Former Sabres Andrej Sekera, Nathan Gerbe have 'moved on' with Canes

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 6, 2014 

— You won’t find defenseman Andrej Sekera or forward Nathan Gerbe bashing the Buffalo Sabres or the city of Buffalo.

Both made new starts with the Carolina Hurricanes this season and have been valuable additions and consistent contributors. Both appear to enjoy living in Raleigh and being a part of the Carolina organization after being drafted by Buffalo and becoming lineup fixtures with the Sabres.

Playing in Buffalo on Tuesday will mark their first regular-season game against their old team and a return to First Niagara Center, but there’s no animosity or hard feelings.

“I had fun and enjoyed my time,” Gerbe said. “I moved on, but I’ll always remember my friends and the people I met, the city and how everyone was very nice.”

Gerbe, 26, had the final year of his contract bought out by the Sabres after last season, becoming a free agent, and signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes. He won a roster spot in training camp, has hustled, scored goals and been among the team’s top six forwards all season.

Sekera came to the Canes in a trade made during the 2013 NHL draft. It wasn’t a blockbuster, nothing like the Canes’ trade for Jordan Staal the year before. To get Sekera, the Canes dealt defenseman Jamie McBain and their second-round pick to the Sabres.

The deal drew little attention at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., that June day. But midway through the 2013-2014 season, there’s a question that could be raised: What were the Sabres thinking?

Sekera, 27, has been a mainstay on the Canes’ blue line, teaming with Justin Faulk to become Carolina’s shutdown defensive pair. Canes coach Kirk Muller on Monday called them “a great one-two tandem for our hockey club.”

Both should be headed to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics – Faulk making his first appearance with Team USA and Sekera on the Slovakian team for a second straight Olympics.

“He’s pretty consistent every night, and it’s fun to play alongside him,” Faulk said. “He does so many things well. He can join the rush, keeps pucks in the zone, makes good reads, is good in the defensive zone.

“He’s been good, and he’s being rewarded for his play. Obviously on the stat sheet he’s got quite a few points, which is good to see. You like to see a D-man get those points.”

Sekera ranks among the NHL’s top 10 defensemen in goals scored with a career-high seven and has 17 assists. He scored the first shorthanded goal of his career and had his first two-goal game against the Detroit Red Wings.

In the final minutes of the past two games, as both the New York Islanders and Nashville Predators pulled their goalies for extra attackers, Muller wanted Sekera on the ice to help secure the wins.

“It’s safe to say he’s played well beyond the expectations we had,” said Muller, who has called Sekera the team’s MVP this season.

Sekera, who quietly goes about his business on and off the ice, tends to shrug off such praise.

“I always try to do my best, every single game, practice,” he said. “I just want to go out and play hard and do everything I can to help our team win a game. Sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t. As long as I take care of my end and play my game, I’m happy, but there’s always room for improvement.”

The Sabres drafted Sekera in 2004. He made his NHL debut in the 2006-2007 season and played 339 regular-season games and eight playoff games for Buffalo.

Sekera signed a four-year contract with Sabres in July 2011. The Canes inherited the front-loaded contract, which pays Sekera $1.75 million this season and next, a bargain rate for a top-two defenseman.

Sekera had been on the ice a lot with Carolina, being used on the power play and in penalty killing, taking advantage of the opportunity.

“It was a different system we played (in Buffalo) and they used me in a different situation,” Sekera said. “I like the skating pace of the system we play (with the Canes). I think it plays in my (favor) a little bit more.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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