When Team Canada lost the gold medal to Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships on January 5, it caused a lot of anxiety and consternation for the host country. How could a power house junior hockey team which was stacked with 19 NHL first round draft choices on its roster lose to the hated Americans on their own home soil?
That’s why they play the games.
Fortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, their top two forward prospects, Dylan Cozens and Jack Quinn, were on to bigger and better things after earning their silver medals.
While the majority of their Team Canada mates sat mouths agape in disbelief at what had just happened and wondering what the next strides in their development plan in the post-WJC tourney world would be, Cozens and Quinn were whisked off to the private jet of the Pegulas at the Edmonton airport and then delivered directly to Buffalo, NY.
Because they compliant with all COVID guidelines, quarantined inside the Team Canada bubble and flew private to Buffalo rather than commercial airlines, Cozens and Quinn only needed to quarantine for a couple of days at their hotel in Buffalo.
On Friday, Cozens and Quinn joined their Buffalo Sabres coaches and teammates in their first on ice experiences of the 2021 season. On Saturday night, Cozens and Quinn each had standout performances in the Gold vs. Blue scrimmage.
Today, Cozens and Quinn learned a life lesson that they will never forget, which is that there is a silver lining in every dark cloud.
The Sabres have finalized their opening night roster and taxi squad player list. Both Cozens and Quinn have made the cut. After Tuesday’s practice, Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger said that the 27 players who participated in Tuesday’s practice will start the season on the Sabres’ roster or taxi squad.
Congratulations are in order for Cozens and Quinn for making it to the NHL. Their talent and determination got them to Buffalo. Their hard work and ability to convert excellent coaching into on ice success will keep them wearing Royal Blue & Gold. Nothing was given to Buffalo’s 2019 and 2020 first round draft choices.
Cozens and Quinn did it the old fashioned way: They earned it.
Krueger iced these forward lines on Tuesday:
L4: Jeff Skinner-Riley Sheahan- Cozens
Krueger said Curtis Lazar (lower-body injury) and winger Kyle Okposo (undisclosed) are day-to-day. Lazar missed Tuesday’s practice. Okposo did not finish the Tuesday practice.
Suffice to say, Buffalo’s newly found forward depth will be tested in the season opener. If Lazar and Okposo cannot play on Thursday night, there will be significant options to lean into for reinforcements.
“We do need to keep some options open, but we are optimistic about the way the lines have evolved,” Krueger said.
Krueger has been high on Cozens and Quinn in their first week of Buffalo Sabres training camp. Krueger spoke with Cozens about the NHL experience after practice on Tuesday.
“Just catching up with him, really, on the adventure he had already with Canada in a leadership role and now what’s it’s like being a young guy on the squad, being with the guys that he’s actually trying to grow up to and learn to,” Krueger said. “So, he goes from being a teacher to being a pupil in a short period of time.”
Cozens was Canada’s best player at the World Juniors, scoring eight goals and eight assists (second highest point total in the tourney).
“He’s in a good space, he’s got a lot of confidence, he’s looking good on the ice. He’s game-shape ready and we’ll just take our time with how we take him to the next step. For (the past) eighteen months, he’s done the job we’ve asked for. Now he’s a Sabre full-on for and for a long time to come.”
In the summer of 2019, Cozens was injured at Sabres training camp. He vowed to go home and to work like hell to pack on muscle and sharpen his skills for the NHL experience that was ahead of him. Cozens scored 2 goals and 7 assists for Canada’s gold medal winning team at the 2020 World Juniors38 goals and 47 assists in just 51 games for his Lethbridge Hurricanes junior squad.
The time has come for Cozens to test his unique suite of power forward skills and strength against NHL talents.
Quinn’s journey to Buffalo began at the Ottawa 67s where he scored 52 goals and 37 assists in just 62 games played in his 2019-20 NHL draft season.
Quinn played on Canada’s second line at the recently concluded World Juniors scoring one goal and four assists in seven games played.
Quinn cannot go to his Ottawa 67s club team because the Ontario Hockey League is currently closed down until further notice. Also, Quinn cannot be sent to the Rochester Amerks because the AHL season will not begin until February 5. For now, Buffalo is his home base. Its up to him to impress Krueger and Adams so that gets an invitation to stick around and play in Buffalo.
With the injuries to Lazar and Okposo, Quinn may start the season in the starting lineup. If not, he will be a taxi squad guy along with Rasmus Asplund (forward), Casey Mittelstadt (forward), Riley Sheahan (forward), Will Borgen (defenseman), Matt Irwin (defenseman), and Jonas Johansson (goalie).
Krueger said the Sabres plan to start with a maximum six-man taxi squad. The National Hockey League implemented the new taxi squad opportunity due to concerns relating to potential COVID-19 positivity threats.
The Sabres have been running these two power play units in recent days:
Meanwhile down the eastbound I-90 in Rochester, training camp will open on Friday. The American League season is scheduled to begin on February 5.
Krueger can send his taxi squad players to play in Rochester and said that it’s a situation that he and Kevyn Adams will monitor daily once the Sabres’ season begin on Thursday night when Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals stride into Buffalo for games on Thursday and Friday night.
Players will be available to be recalled on the day of home games before 5:00 p.m. Eastern. The Sabres cannot call up a player while on the road.
“The group we take on the road, that’s it,” Kruger said Tuesday. Kruger and Adams will have to pack accordingly for roadies. However, the taxi squad will be more flexible for home games.
Krueger’s D Duos on Tuesday: