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Sabres Central

Hasek injured, but Noronen saves the day
By Rick Anderson
October 6, 2000

It took the Buffalo Sabres 8 games to win their first game last season. This year it took them only one as they beat the Chicago Black Hawks 4-2 Thursday night at the HSBC Arena. The victory, however, came at a great price as Dominik Hasek went down with an injury as he strained a ligament under his left kneecap in the first period.

Tony Amonte is about to crash onto Dominik Hasek's left leg after Jay McKee pushed him down during a scramble in front of the net. Hasek immediately limped off the ice and has been placed on IR after it was diagnosed that he has strained ligaments behind the knee.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel)]

The Sabres had all the momentum going for them when disaster struck. The Black Hawks had a power play and were putting pressure on Hasek. Toni Amonte was in the crease standing over a sprawled Hasek while there was a scramble in front of the net. Alexei Zhitnik gave Amonte a shove and then Jay McKee finished off Amonte by pushing him on top of Hasek who was sprawled face first on the ice. Amonte fell hard on Hasek's left leg. After the play, Hasek immediately skated off the ice. He was clearly limping as he went to the bench and once he reached the bench, Hasek threw his stick and glove in disgust. On the play, the red light also went on to indicate a Chicago goal. However, after a review, the goal was not allowed.

"I felt really big pain and my knee got shifted a little bit, but fortunately it's not so bad," said Hasek after the game.

Last year, Hasek got injured on October 30, the 13th game into the season. He missed a total of 40 games before finally reclaiming his job from Martin Biron. This year, he didn't even finish the first period of game 1.

The injury is diagnosed as strained ligaments right behind the left knee. Hasek wanted to come back and play, but the doctor nixed that. The injury is listed as day-to-day. On Friday, the Sabres put Hasek on injured reserve and it was announced that he will miss around a week's play. It was also announced that the Sabres picked up the contract of Peter Skudra, who had been waived by the Boston Bruins. Skudra will be the backup to Noronen as Martin Biron remains in a contract dispute with the Sabres. Last year with the Bruins, Skudra had a 5-7- 3 record with a 3.12 GAA.

"When guys are jamming, our job is not to play the puck but to knock guys down," McKee explained. "(Hasek) said after, he was a little bit worried at first. ... But any time you feel a little jolt in the leg or the knee it's going to scare you."

Amonte wished Hasek well and said that he was not to blame for his injury.

"I was a little off balance and I think one of their defense just tried to clear me out from the front of the net and I just fall on him innocently," said Amonte.

In came Mika Noronen, who was the AHL's rookie of the year last season. Noronen, who never played a regular season game in the NHL, was to be baptized by fire. The Sabres rookie goalie, who posted 6 regular and 6 post season shutouts for the Rochester Americans a year ago, sat in a daze as Hasek limped to the locker room. He didn't realize that he now had to save the day for the Sabres. When it finally dawned on Noronen that he was now to man the pipes, he quickly donned his equipment and took the position vacated by who some feel is the greatest goalie ever to play. Noronen faced 15 shots and made several impressive saves during the 48 minutes he was in goal. As a result of his relief effort, Noronen posted his first NHL victory. During the preseason, Noronen had an 0.85 goals-against average and went 3-0. But that was the preseason. This was the real thing and in the big dance.

The 21-year-old rookie, making his NHL debut, stopped 15 shots over 48 minutes as the Sabres opened their season with a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. "Between the first and second period, (Hasek) wished me luck," said the 21-year-old rookie goalie. "He said, 'C'mon, try to play well."'

Meet the Sabres' newest goalie - Peter Skudra, whom the Sabres acquired off waivers Friday from Boston to back up rookie Mika Noronen.

"I can't do anything else other than try to go out there and try to relax," Noronen continued. "I was a little bit nervous the whole game. I had to be happy that our defense played great today."

J.P. Dumont scored the first goal of the night against his former teammates when he put a slap shot behind Jocelyn Thibault with 5:30 gone in the first period. Miroslav Satan got a perfect feed from another former Black Hawk, Doug Gilmour, and also fired a slap shot past Thibault.

Jean-Yves Leroux ruined Noronen's shutout bid when he shot a 35-feet away and it went through Noronen's pads 6:26 into the second period.

Just a minute into the third period, Maxim Afinogenov took the puck on the right side, skated past the defenseman to get all alone on Thibault. Afinogenov lifted the puck so high that it hit the crossbar but then dropped in behind Thibault for the Sabres third goal of the night. The goal came at the 1:13 mark of the third period.

At the 13:13 mark, Richard Smehlik pinched in on the play when the Sabres were putting pressure on Thibault. Smehlik positioned himself right in the middle of the crease and put the puck through Thibault's pad to up the score to 4-1.

The game turned ugly near the end of the game as Ryan Vandenbussche gooned it up, hitting Rhett Warrener from behind into the boards. Warrener was knocked unconscious and possibly broke his nose as a result. The Bruise Brothers, Rob Ray and Eric Boulton flew in to the defense of Warrener. Ray and Vandenbussche went at it with Ray finally being taken down by Vandenbussche. Vandenbussche was ejected from the game with a 5 minute major along with a game misconduct. The Bruise brothers were sent to the box with minors.

Since both Boulton and Ray were in the box, Chicago somehow got the powerplay. The feeling here is that if a player intentionally injures another player and the injury is serious, that instigator's team should be the one playing shorthanded, and for at least 5 minutes. The league may be clamping down and dishing out more penalties, but in a situation like this, the NHL is still bush league in dealing out penalties. Vandenbussche should get at least a 5-game suspension for his bloody act. If Michael Peca got a 2-game suspension for hitting Valerie Bure last season when Bure got up and played the next shift, then by all means Vandenbussche should sit for a much longer period.

Jason Woolley gives the Black Hawks' Ryan VandenBussche a free seat on the Sabres bench when he checks him over the boards in the first period. Later in the third period, VandenBussche checked Rhett Warrener from behind into the boards, knocking Warrener out and giving him a bloody nose.
[REUTERS Photo/Brendan McDermid]

The Buffalo defense was extremely aggressive in the offensive zone all night. With the game securely in Buffalo's grasp the play began to get dirty. Late in the third period, Ryan Vandenbussche sent Rhett Warrener flying into the boards with a hit from behind. Rob Ray and Eric Boulton immediately came rushing toward Vandenbussche while Warrener lied motionless on the ice. Ray fired punches at two Blackhawks' players while Boulton got involved as well. Vandenbussche received a five minute boarding major and a game misconduct. Ray and Boulton each were given two minute minor penalties.

As a result of the Black Hawks being erroneously being given the power play, Anders Eriksson put the Black Hawks within range when he put a snap shot behind Noronen at 15:40 of the third period to bring them within two. However, the Sabres defense continued to play an aggressive and shut the Hawks down the rest of the way.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was impressed by his young goalie.

"Overall, for being thrown into the fire, and not being prepared to play, it was a very good showing," Ruff said.

Dominik was relieved that his rookie backup came through in the clutch.

"It's good to have someone who could step up and play well," Hasek said.

With the injury to Hasek, the negations between Martin Biron and the Sabres may take a new course. Biron has been holding out for a much bigger contract than the Sabres want to give him. With Noronen only having this game (along with preseason action) in his NHL resume, the Sabres may want to speed negotiations to bring him into the fold.

Sabres Talk

"I thought about jumping out of the suite," said Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier during an interview. "I was very concerned as would anyone understanding the history. I went to the dressing room. At that point, the doctor said right away, "I think it's OK.' "

"The first thing that went through my mind was, "Not again, I just hope he's not going to leave us in the same situation as last year,' " said Miro Satan. "It was a relief that he's only going to miss a couple days."

"I still don't feel like I can play and I won't play tomorrow for sure," Hasek said after the game. "That's all I know right now. `I'll be evaluated by the doctor. I'll see what he's going to say.'' At that time Hasek was hoping to be ready to play next week.

"That's my hope," Hasek answered the question. "I want to be ready for the first road game."

About wanting to go back out and play the rest of the game, Hasek said, "We were talking about it with the doctor. The doctor came up to me and said, ‘Don't go on the ice, stay here.' I think he was right because after a while it got a little bit stiffer."

The Sabres did their best to keep the puck out of their zone and away from Noronen. The Black Hawks didn't get to test the new kid in the crease for 13 minutes. Then when they were able to get some rubber off in his direction, he only faced 15 shots. Noronen was not prepared to take over for Hasek. This was a great lesson for the rookie, because in any sport the backup should be prepared for such a scenario.

"It's the worst thing to do when you're a backup," Noronen spoke about his emergency relief job. "It was the first game of the season and my first NHL game. I wasn't ready at all to go out there. I tried to be ready, but I never thought, "I will play today.' It's a lot easier if you can think about the game."

Ruff was asked if he said anything to Noronen before he went in.

"I just said ‘Mika, there's nobody else but you,'" Ruff bantered. "I jokingly said that I'm the most experienced third goalie because I've had the stuff on a couple times and Mika insinuated that he would go in before me."


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