courtesy: Buffalo Sabres
When the Buffalo Sabres assigned Matt Savoie to Rochester this past weekend, many hockey fans in Western New York were asking the same question.
Monday morning, Amerks coach Seth Appert answered it.
“Matt Savoie is here to play,” Appert said.
The Sabres assigned Savoie to Rochester on Sunday, shortly after he wrapped up his junior season in the WHL. The ninth-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft joins fellow prospect Olivier Nadeau (fourth round, 2021) with the Amerks.
Appert said both Savoie and Nadeau (Noah Ostlund was also in Rochester briefly, but is rehabbing an injury and has returned to Sweden) are available to play in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hershey Bears.
“Nadeau’s here fighting for ice time,” Appert said. “If Ostlund was healthy, he would have been the same… When we get [Savoie] acclimated, we’ll see him in the lineup.”
The 19-year-old scored 49 goals and 124 points in 81 games between the regular season and playoffs with Winnipeg, whose season ended in the WHL championship on Friday. Life has been a blur for Savoie since then, traveling from Seattle to Winnipeg and then to Rochester, before the Amerks embarked for Hershey on Monday afternoon.
“Friday was definitely emotional with my teammates,” Savoie said. “The group we have there in Winnipeg has been really special and is the tightest team I’ve ever been a part of.”
Leaving a group he had bonded so tightly with was difficult for Savoie, but he joins a tight-knit group in Rochester prepping for their first Conference Finals appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs since 2004. The Amerks swept Toronto in the North Division Finals to set up a matchup with the Bears.
“Coming in here, it’s the same message,” Savoie said. “This team is competing for a championship and I’m just trying to do anything I can to try to help them win.”
Savoie’s offseason program will take a back seat for a second consecutive summer, but this time it’s for good reason. He injured his shoulder in the WHL playoffs last season, but thankfully the injury didn’t require surgery.
“I didn’t get a lot of training last summer just rehabbing my shoulder,” Savoie said. “I think as I got more workouts in, even inseason I got those games in where I kind of missed out on in the summer, in the second half of the season I felt stronger and felt faster.”
The setback didn’t knock him out of the Sabres’ training camp, which he credits as giving him the swagger to succeed this season. Savoie sensed a big shift in the Sabres culture that he’s noticed at every level.
“There were a lot of good people in the dressing room that were pushing the bus in the right direction,” Savoie said. “Even Rochester, I got to know a lot of these guys at camp a little bit. It was good to see them have a lot of success this year and really find their stride.”
Like the Amerks, Savoie’s season took some time to get revved up but hit its top speed when it mattered most.
“Going back to the Western League I think I had a lot of confidence early on and then felt the effects of not having that summer of full training and getting stronger and getting faster,” Savoie said.
Savoie isn’t eligible to play with the Amerks next season, forcing him to return to his junior team in Winnipeg if he doesn’t make the NHL roster next fall. He joins a talented group of young forwards that includes fellow first-round picks Jiri Kulich and Isak Rosen, both of whom helped carry the Amerks to the third round.
“What I’ve seen from him is that he’s an elite hockey player. There’s a reason he was a top-ten pick,” Appert said. “We anticipate him being available for us at some point in this series. When that is, it’s hard to predict. We want to place him in positions to be successful and also help the team be successful.”