Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

February 9, 2009

AHL HOCKEY: Pirates set to invade HSBC

BUFFALO — While stretching with teammates at HSBC Arena’s center ice on Monday, Nathan Gerbe engaged in a playful exchange of knee hockey with Mathieu Darche, a guy who stands seven inches taller and weighs 50 pounds heavier.

Darche fired a puck that skipped and caught Gerbe, sending the center rolling in pain on the Sabres logo.

It’s been that kind of season for the Sabres farm team — one that opened the season with wins in 12 of their first 14 games. Forget filling injuries for the Sabres, Portland’s had to worry about scrambling to fill its own roster. Gerbe missed time with a concussion, center Tim Kennedy took a stick in the chops and lost six teeth, captain Tyler Bouck missed a string of games after running into a goal post, and three defensemen named Mike — Weber, Funk and Card — have been intermittently absent of the lineup.

But tonight when the Pirates get to strut their stuff in a National Hockey League building when they meet the Albany River Rats in a game, they’ll have a number of their stars in the lineup — Gerbe and Kennedy included.

And just that should be entertaining enough for Sabres fans interested in seeing what the future of the franchise holds.

Portland coach Kevin Dineen said after Monday’s practice that his team is licking its collective chops to get things started.

“It’s special for all of us to come in and play in an NHL building. As much as we want all of our players to reach their potential and play in the NHL, the reality of it is there are players in our lineup that this might be their only chance to play in an NHL building,” Dineen said. “It’s an exciting night for us. There’s a buzz in town. And our guys watch games from here in Buffalo, they know what the atmosphere is all about.”

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