We continue our series about Buffalo Sabres history, with each day’s post highlighting a player to have worn the subsequent jersey number with the Buffalo Sabres. This series is not designed to say that any player is the ‘best’ to have worn that jersey number, but rather to allow fans to get a taste of the team’s history and learn more about some of the players in it.
Yesterday, we discussed Connor Knapp, who became the first player in Sabres history to wear jersey number 49. Today, we’ll look at another goaltender who also made his NHL debut this past season, becoming the first Sabres player to wear jersey number 50: Nathan Lieuwen.
Last season was a big one for Lieuwen, who earned a solid spot in the AHL and eventually made his way up to the Buffalo Sabres. He was one of four goaltenders with the Amerks to start the season and ended up splitting the Rochester season with Matt Hackett.
Lieuwen, who just turned 23 earlier this month, was drafted by the Sabres in 2011 with the 167th overall pick. He played with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice up until 2012, which is when he made the jump to the AHL. But the 2012-13 season saw Lieuwen spend most of the year in the ECHL, with the Greenville Road Warriors.
That season, there simply wasn’t a goaltending spot in Rochester for him, with David Leggio as the main man in net. Leggio played 64 regular season games that year with the Amerks; Hackett, Knapp and Lieuwen COMBINED played 14 games.
So instead, Lieuwen spent a good chunk of time in Greenville, where he had a 14-10-2 record, .903 save percentage and 2.93 GAA. Lieuwen was one of six goaltenders for Greenville that season, but he was one of the most consistent faces there; he played the most games of all the six, with Scott Stajcer carrying the majority of the rest of the games (23).
Of course, Lieuwen did appear in four games with Rochester that season. He had one win, a .919 save percentage and 2.65 GAA, allowing nine goals against in 204 minutes of ice time.
When October 2013 rolled around, it was time for things to get serious. With David Leggio no longer in the Rochester picture, a significant gap was left in the Amerks’ net. Matt Hackett, Connor Knapp and Andrey Makarov were all set to duke it out with Lieuwen for the two spots, and in the end, Lieuwen would be one of the Amerks’ top goaltenders.
Not long into the season, Knapp was sent to the ECHL; Makarov was also sent down a few weeks later, leaving Lieuwen and Hackett as the two Amerks goaltenders.
It would stay this way for the majority of the season, until the Sabres suffered a lot of goaltending issues late in the year, throwing the Sabres’ and Amerks’ netminding situation into chaos.
Throughout the season, Lieuwen proved himself to be a steady, reliable netminder, playing just one game less than Matt Hackett. In 32 games, Lieuwen had a .922 save percentage and a 2.34 GAA. He went 17-11-2 and had 830 saves on 900 shots faced.
His season with the Amerks included a pair of shutouts.
Eventually, on March 16, Lieuwen got his first emergency recall to the Sabres. He played in his first NHL game that same day, coming in to relieve the injured Jhonas Enroth. Lieuwen was playing in his third game in as many days, having played in games for Rochester that Friday and Saturday. He had 10 saves and allowed no goals in 21 minutes and 45 seconds of ice time.
Lieuwen would appear in six additional games for the Sabres in March and April, including five starts. In addition to Montreal, he faces Calgary, Vancouver, Nashville, New Jersey, St. Louis and Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before he, too, joined the string of Sabres goaltenders ravaged by injury. Lieuwen suffered a concussion in the April 6 game against the Philadelphia Flyers and missed the remainder of the season. He was also unable to return to Rochester for the playoffs.
All in all, Lieuwen stepped in at a time when the string of goaltenders in the Sabres system was quickly thinning out, and although the Sabres were long out of the playoff picture by the time he came in, he was generally solid in net. In the seven games with Buffalo, Lieuwen had a .906 save percentage, a 2.98 GAA and 173 saves.
This coming October, he’ll likely be one of the starting goaltenders for the Amerks once again.