The Buffalo Sabres are taking the NHL by storm. Their fast-paced game and balanced scoring led them to a 10-game undefeated streak. Even though it ended, they are showing no signs of slowing down.
The Sabres have pulled off dramatic comebacks, have blown out opponents, and skated their way to the top of the NHL in points. While they may not have a full-blown superstar, the depth of this team is unbelievable. All four lines can potentially put the puck in the net, and the defensive core combines veteran leadership and youthful exuberance.
The best news may be that this team is young and full of potential. Forwards Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Paul Gaustad are all under the age of 25. In fact, only one forward, captain Chris Drury, is over the age of 30. Franchise net minder Ryan Miller is 26, and prospects like forwards Drew Stafford and Daniel Paille, and defensemen Mike Card and Nathan Paetsch are already seeing valuable ice time in the NHL.
Many of the Sabres have spent previous time with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League (AHL). The Amerks are an affiliate of the Sabres, and are one of the great franchises in the AHL. Solid contributors like Roy, Pominville, Vanek, as well as many others played in Rochester during the NHL lockout of 2004-2005.
The Rochester Americans were formed in 1956, and have become one of the strongest teams in the AHL. They have won the Calder Cup, the AHL equivalent of the Stanley Cup, six times. The current head coach is Randy Cunneyworth, who has had the job since the 2000-2001 season. Cunneyworth works closely with Sabres' head coach Lindy Ruff when it comes to scouting and developing talent. Whenever an injury effects the Sabres, there is always a player ready to be called up from the Amerks. Through 13 games this year, the Americans are 12-1, which is the best record in the AHL. It is astounding that both the Sabres and Amerks can be this successful, and it looks like the Buffalo Sabres have a strong future ahead of them.
The maturity process that comes with time in the AHL is evident. Amerk alumni are solid players at both ends of the ice, and have developed the speed and hockey sense that leads to success. Through 16 team games, five of the 10 leading scorers for the Sabres have played for the Americans. This fact goes to show that the strongest teams are built through development and scouting, not through high priced superstars. The Sabres have found the path for success, and will follow it in hopes of lifting Lord Stanley's Cup someday. Maybe that day will be this June, as they look well on their way to the playoffs.