Saturday, June 30, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #8

B. Tom Golisano

I planned on including him even before I recapped this week's Game to Remember, but his "recent" appearance in the broadcast booth convinced me to bump him up a few numbers (not that there's any rhyme or reason to the order, here). What is there to say about B. Tom? Well, the man's a bonafide hero.

In the summer of 2002, Sabres fans got to watch as John Rigas and his sons were carted away in handcuffs for committing wire fraud, and assorted other nefarious deeds. The corporation which owned the Sabres, Adelphia Communications, went bankrupt. If you think the unknown futures of our co-captains has turned Buffalo into a bundle of nerves, imagine what it was like when the entire team was at risk of leaving town. You know those unwashed crazy guys who wander around street corners muttering "The end is near" over and over? It was a lot like that. The 2002-2003 season started with the Sabres under league control, and by January they had filed Chapter 11. As the season wore on, it was looking more and more likely that the Bills were going to become the sole source of future sports heartbreak for Western New Yorkers. And then B. Tom Golisano showed up on the scene. Unlike the prospective owners who made offers before him, he declared his commitment to keeping them the Buffalo Sabres, and when he took over ownership of the team from the league, Buffalonians were hard pressed to find something to complain about. Well, for a little while at least.

B. Tom (the B stands for Blaise, so I don't blame him for going by his middle name, but B. Tom is an affectionate nickname) admits he knew nothing about hockey when he decided to buy the Sabres, but he did know a thing or two about running a business. He famously turned a company he started with a single Visa card into a multi-billion dollar corporation. So he took a look at the floundering team, and knew he could make it a success. He saw through the failures, the low attendance, and lost money, and recognized that the people of Buffalo love their hockey passionately. If he made it worth our while, we would make it worth his. And since he took over, that's exactly what's happened. He's stood by his promise to keep ticket prices low, and the fans have responded by flocking to HSBC. He grabbed a team on the brink of extinction or relocation, and in a few short years turned them into the biggest bang for your buck in American sports. Officially.

Even better, I love that owning the Sabres has turned B. Tom into an honest-to-God hockey fan. Instead of just sitting back and letting the dough roll in, he's apparently been bugging Lindy and Darcy to school him so he knows what's going on. As evidenced by his presence in the booth the other night, he watches hockey away from HSBC (though I suspect seven games in one night is a bit of an overstatement), and he's truly excited by the game in front of him. Whenever he's shown in the owner's box after a win, he's always smiling, and not just because the tickets are sold out. B. Tom, Mark Marinaccio says it best: Domo Arigato Tom Golisano.

Friday, June 29, 2007

12 to Remember: Buffalo vs Montreal 10/6/06

Okay, sorry about the horrible delays in getting this game diary up. It's been a hectic and busy week. Also, I think I got a little too into diarizing this time, and this one's about twice as long as the last one. Ooops. Anyway:

Tonight, Kevin and his dimples are standing in front of the three Sabres sweaters and a white Habs sweater as he tells us all some important things about the game we’re about to watch. I don’t know, something about coming back from two goal deficits. But I pay attention to this bit: Rick Jeanneret and Jim Lorentz are going to be calling this game, thank God! And then Kevin utters one of my favorite sounds in the world. Honestly, Kevin Sylvester saying “MSG” is a reason to love hockey in and of itself. I’ll have to keep that in mind for when I’m desperate later.

First Period
--As RJ introduces the goaltenders, it appears this game is coming to us from a very dark place. I don’t know if it’s the arena lighting or the MSG broadcast, but it looks like Miller and Huet are stuck in the Batcave.
19:51 Nine seconds in, and Roy wastes no time in going offside. Still, the fact that later in the season (spoiler!) Roy has scored a goal by this point in the game makes it hard to pick on him here. By the way, he’s playing on Drury’s line with Kotalik. Really effin’ weird.
18:30 And Pominville seems to be playing with Novotny and Vanek. Even effin’ weirder.
18:25 Miller makes a great stop while moving laterally. I’m sure he made some good saves in the opener against Carolina, but for some reason this seems like the first one of the season.
17:23 Gaustad gets a great stuff-in chance, but Huet stands tall. Gaustad is centering Mair and Peters, so at least that hasn’t changed.
16:37 Wow. Roy does some actual, good skating from the blueline and gets an actual, good backhand shot. Am I going to have to stop yelling at him?
16:07 Kotalik tries to send it into the zone, through a defenseman parked at the blueline. I passed high school physics, so I’m unsurprised to see it doesn’t work.
15:39 Everyone’s disappointed when a potentially great break by Roy doesn’t work out. I don’t know what they were expecting, there. And I don’t even mean that as a dig at Roy, because he almost got a good shot away, but the guy’s tiny and he had two defenders right in his face. He’s not Sid Crosby, people.
15:15 Vanek is called for offsides. Clearly he sucks, and any GM who wants to offer him money is an idiot. Just sayin’.
--A replay of that Roy chance shows that he actually did chip the puck and Huet had to make the save with his shoulder. Way to make me eat my words, Derek.
14:49 Afinogenov loses the puck after some nifty skating, and his linemates, Hecht and Briere, have to get back quick. If you listen closely you can hear them sighing and saying, “Just give us Jason already!”
13:18 Peters levels a huge check on Begin, and gets called for something or other. I don’t know exactly what, but there was clearly something illegal about that hit, so I’m okay with whatever the call was. Hilariously, as Begin is helped off the ice, we see Lindy Ruff making a subtle facial expression which does nothing to hide his inner monologue of “Wuss.”
--Jim goes on about how the Buffalo penalty kill was effective against Carolina, only letting in one power play goal. Glad to know I’m not the only one eating words tonight.
13:00 Sure enough, Ryder scores eighteen seconds in. Miller made a good initial stop, but gives up an uncharacteristically sloppy rebound, and can’t make the second save. Peters is shown coming out of the box and giving an “Uh, sorry guys,” sort of shrug.
12:46 Miller plays it cool on a quick Koivu chance.
11:47 Lorentz starts talking about what a fast defensive pairing Spacek and Campbell are, stating that they’re probably the best in the league in that regard. It appears Jim is on an all-words diet. In other news, this game is coming to us from the Batcave library. Seriously. I flat out refuse to believe that the building is this dark and this quiet. I blame MSG.
9:06 Holy cow, but that was some beautiful skating by Hecht. With one fluid movement, he fools a Habs D-man and feeds a brilliant pass right into the crease. Unfortunately, he’s somehow ended up on the fourth line and Mair sends it wide of the net. Seriously, though, that was an incredible play.
8:40 Roy steals the puck away nicely in the neutral zone, and then feeds it across ice to Kotalik, who… promptly mishandles it. Just when I lose one scapegoat, I find another!
8:20 Drury sends a pass back to the point to (guess who?) Kotalik, who (guess what?) lets the puck get by him and across the line. He’s really taking to this scapegoat thing.
8:14 RJ is livid that there was no penalty called as Roy gets grabbed at the line. Just because he’s playing well doesn’t mean I can’t rib him for being a diver, right? Because that joke is right there for the taking. Oh well: insert diver comment here.
6:49 Tallinder steals the puck right in the slot after some really great forechecking, but his shot hits the post. Vanek is right there, with Huet completely out of the play, but somehow the puck stays out of the net. I’m going to say it’s all Vanek’s fault for the benefit of any GMs who might be reading. Remember: he sucks, and isn’t worth a dime!
4:36 Spacek just took two shots in a 20-second span. That’s about a third of his tally for the season, right there.
4:20 And then he makes a smart defensive play and comes out on top in a one-on-one situation. C’mon, I need to be able to pick on someone tonight!
2:50 Mair gets another perfect feed in front of the net, this time from Roy, and manages to screw this one up, too.
2:29 As Mair takes his time getting up off the ice after being tripped along the boards, I do my best impression of Lindy Ruff’s “Wuss” face.
2:13 Roy and Afinogenov work some magic together and get a goal! Of course, the play was bogusly whistled dead so it won't count, but still: magic. Apparently for Huet, having no idea where the puck is counts as freezing it, and he gets a whistle while the puck is loose underneath him. Judging by the close-ups we get of the crowd, Lindy, and Max, incredulity is the word of the day, and I don’t blame them. This was an egregious call. But given the outcome of the game, I’m not going to get too pissed off about it.
1:43 Lindy didn’t learn from that last display of chemistry, and Afinogenov is back with Hecht and Briere. Wake up already, Lindy.
0:23 Kotalik squeezes as much suckage out of this period as possible and blasts a pristine pass from Drury about a mile over the net. He then goes on to lose a battle at the boards. Kotalik, this is just not your night.

Second Period
--Okay, Kevin. I’ll give you that Tom Golisano counts as a special guest. But a special guest analyst? Come on.
--B. Tom is up in the broadcast booth, and he and RJ wax sentimental about the capacity crowd in front of them, a welcome change from the pre-lockout bankruptcy days. Golisano refers to the expectations of this season’s Sabres as “scary.” After seeing the way it plays out, there’s really no better word to describe them. Especially seeing as how “too high” is two words.
19:06 After spending almost the whole first minute in the Montreal zone due to some great pressure from the Drury line (yes, that includes Kotalik), the defense looks frantic and Miller goes sprawling. It’s chaos, but the shot goes wide.
18:24 Miller makes a really sharp cross-crease save.
17:57 Lydman gets caught in the offensive zone (he made a huge unnecessary circle behind the net, only to lose the puck) and Hank faces a 2-1. Miller snags the Markov shot with his glove.
--Rick acknowledges that Golisano is in the booth, and says they will be talking to him, “when the opportunity presents itself.” This is why I love him. He knows you don’t go sacrificing calling the action just to do something silly like talk to the owner of the team.
17:20 Okay, now I know MSG is doing something to the sound, because it sounds like the organ is coming to us via walkie talkie from the moon.
16:57 The Habs are really testing Miller’s lateral movement tonight, as they force him to make another big save.
16:35 Kotalik is nailed along the boards, and RJ rambles a bit about how he’s checking the number on the sweater(73, Ryder), and storing it away for later. Yeah, Rick, I’m sure he’s writing that number down so he can go suck by him later.
16:27 Golisano says very endearingly “I watched about seven games… last night,” and gets a hearty chuckle from Jim and RJ. He then gets to his point of calling Jeanneret and Lorentz by far the best broadcasting team in the league. Amen. Man, I love this guy.
16:10 Higgins scores, and shows Golisano why you don’t go talking over the play. It’s now 2-0 Montreal. Wait, the Sabres win this, right?
14:25 Apparently, during the intermission Kotalik found Spacek in the dressing room and was like “Man, you’ve really got to try shooting the puck through solid objects,” because that’s exactly what he just did. And guess what? It still didn’t work.
14:02 Vanek just made a really great drop pass and almost managed to tie the game, but for salary-cap reasons, I’ll just pretend it didn’t happen. GMs: Never happened.
13:01 Holy shit. GMs, I can’t even pretend that that didn’t happen. It was just that good. Vanek does some gorgeous maneuvering around basically every Hab on the ice, and then makes a brilliant no-look behind-the-back pass from the goal line to the front of the net. That? Was delicious. Adorably, you can hear B. Tom yell “Alright!” as Novotny (Really? Him?) slams the puck into the wide open net. A crowd shot shows someone hoisting a sign, which reads, “We want the Cup, not the new logo!” Heh. There’s someone who’s doubly pissed about the outcome of the season.
11:48 Mair fakes his way neatly around two Montreal defenders, only to run out of room at the last second and topple on top of Huet. This guy really doesn’t get enough credit for his skating, because that was very nice.
--Coming out of commercial, we are “treated” to our first moment with Rob Ray between the benches. He tells us that some of the players including Lydman, Tallinder, Drury, Briere, Max, and Miller have bought boxes at HSBC and donated them to charities, bringing kids in to see the games. I never heard about this, and that’s really sweet of them, but seriously, Rayzor, you’re useless.
2:45 What the hell? We somehow ended up in the last three minutes of the period. Sneaky, MSG.
2:06 Miller finds himself eyebrow-to-crooked-eyebrow with Kovalev, but doesn’t panic and comes up with a huge save. RJ goes fittingly ballistic.
1:45 Sigh, Miller says “Hey, remember that great save I just made? Yeah, me neither,” as Koivu gets it by him right off the faceoff. Do the Sabres win this thing, or not?
1:13 Goddamn, but that was hilarious! Roy does some great skating with the puck, only to trip over his own feet at the blueline and send it out of the zone. That’s the second time in two games that Roy has fallen over completely unmolested, and it just keeps getting funnier and funnier! Even with MSG tampering with the sound, I think I can make out everyone in the building laughing.
0:00 If anything happened during the last minute and change, I didn’t see it, because I’m still dying from the Roy hijinks.

Third Period
19:30 The first appearance of the Hecht-Briere-Pominville line! Let’s sit back and wait for the magic to happen.
19:09 And there it is! Pominville scores off of a faceoff after Hecht feeds him a short pass from the boards. Huet never sees Pommer’s screened one-timer.
18:25 And here’s the Vanek-Roy-Afinogenov line! Lindy’s really getting his shit together now!
16:58 Spacek just sold himself out to block a shot. Why does he refuse not to suck tonight? Does he not want me to hate him, or something?
16:16 While everyone else is finding their line soulmates, Drury is suffering through the second phase of the never-ending “Operation: Create Drury Line.” Tonight’s contestants are Kotalik to the left and Novotny to the right.
15:06 Spacek makes another smart defensive play! Man, I really need to let out these aggressions somewhere. Where’s Kotalik when you need him?
14:40 Soupy, Max, and Vanek connect to create a great chance. The fact that Vanek fails to score on his one-timer here totally cancels out that beautiful assist he made earlier, right, GMs? Right?
14:20 Hee! Bonk!
13:41 Goose takes a pass from Afinogenov and scrambles toward the net to try to score. Huet quickly spears his shot, but watching Gaustad’s legs flying every which way as they tried to pick up speed was totally worth it, anyway.
--Commercials: Finally! Vinyl siding that can withstand all of my rubber chicken abuses! Dang… too bad they’re based out of Jersey.
12:45 Kalinin just tried to pass it to Peters, who is down on the ice. Dude, Dmitri, he can’t even handle the puck standing up. What are you doing?
10:37 Briere’s new line of soulmates sustains about a full minute of pressure in Montreal’s zone, while Campbell does some great pinching at the blueline. If Spacek is out there, too, I don’t see him, as every other Buffalo player is working except him. C’mon! Don’t you want to let the puck go over the line, or something, Jaro? Instead, Soupy takes a penalty for “impeding” Souray. This does not bode well.
9:45 After some really horrendous penalty killing, Novotny gets an offensive chance and promptly interferes with Huet. Because a 5-on-3 is just what this PK needs to face right now.
9:23 Numminen doesn’t want the two-man advantage to ever end, so he hooks Samsonov to the point where I’m surprised stick and torso could be separated without surgery. For the second time in two games there are three Sabres in the box. One more and they can start a game of Euchre!
8:30 Even though Spacek is on the ice, it’s not his fault when Koivu scores (shocker). Montreal strings together some quick passing and no one really had a chance. The good news is that Campbell’s penalty had just expired, which means Novotny vacates the box and Buffalo is now down by only one man. The bad news is the Sabres are losing by two again. Will they hurry up and start winning, already? Gosh. In other bad news: Teppo is stuck playing Solitaire.
6:47 Samsonov pirouettes onto the ice, and Drury gets called for hooking. He’s justifiably pissed about the overlooked dive, and uncharacteristically loses his cool to slam his stick into the boards. He goes to frolic in the daisy fields of the Paradise Penalty Box all hot and bothered. Teppo spends the eight seconds of overlapping penalty time dealing a game of War.
6:01 Vanek makes a smart play (uh, GMs, I mean “gets a lucky bounce”) to steal the puck at the blueline, skates in on a breakaway only to get hauled down and have no penalty called. Somewhere in his daisy field, Drury is only getting more hot and bothered.
5:38 Goose takes the non-call as his cue to maul everyone within arms length in the corner and get away with it, which he does. Bless him.
5:06 As everyone and their grandmothers convene to decide what the stopped game clock should be re-set to, Drury asks Briere to fetch him another stick. Apparently Chris was so hot and bothered he didn’t even realize he broke his stick. Even when throwing tantrums he’s intensely focused!
4:44 The fans cheer their approval as the official who looked the other way on that Vanek break gets knocked down. Two seconds later they have even more to celebrate as Briere scores. After a faceoff inside the Buffalo blueline, Kalinin threads a brilliant pass to Briere, who splits the Montreal D and goes five-hole on Huet. That was just lovely.
4:20 After about a decade of being shorthanded, the Sabres are now headed to the power play. Prediction: They suck anyway.
3:40 First hilarious crowd-member moment of the season: As Briere holds the puck behind the net, some kid in an Afinogenov sweater near the bottom of the screen literally stands up and points to Pominville, who is open. Danny doesn’t take his advice, however, and he sits back down. HAH!
2:05 Roy somehow, someway manages to muscle a puck away from Bonk at the boards. This blows my mind. Roy… muscle? Does not compute.
0:31 Miller has been pulled, and we see a shot of him on the bench with his back to the ice. He can’t watch!
0:14 Afinogenov ties it! Honestly, does anyone celebrate better than Max? Even though he just tapped in a Vanek shot that was headed in anyway (GMs, I didn’t just say that), he acts like he just invented scoring. I love it. And this one’s going to ooooovertime!

4:15 Before anything exciting or interesting happens, my TiFaux apparently decides this game is over and cuts out. Oh well. Let’s just say nothing exciting or interesting happens for the rest of overtime and move on to the shootout via YouTube.

--For some reason, the only video available is in French, but that’s okay. I’m cool with that. I’ll just assume everything they’re saying is of no consequence, anyway.
1st Shot: Briere tries to stuff it by Huet on the glove side, but couldn’t get him to over-commit quite enough.
2nd Shot: Miller stones Ryder stick side. The sound levels in this video are clearly back to normal, because the celebration of this save actually reaches decibel levels beyond my whisper-quiet dishwasher.
3rd Shot: Hah! “Maxim Afinogenov” sounds fantastic with a French accent! Max doesn’t bother with any nifty moves and instead sinks a wrister from just outside the crease. I don’t think Huet even moved.
4th Shot: Kovalev rings one off the crossbar.
5th Shot: GMs, look the other way. #26 (who?) pulls a similar move as Max, only this time Huet actually tries to save it and he still can’t. Sabres win it 5-4 in a shootout.
--To put a hilarious cap on the game, whatever French Canadian station this is decides to show the least interested guy in the entire building after the win. The whole crowd is going nuts, but we get to see this doofus in a striped polo and jeans, with his hands in his pockets Art-Garfunkel-style. It’s not even like he’s a disappointed Habs fan, it just looks like he wandered in looking for the Laguna Beach launch party, or something. That’s so great.

Tune in next week (sometime, I promise!): The Sabres are playing the New York Rangers, and I don’t want to ruin anything, but they don’t win in a shootout! Yay!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #7

The Canadian National Anthem

Honestly, how cool is this anthem? Not only is it stirring and beautiful, but it's also actually easy to sing. The Star Spangled Banner, whose pitch ranges from the impossibly low to the inaudibly screechy, is best left to the professionals, but O Canada sounds best when belted out by a large crowd of amateurs. And what better crowd than an arena full of hockey fans? I'm lucky: the Sabres are the only club in the league that still plays both national anthems at a game, no matter who they're playing. Standing up and following along with the Jumbotron to two anthems is a ritual, not just an added bonus whenever a Canadian team comes to town. Whenever fans from other American teams--the Rangers or the Flyers, for instance--find their way to HSBC Arena for a game, I love watching the confused looks on their faces when the spotlight finds the Canadian flag. I once even had to reassure a guy that Buffalo is, in fact, still in America. But it's not just a Buffalo thing. Thanks to hockey, O Canada finds its way to places in the US it would otherwise have no place being: Dallas, Nashville, Tampa, etc. I have to admit, I did a lot of disappointed head shaking when I heard about those fans from Pittsburgh and New Jersey who booed the Canadian anthem. Boo the Senators, guys, the anthem is untouchable. (Fortunately for them, between the Isles fans who screamed "Rangers suck!" during a moment of silence for the VT students, and the Sens fans who punched a female Sabres fan in head, they were substantially outdone on the "disrespectful fan" scale.)

Okay, I don't know if there's anyone reading this who has not had the chance to sing along with this anthem at a hockey game (hell, I don't even know if there's anyone reading this), but if there is, then you haven't lived. I suggest you amend the situation immediately.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Memory Monday

So, I should be furiously pausing and rewinding the newest installment of the "Sabres 12 to Remember" right now, but my TiFaux decided that it didn't want to tape what it told me it was going to tape, and I am gameless. Hopefully TiFaux will remember its place by tomorrow noon, and I'll be able to resume my new ritual of trying unsuccessfully to work the remote and keyboard at the same time. Writing game diaries is fun!

So instead of all that, I thought I'd start in on something I promised myself I'd introduce last week, but inevitably forgot about: Memory Mondays. As much as I appreciate the MSG retrospective, there are some important moments from the past season that won't, for whatever reason, be showcased in the "12 to Remember." So I decided to take my own look back on the season, create an Island of Misfit Hockey Moments, of sorts. And I thought I'd start at the (relative) beginning.

October 28th Vs. the Atlanta Thrashers

Those of you who know this date and this game are now wondering which crazy pills I'm taking. That's fine, I accept that. So why do I remember this game, the first loss for the 06-07 Sabres, the end to a record-tying winning streak? It's simple. It's the first game I got to finish. Cable companies in St Paul, MN, aren't exactly keen on broadcasting Sabres games from Buffalo, NY, so I was completely at the mercy of the live online stream of the WGR 550 radio broadcast, with no recording capabilities. On top of that, theatre people are semi-nocturnal, preferring to schedule their shindigs, rehearsals, classes, meetings between the hours of seven and ten o'clock central time. Otherwise known as game time. So, more often than not, Sabres game days found me listening to as much of the online broadcast as possible before scurrying off to wherever I needed to be, and periodically (read: every ten seconds, if possible) checking my text messages for updated scores from my family. And then came the 28th of October. No one was dumb enough to schedule anything semi-school-related on the Saturday before Halloween, so I finally had an evening to myself. I plunked myself down in front of my computer, and told my friends in no uncertain terms that suggestions of going to parties or carving pumpkins were unwelcome. That could all wait. My team was on the verge of breaking a record, and finally, it was hockey time. I spent the next three hours or so attached by headphone cord to my Powerbook, trying to keep up with Rick Jeanneret's radio broadcast, and keeping the uninterested room posted on who was winning, letting out either a great yell or a large groan at each goal scored.

I was down when the Thrashers scored first, and then continued to find one-goal leads throughout the game. But the Sabres always gave me something to cheer about as they dug themselves out of four consecutive holes. The last goal came with just under two minutes left in regulation, off the stick of Hecht, and I remember sitting bolt upright on the floor (I get fidgety in chairs) and yelling my customary "I'm just Jochen!" to the confusion of my roommates. The game went to overtime, where the live internet feed cut out at the most inopportune moment when RJs voice accelerated through the phrase "Danny Briere, right in the goal crease...!" This inspired several moments of frantic pushing of Safari's refresh button, and a whole lot of swearing. By the time I got everything sorted out again, I was able to ascertain that Briere had not, in fact, scored, and the Sabres were entering their fourth shootout of the season. At this point I was on my feet, pacing a circle around my laptop as large as the radius of the headphone cord would allow. I wrung my hands when Kozlov netted the first shot for Atlanta, punched the air and swore profusely when both Briere and Afinogenov missed their chances. When Vanek's attempt failed to go in, I threw my headphones off, and closed my computer with a frustrated snap.

I was disappointed that I had to settle for the Sabres tying the all-time undefeated streak, instead of breaking it. I was pissed off that I finally got to listen to an entire game, and my team ended up losing. Justice just doesn't love a Buffalo fan. But, looking back on that night, I know I felt something else, too: anticipation. By the end of that game, even though it was a loss, I was hooked on this team, this season, and I knew it was going to be one exciting ride. I wasn't wrong.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #6


MLS aside (I swear, Beckham, if I have to hear about you and the Galaxy one more time, I'll hurl), the NHL is the only American sports league that European players have managed to crack into. And that makes me happy. Don't get me wrong, I love cheering for the home-grown boys as much as the next guy (uh, provided that the next guy isn't one of the idiots who was chanting "USA! USA!" during the last Sabres/Sens game), and obviously, hockey isn't anything without Canada (that Reason is coming up), but there's just something about those Euros I can't help but love. The Russians and the Czechs, the Finns and the Swedes--and I would be remiss in my duties to both my major and to Jochen Hecht if I didn't mention the Germans--each add a layer of cultural flavor to the hockey mix. Even though I've learned plenty of things from various hockey-playing Europeans (for instance, "Ales" isn't pronounced like "Alice," unless Kotalik is playing like shit and deserves to be made fun of), it's not just the ethnic education I love. It's the entire European experience. It's the interviews they give, with their near-incomprehensible accents and distinct English-as-a-second-language speech patterns. It's both their exciting, dangle-heavy style of offense, and mobile, intelligent style of defense. And it's the way their names do a Nadia-Comaneci-style uneven bars routine off the tongue. (I'm convinced "Maxim Afinogenov," with its buzzers and velars, is the most fun seven syllables can have.) Whether they're performing the perfect wraparound or explaining the cartoon ducks painted on their masks, they're entertaining to watch and entertaining to listen to, on and off the ice, and the sport of hockey just wouldn't be the same without them.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #5

NHL Team Logos

There's a pattern forming. Each new item I add to this list is an avenue toward other reasons to love hockey. Declaring my love for the names of the NHL teams the other day has today led me to my love for said teams' logos. For the most part, the themes of lameness and irrelevance found in the names printed on the ice continue onto the front of the sweater, and the results are delicious. As a kid, I chose my favorite sports teams based on the coolness of the uniforms (honestly, who didn't?). Even though I was drawn to the mesmerizing helmets of the St Louis Rams, I always thought hockey had the best uniforms. Instead of being banished to the side of a helmet, the logo is right there on the chest, front and center. I remember one of my first encounters with a non-Sabres logo. Some new neighbors had just moved in behind my house, and my mom took me out on the back porch to point to a red and white banner flying from the flagpole next to their front door. "The new neighbors are Detroit Red Wings fans," she said. I remember thinking to myself "That has got to be the dumbest logo I've ever seen. It has nothing to do with hockey." What I didn't know is that most of the logos in the league have nothing to do with hockey. And, what's more, once I found that out, I realized I liked it better that way. The old-school designs of such clubs as the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens, the Edmonton Oilers, and, yes I'll admit it, the Philadelphia Flyers just ooze history like nothing else. And maybe I'm biased, but the Sabres' original logo--that beautiful rebus for "Buffalo Sabres"--is nothing short of sublime. And no matter what anyone says, no matter how many Slugs are thrown our way, fans will always recognize that as the one, true logo. So, even though the NHL contains such silly logos as the Penguins' (cute, but silly), such befuddling logos as the Wild's (is that a bear head, or not?), such ugly logos as the Hurricanes' (no one will be able to convince me it doesn't look like a puck being flushed down the toilet), there's something about the simplicity of design inherent in hockey logos that I can't help but love.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

In the News: Buffalo News and LGS

It's been a couple of banner days (no pun intended) in the front page sports news department lately. Yesterday, Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason took a crack at playing GM for a day, and figured out a way to solve all of Buffalo's problems. Well, the ones related to hockey, anyway. He found a way to keep Drury, Briere, and Vanek in town while staying under a budget of $44 million. Larry Quinn has already stated that the Sabres' actual budget will be more than that, but no one knows by how much. We only know that they won't be pushing the cap, which has yet to be set. (Dear NHL: Please get on this.) Of course, in Bucky's plan this meant saying goodbye to some other players, namely Afinogenov, Spacek, Numminen, and Zubrus. Except for Spacek, I would really like to hold on to all of those guys, but if it means keeping Drury, Briere, and Vanek, I'd be willing to let them go. The plan also involves bringing a substantial number of players up out of Rochester, which I'm not too keen on. Sure, we did that last year, only bringing in Spacek from outside the organization, but I wouldn't count on it for a second straight season. I'd be really afraid of injuries, especially given our history the past two seasons. On the other hand, Paetsch in the top 6 defensemen! I agree 100%! Other than that, it's a pretty sound plan which incorporates fair contracts for all the players. Of course, it will never ever happen. But it gave me something to pretend about for a little while.

Today there was a breakdown of the Sabres' RFAs on the front page, along with some decidedly no-news news about the draft. As if we don't have enough of a headache already with trying to keep the top two UFAs in the league, we need to be reminded that we could also lose the top RFA in Vanek. Apparently, the hands-off approach toward other teams' RFAs has gone out of style, and now poaching everyone else's young talent is the name of the game. I'm still confident that the Sabres will match any offer (within reason--at some point the draft pick compensation gets pretty lucrative) made to Vanek. But we're almost assuredly going to need to pay more than we wanted to for him. I pray the rest of the league keeps thinking Derek Roy sucks and doesn't make him any offers. I know I yell at the guy a lot, but I still want him here. The rest of the RFAs--Paille, Paetsch, Peters--I'm not worried about. I don't think anyone else particularly wants them, and they'll be cheap to keep. As far as the draft goes, the Sabres don't have any first round picks, though we have the first pick of the second round. Still, any of the players drafted won't be seen in Buffalo for another 3-5 years. See? No-news news.

Then, I swung over to, my other Sabres news source. They reported the same news about the RFAs, that the Sabres had made qualifying offers to Vanek, Roy, Paille, Peters, and Paetsch. The process is underway, there. And then I read this:

"Two independent sources have told LGS this week that it appears more than likely that Chris Drury's days in Buffalo are over. Both sources believe Drury is looking to test the open market. And according to both sources, there is very strong reason to believe that the center will most likely wind up on the Pacific Coast where his offseason home is located."

And part of my soul died. It's real now. Drury's going to leave, and I don't know if I can handle it. I guess I had just assumed, throughout the season, that if only one of our co-captains were going to be around next season, it would be Chris. So I gently and gradually phased my love for Danny out, getting ready for him to be gone. And now I'm having to make this quick emotional turn-around. It's nuts. What's even worse is that it's looking more and more like Drury doesn't want to stay. That it's not a question of money, he just doesn't want to be in Buffalo anymore. And... Ouch. That hurts. I can't even put into words how that makes me feel as a fan, without sounding really really pathetic. But it's like, that's not "just business," that's betrayal.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, here. Once everything's final and official, then I can start bitching about it, I guess. Until then, all I can do is wait. Wait, and go crazy.

Reason I Love Hockey #4

NHL Team Names

Okay, so I live in a city whose football team is proof that there are some lame team names out there in sports (the fact that it can stand for "Boy I Love Losing Superbowls" is really it's only relevance), but no one does lame like the NHL. I mean, look at this list. The only names that seem not particularly out of place in the world of sports are the Devils, the Panthers, the Kings, and possibly the Avalanche. The rest of them range from the obviously regional: Islanders, Canadiens, Senators, Capitals. To the oddly irrelevant: Sabres, Rangers, Flyers, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Stars, Red Wings, Oilers, Wild, Blues. To the downright silly: Hurricanes, Flames and Lightning may sound impressive, but they have no place on the ice. NHL teams even managed to choose the least threatening, least majestic, least recognizable of animal names, the can't-go-wrong area for most sports teams. Who's afraid of a Penguin, or a Coyote, or a Duck? What the hell is a Thrasher? A Bruin? Predators? Way to be vague. Even the team logo knows there's no way for a Shark to hold a hockey stick. And I haven't even gotten to the worst of it. To top it all off, there are teams named after an ethnic slur (although wikipedia suggests the Canucks are pretty much equivalent to the Yankees), and grammatically-incorrect foliage!

Now, I know you're frantically checking the header of this post all "Didn't she say this was a reason she loves hockey?" It is! I swear! Even though the NHL managed to squish the most random and unimpressive names in all of sports into one league, I can't help but love them all for their lameness. Because they didn't give in to the pressure of re-using Lions, and Tigers, and Bears (must...resist...dumb...joke) just to sound imposing. They weren't afraid to be different and, well, lame. And as long as the team wears the name well and proudly, the lame-factor is not readily apparent and becomes unimportant. In hockey, even a duck can seem deadly. Also, it means no team is safe from name-ridicule. So if I say to a Toronto fan "No wonder everyone hates your team, you can't even spell "Leaves" right!" s/he can come back with "Yeah, well your team is named after a stupid sword, what's that all about?" To which I am only able to say "Touche," with every last bit of pun intended.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #3

Cult Status

This relates somewhat closely to my #2 reason, but one of the 106+ reasons I love hockey is that not a lot of other people do. In a family of such all-American sports as baseball, football, and basketball, hockey is the red-headed stepchild. It's a well-documented fact that the NHL is consistently failing to draw a national audience in America, while quickly relinquishing it's coveted "Fourth Most Popular Sport" title to NASCAR, of all things. Knowing that their favorite sport has been kicked aside in favor of a left turn marathon sends many hockey fans into tail-spins, asking dismayed questions of "Was it something we did? What do we need to change?" I am not one of those fans. Beyond the fact that I find most of the suggested adjustments (more fighting, less fighting, bigger nets, four skaters, more goals, etc.) to be both idiotic and almost-assuredly ineffective, I just don't really care all that much who is, or how many are watching. Maybe its because I have a thing for rejects (see Reason #1), or because I like feeling that my taste in sports is more refined than everyone else's (see Reason #2), but I find the fact that hockey is decidedly unpopular to be just one of it's many charms. And I sincerely hope that someday (soon) the NHL will embrace this quality and stop trying so damn hard to get everyone to like hockey. It's not going to happen. And frankly, who wants guys like the one who wrote this cheering for our great sport, anyway? As long as there is hockey to watch--which there will be, as long as Canada is around--and fans to talk to about it--which there will be, as long as the internet is around--I've got everything I need.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

12 to Remember: Buffalo @ Carolina 10/4/06

So here we are, starting the season all over again as MSG has decided to show us Buffalo’s season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes. Even though I didn’t get to see this game, I was walking on air for a few days afterward knowing that we had rained on Carolina’s banner-raising parade. The wounds from the previous post-season were still, uh, quite fresh. Anyway, on to the show!

The broadcast begins by showing us this save from the regular season. Since the Sabres lost that game to the Bruins, it’s not a part of the 12 to Remember, but I’m glad they found a way to include it. It was truly one of the highlights of the year. Then, after a quick montage of celebrations by players and fans alike, Kevin Sylvester comes on and tells us something or other about what we’re about to watch. I’m not entirely sure what he’s saying here, because I am, as always, too focused on the marvels that are his perma-dimples. One day I’m going to figure out the secret behind those things.

First Period
20:00 Apparently one of the things I failed to listen to Kevin say was that this game was aired on Versus and thus it is not being called by Rick Jeanneret. I refuse to believe that MSG couldn’t manage to edit RJ’s radio broadcast over the Versus feed, and I plan on writing them a strongly worded letter.
19:45 15 seconds into the season, and already someone’s lost their stick. New record, I think.
16:36 Briere gets called for holding the stick. Oh no, do we really have to revisit the special teams? Can’t we just call this “Sabres 12 to Remember: Special Teams, that means not you”?
15:59 Derek Roy wipes out with no one near him. Clearly he’s trying to replace his reputation as a diver with the slightly less nefarious reputation of “that guy who falls down a lot.”
14:56 Doc reminds us that the Sabres were in the top of the league with both the PP and the PK last season. That salt, she stings in my wounds, Doc. Still, that was a nice kill, there.
12:01 Cole hits the post on a fast break, and the fans are halfway though their celebration before they realize he didn’t score. Suckers.
10:51 After a stoppage of play we get an awkward cut to eight seconds later (seriously, MSG, you couldn’t spare eight seconds?) But no matter because Pominville SCORES! A nice deflection off a Kalinin wrister from the blue line. It’s the Sabres' second shot of the night, and if I remember correctly, the first one was an easy pass-like shot from Roy just inside the blue line.
7:48 After Ward makes a stop on Drury, we learn he earns $3.00 towards some unspecified charity with every save he makes. Considering so far in the season he’s 2-for-3, I worry for the people depending on that money. I hope it’s not for something important like providing food or shelter.
-- Ed references Spacek as a potential difference-maker added in the off-season, and mentions a “bone-crunching” hit earlier in the game. My dad says: “Was that his one hit of the season?” Oh, it’s such fun watching these games with 20/20 hindsight!
5:18 Boooo, Eric Staal scores. Miller figures “What better time to start the tally of ‘ones I want back’ than in the season opener?”
4:53 Pentalty called. Versus should go to the box for using the camera farthest away from the play as possible on the replay, so we can’t see what the actual infraction was. Instead, it’s Gaustad for something-or-other.
3:20 Doc sums up two careers with one sentence: “Afinogenov with a crafty move, but the shot went wide, meanwhile Roy is knocked down.”
2:32 Spacek shows his true colors by fanning on a shot and giving Brind’Amour a short-handed chance. Luckily, Soupy is awesome, and Rod the Bod only gets a weak shot.
1:27 Numminen, with a strong defensive play, negates a possible breakaway by Cole coming out of the box.
0:00 Okay, Carolina, what gives? Stormy the Pig has to be the least relevant mascot in NHL history.

Second Period
18:13 Novotny is called for cross checking, which we don’t get to see because Doc and Ed are too busy talking about how Tallinder is going to the box for something else. I hate Versus.
17:32 Hecht makes a great shorthanded play, and almost scores even with a defender’s stick in his skates. Way to go, Yo-Yo!
17:27 This time we actually get to see why Gaustad went to the box. What we don’t see is what makes a Carolina player go with him. Versus sucks.
15:21 Max does his best figure skating and draws a penalty.
15:00 A beautiful play by Pominville and Vanek forces Ward to get lucky.
13:57 Hecht clearly retroactively hates being chosen as my favorite player, as he performs quite literally the worst turnover I’ve ever seen. And after the playoffs I consider myself somewhat of an expert.
12:57 Versus is incapable of showing us why anyone is going to the box! Commodore is called for “holding,” but from what we’re shown, it should be for “engaging in sissy-girl pushing with Hecht.”
10:06 I have given up hope of ever seeing any of these infractions. Kotalik gets called for something no one sees, because MSG insists on telling us that this game happened on October 4th with the aid of an unnecessarily HUGE banner on the bottom of the screen.
9:30 I love Hecht again! He and Drury put on some great short-handed pressure, but Jochen hits the post.
9:14 There’s another penalty called, but of course we’ll never see it. After Ed listens to the “unsportsmanlike conduct” call, he says “wow, on Adam Mair,” like this is somehow surprising.
8:24 After some nice 5-on-3 killing, Tallinder gets called for trying to take Staal’s face off. I can’t really blame him, there.
7:19 Cole scores. It probably would have happened much sooner if the ‘Canes could manage to hit the net.
5:31 Someone gets sandwiched between Numminen and Miller and flies face-first into the blue paint. Nice.
4:28 TIE GAME! All five Sabres touched the puck on the play, as Drury gets credit for deflecting it in with his pants. Dear Darcy Regier: Chris Drury is a god. The man can score goals with his PANTS!
3:26 Now, this is the Buffalo power play I remember: Carolina takes over possession and Briere takes a penalty.
2:14 A Carolina player, whose name I’m too lazy to look up, is stupid enough to trip over Numminen’s skate while coasting backwards, and the fans start whining for a call. Sorry, guys, but there’s no minor for “causing hilarity.”
1:11 Briere downright undresses an anonymous Carolina d-man and then sends the puck to the net. Too bad Roy figures goalie interference is as good as a goal, and doesn’t get his stick on it.
0:37 Doc takes Roy in the box as a cue to talk about the league-wide crack-down on diving. A gorgeous Soupy spin-o-rama goes unnoticed.

Third Period
After commercial, Kevin informs us we are now jumping to 8:44 left in the third. Sigh, MSG giveth, and MSG taketh away.
8:18 Goose gets a stick to the face, and a shiner he will have for literally the rest of the season. I always wondered where that came from.
7:09 Yet another awesome defensive move by Old Man Teppo as he negates a 2-1.
5:33 Justin Williams uses his mic’d up opportunity to sound like a petulant child as he yells at his players and the refs alike.
4:59 Ward grabs a puck Pominville whiffed royally on, and Doc calls it a good stop. Huh? I miss Rick.
3:30 Briere gets a great screen shot away but Ward snags it with his glove.
2:41 Whitney, in turn, gets a great turn-around shot, but Miller couldn’t look any cooler as it bounces off his chest and he grabs it out of midair.
1:05 Hecht grabs an Afinogenov pass from in between two Hurricanes with a neat stick move, pivots it into the crease and shoots it… directly at Ward’s logo. Oh well, Yo-Yo, you know you don’t have to score to earn my love!
0:08 Buffalo gets some amazing pressure in the last minute, so naturally they almost lose the game in the last ten seconds.

5:00 There are some dramatic, pre-overtime close-ups of the players, and I take this moment to notice how everyone’s chinstraps are buckled. The general consensus: not very well. I feel only Hank Tallinder would survive the patent-pending Chris Neil Helmet Test.
4:11 Great breakway chance by Vanek. Even Ward knows he didn’t deserve that Conn Smythe as he looks behind him into the net like he’s sure it went in. Somehow it didn’t.
3:51 Numminen feels he’s mastered defense already, and decides to give offense a try as he skates a large circle around the net. No one can get it from him, but his shot goes wide.
2:06 Novotny picks himself up from a fall, only to whiff on the puck. Hope you’re having fun in Washington, Jiri!
0:13 Numminen makes a glorious pass to Briere in front of the net, which Danny deflects masterfully. Cam Ward looks like he has no idea where he is, but somehow manages to save it.

Versus makes up for showing the loathed Hurricane Ice Girls by giving me an interview with my favorite backup: Marty Biron! Marty is in rare form tonight as he says he doesn’t want to give up “the tricks of the trade” about shootout goaltending, but it’s all about “getting your gap good,” and so Ryan must “get good gap.” Oh, Marty. You’re like that adorable little turtle from Finding Nemo. I don’t know what you’re saying, but you sure are cute!
1st Shot: Whitney shoots wide of the net.
2nd Shot: Briere dekes Ward out of his pads and roofs it over his head. He makes it look like adding insult to injury.
3rd Shot: Miller kicks away Staal’s attempt at a similar move.
4th Shot: A bench shot shows Gaustad is strangely angry when Vanek gets stoned by Ward on the stick side. For Thomas’ sake, I hope they don’t room together.
5th Shot: Well, that was anti-climactic. Miller makes an easy save when Cole shoots it right at his chest. But he also gets to make his first of ten consecutive celebrations, as the Sabres win this one 3-2 in a shootout.

The ever-be-dimpled Kevin reminds us that this first game was a sign of things to come, as the Sabres would go on to sweep the regular season series against the Hurricanes, and win ten games in shootouts. Coming up next week: The home opener against the Montreal Canadiens. I know how that one turns out, but I'm not going to ruin it for anyone.

Well, I have to say this was an interesting experiment. It took more viewings and a lot more time than I thought it would, but it was definitely fun. If there are no objections to these diaries appearing late (I'll take the silence and chirping crickets as a yes), I'm going to continue writing them. Until next time!

Reason I Love Hockey #2

My Sport is Better than Your Sport

There are many things I love about hockey (at least 106 things, I hope), but none so much as the most basic of them all: the game. Forget all that junk about the history and the players and the teams and the fans, what hockey ultimately boils down to is what plays out on the ice. And that is, quite simply, the best combination of finesse and toughness, endurance and excitement there is. Hockey at its best is as entertaining for its spectators as it is challenging for its players. No other sport comes close to matching it. Hockey is more skilled than football: We're talking about a sport where every player from the top goal-scorer to the fourth-line grinder is expected to at least be able to control a tiny rubber disk with a long stick. Without looking. On skates. Football is the sport where some guys have the sole job of being fat and keeping people away from their quarterback. Hockey is more grueling than baseball: Endurance in baseball means staying awake through the 7th inning. Players spend 90% of the game standing around doing nothing. Hockey is more physical than basketball: If there's any contact on the court, it has to be with the ball. Hockey's basic defensive principle is "Hit the guy with the puck, and he doesn't have the puck anymore." Hockey is faster than soccer: I'm an American who loves watching soccer, but sometimes it takes forever for something to happen. Hockey turns on a dime. One second theres a scrum in your crease, and one breakout pass later you've scored. No matter what's happening there's always something to watch.

In my mind, it should go without saying that hockey is the best sport in the world. But, alas, in this country and in this time it doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Still, whenever I meet up with a football/baseball/basketball/soccer etc. fan, I can't help but feel a little twinge of superiority, knowing that, while their sports all have their own merits, the one I cheer for is--in a word--better.

Monday, June 18, 2007

12 to Remember Kicks Off Tonight

The Sabres 12 to Remember broadcast on MSG is starting tonight at 8:00 EST. Naturally, my employers knew this and so I'm scheduled to work until 9:00. The TiFaux is already set to tape, though, so there should be no worries about my game diary missing any of the action (I know, you were all panicked there for a minute). This is the part where I was going to announce which game will be airing and what I'm looking forward to seeing and so on and so forth, but it seems MSG is either too lazy to tell us, or wants to make it a surprise. So instead I'll just say this: The Sabres are playing tonight. Watch. They're going to win.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #1

The Buffalo Sabres

Obvious? Yes. But appropriate, nonetheless. You see, I always liked hockey. It was hard not to, growing up in a place like Western New York. Unlike a lot of places in the US, it is actually more difficult to ignore hockey here than it is to notice it. So I did notice it as a kid. I recognized it as a sport far less boring than football, but much harder to learn than soccer. I was familiar with names like Rick Jeanneret, Lindy Ruff, Pat LaFontaine, Michael Peca, Dominik Hasek, STUUUU Barnes. I'd been to a few games, and always had a lot of fun cheering for the hometown team. I knew about icing and the two line pass. And I certainly, certainly knew about the crease rule. I knew hockey, and I liked it. I just didn't love it. That's where last season came in. Last summer I came home from my first year of college, and my house was in hockey frenzy. I remember being in my room, talking on the phone with a college friend while I unpacked, trying to grasp the idea of being under my parents' roof again, when I heard my living room downstairs erupt into cheers and high fives. Jason Pominville had just scored to eliminate the Ottawa Senators in overtime. The "Scary Good" Sabres were going to the Eastern Conference Final. That's when I knew I had to watch. I don't know what happened to me over those seven games against Carolina, but somehow that group of players wormed its way into my heart and the sport won me over completely. So much so that when Daniel Briere scored to force a game seven, I wanted to marry him for it. So much so that when I heard McKee couldn't play the next game, I wanted to cry. So much so that when Carolina won, I did. A lot. But from that series on, I was hooked. On hockey, and on the Sabres.

So, what did I love so much about that team? I suspect a lot of it had to do with the fact that it seemed no hockey team could fit its region better than the Sabres. They resembled Buffalo in so many ways. They were a bunch of nobodies: not a super-star in sight, only one Ring among them. They were the underdogs: no one had given them a chance to make the playoffs, let alone the Conference Finals. They were blue-collar: scrappy, hard-working, they left everything on the ice. They were Buffalonians: McKee, Afinogenov, and Biron had all begun their NHL careers with the Sabres back in the '90s. But they were more than that. They were also something Buffalo wasn't. They were winners, or at least they looked enough like it to have us all convinced. To make us all believe in them and love them. I know I did.

Maybe hockey fandom is like real estate: location, location, location. Even in the years when I was just a casual fan, cheering for a different team was never an option. So maybe I was just born into it. But it's more than that. As corny as it sounds, I don't cheer for the Sabres because they're in Buffalo; I cheer for them because they are Buffalo. This is my team, and if that means another 37 years of enduring heartbreak like last year and this year, then so be it, because that 38th year will be all the more sweet.

So there you have it. I thought it was appropriate to start off this list with not just "one of" the reasons I love hockey, but the reason I love hockey. Don't worry, my love for this sport doesn't begin and end with the Sabres, and this list won't just be about them. Without them I wouldn't stop loving hockey. But I probably never would have started.

Friday, June 15, 2007

In the News: Buffalo News

Somewhere between the early '90s and now, I've gone from rebelling against my ardent sports-fan parents by stomping around my house chanting, creatively, "Nail the Bills to the ground!" during football games, to reaching reflexively for the sports section of the paper every morning, looking for hockey news. This is a habit that has turned more than one promising Frosted Flakes-filled breakfast sour with disappointment in the past week. Since the Buffalo News ran the photo of Scott Neidermayer hoisting the Stanley Cup, there has been nothing but 50-word blurbs entitled "Red Wings re-sign Chelios" and "Pyatt to stay in Vancouver" in the NHL corner for days on end. There was even one rough morning where the existence of hockey went unrecognized completely. So imagine my delight when, this morning, I pulled out the sports section and found not one, but two (!) stories about the Sabres on the front page. Neither one was the story I'd been waiting for (namely the one in which Ryan Miller sticks to his passive-aggressive guns and reassures the world at large that he's oh-so-happy for his Cup-winning baby brother), but they did bring up some other interesting points and worries.

The main headline states that this coming season the Sabres will look to enter "goal-prevention mode", and turn their backs on their high-scoring ways. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are both quoted in the article saying, effectively, that the Sabres will have to stop counting on goals to win them games and work on playing the other side of the puck if they want to advance beyond the Eastern Conference Final. This is somewhat troubling to me. First of all, if they think they can build a defensive-minded team without stifling some of their explosive young talent, or making some serious roster re-arrangements, they're nuts. And secondly, are they really trying to say that it was lack of "goal-prevention" that lost them a shot at the Cup, when Ryan Miller was consistently ten times better than any other Sabre on the ice during the Ottawa series? I'm not saying that the goaltender should be the be-all, end-all of keeping the other team off the scoreboard (and somewhere, Ryan is nodding vigorously), but surely, when a goalie stands on his head and your team still can't take advantage of it, the problem is offensive and not defensive play. It seems to me like Ruff and Regier are trying to cover up the fact that the explosive, 308-goal-scoring Sabres fell asleep in the post season, by saying that a team capable of scoring 308 goals in the regular season is not built to win the Stanley Cup. Little bit of a cop-out, I feel.

On the bright side, they did mention that special teams is a concern of priority (good to know they're not blind and deaf), and that the Sabres could potentially get a specialist added to the coaching staff. I think I speak for all of Buffalo when I say "Yes, please!" Ruff still claims special teams is an "easy correction," which baffles me. If it's so easy, Lindy, why didn't you correct it, say, 1,000 agonizing power plays ago? But then it was reiterated that both coach and GM took substantial paycuts in renewing their contracts with the Sabres and for that (even though I've just spent the past two paragraphs hating on them) I have to love them and thank them. They built this team from the ground up, and it just wouldn't be the same without them.

The second front-page article is a commentary by Bob DiCesare about how the administration is really dragging its feet in trying to re-sign Drury and Briere. And, seriously, what is up with that? Do we not want them? Does our new "defensive strategy" frown on guys who score goals? Did they both suffer career-ending injuries on the golf course that I don't know about? Get with the program, Darcy. You're costing me valuable sleep time here. Also, DiCesare agrees with me that the policy the Sabres have of not starting contract negotiations until the end of the season is idiotic. If they had just signed Briere to a multi-year deal before the '06 playoffs like he wanted, we would have Danny locked away for about $5 mil. and we'd only have to deal with Chris right now. But instead I have to deal with a co-captian ulcer.

Still, I can't help but have faith that everything will turn out okay. I was similarly doom-and-gloom about the future of the Sabres last off season, and it really couldn't have turned out better. Sure, I was very blue (get it?) when Jay McKee left, and at points over the season I found myself longing for J.P. Dumont's scoring and Mike Grier's toughness, but the truth is that by the end of October, I had fallen head over heels in love with this 2006-2007 team. Here's hoping they can work that magic again.

Welcome! ...?

Assuming there are actually people reading this, I know what you're thinking. Who in their right mind starts a hockey blog at the relative beginning of the off season? Well, frankly... someone not in their right mind. That's right, it's been over a week since the Anaheim Ducks skated the season to a close, and almost a month (really?) since Buffalo had anything to cheer about, and I'm close to losing it. I spent the bulk of this season out in Minnesota getting a wonderful liberal-arts education, but being cut off from most of quite possibly the most exciting season in my team's history. So, I finally come home for the summer and what do I get? An underachieving playoff performance from my guys in blue and gold, and an underwhelming Stanley Cup Final. The Hockey Gods, they tease me: giving me a few short weeks of hockey before tearing it all away once again. So, naturally, I went to the place one goes in situations of need: The Internets. I scoured hockey blog after hockey blog, facebook group after facebook group looking for any and every kind of (intellegent) hockey discourse to satisfy my cravings. And I did find satiation, in numerous nooks and crannys of the Internets, but then I found myself facing a new kind of dilemma: I had things to say about hockey, too. A lot of things. And I found myself saying those things, in blog comments, and on facebook walls and message boards, and at 2:00AM on the phone with my sports-apathetic (but loveable!) boyfriend. Basically any place where no one had any desire--and really no reason to desire--to hear my longwinded philosophies on hockey.

That brings me to the creation of Desperation Hockey. If nothing else, I hope this blog will save a lot of sanity. Mostly my own, but also that of the greater hockey blogosphere, the people on facebook, my boyfriend, and... hell, anyone who has ever had to listen to me talk about hockey for hours on end. Which is everyone I know.

So, what can you, my assumed (and probably imaginary) audience, expect to see in this space in the months to come? Well: lists, analysis, reactions, ramblings, rants and not a little intellectual theft, just to name a few. Need specifics? I didn't think so, but too bad:

1. A Look Back - I don't generally like dwelling on the past (especially as it pertains to Buffalo sports teams, because, yeesh... talk about downers), but I feel like I got so few opportunities to really enjoy this season while it was happening, that it's okay for me to devote some time and space to reminiscing. I'm thinking maybe I'll pick a game--or maybe even just a play--a week to pay tribute to with full, misty-eyed, rose-colored glasses nostalgia.

2. A Look Ahead - I'll be shaking the Toni-Lydman-Inspired Flesh-Colored Magic 8 Ball of Fortune (tm), to try to predict what will change (or probably, more accurately, what I really wish won't change) about the Sabres' roster in the coming months. I'll keep abreast of the hockey news--contracts and trades and free agents and the draft--and write about whatever strikes my fancy. But I should stress--a hockey news blog this ain't, so if you're looking for some place that will keep you up-to-date and well-informed, pack your cyber-mule and head for greener websites. (For my imaginary Sabres-fan audience: is excellent.)

3. Game Diaries for the "12 to Remember" - I'm really psyched that MSG is doing this, because a) as I said, I missed most of the season (especially the beginning) due to that pesky thing called higher education taking me out of state, and b) as a great lover of, I've always wanted to try my hand at the whole clever recapping thing, and this is a perfect opportunity. These are games which aired months ago, so there's no pressure to get them up in any kind of timely fashion (having non-existent fans helps take the pressure off, too--just ask the Lightning, Hurricanes and Ducks. Zing!), and I already know the outcomes going in, so I don't have to worry about insignificant plays (like, say, the opponents scoring a goal) ruining my night. Of course, I've never done this before, so I may suck royally at it, in which case it will be scrapped.

4. 106 Reasons I Love Hockey - And this is where the intellectual theft part comes in. The wonderful Pookie and Schnookie, whose blog Interchangeable Parts deserves the most credit for inspiring this one (I'm sure they're proud), are compiling a list 118 long of the reasons they love hockey. The number is a tribute to the section in which they first owned season tickets, and in the spirit of unoriginal mimicry, I'm doing the same thing. (Good old section 106, row 14--directly behind the visitor's bench, and right next to Camelhair Coat Guy, maybe I'll do a Looking Back segment on you...) So if you finish reading my 106 reasons, dear imaginary audience, and find yourself saying "That was pretty good, but golly I wish there were just 12 more!" you know where to be heading. In fact, the Ookies will probably have a full 118 reasons more, as there isn't likely to be much crossover between the two lists (seeing as how they will manage to come up with clever and interesting things to write about, and after I've exhausted the 20 or so obvious reasons I've already come up with I will probably have to resort to listing "HSBC salted peanuts" or something equally lame as #21).

I think that's it, imaginary boys and imaginary girls alike! I'm looking forward to having a blast pretending that you're reading this!