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From Buffalo to Elmira: Craig Rivet Loving Life

Former Sabre defenseman playing close to home

We knew him as the captain of the Buffalo Sabres. A stalwart on the blue line, a leader in the room, and a player whose time, tenure, and a bad run of injuries cost him his place with the future plans of the team.

After 18 seasons and a spectacular hockey career in the National Hockey League, Craig Rivet finds himself in the rustic town of Elmira, New York, playing for the Elmira Jackals of the East Coast Hockey League. First Arena in downtown Elmira is 140 miles from the doorstep of the First Niagara Center, but in hockey parlance it is like going to another world.

And Craig Rivet wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rivet signed a contract with the Jackals in early October, and now handles blue line duties with a cadre of players who are all at least 12 years younger than he is, all looking for fame and fortune in the NHL, working their way through the system where the ECHL is regarded as the “double A” league.

After taking the entire summer off and spending time with his family in his home in Clarence, when it came time for training camp, Rivet called his agent and said, “Hey just go and get me in a league where I can go and have some fun, come to the rink, and still be part of a professional team. A different part of a team where I can help the guys on and off the ice to make the jump to the next level. Being here in Elmira gives me a different perspective, where I can help with the coaching aspect.”

For Rivet, Elmira was just about the perfect fit. “It’s two to two and a half hours to home. I can be there for my daughter’s soccer, my boys’ hockey…I can get home for a couple days every week.” Rivet was anxious to establish some roots. “For the first time in my career, we wanted a place where our family could have some stability, and it was decided that Buffalo would be that place.”

Rivet maintains an apartment in nearby Corning, to provide an easy commute to his workplace, and is enjoying the Twin Tiers. “Corning is absolutely beautiful, a nice downtown and charming restaurants,” Rivet says. “And just hanging with these guys who all live nearby and playing Xbox like younger guys like to do. It’s all a little different but really a lot of fun.”

Watching Rivet on the ice this past weekend as he and his teammates squared off against the visiting Kalamazoo Wings, Rivet was clearly head and shoulders above anyone else on the ice in terms of skill and presence. He played on both the power play and penalty kill and logged plenty of ice time.

Does coaching fit into Rivet’s plans once he takes off the skates for the very last time? “That question has been asked of me numerous times over the last five years,” he says. “People who have dealt with me coaching wise see that sort of future for me. I’ll deal with that when the time comes. Right now I just like coming to the rink and spending time with 20 guys. It’s awesome. I know I’m not going to be doing this forever.”

Rivet spent the better part of three seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, and we asked him if there was a particular moment that stood out in his mind from his time with the team. Perhaps his dramatic goal in the 2010 playoffs against the Boston Bruins? Rivet’s reply was surprising. Or maybe not.

He went back to February 13, 2009. The Sabres were facing his former team, the San Jose Sharks, and it was less than 24 hours after Continental flight 3407 had dropped out of the sky in Clarence, killing all on board and stunning and shocking our entire community. “Without a doubt, one on my most memorable moments in my entire career was the night after the plane crash. I still have goose bumps. It was a night none of us will ever forget. Hockey was the last thing on our minds that night, and it was extremely tough to prepare for the game, to mentally focus. The shock of everyone in Buffalo…yet we had to play a hockey game. It seemed like everyone you talked to knew someone who knew someone who was on that plane. San Jose was one of the elite teams in the league. How we as a team and as city came together to win that game is something I will never forget.”

Jackals’ director of broadcasting and media relations Eric Levine says that Rivet’s signing with the team hit the organization like a firestorm. “Our website recorded the most number of hits ever the day after the signing. Nationally read blogs like Puck Daddy and news organizations from across the country were giving us all sorts of attention. It still hasn’t really died down.”

Rivet’s presence has been a boon for the Jackals both on and off the ice. “Craig’s experience has been invaluable to training and teaching the younger players and assisting coach [Pat] Bingham,” Levine says. “The fans have responded very well to him. He makes appearances, signs autographs. He genuinely seems to love being here.”

While any NHL team needing an experienced defenseman could come calling at any time, Rivet doesn’t plan to go anywhere anytime soon. “I’m just having the time of my life right now, being here, in this town and with these guys,” he says.

Adds Levine, “If he were to leave today we’d thank him and look back at all this and marvel at how much he has done for this organization. That being said, we’re hoping to have him with the Jackals for at least the rest of the season.”

Taro Sez...

• It was appropriate that Taro and everyone else learned of the passing of Milt Ellis just the way he would have wanted it: via an announcement by the public address announcer prior to last Saturday’s home game against the Phoenix Coyotes. Ellis was literally the Voice of the Aud, serving as the PA announcer since the old AHL Bisons days in the 1960s through his retirement after the 1996-97 season, the first in the new arena. Milt was beloved by all and will be missed.

• That being said, cueing up some of Milt’s recorded announcements during last Saturday’s game (“Last minute of play in this period” or that memorable no smoking message which included the standing room area above the oranges) would have been especially touching, and appropriate. Five-minute major to the game night crew for not thinking of this.

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