Jochen Hecht and his kids got to spend the last few weeks in their hometown. Unfortunately, that’s two different places.
Hecht was in Germany playing hockey for Adler Mannheim. His wife and children, meanwhile, stayed in Buffalo, their winter residence since 2002.
They’ll get back together today. Hecht is reuniting with his family and the Sabres.
The 35-year-old forward has agreed to a one-year deal with Buffalo, according to Adler Mannheim. He was scheduled to fly home today and be ready for the opening of Sabres training camp Sunday.
“Playing in the NHL with the Sabres for another year, that’s what I’ve been working for a long, long time,” Hecht told reporters Friday in Germany.
The Sabres had no comment because transactions aren’t allowed until the new collective bargaining agreement is signed, which is expected to happen today.
Hecht had five goals and 13 points in six games with Mannheim. He also proved he was healthy. He was limited to just 22 games in Buffalo last season because of concussions.
“Playing in my hometown was a great experience,” Hecht said. “I was able to show that I’m healthy again and that I’m still able to play.”
Hecht fills the Sabres’ need for depth at center. Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis will play on the top two lines, but there is no clear-cut candidate for the third line.
The two-way forward has 181 goals and 449 points in 786 games with Buffalo, Edmonton and St. Louis.
“I’m just glad he’s healthy, No. 1,” Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller said after a workout in Northtown Center at Amherst. “What he went through last year was hard to watch as a friend. I’m thrilled for him that he’s been healthy, and I’m glad that he can find a place to come back here because he’s a very strong, smart player, and he’s gone through a lot. I think he can definitely help us.”
Miller made his Buffalo practice debut Friday along with defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Sulzer, who also returned from Germany. The Sabres had 19 players on the ice and about 300 fans lining the rink.
“It’s good to see,” Ehrhoff said of the crowd. “There’s going to be people who are upset, and rightfully so. But all we can do now is put a good game on the ice, and hopefully everybody and some other people will be back.”
The Sabres will welcome fans to First Niagara Center starting Monday. After conducting physicals and on-ice testing this weekend, the Sabres will scrimmage at 5:30 p.m. Monday. Admission and parking in the arena ramp will be free, and concession prices will be “family friendly” during the three 15-minute periods.
Buffalo will practice from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and those sessions will also be free to the public.
The CBA ratification vote by the NHL Players’ Association concludes at 8 this morning, and the schedule will be released soon after the deal becomes official.
The calendar was still being tweaked Friday afternoon, but the Sabres remain set to open the season at home against Philadelphia at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 20. The Sunday matinee will likely be shown on NBC.