The Buffalo Sabres' development camp made quite an impression on its participants, some of whom won't be back at the First Niagara Center for 12 more months.
Forty-one prospects took part. The camp gave entry-level players and unsigned draft picks a taste of the team's culture. After a horrid 2013-14 season, some people might think that's not such a good thing. But the potential future Sabres completely disagree.
"I came out there, and there's so much talent on the ice," said Taylor Fasching, whom the Sabres acquired last season from the Los Angeles Kings and who's returning for his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota. "I like the atmosphere out there. There's a lot of competition. It's a lot of fun."
Sabres fans also had fun. Nearly 15,000 attended at least a portion of the camp, including more than 8,700 who were at Tuesday's scrimmage. This week's crowds set an event record.
"Since we moved development camp to the First Niagara Center three years ago, it has quickly become a signature off-season event for our fans," Sabres President Ted Black said. "There is so much interest and excitement surrounding the Sabres prospects right now, especially with our present and future high draft picks."
"It's designed to wear guys down and see where they're at physically and mentally … it's a dream come true."
Jordan Samuels-Thomas will get a crack at that lifestyle full-time in 2014-15. He signed a contract just days after the Sabres acquired him from the Winnipeg Jets. He's only spoken briefly to coach Ted Nolan but said he feels he can contribute to what the coach – and what fans – want from the team and its players:
"He wants guys who compete first and foremost. They're so serious and they're so passionate about changing things here."
That kind of confidence has been sorely lacking from the franchise for several years as its downward slide to the NHL basement has commenced. But he feels events like the camp can help the franchise's future stars get a head start on the turnaround:
"It's a great bonding experience … Most of the guys at this stage are trying to develop and get better. Everyone's a good player at this level."
Improving their level of play ever higher is of the utmost importance, Black said"
"As an organization, we’ve really tried to ramp up our efforts with development camp over the past few seasons. It’s a chance for us to meet the ever-growing interest that our fans have in our prospects and provide some hockey entertainment during the summer months."
The team is now off until training camp starts in September. The season opens Oct. 9 at home against Columbus.
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