It’s a familiar dance for Kevin Porter. The 27-year-old has done the NHL-AHL shuffle since finishing his collegiate career with Michigan in 2008.
So when he started the season with the Buffalo Sabres only to be assigned to Rochester on Oct. 25 after nine games, there was the fleeting thought that perhaps this was the beginning of the end for his NHL opportunity with the Sabres.
“That always crosses your mind but that’s something you don’t want to think about because this is where I want to be,” Porter said. “This is the place you want to play. It crosses your mind but you definitely want to keep a positive attitude so you get rid of that and focus on your game.”
Working on his game and focusing on the positives helped earn Porter a callup to the Sabres on Tuesday morning.
Tuesday night, he chipped in with an assist, helping the team break out of its scoring slump in a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
Porter played to the left of center Brian Flynn and Matt Ellis on the fourth line. But to interim coach Ted Nolan the fourth line didn’t necessarily correlate with distance on the depth chart.
“That so-called fourth line, they’re one of four for us,” Nolan said. “One thing we want to do is create a balanced attack. Tonight with Flynn, Ellis and Porter, they did a great job for us tonight.”
Porter helped set up Ellis for the fourth Buffalo goal, a tally that helped seal just the third win in regulation for the Sabres this season.
“Flynn was taking it wide and he got a shot on net and I was just trying to drive the net and get a rebound, and poked it loose and just kinda threw one at the net and Ellis got a stick on it,” Porter said. “Thankfully it was under the crossbar. Maybe a little bit lucky but it was good for our line to get. I thought we competed hard tonight and we got rewarded.”
This is Porter’s second year in the organization and Porter started out with the big club, with no points in nine games. He went down to the Amerks disappointed but ready to work. In 13 games with Rochester, Porter scored six goals and four assists.
“You’re always disappointed when you get sent down,” Porter said. “But the best thing you can do is go down and work hard and work on the things you need to and get back up here as soon as possible and that’s what I tried to do. I was down there for a little while, played a few games. I just tried to work hard and get my confidence back up.”
Porter was selected in the fourth round by Phoenix in 2004. He split time with the Coyotes and their AHL affiliate, in San Antonio before he was traded to Colorado in 2010.
His only full NHL season came in 2010-11 when he played 74 games for the Avalanche. Porter was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Sabres in 2012 and split last year between Buffalo and Rochester.
“Everyone’s got to do it,” Porter said of playing in the AHL. “There are very few players that can come into the NHL and make an impact at a young age. To go down and play in that league is good. It’s good for everybody. You play a lot of minutes. You play in all types of situations. You get confidence and you learn to play the game the right way.”
Cody Hodgson set up Marcus Foligno 50 seconds into the third period to help spark the Sabres’ come-from-behind win.
“He made a great play driving the net,” Hodgson said. “I love playing with Marcus. He’s a big body, takes guys to the net and he’s tough to move there so if I can get it there, he’s going to score.
Hodgson returned to the lineup after missing two games with a lower body injury and centered a line with Foligno and Matt D’Agostini .
“As a line I thought we had quite a few chances and it was fun to play,” Hodgson said. “Those are the type of games you like playing. It feels good. It feels good to win and be part of it.”
Also recalled from Rochester was Chad Ruhwedel, though he was a healthy scratch for the Sabres. Interim coach Ted Nolan said the 23-year old was an “extra” and that Ruhwedel was “here for safety reasons right now.”
The defenseman played seven games at the end of last season for the Sabres after signing as a free agent after his season with UMass-Lowell ended.
Ruhwedel had hoped to make the Sabres roster out of training camp, but wasn’t too shocked when he started the year in Rochester.
“I guess I wasn’t going to be surprised,” he said. “I knew I had some stuff to work on.”
He had 14 points (four goals and 10 assists) in 26 games with Rochester but his time in the AHL hasn’t just been about developing his game. It’s also been about adjusting to life as a professional hockey player.
“The game is different than college so adjusting to that has really helped me so far and hopefully it can translate up to the next level,” Ruhwedel said. “And just adjusting to the professional hockey lifestyle. ... Not taking classes, you’ve got to do other stuff to keep busy. You’ve got to manage your time and just be ready to come to the rink and play every day. It’s a job in itself.”
In other roster moves, the Sabres sent Luke Adam, Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk to Rochester.
While Nolan wants Adam and McNabb to be able to play and develop, expect Pysyk to be back sooner rather than later.
“Mark Pysyk is one of the guys we think can be a future leader on this team. Future is the word though. Not right yet,” Nolan said. “He’s not going down for a long time. He’s just going down for a few days and then they’re going over to the Spengler Cup and he’ll join us right after that.
“We’re going to try the best way to try and get him some quality minutes and develop him mature-wise. He’s not a big guy yet. As we go on in the season the games are going to get tougher and tougher. We want to make sure he’s in a good position.”
The Spengler Cup is a six-team tournament in Switzerland from Dec. 26-31. It will be the second time Rochester has participated in the event and they remain the only North American team to play in the prestigious tournament.
Drew Stafford picked up an assist on Steve Ott’s second period goal for his 275th career point. Stafford has 122 goals and 153 assists. ... The Sabres earned their first win against the Jets since their 6-5 overtime win on Nov. 8, 2011, the first meeting between the teams after the AtlantaThrashers moved to Winnipeg. ... With a 31-27 advantage tonight, the Sabres have now outshot or tied their opponents in five consecutive games for the first time since they did it in six straight from Nov. 6 to 17, 2010. ... Cody McCormick and John Scott also were scratched for Buffalo. McCormick is out four to six weeks with an upper body injury after blocking a shot against Calgary on Saturday. Scott was a healthy scratch.