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A Call-Up’s Story: Years in the Minors, 4 Days in the NHL

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From: The New York Times > Sports >  Hockey


A Call-Up’s Story: Years in the Minors, Four Days in the N.H.L.

BUFFALO — Erik Burgdoerfer was two rungs below the N.H.L., riding buses from Bakersfield, Calif., to Boise, Idaho, and spending the night in Econo Lodge hotels as the Bakersfield Condors slid further down the ECHL standings. This was three seasons ago, when Burgdoerfer played defense for the Condors and the team was off to a 1-10-0-1 start.

His coach, Troy Mann, had given up a job as an assistant for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. Mann’s assistant Ryan Murphy had left a career in finance to return to hockey’s minor leagues.

Burgdoerfer, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder who was undrafted out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was about to turn 25, a time when, he said, “there’s a little saying: ‘You turn from a prospect to suspect.’”

Last week, days after turning 28, Burgdoerfer said, “Those are the times when you’re playing AA, two leagues away from where you want to be, and you’ve got to really work.”

For four days this month, Burgdoerfer was where he wanted to be.

He made his N.H.L. debut for the Buffalo Sabres in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Dec. 5. After setbacks, doubts and 429 regular-season games in the minor leagues, in places like Bakersfield; Oklahoma City; and Charleston, S.C., Burgdoerfer had finally gotten an N.H.L. call-up. He averaged 11 minutes 10 seconds of ice time and had no penalties over two games, including a 4-3 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 6.

Two days later, with two defensemen returning from injury, Buffalo returned him to the Rochester Americans of the A.H.L.

Burgdoerfer was not nearly the oldest player to make his N.H.L. debut. Connie Madigan, who was known as Mad Dog and had a cameo in the cult hockey film “Slap Shot,” was a 38-year-old journeyman defenseman when he joined the St. Louis Blues during the 1972-73 season. On Tuesday, Pat Cannone made his N.H.L. debut at age 30 with the Minnesota Wild.

But in a league that is trending younger and in which teams increasingly rebuild through the draft, “anybody 26, 27 to see their debuts is highly unlikely, even though he’s still a young man at 27 years old,” Mann, Burgdoerfer’s coach with Bakersfield, said. ...

Read more at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/21/sports/hockey/erik-burgdoerfer-nhl-sabres.html


Edited by JMC-STL

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