for him to stay in.”
Backup Adam Wilcox replaced Johansson.
“It’s never fun,” Johansson said of getting yanked. “You feel like you let your team down. But nothing will be better if I sit (ticked off) at the bench, that’s for sure. ... I'm a little disappointed in my game tonight. I felt like I didn’t come up with enough high-level (saves).”
Taylor wanted Wedgewood to receive more practice time, so he scratched him.
The Amerks sent Johansson back to Cincinnati on Thursday. The Swede went 2-1-0 with a 2.97 goals-against average and an .891 save percentage in three games.
Taylor said Amerks captain Kevin Porter is week to week with a lower-body injury he suffered when he hit an opponent in Friday’s 2-1 win against the Providence Bruins. ... Amerks forward Dalton Smith missed Wednesday’s game because the AHL suspended him for boarding Providence’s Jakub Zboril. ... Despite the loss, Rochester has won five of its last seven.