Cody Hodgson and Marcus Foligno belong in the NHL. They've proved themselves in the world's elite hockey league.
But until the NHL comes back, they'll happily take their skates to the American Hockey League.
The Rochester Americans open training camp today, and the Sabres' minor-league club is starting the 2012-13 season in Buffalo. The Amerks will skate today and Saturday in First Niagara Center, with today's session open to the public from 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
"I'm excited," Hodgson said. "We'll get some serious hockey going. The AHL's going to be a good league this year. Obviously, everyone wants the lockout to end and get the NHL going, but I'm excited to get started here."
Hodgson and Foligno are among 34 Sabres prospects who will take part in the Amerks' camp. The list of players with NHL experience also includes forwards Luke Adam, Corey Tropp, Mark Mancari and Kevin Porter, and defensemen Brayden McNabb, T.J. Brennan and Joe Finley.
"We're all excited to get going and play some hockey," McNabb said. "We're going to have a really good team. A lot of guys with NHL experience, so I'm looking forward to that."
In addition to experience, the Amerks have highly touted prospects joining them. Two players picked by the Sabres in the first round of the NHL draft, forward Zemgus Girgensons (2012) and defenseman Mark Pysyk (2010), are entering the professional ranks. Other first-year pros include Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, a defenseman who scored 28 goals in junior hockey last season, and center Brian Flynn, who was a top-10 scorer in the NCAA.
It's probably the Amerks' best preseason roster since 2004-05, which was the most recent NHL lockout. Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy led Rochester to the best record of the regular season.
"I talked to Miller about that," Hodgson said. "He said he used that as a springboard for his career. I know a lot of them did. They had a real good team there that was known throughout the league as a pretty stellar team that turned out to be great in the NHL, too."
Foligno and Hodgson figure to get the most attention on the Amerks. Foligno, called up by the Sabres in March, had six goals and 13 points in 13 games before returning to Rochester for the opening round of the playoffs.
"I want to take off this year like I ended last year," he said. "The biggest thing is not to get too crazy and not to put too much pressure on myself to do just as good as I did when I got called up here, but I expect that out of myself."
Hodgson was scheduled to compete with Tyler Ennis for the Sabres' No. 1 center position. Acquired from Vancouver at the trade deadline, Hodgson played 20 of his 83 games with the Sabres but didn't get time to embrace the organization. He's been skating with the locked-out players for much of the month. Now he'll get to know the minor leaguers.
"Obviously, you feel like you're bonding a little bit more just being around them all the time," Hodgson said. "Last year, I came in and it was kind of a whirlwind because there were so many games in so many days. It's nice to get out here and get to know a lot of the guys.
"Everybody's looking for places to play right now. It's nice with Rochester being close to Buffalo and even close to [his hometown of] Toronto as well. I'm looking forward to the whole experience."
While the Amerks get settled in, some Sabres continue to depart. Defenseman Andrej Sekera has signed with Slovan Bratislava of the Kontinental Hockey League, joining Christian Ehrhoff (Germany) and Tyler Ennis (Switzerland) overseas.
The NHL and the NHL Players' Association are scheduled to meet about the collective bargaining agreement today.
"You're just hoping the CBA gets settled and you're playing well at the time it does get settled and you get called up," said Foligno, who will embrace the game wherever he is. "I know there's a lot of Rochester fans who are excited, so it's going to be a good year."