On Wednesday, Alex Lepkowski of West Seneca signed his first pro contract to play for the Rochester Americans this upcoming hockey season. But this week, his focus, as well as other local players, is with the Buffalo Sabres during their annual development camp at First Niagara Center.
Lepkowski was drafted by the Sabres in 2011 but was never signed and is again with the team in camp this season. He is joined by two other Western New Yorkers as 2013 draftees Justin Bailey and Sean Malone of Buffalo are participating in camp.
“I think us Western New York guys are all going to stick together,” said Lepkowski.
It’s no secret that playing for your hometown team is a dream come true but it’s not often you have three battling to be on the same team. Bailey, who just turned 18 on July 1, was drafted in the second round by the Sabres as he spent last season in the OHL playing for the Kitchner Rangers. Malone, also 18 years old, was a sixth round pick as he spent last season as a part of the USA U-18 team.
“It’s crazy,” said Malone on the idea of playing for the Sabres. ”What’s helpful is having guys your age here who were drafted and you go through the same experiences as them… We’re going through the same experiences and having a good time so I’m enjoying it.”
The Sabres have had and still do have players that are from Western New York but the idea of having three players at the same time in camp, all with tremendous upside and buzz, you can’t help but be excited for the future.
“I mean growing up, its tough not to be a Sabres fan growing up in this city,” said Bailey. ”Growing up with the Sabres and guys that I look up to, and now being able to wear this sweater for camp is truly amazing.”
The work is just beginning for these three as they will look to get better in every aspect of the game as the NHL usually takes big fish in a small pond and turns them into small fish in a big pond. The game is faster, more physical, and different than any of these three players have experienced before. However they are all ready and willing to sacrifice what is needed to get better in hopes of keeping that Sabres jersey on for as long as possible.
“I think coming into camp it’s going to be an adjustment,” said Bailey. ”There’s guys who are three, four, five years older than you that have more experience and a little quicker. I think after the first 15 or 20 minutes of the first day on the ice I got used to it. Going into it obviously you’re a little nervous, you want to represent yourself well but you know it’s an adjustment and you just have to battle through that.”
With two days of camp done, the team will finish off with a blue and gold scrimmage at 4:00 pm Friday afternoon. These three will definitely be able to showcase their skills for family, friends, and fans as camp comes to a close.
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