Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

September 23, 2011

Ryan realistic about role with Sabres

TORONTO — At some point in the next week or so, Michael Ryan will head to Rochester, a place he knows all too well. Over four seasons last decade, Ryan played 210 games with the Americans, most of them in the shadow of the Buffalo Sabres’ stable of slick youngsters.

Back then, Ryan was a prospect, too. But players like Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, and later, Patrick Kaleta, received the lion’s share of the attention.

All the while, Ryan quietly kept developing. He eventually earned a long recall late in 2006-07, and his sturdy play forced the Sabres to re-sign him for regular duty. But injuries derailed the winger during his one full NHL season, an omen.

Playing only 46 times that year, failing to seize his opportunity always bugged Ryan. That’s why the 31-year-old, an AHL star, decided to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres in August.

“Just give it one more go, one more shot here, try to play a full season … see what happens,” said Ryan, who played 12:24 in the Sabres’ 2-1 exhibition win Friday over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

The Sabres received a major scare late in the first period, when Roy, the No. 1 center, hurt his shoulder “a little bit” and never returned. The injury won’t sideline Roy long term, coach Lindy Ruff said.

Injuries have ravaged Ryan recently. A concussion, groin and hip problems have all plagued him. In the three seasons since he left, Ryan has played only 119 times, including only three games in 2009-10.

Ryan, however, said he’s healthy now, and returning to his first organization (Dallas actually drafted him) is comforting. Since the American skated in his last game for the Sabres on April 5, 2008, he’s played in Russia (very briefly), Nashville, Albany, Raleigh, Springfield, Mass. and Glens Falls.

“I definitely appreciate it a lot more,” Ryan said about his career. “It’s nice to be back with a lot of friends like that. It’s pretty cool. Every day, it kind of feels like four, five years ago, being back around all these guys.”

Ryan’s realistic about this season. He knows he’s heading to the minors, where if he can play a full campaign, he might score 40 goals. He has 70 tallies and 137 points in his last 151 AHL games.

He believes at some point the Sabres may utilize him.

“I just take it day-by-day, and maybe in November, maybe in March, who knows, maybe I can get back here?” Ryan said.

Ryan certainly offers the Sabres depth and versatility.

“I’ve played like every type of role in this organization, whether it was a scoring role in the minors or more of a checking role here,” Ryan said.

Ruff agrees.

“In an injury situation, you replace a skill guy, he comes up and plays,” Ruff said. “If it’s an energy, fourth-line, penalty-killing player, Michael has that experience to play in those situations. You’re getting probably a faster Matt Ellis that knows how the game needs to be played.”

Corey Tropp scored early Friday, and then Pominville’s power-play tally 12:27 into the third period held up as the Sabres improved to 3-0 this preseason.

The Sabres faced old friend Tim Connolly, who played in Buffalo from 2001-11, for the first time since the center signed with the Leafs over the summer.

“To be honest, it felt like another game,” said Connolly, who wears No. 12 with the Leafs, apparently in honor of former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. “There wasn’t a lot of talking between me and their team.”

Ruff added: “You’re thinking about a few plays that he may try, a couple of faceoff plays that he’s always been in on. You’re hoping he has success, but just not tonight.”

Connolly had zero points and was a minus-1 in 16:14 on the ice. He centers Phil Kessel, who scored the Leafs’ goal, and Joffrey Lupul.

Notes: Pominville served as captain; winger Nathan Gerbe and defenseman Jordan Leopold were assistants. … The Sabres host the Leafs tonight. Goalie Jhonas Enroth is expected to start. The Sabres also play Sunday in Columbus. … Winger Ales Kotalik and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, the two players mentioned most as cap casualties, haven’t played in any of the Sabres’ three preseason games. … Sabres goalie Ryan Miller made 33 saves in his first 60-minute effort this preseason.

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