BUFFALO — Before Sunday’s mega ice hockey matchup between the United States and the favored Canadians, American Drew Stafford, hoping to make one of the Vancouver Olympics’ most hyped events a little more interesting, texted Sabres teammate Clarke MacArthur.
“Dinner?” the message to the Canadian read.
MacArthur, feeling good about his country’s chances, replied, requesting the wager between the wingers be a meal at the Buffalo Chophouse, one of the Queen City’s finest restaurants.
But when Team USA scored 41 seconds in, MacArthur began regretting the bet.
“I changed my Chophouse to McDonald’s,” MacArthur joked Wednesday, the first day NHL teams could practice following a week-and-a-half Olympic break.
The Americans, of course, beat the Canadians 5-3.
“I was pretty happy about that,” Stafford said. “He’s buying me dinner at the Chophouse.”
Even MacArthur had to admit Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, the backbone of Team USA, performed splendidly while stopping 43 Canadian shots.
“Millsie’s doing an unbelievable job,” he said. “Everyone’s obviously proud of him here. He’s making that team tick there right now.”
Most Sabres watched the Olympics keenly during their hiatus. Even after Wednesday’s hour-long practice, their first gathering as a team since Feb. 13, players kept their eyes glued to Team USA’s 2-0 win over Switzerland on a dressing room TV.
The Sabres’ five Olympians and coach Lindy Ruff, a Canadian assistant, are still competing in Vancouver or on their way home.
Miller’s backstopping the Americans toward a possible gold medal. Jochen Hecht, Toni Lydman, Andrej Sekera and Henrik Tallinder are also gone.
Assistant coaches Brian McCutcheon and James Patrick ran practice without Ruff. With Miller away, Andrew Loewen, a senior goalie from Canisius College, filled in.
The Sabres don’t play again until Tuesday in Pittsburgh, so the next several days will serve as a bit of a mini-training camp, sans some key components.
Wednesday’s practice was light. McCutcheon, who’s had a couple of brief chats with Ruff, said the sessions will slowly be ramped up. The Sabres will scrimmage soon.
Players kept working out and skating on their own during their break, so they still feel as if they’re in the throes of a rigorous season.
“The break seems like it was half a day,” Sabres center Derek Roy said. “Those breaks come and they don’t seem long at all. It’s a great feeling just to rest your body.”
The mental rest helped, too.
“Not only is it a physical break,” Stafford said, “but it’s a mental break as well to get away from the rink, to get away from Buffalo for a bit. … Coming back now, the battery’s recharged and everybody’s fresh, ready to get back on the right track for the stretch run.”