In the throes of training camp, Malcolm Subban is excited to get the season started with the AHL’s Rochester Americans. You can hardly blame him, given that it’s been 270 days since he played in a game that counted. Now, thankfully, he only has to wait a little bit longer.
“I’m extremely excited just to get back playing,” he said. “Been off for a while, so excited to get back in there and get back to it... keep working on my game and get some wins. It’s been a while since since I played so it’s nice to get that again,” he added.
“I’m going to go out there when I get the opportunity to play, just do my job and come to the rink and set a good example,” he said. “Lead by example down here, trying to bring experience and just play my game when I’m in there. Try and get better every day.”
Subban, who turns 29 later this year, joined the Buffalo Sabres organization last December after being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks. Upon coming to Buffalo, he faced a string of bad luck: first, a lower-body injury in his debut, then, an upper-body injury and surgery a month and a half later.
Fast-forward three months, and Subban made a surprise appearance at a Sabres game - singing the pre-game United States and Canadian national anthems.
Malcolm. Subban.— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) April 29, 2022
Proud of you, Subbie! pic.twitter.com/RIKOCweBTf
Now, as a new season dawns, Subban is fresh off signing a new one-year, two-way contract with the Sabres. After some time in the NHL team’s training camp, he cleared waivers and was assigned to the AHL’s Amerks.
As it currently stands, he is one of three goaltenders in camp, alongside Beck Warm and Michael Houser, and one of a handful of goalies in the Sabres organization, and he’s enjoying the ride.
“It’s been really welcoming for me since I got here,” he said. “It’s a good atmosphere to be in, in Buffalo and here in Rochester. It’s been awesome just to come to the rink every day, see the smiles... just a real healthy environment to be in every day. The community was also really welcoming to me when I came here and since I’ve been here, so that stuff goes a long way.”
Malcolm is one of three hockey-playing Subban brothers, alongside P.K. and Jordan. While P.K. and Jordan are both defenders, Malcolm decided from a young age that he wanted to be in net.
“When my dad moved from Jamaica to Sudbury, long story short, he just fell in love with the [Montreal] Canadiens, ‘cause that was the team he could watch,” Subban said. “He just fell in love with the defensive position, so that’s why we all started as defensemen. But from as early as I can remember - and the earliest would be house league - I always wanted to be in net.”
“That’s around age three to five,” he added. “He was my coach, and I was a defenseman. He didn’t want me to switch. I think it was my 12-year-old year, he was stepping down as my coach and I was supposed to go to a different team, and he finally let me play goalie.”
“That was a highlight for me in my minor hockey career, just being able to finally play the position I loved. I loved playing out too, but I just got a real passion for goalie. I don’t know why, but it’s always just caught my attention.”
P.K., of course, recently announced his retirement after a 13-year NHL career.
“When I was first coming up, having a brother lead the way for you is obviously a huge advantage,” Malcolm said. “Just seeing the family member go through it, seeing what they went through and how they did it, being able to ask questions, and just in general, being a huge role model for me and my younger brother.”
“With his retirement, you kind of lose that, lose getting to see him on those road trips when you get to play him,” he added. “But maybe we’ll see him a little more now in the summers and stuff. Overall, having him play and being a role model for us was obviously huge and that first step for our family and to help me and my brother get to the pro level as well.”
Malcolm, and his brothers, are some of the few Black players in men’s professional hockey right now. While race is only a part of their story - and Subban said he never looked at the sport from a racial lens while growing up, playing among both white and Black players, it is undoubtedly, inevitably, a part of their story. Earlier this year, Jordan was subjected to racist taunts during an ECHL game, prompting many to speak out about racism in the sport of hockey.
“Obviously, that’s terrible,” Malcolm said. “I’ve talked to guys, and guys have went through stuff like that, and for me, it’s just like, it’s 2022 now. It sucks that that stuff’s still going on and you never want to face that... Everyone wants an equal opportunity, a fair opportunity to play the game that they love.”
“We’re still working on it, but hopefully we can get to that point where it’s behind us and we can all enjoy peace and unity,” he added. Players, fans and others speaking out as part of the overall conversation to help eradicate racism in hockey can help, too. “Hopefully when the next generations come up, that stuff’s behind us.”
Although Subban hasn’t been in the Sabres organization for even a year, he’s already gotten firsthand experience of the Western New York community and the team’s role in it. In May, Subban, along with Kyle Okposo and members of the Buffalo Bandits organization, visited Buffalo’s East Side to volunteer, serve food and connect with a community heavily impacted by the racist shooting at Tops.
“It was awesome to see that, because it happened in the summer and obviously, a lot of guys weren’t around,” Subban said. “The support, stuff like that just can’t be forgotten. It’s great for all of us to show the support for a community that’s really supported us so much.”
Subban already got a taste of what to expect in Rochester when he attended an Amerks playoff game with teammates at the end of last season. There, he got to experience a packed Blue Cross Arena filled with energetic fans with an appetite for winning hockey.
“I heard great things before, and then came to watch the game and got to see it for myself,” he said. “I love playoff hockey - obviously, in our culture, not too many people that don’t like it. Obviously, I love it. It was great to see down here and just seeing the support of the fans. it was awesome.”
Now, he’s ready to put in the work in Rochester this season. The Amerks are playing two preseason games this weekend to warm up for the regular season, which opens Friday, October 14 against the Toronto Marlies.
While we can obviously expect to see him in net, might we also see him behind the microphone, singing the anthems in Rochester?
“I don’t know, we’ll see. Maybe,” he said with a smile. “I’ve been working on my voice just in case.”
You never know.