Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - The Buffalo Sabres have been to two Buffalo Bills games and one Buffalo Bisons game as a team, and the regular season hasn’t even started yet.
A number of players showed up at the ballpark in Downtown Buffalo before training camp began.
Sabres captain Kyle Okposo organized a team trip to New Jersey to see the Bills play their season opener against the New York Jets, and then the team went down to Orchard Park and were on the field for warm ups on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
While the players had a lot of fun, it was more than that for Sabres head coach Don Granato.
"I know it’s more," said Granato following Monday's practice. "They love the comradery, they like doing things as a group as much as possible, and they love being in Buffalo. They take pride in it.
"There’s a lot of trash talking in an NHL game, and they take it personal when someone tries to trash talk Buffalo itself. That provides a spark like no other. They want to fight for this community, as they love being part of this community."
Granato loved the fact his players were down on the field seeing Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs operate in person.
"You will extract from that more motivation. You see the hype, and it makes you want to do better. It makes you elevate your own standard, and you’re pretty proud to have an opportunity to compete within this community. Those two things resonate with me," Granato said.
Zach Benson had never been to a NFL game until he went to see the home opener against the Las Vegas Raiders two weeks ago. Judging by the smile on his face, he really enjoyed the Dolphins game on Sunday.
"The home opener was pretty electric, but I think yesterday, the fans one-upped themselves. It was pretty surreal," said Benson following Monday's training camp practice.
The players spent plenty of time on the field taking in the preparation and focus that a football player goes through before a game is even played.
"It’s crazy to see how big and athletic all those guys are," Benson said. "To fist-pump Josh Allen was just the cherry on top."
Things are louder on the field, because the noise is coming down at you. It’s an experience Benson won’t soon forget.
"It was loud, and it was so cool to see the whole city come together for the one football game," he said.
When Jack Eichel was playing for the Sabres, he never stopped being a New England Patriots fan. I asked Benson if they’ve made him into a Bills fan, and he laughed and said, yes.
"It’s pretty hard to say no to that one," Benson said.
The game of football was pretty new to Henri Jokiharju when he came to North America from Finland in 2016 to play for the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League. He was down on the field too on Sunday and is getting to know football better. I asked how much he knew of the game before he got here.
"Not too much," Jokiharju admitted. "I just know it’s a big sport over here and people go crazy about that sport. But right now, I’m starting to learn it a lot more and more every year. I enjoy watching it."
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen will likely get the start in goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, and is expected to play the whole preseason game.
Monday's lines looked like this at practice:
Brett Murray – Jiri Kulich – Isak Rosen
Jordan Greenway – Casey Mittelstadt – Alex Tuch
JJ Peterka – Dylan Cozens – Victor Olofsson
Zemgus Girgensons – Peyton Krebs – Kyle Okposo
Lukas Rousek – Tyson Jost – Brandon Biro
Jeff Skinner – Tage Thompson – Zach Benson
Rasmus Dahlin – Connor Clifton
Owen Power – Henri Jokiharju
Mattias Samuelsson – Erik Johnson
Ryan Johnson - Jacob Bryson
Riley Stillman – Kale Clague