BUFFALO, N.Y. — Lightning RW Ryan Callahan grew up in Rochester, N.Y., about a one-hour drive from Buffalo and was able to see family on Friday for dinner and had about 15 to 20 family and friends in the stands at First Niagara Center for Saturday’s game.
But despite only being with Tampa Bay for less than a month since coming over in a trade-deadline day deal with the New York Rangers, Callahan may have found a new home for his hockey career. Almost from the moment he stepped into the Lightning locker room, Callahan said he’s fit right in.
“I’m really happy to be in Tampa and I couldn’t have landed in a better spot,’’ he said. “I feel right at home now. The organization, the players, everyone has welcomed me great. I feel like this is where I have been.’’
Callahan is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and was reportedly seeking a six-year deal worth more than $6 million per season with the Rangers before contract discussions broke down and he was dealt. But instead of talking contract with Callahan’s agent as soon as the trade was made, the team has allowed the former Rangers’ captain to concentrate on hockey while getting familiar with his new organization.
Since Callahan’s first game with Tampa Bay, however, head coach Jon Cooper noticed how quickly Callahan fit in with his new team and how Callahan’s style of play rubbed off on his new teammates.
In 11 games with Tampa Bay heading into Saturday against Buffalo, Callahan has four goals, eight points and was a plus-3. On top of the points, Callahan also brings intangibles to the table that don’t often show up on the scoresheet and plays a gritty style of game.
“He fit in right away with us,’’ Cooper said. “You want that in a player, there wasn’t a situation where you had to find chemistry on a line with Ryan. You plug him on a line and the chemistry just exists, so he’s been a good fit right from the get-go.’’
Buffalo head coach Ted Nolan had high praise for Lightning G prospect Kristers Gudlevskis, whom Nolan coached with Latvia during the Olympics. Nolan credited former NHL G Arturs Irbe for discovering Gudlevskis, who was serving as the backup for a Junior B team in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League but rarely played, and working with Gudlevskis.
During the Olympics, Gudlevskis became a household name in nearly helping Latvia upset Canada in the quarterfinals after making 55 saves in a 2-1 loss.
“I think the sky is the limit for this kid,’’ Nolan said. “I think Tampa Bay has a good one, they have a sensational goaltender coming.’’
Former Lightning RW Cory Conacher came into the NHL with high expectations after being named MVP in the American Hockey League his first year pro and helping Norfolk capture a Calder Cup championship and then jumping out of the gate with five multipoint games in his first seven NHL games. But after being dealt to Ottawa for G Ben Bishop, Conacher is now on his third NHL team in less than two years after the Senators put him on waivers and he ended up with Buffalo.
In 10 games with the Sabres heading into Saturday, Conacher had two goals and five points and hopes he’s found a home in his second home, where he played college hockey for four years at Canisius College.
“My little brother is here playing at Canisius and is a freshman this year, and it’s kind of cool to be in the same city as him,’’ Conacher said. “My grandma still makes Sunday dinners, so we can go home (to Burlington, Ontario) if we have an early practice or a day off, so we can get home for a couple of hours to see them. So I hope, and I’ve said this with every team so far, but I hope that I’m here for a long time.’’
Nuts and Bolts
The Lightning scratched D Mark Barberio, D Keith Aulie, C Tom Pyatt, RW Richard Panik and C Cody Kunyk. ... G prospect Andrey Vasilevskiy made 28 saves to backstop Salavat to a 3-2 victory against Barys in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal and capture the series 4-2. Salavat will face Metallurg, coached by Mike Keenan, in the East Final. ... G Adam Wilcox made 19 saves as Minnesota won its opening round game 7-3 against Robert Morris University in the NCAA hockey tournament. The Gophers play Sunday at 7 p.m. for the right to advance to the Frozen Four.