By Bill Hoppe
Late last month, Luke Adam drove his truck onto a ferry in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and began the 1,300-mile journey back to Buffalo for his second professional season. The 21-year-old figured the trek would take about three days, a long but relaxing trip. Instead, Hurricane Irene severely crimped his plans.
The storm forced Adam off the boat in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where he was stuck staying with a friend. Three days suddenly turned into five, and during the trip Adam tweeted he had “no patience left” and was “beyond rattled.”
By the end, Adam had spent 16 hours on the boat, another 25 in the truck, encountered a flooded highway, numerous other detours and received a speeding ticket. His truck, by the way, was “mangled” and went in for repairs.
“I didn’t want to risk going into it,” a calm Adam said about the storm earlier this week
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inside the Northtown Center. “Good thing I didn’t. I would’ve gotten stuck in the rain. It was painful. … It was something I don’t know if I’ll do again.”
Adam’s most recent odyssey to Buffalo seemingly took longer than his first one, which came after only eight games in Portland last season. The center dominated the AHL, scoring 29 goals and 62 points in 57 contests. He earned top rookie honors and frequent recalls, compiling three goals and four points in 19 NHL games.
The season defied expectations for the 44th overall pick in 2008.
“I would’ve never thought I was going to play 19 NHL games,” Adam said. “It went really well. I had a lot of help, though. I was put in a role by (coach) Kevin Dineen in Portland playing with (veterans) Mark Mancari and Matt Ellis right away.”
Adam is the only Sabre with big league experience on the 25-man roster for the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., which started Saturday with the first of four games. He hopes the early competition gives him a head start for what promises to be a fierce roster battle during training camp.
“I’m really looking forward to Traverse City and earning a spot on this team,” Adam said.
The Sabres sorely need another proven scoring presence in the middle. Beyond veteran Derek Roy, a consistent 70-point performer, there are question marks. No. 2 pivot Ville Leino, who signed a six-year, $27 million contract in July, has only played the wing in the NHL. Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht, two wingers forced into center duty last season, say they’re more comfortable on the side.
A strong preseason could help Adam secure a spot in the opening-night lineup. He doesn’t want to think about going to Rochester, the Sabres’ new affiliate.
“I know there’s an opportunity there,” Adam said. “I know that it’s going to be a lot of hard work and I’m going to have to show well, but it’s an opportunity.”
Adam isn’t the only intriguing Sabres prospect playing the tournament. Wingers Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian, two professional rookies, are likely ticketed for Rochester but could earn recalls this season. Defensemen Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk, the 23rd pick in 2010, could play for the Sabres someday.
The tournament will feature the debuts of Ron Rolston, Rochester’s new coach, and Chadd Cassidy and former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee, his assistants.
For Foligno, a Buffalo native and the son of Sabres legend Mike Foligno, pulling on the blue and gold sweater for the first time, even if it’s an exhibition game, will be a special feeling.
“It’s a rookie tournament, but at the same time, whenever you put on that jersey, it’s a lot of fun,” Foligno said after the prospects practiced Friday. “You got to take a lot of pride in it.”