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Sabres and Hurricanes kick off 2011-12 Season Tonight

The Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes kick off their respective seasons tonight with a pre-season game scheduled for 7pm (et) at the newly dubbed First Niagara Center. High profile free agents Ville Leino and Tomas Kaberle will be making their first appearance for their new teams tonight. The Sabres are expected to also have new faces Christian Ehrhoff, and Robyn Regehr in the line-up. Among the young players projected to see the ice tonight will be Marcus Foligno, Luke Adam, Zack Kassian, Corey Tropp, Alex Biega, TJ Brennan, and goaltender Drew McIntyre. Ryan Miller will get the night off and Jhonas Enroth will relieve McIntyre later in the game.

The Sabres have a very busy and condensed pre-season schedule. They play 7 games total, 5 of which are on the road, with the last being an exhibition game against Jochen Hecht's hometown team Adler Mannheim (Eagles) in Mannheim, Germany. The exhibition game being a precursor to their season opening game in Helsinki, Finland against the Anaheim Ducks, prior to their game in Berlin, Germany against the currently Doughtyless LA Kings. They also have a stretch of back to back to back games (Sept 23-25) @Toronto, Toronto, and @Columbus.

The busy pre-season schedule is a welcome reprieve from the dog days of summer sans Hockey. Once the puck drops tonight Sabres fans hope to continue watching the boys in blue and gold skating up and down the rink well into June of next year.

There are a few keys guys on the bubble to watch this pre-season. Barring injuries it will be tough for Brennan, Biega, or any other young defenseman to crack the line-up, but the forwards are a different story. Luke Adam would appear to have the advantage having played 19 games with the big club last season, and being that he is a center which is the biggest need for Buffalo at the NHL level. However Kassian's combination of power and grit may be enough to stick in Buffalo for the long haul. Corey Tropp has a full year in the AHL under his belt, but would be best served spending the year in Rochester and improving on last years offensive totals. Lastly Marcus Foligno has done nothing but impress in his short pro career, coming straight from Sudbury in the OHL he played himself into a spot on the Canadian Junior team at last years WJC and represented himself well with 4 points in 7 games. At rookie camp he really seemed to gel with linemates Adam and Kassian, and the three dominated play in the Traverse City Tournament. Though he is a long shot to make the team with no pro experience, Marcus Foligno certainly bears watching this preseason, he'll ultimately end up in Rochester but it wont be long til he follows the path of his father and dons the blue and gold.

2011 top picks Joel Armia and Daniel Catenacci are still at least a year away, Armia will continue playing in the Finnish Elite League this season, and Daniel Catenacci will likely spend another year in Juniors before signing a pro contract.

Let's hope both teams stay healthy tonight and throughout the pre-season. The summer that wouldn't end is finally over, hockey season is finally here!

Brandon Hess
Follow me on twitter@SabreHess

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