Getting Zack back on track

After selecting Zack Kassian with the 13th pick last June, the Sabres were looking for the bruising forward to carry the momentum of his first NHL training camp back to the OHL for a dominant start to the season. The intimidating Kassian, 18, was well primed upon his return to Peterborough, registering points in his first six games, and even beating the tar out of an Oshawa forward before getting knocked out for a month on October 2nd with a separated shoulder. It's best to look beyond the numbers when measuring Kassian's total impact, so while he continued to chip in modestly after the shoulder healed, the Petes coaching staff last week felt the need to remind their captain that he needs to do a better job of leading by example for the team to be successful. The results were captured in the 11/12 recap, and further details of how the coach motivated his tough all-star were explained in this weeks Peterborough Examiner. Kassian comes out swinging against Sting
Zack Kassian didn’t like being called out by his coach in front of teammates at practice on Wednesday. So the Peterborough Petes’ captain took his anger out on Sarnia Sting heavyweight Kyle Neuber 3:17 into the first period last night and it sparked a 7-3 victory before a Memorial Centre crowd of 3.177. Poor practice habits this week after a punchless 2-0 loss Saturday in Sudbury led to Petes’ coach Ken McRae boiling over in practice. He dressed down a number of players and put the team through a rigorous skate. Kassian was one of McRae’s many targets. He challenged Neuber, one of the league’s toughest players, and the two went toe-to-toe in a hard-fought battle during which each player had his moment. Kassian continued through the game to be a physical force and the rest of his team jumped on board for one of their best offensive outputs this season.
The way you practice is the way you play, and the Sabres organization should be thankful that the disciplined Petes coach didn't waste any time challenging his able-bodied right wing. Keeping Kassian's edge sharp will do nothing but enhance his development.
“Zack is our captain,” McRae said. “He’s a good player and it was more than him who got called out by me. I think he responded. You always tell stories about how to get your team going and that was one way when I was playing bad, when I played the game, to try to get the team going was to get in a scrap. Not that he was playing bad hockey. He didn’t have a great game in Sudbury like a lot of players, but it was a great opportunity for him to get the game in our favour right from the start. “It was a great heavyweight bout and it got our bench going and we went on to get up 12- or 13-to-one in shots after that. That’s what you look for from a captain and a leader.”
Kassian, who has enough skill in his stick to oneday land on the #2 line, needs to keep picking his spots wisely while maintaining a physical presence on every shift. With 5'9 Tyler Ennis on the cusp of joining Derek Roy, Jason Pominvile, and Thomas Vanek in the top lines, the Sabres are going to need that muscle on the boards and in the paint sooner rather than later.
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