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Hamilton: How the Sabres kept their edge in quarantine

WGRZ/WGR550 Sabres and NHL insider Paul Hamilton tells how key members of the team tried to stay sharp during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel (9) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Sabres and their staff were in quarantine for one week after having positive COVID tests stating February 1.

The one thing the coaching staff and the hockey department wanted to do is make sure that despite being isolated at home, there would be ways to stay engaged.

With Ralph Krueger out with COVID, Steve Smith has run the three practices since quarantine ended. Smith said, “We’ve done an awful lot of Zoom calls amongst each other which has helped us through this whole pandemic, so communication remained open."

“We did our best to send out video clips that were confirmation of the things that we did well. There were a few learning moments here or there that we tried to discuss with the players, but overall there’s been so much positive we tried to stick with that.”

Jack Eichel did a deep dive into his play. The captain has 11 points in 10 games, but he hasn’t liked his play. The first thing he did was allow his body to get completely healthy. Eichel missed part of training camp due to a shoulder injury, and he hasn’t been 100 percent yet this season.

Eichel feels that coming out of quarantine he is 100 percent thanks to the rest he gave his body.

On January 18, Jack Eichel led the NHL with six points. Connor McDavid was one point behind with five. Since then Eichel had had five points in eight games while McDavid has 22 points in 12 games.  

The captain used the break to look into how he can be better when play resumes Monday against the New York Islanders.

“I just want to get back to attacking the game," he said. "This has given me the opportunity to go back to last year and watch some video of some of my games to see what I was doing then, see what was working and then and compare it to some things early in the season.

“I’ve also watched some hockey and some other teams and other players to get some tendencies too, so I’m excited to get the season going again because I think I’m going to start to take off. It’s been a bit of a slow start for me, and I’m not where I want to be, but I think I’ve definitely taken advantage of these two weeks.”

Eric Staal did not bring his family with him to Buffalo, so he quarantined all by himself. The team made sure all the players had bikes to use in their homes as well as a sheet of synthetic ice.

Even thought Staal’s children are still living in Minnesota, this gave him the time to not only engage them, but keep himself sharp.

“I did some FaceTime with my kids and would stickhandle on the plastic ice and come up with a drill," he said. "And then they would do it themselves in our house back in Minnesota, so it made me use the ice quite a bit, so it was fun to do that.”

Staal has also been around the National Hockey League long enough to know that he had to keep his body going during a week in isolation.

“I was on the bike, doing home workouts, trying to make sure I stayed on top of that because a week is a week, and if you’re doing nothing, that can catch up to you, so I did what I could to make sure I stayed sharp,” he said.

The Sabres will have Friday off and then call some players up from Rochester so they can practice with a full team on Saturday.