SHERWOOD PARK, Alberta — Tyler Ennis is home tonight, playing for the Buffalo Sabres in his native Edmonton. That’s a rarity, just the second time in his NHL career.
Tyler Ennis is also pretty much at home this afternoon at First Niagara Center and a full house will be rooting for him. That’s normal.
Except for the part about him wearing orange and white instead of blue and gold.
Two Canadian kids with the same name. Two guys who love to pass. Two guys who are astonished the other thrives with their name too. One will play a low-profile NHL game 2,200 miles away tonight in Rexall Place. The other has the bright lights of the nation on him during the NCAA Tournament second-round game between Syracuse and Western Michigan.
“I think the Syracuse Stud is definitely going to be the most popular Ennis in Buffalo right now,” the Sabres’ red-hot center joked. “I’m wishing him and his team well. I know they’ve finished on a little bit of a skid but this is a huge tournament for them and it’s great they get to play in Buffalo in front of so many of their fans.
“My friends have been bugging me about him for a while. I think it’s really cool. I’m excited for him the way he’s played. It seems like he’s an amazing player.”
Despite growing up in Brampton, Ont., Syracuse’s Ennis doesn’t consider himself much of a hockey fan. But he makes an exception for his namesake.
“I’ve heard about him. I’m a fan of his,” the freshman point guard said with a laugh Wednesday following practice in the FNC. “It was weird – I think my mom pointed it out a couple years ago. What’s the chances we’re both in upstate New York, have the same name, and are both from Canada? The chances of that are really slim.”
“A really wild coincidence,” said the Sabres’ Ennis. “Canadian. Same exact name. And he’s a passer, a creative guy too. Crazy. I’ve been watching a few of their games, and he’s been very impressive. I really hope Syracuse puts on a good show in Buffalo.”
The Sabres’ shows have been horrible of late, with a seven-game losing streak that could become a franchise-record of eight with a regulation loss tonight. But it’s no fault of Ennis, who leads the team in goals (18) and points (36).
The Sabres have just six goals in the last seven games, with Drew Stafford (4) and Ennis (2) accounting for them all. Ennis has 13 points in his last 16 games while Stafford has 17 points, including 10 goals, in his last 19.
Ennis and Stafford have been playing with former Canisius College star Cory Conacher, but he’ll be replaced on the top line tonight by Marcus Foligno. The Foligno-Ennis-Stafford line was perhaps the hottest in the NHL after Foligno was called up for good in March, 2012.
“Hopefully we have luck like that again and put up some points here,” said Foligno, who has one goal the last 17 games. “It’s good to play on a top line, and Stafford and Ennis are really clicking. My job is to get in there, get them the puck and get to the net.”
“You can’t ask for much more from those two, so it would be unfair for us to break them up,” coach Ted Nolan said. “With Conacher, he had a couple empty-net tap-in goals and he missed them. Maybe it will be good for Marcus to get in that position where his confidence could rise a little bit.”
Still, the Sabres need someone on some other line to score a goal at some point or they won’t win.
“At the beginning of the year, me and Staff couldn’t buy one and the other guys were doing the scoring,” Ennis said. “It’s a tough situation when you feel like you can’t help the team out by scoring. Right now, we’re playing really well, generating a lot of chances. You’d think one goal from another line could really spark things.”
As for the basketball Ennis, he’ll be a little busy today to watch any hockey highlights. He said he’s peeked at a few as a kid but “was never really too much into it,” despite growing up in suburban Toronto. “I don’t really watch too much hockey,” he said.
The Sabres’ Ennis said he had a basketball hoop outside his home here that was little used. His childhood was spent playing ball hockey in the basement.
“That hoop was out front and we might play between lunch breaks and stuff,” Ennis said. “But I wasn’t very good.”
Seems like they both found their niche.
News Sports Reporter Jay Skurski contributed to this report.