Rochester, New York – – Cobden native Jack Quinn’s lifetime dream of playing in the NHL became a reality last Tuesday when he took to the ice for the Buffalo Sabres in a home game versus the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning at the KeyBank Centre.

The eighth pick overall by the Sabres in the 2020 NHL draft, the 20-year-old Quinn was called up from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League (AHL) for the contest.

He was among the five starting skaters for the Sabres, including linemates Dylan Cozens and Vinne Hinostroza, lined up on the blueline for the respective Canadian and American national anthems prior to the puck drop.

“It was cool to start the game, for sure, and be out there for the anthem and everything,” he remarked. “It made it a really cool experience.”

When play began, he was at left wing, with Cozens at centre and Hinostroza on right wing. He had practiced on a line with them on Monday, so he knew that was who he would be paired with in his debut on Tuesday.  

“I was just really excited, a little nervous, but not too bad,” he told the Leader last Thursday when asked what his emotions were during the day. “I knew I was confident in my game and knew I was ready and was going to be able to be a good player out there. 

“So, I wasn’t too nervous. I was more just excited and trying to enjoy the whole day and all the moments that came with it.”

Quinn was very grateful for being given the opportunity to make his debut with the team.

“It was really exciting, and I was grateful to get the opportunity. I’d only played 20 games in the American League, so it hasn’t been that long.”

He reported to the arena that morning for a team meeting a 9:30 which was followed by a morning skate.

“After that we had our pre-game meal, go home, nap and go back to the rink around 4:30,” he explained.

In the pre-game skate, Quinn took great delight in seeing two of his teammates from the Americans, Mattias Samuelsson and Ryan Scarfo, there to support him.

“Two of my teammates came down and they were at the glass with my jerseys on when I came out for the first lap, so it was kind of cool to see and also pretty funny. They kind of mentioned it, but I kind of forgot about it and was still surprised when I saw them.”        

He had learned he was being called up from Rochester in a phone call from Sabres’ general manager Kevyn Adams on the prior Sunday (January 9).

The news allowed him to notify his family and so mom, Jennifer Holly, stepfather, Dennis Wren, and younger sister, Holly Quinn, 18, of Cobden, and dad, Dan Quinn Jr. of Ottawa, arrived there Monday and were in the stands for this debut. Quinn’s agent, Randy Robitaille, was also in attendance.

Impressive Debut

Quinn recorded a team high three shots on goals with another six attempted shots in his 16:30 of ice time. He also skated on the Sabres’ top power-play unit and had a -1 rating for the night.

He created a good scoring opportunity in the first period, moving from left to right inside the Tampa blueline before firing a hard shot on net that Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy rejected. Later in the period, Quinn picked up a loose puck in the slot, firing it towards the open net but all-star defenceman Victor Hedman dove to block the shot. In the third, another Quinn shot was blocked in the crease, with the puck coming to rest on the goal line before it was covered.

“I had lots of chances, probably should have buried a couple, but they stayed out,” he said. “I think it was just promising to get the chances.

“I know if I keep getting them, they’ll go in down the road,” he added. “With the first game out of the way, I think I’ll be a little more settled and have a little more poise and probably put those chances in.”

The fact he was chosen to be on the power-play unit added to the overall impact of his debut.

“Like it was great that they gave me a lot of opportunity. I was playing on a great line with Cozens and Hinostroza, and playing on the power-play.

“It was, kind of, the full experience and I got to be involved in everything in the game,” he continued. “I was just kind of thrown in there. I wasn’t just playing few shifts and it was important for me to know what it’s like. I know what I need to work on as I come back down to Rochester.”

He felt he conducted himself well in the various media interviews afterwards, and in true Valley fashion, thanked the press following the interview.

Quinn said before the game, head coach Don Granato’s advice was pretty simple.

“He just said go play my game, don’t put any pressure on myself, and just go out there and have fun and enjoy it,” he said. 

After the game, Sabres head coach Don Granato had good things to say about Quinn’s debut.

“Jack, I thought, was really good,” he was quoted as saying. “I liked a lot of things in his game.

“He created a couple of chances,” he continued. “He was very aware with the puck, very in tune in the game. I thought it was a real good first game for him.”

With his debut out of the way, Quinn was focused on what lay ahead.

“I think you want to enjoy it as much as you can. It only happens once. But at the same time, I think the next game I’ll be able to play there’ll be less nerves and I’ll be a lot more comfortable.

“It’s exciting to play the games after the first ones just as much.”

Rookie of the Month

Quinn was one of the final cuts by the Sabres at training camp in 2021, but being assigned to the Americans was okay because he felt he had, perhaps, unfinished business there.

“I had played in this league last year and didn’t produce the way I wanted to, or I thought, the way I should have. So when they told me I was going back down, I was excited for the challenge to show I could be a top player in this league.”

Quinn was drawing lots of attention in his second season with the Americans, earning AHL Rookie of the Month honours in October after scoring five goals and collecting five assists in the team’s six games.

“It was pretty cool to get that. It’s always an honour to win whatever kind of award.”

The 10 points he posted exceeded his entire output from the COVID-shortened 2020-2021 season where he had scored two goals and added seven assists in the 15 games he appeared in with the Americans before undergoing surgery in April 2021 to repair a double hernia that saw him miss the remaining games.

In addition to the Rookie of the Month award, Quinn was leading the AHL in scoring for several weeks after adding another six goals and eight assists in November.

Unfortunately, he was stricken with mononucleosis late in the month and missed five weeks of action.

“I was pretty tired for a week or so and really didn’t know why,” he explained of the onset of his condition. “I was just sleeping all day and then I started to get some really bad symptoms. I was really sick and didn’t know what it was.”

After the diagnosis, he made the trip home to his mom’s residence in Cobden, and after about a week, started to feel better.

“I just rested for a couple weeks and had some time to spend with my family. I came back Boxing Day to Rochester, started skating, and played my first game maybe a week after that.”

Since his return, he has registered two goals and four assists to see him currently sit in eighth place in AHL scoring with 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points. (Americans’ teammate Michael Mersch is one of six players tied for second in AHL scoring with 31 points, while Chicago Wolves’ forward Andrew Poturalski sits alone in first with 42 points.)

Quinn said the scoring race really isn’t something he is too worried about.

“I think that will kind of come on its own. I think it’s more of a reflection of the other stuff you’ve focused on, how to try and get better each day, and the points are a reward of that and they come after.”

He believes his quick start to the season could be attributed to the fact he had a good summer and went into this season with a good mindset, knowing he could be a good player.

“And I was able to that first month and I’m playing with some great players down here too like (J.J.) Peterka. We have some good chemistry, so I was able to find the net early on.”       

Despite his strong showing in his debut, Quinn was re-assigned to the Americans on Wednesday, but he said knew that would be occurring.

“When Kevyn Adams called me Sunday to tell me I was going to play my first game Tuesday, he told me then I was just coming to play one game and I’d be going back to Rochester to play against Utica (the first-place team). So all the cards were on the table before and he just thought it would be great to get me my first game to see what it’s like and to have some things to work on after knowing what it’s like.

“It made it good because it was easy for me to focus on going in and playing just one game and doing my best and not worrying about anything else,” he added.   

Quinn said he was encouraged by the positive comments Sabres’ coach Granato had regarding his performance after his debut.

“I think Don was happy with the way I played and hopefully I’m able to move out and be a Buffalo Sabre for good at some point. I’m not sure when that will be, but it’s not something I’m thinking about.

“I’m just playing my game and having fun and whenever that time comes, it will come.”

A Personal High

In his return to the Americans last Wednesday night, he registered a personal AHL high four points with one goal and three helpers in the team’s 7-6 win over Utica. He earned the first star honours for his performance.

Quinn had been rumoured to be one of the players being considered for Team Canada at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, however he told the Leader Thursday he has learned he is ineligible for that to happen.

“Shane Doan actually called me this morning and I talked to him and I’m not going to be allowed to go because of my NHL contract. So it’s not in the cards, but that’s how it works.

“It would have been really cool if that wasn’t the case, but it is what it is,” he added.

He said he felt bad for the members of the Canadian Junior team when the recent IIHF world championship was cancelled midway through the tournament between Christmas and New Year’s.

“It’s really too bad; it’s kind of heartbreaking all the way around. You just hate to see something like that. I feel bad for all the guys on that team.

“Obviously I know Mason (McTavish) pretty well and he was one of the best players on the ice every night and I just feel bad for guys like him who had that cancelled,” he added.     

Quinn is the grandson of Dan and Norma Quinn of Cobden and Tom and Shirley Holly of Cormac.