By Jonah Bronstein<br><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">E-mail Jonah</a>
Six current and former Niagara University players are competing in NHL development camps this week.
Juliano Pagliero*, Ottawa Senators
Sean Bentivoglio, New York Islanders
Kyle Rogers, Toronto Maple Leages
Scott Langdon, Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Caruana, Anaheim Ducks
Les Reaney, Edmonton Oilers
* Expected to return to NU next season
LEWISTON — “If you’re a hockey fan, you can’t miss something like this.”
That’s Keith Wozniak’s message to us in Niagara County. Wozniak put his gas money where his mouth was Wednesday, driving 90 minutes from Gates, a Rochester suburb, to watch the first session of the Buffalo Sabres’ development camp at Niagara University’s Dwyer Arena.
Wozniak, a Kenmore West High School graduate, his wife, Alyssa, and 4-year-old son, Jacob, were among the more than 250 fans who got an up-close — and free — look at the first Sabres activity of the 2008-09 season: a two-hour practice on two rinks featuring 30 prospects.
The Wozniaks said they were most interested in watching some of their favorite former Rochester Americans, particularly Patrick Kaleta and Adam Dennis.
“This is the last time we’re going to see them,” said Alyssa, noting that the Sabres recently switched their American Hockey League affiliation from Rochester to Portland, Maine.
New additions Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy and goaltender Jhonas Enroth were the main attractions, along with Tyler Myers, the one of the Sabres’ recent first-round draft picks.
“I wasn’t sure about him,” said John Adams of Niagara Falls. “But he can really skate, for being that big (6-foot-7).”
Gerbe, the reigning Frozen Four MVP who measures 14 inches shorter than Myers, was expected to begin camp Thursday after visiting the White House with his Boston College teammates on Tuesday, but took the ice Wednesday. He impressed both on and off the ice.
“They were doing calisthenics down there on the floor before practice,” said Tom Prince of Lancaster. “Even without a jersey on, I could tell who Gerbe was right away. He’s built.”
“What a shot!” Town of Niagara resident Jeff Torcasio said after one of Gerbe’s goals, before adding, “he looks like he’s going to be really good.”
Adams, a Niagara County Community College student working on the NU campus this summer, and Torcasio, whose two sons play travel hockey out of Dwyer, expressed excitement that the Sabres moved their camp here from the Amherst Pepsi Center.
“It’s nice to see them come up here,” Torcasio said. “I think it’s going to pull in some new fans. It’s also very good for Niagara University.”
“I love that I live just five minutes away,” Adams added. “This is really convenient.”
Prince, looking after his son, Lucas, 7, and nephew, Alex Librera, 10, said he prefers Dwyer to the Pepsi Center, even though his commute has become less convenient.
“This is a great venue for this camp,” he said.
The Wozniaks, who are planning to return at least once before camp closes July 1, said Dwyer is a major upgrade over the Pepsi Center.
“It’s much nicer,” said Keith, “There are more seats to sit in. They have the heat on. You expect an ice rink to be cold, but it was freezing (at the Pepsi Center). And it was dark.”
Contact reporter Jonah Bronstein at 282-2311, ext. 2258.