Friday, July 27, 2007

In the News: Derek Roy Got Hella Paid

Despite the fact that I still haven't written about Vanek's mega-contract (I'm clearly not committed to being the best non-professional Sabres blogger I can be. What would Ryan Miller think?), I feel the need to go on record and say I'm really psyched about keeping Roy in town for the next six years. The $24 million price tag is a little less than ideal, but given the current state of the market, it's hardly unreasonable. (The fact that a four million dollar cap hit for a player like Roy isn't unreasonable is thoroughly disturbing, but that's a different blog post [which will probably never happen {sorry, Ryan!}]) In any case, I'm just relieved that we didn't have to suffer through arbitration, where it's entirely possible Roy could've come out with a comparable award, but over a two year period instead of six. My feeling is, it may seem like a lot of money for him as of now, but I'm fairly confident that midway through the contract it'll at least be a fair deal, if not a steal. He's shown tons of potential over the past couple of seasons, both as an offensive play-maker, and as a defensive center, and I think he can only get better. He's also a good penalty killer, which, let's be honest, isn't exactly something the Sabres can let walk out the door right now. Sure, he's small, and league-wide he's known more for his diving and whining than his point-scoring, but he's scrappy, and he still has time to grow up. 24 isn't exactly 14, but it's not 34 either, and on a team looking for players to step up (What? The Sabres have recently lost leadership? Really?), I feel pretty good about Derek's chances to be one of those guys. He may not get a letter, but with his big fat contract, he's still got a lot to prove. And as a 5'9", 186-pound guy trying to make it in the NHL, I like to think he's had plenty of practice at proving himself.

I have to say the best part of this deal, for me, is what it says about where the front office's heads are. Since July 1st they've been imploring fans to stick with them, promising that losing Drury and Briere would seem worth it, once it allowed us to lock up our young talent long term. I, for one, believed them from the beginning, but Roy's contract, as well as Vanek's (even though it wasn't exactly what they had in mind) shows that they're not afraid to put their money where their mouth is. And now they're saying they're going to be working on extending Brian Campbell's contract during the season? I like where this is headed.

I listened to Schopp and the Bulldog this afternoon, and I had a couple of thoughts. Since I haven't quite reached the stage of hockey desperation where I'm willing to call in to the local sports station and risk making a fool of myself, I'm just going to purge all those thoughts here. Because what is a blog, really, if not a place to dump all the thoughts no one else wants to/should have to listen to? First of all, there was a lot of talk about Roy's status with the Buffalo fan base. The gist was that so far this off-season the Sabres have lost two huge fan-favorites, and in return they've signed, long term, two players with big "buts" attached. As in, "Vanek's awesome, but he doesn't always go hard," or "Roy's alright, but what a diver!" I thought it was pretty telling that the last time I looked at the list of the top-selling jerseys, I noticed Roy's was in the top ten. Derek Roy, the third line center making less than $700,000, and not exactly known on a national scale, had a top-ten selling jersey. On the one hand this could just mean that Buffalo is so disgustingly obsessed with Slug merchandise that they'll buy anything (possible), but on some level, they have to love this guy, right? Another thing that was revisited over and over again, is how much trouble Derek is going to have managing the pressure of this contract without Chris Drury helping him out. Oh God, cue the eyeroll. Look, I know this contract is a big responsibility, and that Roy doesn't have the most disciplined reputation, but Drury was not this team's mother. I heard it a lot in the aftermath of the Vanek deal, too. "We're paying him how much? And Drury isn't around to remind him not to take a shift off? We're doooooomed!" I'm not saying Drury's famed leadership skills aren't valuable, but this team isn't just going to suddenly fall apart because he's not there to keep their shit together for them. They knew how to play hockey long before he came along, and I'm willing to bet they'll continue to do so long after he's gone. Honestly, people, Vanek and Roy are big boys. They can clean their rooms and brush their teeth all on their own (hear that, Andrew Peters?), and they'll learn to deal with living up to big bucks. You know why? Because that's their job. And if they happen to need help, well, that's what Lindy Ruff is for.

In other news, my sister has finally finished reading the new Harry Potter book, so updates will probably be pretty infrequent (more infrequent than usual, if you can believe it) over the next couple of days while I get my crack at it. I'm sorry, but a girl's got to have her priorities, and in my book Harry Potter > hockey off-season. (I hope that didn't offend anyone who's a huge fan of the off-season.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

12 to Remember: Buffalo @ Boston 11/2/06

Yes, I took forever and a day to get this game diary up, but I was in the woods! I have the mosquito bites and sunburn to prove it!

Kevin remains as cute as a button, but doesn't really say anything of note in this intro. It makes me giggle, though, thinking of him filming all of these clips back-to-back in one day, only pausing to let some attendant switch the opposing team jerseys behind him. Do you suppose there was a Professional Sweater Handler for this shoot?

Whoa, in the intro graphic, Al Kotalik is totally channeling Derek Zoolander. That’s a Blue Steel if ever I’ve seen one. (Also, speaking of Zoolander, you can Kotalik my balls.)

First Period
19:53 What’s this? We cut to the game and it’s already seven seconds in? I don’t even get to see the opening face-off? The cuts MSG makes boggle my mind.
19:41 Hecht takes the first penalty of the game after he turns the puck over trying to move it out of the zone. The rest of the team pays very close attention and decides that’s the style they should emulate come May.
18:03 Miller covers up on a Chara bomb from the point. I know this is about as necessary as stating that Marian Gaborik is a pretty good hockey player, but damn, Chara is HUGE.
17:09 Aw, Hecht almost makes up for that previous penalty by stepping out the box and speedily picking up a loose puck. Of course, being Jochen, he aims his shot right at the goaltender. Adorable.
16:41 My heart is singing right now, because you know who’s in this game? Everyone’s favorite 7th defenseman, Nathan Paetsch! After a really neat through-the-legs pass from Max, Paetsch scampers up the ice. He sets up Vanek beautifully, but Tim Thomas makes a nice stop. I don’t know who’s injured (probably Hank, which is sad), but I love Patches! Yay!
16:02 Well, it’s definitely not Spacek who’s injured, seeing as how he just gave the puck away most atrociously at the blue line. Sigh.
14:27 After the puck spends the better part of two even-strength minutes in our defensive zone, Miller finally covers up. Will someone please explain to the Sabres that they’re playing the Bruins? The Bruins! There’s no excuse for this. Roy finally finds his way to the bench and tries to pretend he’s not dying from exhaustion, even though he clearly is. Poor guy.
13:00 RJ says he suspects “it wouldn’t take too much to spark some extra-curricular activity in this game,” as Peters, Goose, and then Mair were all sent flying in rapid succession. Please, oh please, let there be a fight. This game could use a little livening up.

Second Period
--What? Now I’m being robbed of more than half the first period? MSG, do I need to explain once again that it’s the off-season? Throw me a bone, here! Actually, if the first period was just more of the same, I guess I’m better off. Thanks for the favor, MSG.
19:31 Hecht gets lucky twice in a row while heading to the net, as the puck bounces of first one Bruin and then another, managing to find its way back to his stick both times. Still, he shoots it wide of the net. Oh, Yo-Yo.
18:44 After some really nice pressure by the Drury line, which involved at least two or three quality plays by Kotalik, Lydman gets caught in the Boston zone. It’s now official that Hank is injured because Spacek is the only one back, and the Bruins have no trouble converting the two-on-one. Oh, lord. If only Paetsch had been out there, he would have… let the exact same thing happen. Hey, all I said is that I love the guy. It’s not like I think he’s an exemplary defenseman, or anything.
18:11 Gorgeous bang-bang play by Afinogenov and Vanek. Max makes a dandy of a pass into the crease, and Thomas just fails to tip it past Thomas (Uh, of the Tim variety. Man that's confusing.)
17:28 Gaustad does his best Zubrus impression and refuses to be knocked off the puck. It goes to Kalinin and I’m hoping to see him do his best Zubrus impression and look like a movie star, but no dice. Instead, he promptly drops his stick. Oh, Dmitri.
16:30 Drury is completely mugged and flattened by Alberts in the corner, and I can’t help but giggle with glee. Of course, being Drury, he still gets the puck. Grumble, grumble.
14:38 In the span of about twenty seconds, Max has two glorious, almost identical set ups. Too bad Roy and Vanek, respectively, are too busy being tied up by the defense to connect.
13:40 Teppo gets labeled along the back boards, and falls to the ice. Hey, you break it, you buy it, Boston!
13:26 Briere is taken down in a most odd fashion, and there’s somehow no call. It looks like the Bruin’s stick got caught in his skate, which I guess isn’t really all that illegal. Still, Danny looks like he’s auditioning for a spot on the Canadian Olympic Ice Dancing team. Hope he likes sequins!
13:17 Campbell winds up at the point, and Pominville easily deflects the puck past a defender and Thomas without even looking. Now that was a true Sabre goal: clean, quick, deft. Now if only they could score like that in the power play every once in awhile, we’d be set. By the by, there’s something about the way Jim calls Pommer “Jason” that I find irresistibly adorable. Don’t ask me why, I just do.
10:56 We get a little “razzle dazzle” skating from Afinogenov, and he spreads his special brand of chaos. There are literally players falling down all over the place. Even Thomas seems entranced by the display, as the consequent save he makes looks like he just happened to be standing in the right place at the right time. I got to say, we’re approaching the midway point of the game, and it doesn’t seem like a whole hell of a lot has happened. Why can’t we beat the Flyers 9-1 every week?
9:02 The RAV line looks a little lazy on a three-on-two. Max threads a beautiful pass to Vanek, who decides not to shoot but instead passes to an over-skating Roy. Guys! The game’s getting boring, and if you can’t entertain me, honestly, who can?
8:43 Max is all over the place as he takes a cross-ice pass from Vanek, and goes hard to the net. Ultimately, he ends up going a little too hard, and slides skates first into Thomas. Dude, if you were the puck, you so would have just scored. But good on you, Max, I like the effort.
6:59 Kessel looks dangerous on a breakaway, but ends up shooting it over the net. Of course, not before Spacek can hook him. Oh, Patches, where are you?
6:34 We’re treated to some typical penalty-kill suckage, and Savar scores. A shot from the point glances off the post first, and the penalty killers give the Bruins about an hour to pounce on the rebound. I know how this game goes, so I know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I guess I should just strap in for the bumpy ride coming up.
5:34 Roy shoots the puck at Chara’s face, but Zdeno’s like, “I don’t think so, kid,” and swats it away like it's a particularly annoying bee. Heh.
4:56 Sturm hits Max, Max hits Sturm, bitch slapping ensues and they both go to the box. I’m really sad that didn’t develop into a full-on fight. There are few things more surprisingly exhilerating than an Afinogenov fight.
3:40 Miller makes a really sharp save after Campbell gives up a breakaway, and Paetsch tries to look helpful by flying headfirst into the net. Uh, oh, I think someone might be trying to challenge Pominville for the title of Team Puppy. Meanwhile, there’s some sort of Boston penalty. Oh, it’s Savar for crosschecking Paetsch. Puppy kicker.
1:19 After the Sabres characteristically waste that power play, Jochen tries to pretend that he’s not hooking some Bruin, even though he totally is. He looks all sad and steamed as he heads to the box. Poor guy. It’s just one of those nights.
0:52 There’s a shorthanded two on one, but it’s Novotny and Goose, so of course they suck at it. Sorry, guys.
0:44 And because they just had to try and show off, the Bruins get another goal. Miller makes the initial save on Savar, but Murray bangs home the rebound. The only thing I can say about this is that I’d really like to hear the Bruins home announcer call this goal. I imagine “Savar” and “Murray” sound resplendent in a Boston accent.
0:15 Numminen makes the kind of smart defensive move that everyone will forget he’s good at when they’re complaining that we signed him instead of Souray. Don’t worry, Teppo, I noticed!
0:00 Wow, the end of period “siren” is beyond lame. RJ announces that after the break the Sabres will have 1:58 to “work on a power play.” Okay, tempered language isn’t something RJ employs very often. Is it really possible for the special teams’ reputation to precede it into November?

Third Period
18:23 Kotalik puts the putrid power play out of its misery and hooks Donovan at the blue line. Unfortunately, the refs don’t want to let Buffalo off the hook that easily, and give Donovan a matching minor for diving. Even though he, uh, didn’t dive. Even RJ and Jim are like, what now? Damn these refs, conspiring to put us on the power play at all costs.
18:07 The puck gets tied up in Chara’s equipment, and he’s looking around all confused, like, “What? A puck hit me?” Sorry to harp on about the fact that he’s a colossus, but I’m having a hard time finding stuff to talk about with this game.
17:28 Briere and Pommer go in on a two-on-one, and Jason almost stuffs it by Thomas. Or does he? Oh, joy. A goal review is exactly what we need to spice this game up. As the debate begins, the TD Banknorth starts playing some really hideous elevator music. And then the whole building sings along. The ensuing no goal call seems a small price to pay to end this small hell.
16:04 Mowers bangs it in from right outside the crease, as the Sabres look on. It’s now 4-1 Boston, and Jim gets no arguments when he says that the Bruins have been the better team “without a doubt.” Yes, let’s remember this game, shall we?
15:37 Vanek, with Chara all over him, tries his patented wrap-around, but no dice.
13:52 Hecht tries a drop pass to Briere, but the hobbit is too busy wondering how big of a contract he can possibly demand from the Flyers, and totally misses it. Jochen is left to pick up the pieces of the play, which he does. Without being a slag-faced whore about it.
11:49 Drury, literally sitting on the ice, rips a great shot at Thomas. Good lord, why does MSG force me to watch such things?! There’s no way I can pretend that wasn’t amazing. Except that he didn’t score. So obviously he sucks. Right?
10:33 Suddenly Max, Mair and Briere are all on the ice at the same time? How did that happen? I know I asked for things to be spiced up a little, but that's not exactly what I had in mind.
9:24 Oooh, drama! After fumbling the puck at the blue line, Paetsch takes down Donovan and has the whole building, not to mention the Bruins bench, in an uproar for a call. But, obviously, the refs share my opinion that Patches is too cute to put in the box, and turn a blind eye.
8:49 Afinogenov scores! In true fashion, he strips a Boston defender of the puck and rips a quick shot from between the circles. Tim Thomas’ reaction here is priceless. He seems to not realize he’s been scored on, and starts looking all around for the puck. “Uhhhhh, Which way did it go? Which way did it go?”
7:43 Miller makes a great save, but leaves almost the whole net wide open. Luckily Spacek picks the right moment to play sharp defense and protects his goalie.
6:30 Kessel gets a breakaway but trips over Miller instead of shooting, and goes careening into the boards head first. Fans want a call, but I think he pretty much got what he asked for, there.
2:30 Max scores again, but Roy was the real workhorse on this play. He pounced on an open puck in the neutral zone, worked it over the line, and then stuck with it even when he was pushed off the play. Eventually, he set up Vanek across the ice, whose rebound Max slammed home. Very well done, Derek. Now sign a contract already!
1:35 Kotalik ties it at four! He takes a perfect set up from, uh, some guy with zits in the corner, and one-times it past Thomas. You know, for all his faults in other areas, Al can really bury a shot like no other. When he wants to, of course.
0:07 As time winds down, Goose and Chara grapple with each other, before Goose reaches up (and up, and up) to pop Chara in the mouth. Gotta love that feisty Goose.

4:32 Pominville takes a close-range shot, and Thomas obviously has no clue where the puck went. It’s a good thing his D does, because they take care of it, and keep this game from being over right quick.
3:37 Max is totally on fire. He nabs a bouncing puck on in the neutral zone and speeds in on goal. He’s taken down before he can shoot, and since we’re not playing Ottawa in the Conference Final, the refs decide to call the tripping penalty. Honestly, I remember the same exact take-down happening at least three times in that series, and it was never called. Of course, our power play was such a shit show by that point that it’s hard to complain.
2:42 The Sabres have gotten some good movement on the power play so far, but it’s too co-captain heavy for me to pay attention to.
2:33 We’ve found our secret weapon! Roy skates around Chara at the blue line like there’s no one there. I’m convinced it’s because Zdeno can’t see him from way up where he is.
1:29 Roy backhands it through the crease, but Vanek can’t connect. It seems Buffalo has woken up just in time to show Boston who’s boss. I mean, it’s the Bruins, so they can get away with such things.
0:25 Boston almost scores on a wide-open net to end the game, but instead: Joy of joys. Another shootout.

It takes about a hundred hours for the shootout to start. Yeah, these things are so super exciting!
1st Shot: Murray fakes a shot, but Miller just stick-checks the puck away from him. No prob, Bob.
2nd Shot: Everyone in the building thinks Thomas stopped Briere (including, no doubt, Thomas himself), but the puck finds its way through and into the net.
3rd Shot: Axelsson’s shot deflects off Miller’s shoulder.
4th Shot: Max tries to go five-hole, but Thomas stops him pretty easily.
5th Shot: Jim announces that if Bergeron doesn’t score on this attempt then the Sabres win it. Oh please, let him score. There’s nothing more anti-climactic than a shootout that’s won due to a failed attempt. Thankfully, the puck trickles in under Miller’s right pad and we continue.
6th Shot: Kotalik, already the hero, decides he’s ready to score another one and backhands the puck past Thomas to win it 5-4.

A post-game shot of Miller shows him lifting up his mask and shaking his head, all, “Guys, we totally did not deserve to win that game.” And you know what? He’s not wrong.

Next week (read: this past Monday)… there is no next week! MSG broadcast the Sabres’ tenth straight road win against the Carolina Hurricanes, but I don’t get to see it. My evil TiFaux decided that since I was on vacation, it could be, too, and didn’t record anything at all while we were gone. Also, that game is the only Sabres/Canes game from the past season not uploaded to Google video, so I’m really up shit creek here. I don’t know what to tell you guys, except, I guess the 12 to Remember has become the 11 to Remember and now the 10 to Remember, as far as I’m concerned. Sorry.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Memory Monday

(Okay, okay, I know. It's not actually Monday anymore, but I got in late last night, so cut me a little slack and pretend.)

Part two of the co-captains mini-series:

Chris Drury - The 7.7 Second Goal

No contest. This is not only my favorite moment of Drury, but also of the entire season, and possibly of my hockey fan career. (Granted it only encompasses about a year, but still.)

Allow me to set the scene a little: It's May 4th, and I'm on my way home from Minnesota for the summer. I'm at the tail end of the most hellish week of finals imaginable, one that required I spend fourteen hours a day cramped in a tiny design studio, constructing miniature set pieces out of toothpicks and foam core. Over the course of three days I managed to grab a grand total of eight hours of sleep, and in any minute not spent sleeping, eating, or frantically hot-gluing, I could be found running around trying to pack and store all of my stuff in preparation for the trip back to Buffalo. Even once I get home, I still won't be done, since a Monday deadline gives me just under three days to research and write a ten-page paper. I am, in a word, exhausted. And even worse, I'm hockey-deprived. Due to my hectic schedule, I was only able to catch Game 2 of the Rangers series, and I unknowingly scheduled my flight on the night of Game 5.

I pass out on the plane ride, despite my playoffs-related stress, and find myself suddenly in Buffalo at around 9:00pm. As people switch on their cell phones, all they ask about is the game, and the score spreads through the cabin in a wave. Even as I speed-dial my sister to let her know I'm in, I overhear the guy next to me repeating, "Zero-zero going into the third?" to his phone, seemingly for my benefit. My sister, listening to the radio in the car, corroborates, and I find myself sharing anxious glances with people I don't know in the slightest as we all move toward baggage claim. Through the churning in my stomach--series tied, game scoreless, one period to go--I feel a thrill. This is precisely why I drove myself nuts by booking my flight days before I needed to: to share the playoffs with like-minded strangers, fans as crazy as I am to invest so much in a game.

I meet my sister at the curb, and after a warm but quick hug, she helps me with my bags and tells me it's still tied at zero. It's about a forty minute drive back to our house, and we have a go at catching up, but we're only half-listening to each other, our main focus on the radio. Halfway home, the Rangers score, and we shut up for good. We're stung; we weren't expecting this. As the precious few seconds of the remaining regulation tick down, we can feel our playoff hopes disappearing with them. The Rangers ice the puck with sixteen seconds left, and my sister whispers, "It's over." I want to say, "But Drury's on the ice," but instead I just lean forward into the dashboard, anxious and silent as they set up for the face-off. I'm thinking, this can't happen, it can't really end like this.

And, of course, it doesn't. I don't even bother trying to process the words of the play-by-play, because I know that if, when we score, Rick Jeanneret will lose his mind, and that's all I need to listen for. As the patented RJ wail of "SCOOOOOOOORES" fills the car, my sister and I turn to each other, mouths gaping in disbelief. We erupt into screams, connect a couple of frantic high fives, start pounding on the seats, windows, anything we can get our hands on. We quiet down just long enough to hear Jeanneret yell "CHRIS DRUUUUURY, who else? Who else?" and I feel vindicated, proud. That's my captain. My sister lays on the horn so hard the car in front of us pulls over onto the shoulder. They're obviously not listening to the game. We fly the rest of the way home, and I feel lighter than I've felt in the past month. There's still the overtime period to go, but I don't have any doubts. We're not going to lose this game. Not now. When we pull in the driveway, OT has already started, so I run in the house, give cursory greetings to my parents, and park myself in front of the TV. It's not long before I can celebrate properly the win I already knew was coming. Max Afinogenov belly flops at center ice, and my household shares hugs and high fives. It's the best welcome home present I could ever ask for.

The funny part is, it's not until the next morning when I hit up YouTube that I actually get to see the game-tying goal. It is a thing of beauty. It looks (even in retrospect) like destiny. From Drury's stick, the puck finds its way through Thomas Vanek's legs, around Henrik Lunqvist, and somehow, impossibly eluding two defenders, into a tiny sliver of open net. It's truly magical. And as I'm writing this, I'm discovering, to great delight, that my love for this goal goes above and beyond anything to do with the guy who scored it. Yes, it's quintessential Drury, the kind of moment he's famous for creating, and that's certainly part of the reason I loved it initially. But it's not his moment. Ultimately, no matter what sweater he wears now, that moment belongs to us, to Buffalo, to the people who jumped out of their seats in HSBC, or on top of each other in the plaza outside. It belongs to me, in desperate need of a pick-me-up, a reason to scream my way home from the airport. And that's good to know. It's good to know that, despite a tiny twinge of heartbreak, this video still plasters a smile on my face. Because this goal is about the pure, unadulterated elation, not the guy who caused it. Still, in that moment, I could not have loved Chris Drury more.

Okay, there. I got it off my chest. Briere, Drury, you will be remembered, you will be missed. Now get out of my life for a little while and let me heal.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Desperation Hiatus

It's that time of year again! My family and I are heading out on our annual wilderness camping and canoe trip in Algonquin Provincial Park. As my brother says, we're Gonquin' it. It's going to be intense. And in tents. Needless to say, there's no internet access in the Canadian woods, and my computer, compact though it is, is hardly portage friendly, so the next update won't be until probably Monday. I know, I know, I didn't post a game diary for this week, but I was working on it until I got distracted by more important things like packing. So it's almost finished, and will be up sometime early next week.

Catch you guys later!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #16

Hockey Players

No, no, no. My (imaginary?) male audience can take their fingers out of their ears, because I promise I'm not going to start talking about "chiseled abs," or "luscious lashes." While the eye-candy is certainly, um, enjoyable, it's mainly the persona I appreciate. Swimming in the sea of overblown machismo and male divaship that is pro sports, hockey players manage to keep their heads level and their acts classy. (Well, for the most part. I mean, this is still sports, where the testosterone and adrenaline pumps go to eleven, and there are plenty of dirty players.) Respect and professionalism have always been, and hopefully will always be the hockey player's trademark. This April, while the NBA was wrestling with its young stars to get them to stop showing up for important events in baggy sports wear and cockeyed caps, my mom ran into the Rangers at the Adam's Mark hotel in Buffalo. Every last one of them was dressed in a thousands-dollar suit.

Being a hockey player means checking your ego at the door (until money gets involved). It means following a goal with a series of glove- and helmet-taps with your teammates, instead of a self-satisfied strut and some egotistical muscle-flexing. It means celebrating the goal and not the scorer. It means skating back and thanking your goaltender after every game, win or lose. It means at some point you will be held accountable--at microphone-point--for your actions, so you sure as hell better have something to say for yourself. I'm always happy to note, in post-game interviews, how quick most players are to spread the praise to their teammates, and reserve the criticism for themselves. They are most often found to be humble, earnest and articulate. (Well, in relative sports terms, of course. Usually more articulate than this Berkley grad, that's for sure. Also keep in mind that, for many of them, English is a second language. How much Russian do you know, huh?)

Best of all, being a hockey player means keeping your nose clean. There's enough sports-related action going on in the NHL, and I'm glad I don't have to deal with the anxiety of finding out who's taking what illegal performance enhancer, or who's sleeping with what underage hooker. News about doping and criminal charges is hardly in the foreground of the hockey landscape. Granted, this probably has as much to do with the NHL practice of keeping the players' private lives out of the spotlight (which is just fine by me) as it does anything else, but I can't help but believe that on a basic level, hockey players are just good-natured, down-to-earth guys. Not necessarily guys I'd want to hang out with, but guys I can at least imagine someone wanting to hang out with. And that's more than I can say for my perception of the average basketball player.

In light of this week's events with Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, I'm infinitely glad to be a hockey fan. I mean, dealing with the fact that Chris Drury is a Ranger is bad enough. How could I possibly cope if confronted with the knowledge that he kills dogs in his spare time? I never thought I'd be thankful for guys like Chris Neil and Sean Avery, but if that's as "bad boy" as the NHL gets, we're in pretty good shape. Especially considering that for every insolent puke to be found, there's a handful of laid-back, lovable guys like Marty Biron and Brian Campbell to reset the balance.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #15

Playoff Beards

A good playoff beard is a hockey player's greatest weapon. It can be at once wild-man crazy, and fuzzy-bunny cuddly, simultaneously intimidating to opponents, and endearing to fans. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, a commitment to facial hair is tantamount to a commitment to winning, and it separates the men from the boys in a literal, hormonal sense. While I know there's some dispute about whether or not the best team won the 2007 Cup (mostly from embittered fans of the teams the Ducks left maimed and bloodied along their road to victory), I don't think anyone can claim that Scott Niedermayer's beard deserved anything less than a championship. And the Conn Smythe to boot! The thing was a hockey work of art, an entity in and of itself. To blatantly steal from some unknown internet source: if you shaved it off and put it on skates, it would go around blocking shots on its own. Thick, wizened, and completely transformative, it was everything a great playoff beard should be.

The Sabres are a notoriously weakly-bearded team--our average age is about 6-and-three-quarters (4-and-a-half if you take out Old Man Teppo), and the average beard-length is just above the point of visibility--but this off-season has seen some drastic changes in the (literal) face of the team. We've dumped our deadest-of-the-dead facial hair weight on the Flyers (you sure are paying top dollar for Danny's peach fuzz, Philly!), but unfortunately one of our strongest showers in the shun-the-clippers competition will be wearing Rangers blue next season. During the 2006 post season, a friend and I came up with the nickname "Dr-Dr-Dr-Drury!" (sung, of course, to the tune and rhythm of "Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!") in order to commemorate the way Chris' beard seemed to spring up overnight, seemingly out of nothing but pure will (or fertilizer). I'll sure miss that nickname, but I'm confident that if guys like Goose and Soupy can step into larger roles of beard-skill and beard-leadership, we'll be just fine.

But let's not forget the other side of playoff beards: fan participation. Yes, beards are one of the oldest and most traditional of fan superstitions, and the tales of teams doomed by the clean-shaven visages in the stands haunt the annals of hockey history to this day. The rules are simple: to support your team, you must sacrifice the itch-free nature of your face; if you already sport a mustache, goatee, some hipster sideburns, or the like on a regular basis, you must shave and start from scratch; no shaving, trimming, or thinning allowed until your team has exited the running. My brother, who grows a rather impressive beard for a just-eighteen-year-old, relishes playoff time because it means he has an excuse for leaving his razor untouched, beyond, "I'm lazy." (This year, he tried to convince my dad that he shouldn't have to mow the lawn, either, since "It wants to grow it's playoff beard, too," but to no avail.) For once he's allowed to look unkempt and slobbish in public, and receives looks of awe and respect, rather than mild disdain. But the best part about fan beards isn't that they protect against the scorn of the Hockey Gods, or that they provide excuses for lax codes of personal hygiene. Most fascinatingly, facial hair is an essential tool for building a hockey community. Come April, beards are the universal, silent signal for "I'm a hockey fan," and when I see one on the kid bagging my groceries, I feel a slight twinge of regret that I am, in fact, a girl, and realizing where my loyalties lie isn't as easy as looking at my face. It's a strange tradition to feel left out of--I would never, under any other circumstances, wish to be the bearded lady--but as the Sabres went to the Eastern Conference Final this year, I was a little bit sad not to be scratching my neck along with the rest of the die-hards in Buffalo.

P.S. As I mentioned, the other day was my brother's birthday, and this T-shirt was his gift from me:

Just another reason I wish I could grow one. (Uh, that's me modeling, by the way. I don't want to start any false rumors that my brother has breasts. Not again.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Memory Monday

When I decided to start this series, this forthcoming entry topped the list of planned topics to memorialize. Then, for reasons which will soon be quite clear, I put off having to write it. But it's becoming obvious that I'm going to have to write it sooner or later, and it may as well be sooner. It will be much healthier to just get this out of my system and move on. So, here goes...

I sort of casually paid attention to last off-season. I knew the kind of moves the Sabres were making, who was staying and who was going, but I wasn't obsessively checking the newspaper and the internets for the most up-to-date news. (In retrospect, I think I was much better off stuck in that mind-set, but there's nothing I can do about that now.) As far as departures go, I had mixed reactions. Pyatt needed to go (even though he was and still is the hottest hockey player I've ever seen), Dumont and Grier were gone but not really mourned, and even though McKee was bordering on heartbreak-territory (he would've been a True Sabre to the very end, if we'd given him the chance, poor guy), it was all tempered by the fact that Danny Briere was returning. My team was to have two captains again. I didn't pay attention to the cynics who were predicting that his one-year deal spelled disaster for the following summer (just like I'm plugging my ears to the noise that Brian Campbell will be a hot item on next year's UFA market... LALALALA), I was just happy to have my co-captains back. Now, it's true that things didn't really work out for the best in the end, but if I tried to pretend that I didn't love them while it lasted, then I would be a big, fat liar. So, over the next two Mondays, I'll be paying tribute to my favorite moment from the past season with each of my captains. First up:

Danny Briere - The NHL All-Star Game

Okay, on the one hand, I guess it says a lot about my level of love for Briere (not to mention his vitalness to the Sabres) that the best of all the memories I could come up with was an exhibition match that didn't matter what-so-ever, but on the other hand, this really is the most fitting. Danny is one of the New NHL's biggest success stories. In the Old NHL, he was still skilled, but way too undersized to really make anything of it, and while I don't completely buy that he never thought he was going to make it to the All-Star Game, I bet that when he was struggling in Phoenix, nothing seemed further away. Then, when the rules changed at just the right time, and he found himself in an offensive system in Buffalo that really showcased his talent, he started shining like an All-Star. I was happy not only to see him in the All-Star line-up, but in the line-up by fan vote. It showed him that he was no longer unnoticed and unappreciated; Buffalo fans were vocal, and willing to stand behind him. Still, in the weeks leading up to the game, the only story lines were about Briere's fan-voted linemates Sid Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, and how, due to last year's Winter Olympics, this was to be their first shot at the All-Star Game. The youngsters were the undisputed superstars of the Conference and the League, and in their presence, Danny just seemed like "The Other Guy." But when game-time came around, he made everyone look dumb. Sid and Ovie got one point between them, while Briere (on a different line) netted the first goal of the night and then added four assists to skate away with MVP honors, and the car keys that came with it.

Now, does this prove that Briere is a better player than Crosby or Ovechkin? Not a chance. But I couldn't help but admire the way he went in and quietly stole the show from the Young Guys and Big Stories. He just did his job, like all of the Buffalo voters had asked him to, and graciously accepted the award that was given to him for his efforts. And I just loved him for it. This isn't to say that this was necessarily the hockey high point of his season, but it was the one moment that I remember feeling most potently proud that he was my captain. So thank you for that, Danny.

To be continued next week, but Chris Drury-er.

Reason I Love Hockey #14

Unsung Heroes

Those show-stealers are great, but in my opinion, these guys are even better. As a true team sport, hockey can't be all about the spotlight. It has to be about teamwork, and a supporting cast. It doesn't matter how many dazzling play-makers you have, if you don't have the generally unspectacular players to back them up, your club's not going many places. I love that for every mind-boggling goal by Max Afinogenov, or set-up by Tim Connolly, there are a dozen equally important, but infinitely less exciting plays that go unnoticed. Whether it's a strong backcheck by Jochen Hecht that results in a turnover, solid positional play by Henrik Tallinder that negates a possible breakaway, or an absorbing save by Ryan Miller that makes a dangerous shot seem like it never had a chance, every game is littered with understated plays. These may not seem like game-alterers, but don't be fooled. If they don't happen, the opposition gets shots, and scoring chances, and goals. One of my favorite moments of the past post-season, was when Adam Mair forced a Ranger to cough up the puck at the red line, and then raced down the ice to be there for the tip-in. What started as an ordinary open-ice hit ended in a goal. The media may reward the superstar, but the game rewards the workhorse.

The best part is that in the NHL, players can make careers out of going unnoticed, quietly going about their business, avoiding being flashy. I know the ladies behind Interchangeable Parts--Pookie and Schnookie--are quite enamored with the Devils' Jay Pandolfo (I almost typed "Pandolfski" which just goes to show, I guess, how anonymous he is). I have to admit I don't know much about him (and really I shouldn't, considering the only time I would notice him is when he's not doing his job properly), but he seems like just the kind of player I would love, for all his unassuming hard work and contributions to his team. Sure, I may wear out my keyboard looking for YouTube clips of the greatest goals, hardest hits, and the most stupendous saves, but in the end it's the players whose value goes above and beyond their highlight reel status who always win my heart.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

In The News:

The idiocy is spreading. Since I'm fed up with what the Buffalo News has to, uh, "offer," I've been cruising the internets periodically looking for hockey tidbits. (Hey, I'm ridding myself of addiction one step at a time. If hockey news were nicotine, I would be in the second-patch stage right now.) Yesterday I landed on this, and I remembered why I vowed to quit in the first place. That's right, some genius is trying to say that the Rangers and the Flyers et al. stockpiling players is something to rejoice, no matter who you are. Apparently I've been thinking about the free agent situation all wrong, because this is a win for everyone involved: big market fans get to watch their teams succeed, small market fans get to continue hating the big markets with renewed passion, and the NHL gets more popular because "It's the presence of teams that are as rich in tradition as they are in talent that makes a sport compelling." And, honestly, who's not happy with that? Um, maybe fans who would rather watch their own "traditionless" teams do well than hate on other teams? Listen, I love a good rivalry. I'll admit hating the Senators made the playoffs more fun. But that's about hockey. This is about business, and "You have more money than me! That's not fair!" That kind of bitterness isn't fun for anyone. As for the whole popularity angle, it's no coincidence that I found my inner monologue screaming "I DON'T CARE!" after every paragraph. I don't care if Toronto is a more "marketable" team than Buffalo. I don't care if the Stanley Cup Final was beaten in the ratings by televised snail races. I literally could not care less if people like hockey or not. Especially if Cup after Cup for the Rangers and Red Wings is the only way to win them over. Yuck. By the by, this guy (I almost feel bad for not taking the time to jump tabs and look up his name, but I really don't care) cements his douchebag status by linking to a Bucky Gleason article. I'm not surprised to find they run in packs.

In other news:

David Beckham knows nothing says "I'm a slag-faced whore who left all my fans behind and turned my back on everything they believe in for boatloads of money" like the number 23.

In other, other news, today is my kid brother's eighteenth birthday. I feel old.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #13


I'm not talking about the Heroes of the Game: your Gretzkies, your Messiers, your Crosbies. Those guys are all well and good (well, great), but it's the other kind of heroes that are my favorites: the guys that don't have careers of outstanding success behind them, that only need a few seconds of ice time to have fans chanting their names, and wearing their sweaters for years to come. These heroes can come from anywhere, or out of nowhere. One minute they're skating innocuously up the ice, the next minute you're saying "Did you just see that? Who was that?" It was Brian Campbell, steamrolling RJ Umberger to start the playoffs off right. It was Jason Pominville, making Daniel Alfredsson look like the rookie as he sent him golfing. It was Max Afinogenov, scoring in overtime a game after he was benched. Every roster is littered with unlikely players just waiting for their moment to shine. Sure, after a couple of weeks they go off your radar again; they become just another cog in the machine. But for those few minutes they were heroes, and every time you look back on that hit, that play, that goal, you will say "Remember when so-and-so..." with reverence. In a sport whose big moments are more about the heroics than the hero, more about the play than the player, these are the perfect champions.

Friday, July 13, 2007

12 to Remember: Buffalo vs. Philadelphia 10/17/06

Oooh, this week we’re up close and personal with Kevin Sylvester and his collection of hockey jerseys. No more of that wide-angle shit, those dimples are ready for their close-ups!

I’m dismayed to hear this game aired on Versus, but then Kevin tells us that we’ll be hearing the Jeanneret/Lorentz radio broadcast dubbed over. Yay! And, yeah, didn’t I say they could do that, like, a month ago?

First Period
--Once again, it’s really, really dark. What gives MSG? But at least the sound levels seem okay.
18:45 Just as I was despairing at the amount of “Briere”s and “Drury”s being tossed about, RJ throws in an “Umberger” and I go to my Brian Campbell-induced happy place. Yeah, that’s nice.
17:28 The RAV line does some nifty transition play that ends with Teppo getting a good open shot which deflects wide. And then Vanek levels Forsberg in the corner. See? You get the slag-faced ones off the ice and the magic just starts flowing.
16:58 Mair jumps on a wide-open puck and gets a couple of good scoring chances by just sticking with the play. Give that guy a letter, already.
16:22 Okay, this is funny. Jim starts talking about Mair’s play, but obviously the Versus guys are still stuck on the Vanek/Forsberg hit, as we’re seeing replay footage and dramatic close-ups of those two guys. I’m with Lorentz on this one. The Mair shots were more exciting.
15:39 Briere’s line gets some good offensive movement, but it should be noted that it’s Jochen and Pommer doing all the work. (Yes, the rose colored glasses are firmly in place. Deal with it.)
15:12 Spurred on by all of the media attention his last hit garnered, Vanek gets check-happy and makes a run at Esche. It’s… pretty ineffectual.
14:33 Some beautiful chances courtesy of Afinogenov’s strong skating and—is that Kotalik in Vanek’s spot? I hope Thomas didn’t injure himself trying to check too hard.
13:12 Drury does some good stuff, but I pretend it doesn’t happen. Instead I’ll point out that if the Flyers have taken a single shot in this game, then I haven’t seen it.
12:44 Mair gets called for something or another. Looks like Versus is back to it’s old tricks of not showing us penalties. Joy of joys. Instead they’re showing us that Vanek hit again. We get it! It was good! Move on!
12:12 On the power play, the Flyers get what I can only guess is their first shot of the night, but Miller is somehow still awake enough to make the save.
11:45 After Roy makes a steal at the blueline, he and Pominville break in on a shorthanded 2-on-1, but the puck doesn’t settle down enough for Pommer to set up Derek and instead he crashes into the backboards in a squirmy mess of legs. Aww, what a puppy.
10:56 Vanek makes the Flyers’ power play look stupid as he nonchalantly steals the puck and takes a shot from the point. Gosh, but this is an awful power play.
10:45 Teppo says “C’mon Philly, give us something we can chew on!” and takes a hooking penalty. There will be 2 seconds of 5-on-3 action with Mair and Numminen in the box.
10:34 Mair rushes out of the box just in time to grab a cleared puck and almost score short handed. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Versus guys start talking about that Vanek hit again.
9:55 Hecht just can’t get a pass to Drury in front. That’s okay, Yo-Yo. He doesn’t deserve your passes, anyway.
9:32 Jim says the Sabres are “on the top of their game” penalty-killing-wise. You’re right, Jim. It’s definitely all downhill from here. He also says they’re averaging 18 penalty minutes per game so far in the season. That’s… disgusting.
8:51 Miller holds the puck for the first time in the game as he makes a save with what RJ calls “plenty of traffic in front of him.” And by traffic, I can only assume he means Kalinin’s big fat caboose.
8:00 Uh, oh. It’s the power play. My usual special-teams disgust is multiplied by the fact that Drury and Briere are out on the ice at the same time.
7:51 Thankfully Spacek takes pity on me and ends the power play by hauling down a breaking Richards. Thanks, Jaro! Wait, scratch that. It’s a penalty shot, instead. Richards tries to go way wide on Miller, but loses control of the puck. You’d think the players would have figured it out by now: if you really want to score, go back to the blueline and take a soft shot. Those are his kryptonite.
6:00 The power play gets some lovely, lovely pressure on, but unfortunately no one can finish. Especially not Spacek who sent the puck across the goal line, behind Esche, after Jochen set him up beautifully. Oh well, it could be worse. Briere or Drury could have scored.
5:12 After Max gets the puck right in front of the net, but just fails to beat Esche, RJ officially declares the Philadelphia defense non-existent. You heard it here first, folks!
4:00 Coming back from commercial, there are now four minutes left in the period, it’s 4-on-4 and Roy and Mair are on the ice at the same time. It feels like MSG should have accompanied this awkward cut with a soundtrack of that one Talking Heads song. You know the one: “How did I get here? This is not my beautiful wife…” etc. etc.
2:32 Again with the awkward cuts! After Miller deflects the puck out of play, Jim’s statement of “Another big stop by Ryan Miller” blends “seamlessly” into “Now Drury will take this draw,” as the face-off is taken. MSG did you think we wouldn’t even notice? It’s the off-season! I need all of the precious seconds of skating-around, setting-up-for-the-draw time I can get, damn you!
2:06 Forsberg muscles his way into a scrum and sends both Kotalik and Novotny flying with one hit. In my mind, the Versus guys start in with the “Vanek is so skilled for being able to hit that guy effectively,” spiel again.
0:55 Poor Jochen. He tries so hard to catch up with the puck on a break, but just ends up getting knocked on his behind for his trouble.
0:00 Time runs out just as Teppo thinks long and hard about fighting Umberger. Don’t do it Teppo! I have to say, this was an exciting period, but it’s still 0-0. Where are those nine goals I was promised, huh?

Second Period
--Kevin informs us that the Sabres out-shot the Flyers 12-9 in the first. Really? Is that all? I think the stat guy accidentally wrote down about six or so of those in the Philly column.
--Also, I was going to just comment on how Kevin is looking a little chubby in the face, but then I realized I just have my TV on stretch mode. Sorry, Kevin!
19:34 Aww, Versus gives us a shot of Marty on the bench. I almost wish I could listen to what they’re saying about him.
19:23 Vanek scores! On his own rebound after Numminen feeds him in front. All this after Max gunned it down the ice after a defensive draw. Buffalo, watch this play. We’re going to be just fine. A shot of Vanek on the bench shows him grinning like a loon. I love it.
18:58 Tallinder dives onto the ice and intercepts a crease-bound pass. Awesome move. Not only that, but he manages to hold on to possession long enough to get up and move it out of the zone. Philly, that’s what defense looks like. Just in case you were wondering.
17:34 We get, literally, a 15 second shot of Vanek on the bench talking to Max and Roy. I know he scored and everything, but if this love-fest continues I’m going to have to ask the Versus broadcasters what their intentions are. Hey Versus, since you already love him so much, think you could help us out with some of his $10 million paycheck next year?
16:15 Hecht drops Pitkanen in the corner. It’s so adorable. All I can imagine is Jochen lisping “Take that!” Ahem… Briere has been doing some pretty neat things here, but none of them ends in a goal, so that means he sucks.
15:33 Lydman is called for tripping, which is odd. As far as I can tell, he wasn’t on the ice. Of course that may just be because Versus is showing an irrelevant replay of Hecht spectacularly blowing a scoring chance. Oh well, at least it’s not Vanek scratching his nose, or something.
--Okay, now the banner on the screen is saying Chris Drury was called for tripping, even though we can clearly see Toni's number 5 in the box. Versus, YOU SUCK!
13:33 That power play made the Sabres’ PK look good. I don’t think I need to say more than that.
11:09 Philly takes a penalty, and so the Sabres are getting their chance on the PP. No, wait, it’ll be four-a-side? The Flyers spent the past minute of play with the man advantage and I didn’t even notice? I love this game!
10:11 After Miller makes a sharp save, there’s some sort of hooking infraction called and in four seconds the Flyers will be two men short. This is going to be awesome.
10:00 It’s now officially half-way through the game and it’s still just 1-0. I know there’s still plenty of scoring to come, but honestly, how is it not 53-0 right now? This team is awful!
9:50 As if to prove my point, Spacek scores. On the power play. Philly, that’s just sad. Seriously, though, this goal is a beauty. Jaro gets a great feed from some hobbit guy down low and blasts it in on a one-timer. He still needs to score about twenty more of those, though, if he wants to earn his $3 million keep.
8:37 The good news? There’s another power play goal. The bad news? It was scored pretty much single-handedly by the slag-faced twins. I can just forget about that one, can’t I? 8-1 is just as impressive as 9-1, right?
--As the camera pans in on good old Section 106, I’m reminded that my dad was in fact at this game. I decide the green amorphous blob among the other multi-colored amorphous blobs is him. Hi, Dad!
--Oh, no. A replay of the goal shows Drury stopping in the middle of his celebration to apologize to the Flyer he accidentally jumped on. I really, really wish I could love him for that. This hurts.
7:09 Kalinin makes a smart 1-on-1 defensive move. Looks like everyone is trying to show how tremendously existent the Sabres D is tonight.
6:48 Miller spears a shot by Gagne. It’s probably just my imagination, but he seemed terribly bored while doing so.
6:16 Someone falls like a sprawling puppy to the ice. Obviously Pommer.
6:04 Campbell’s called for tripping. Wake me up when the “power” play is over.
5:48 Turns out that was a short nap, because some Flyer gets called for something. Color me surprised.
5:04 Roy scores on the backhand, after RJ has some fun calling the gorgeous “Vanek, to Roy, to Vanek, to Roy” action. I expect to be hearing a lot of that next season. Versus sours the moment by showing Briere on the bench. Leave the hobbit out of this, Versus! Show us that Vanek hit again, if you must. Anything but that.
3:28 Tallinder scores! Oh boy, that was pretty. A shot from the point that went into the net completely clean. Jim tries to tell us that it was tipped in by Vanek, but we all know the truth. Hank’s goal is pure.
2:34 Afinogenov scores on a lightning-fast coast-to-coast play. Between Max’s skating and the heinous Flyers orange, the defenders look exactly like pylons. Sweet. Max’s goal celebration entails falling down and hitting his head on the boards. I think that one needs a little work.
1:55 Whoa. Whoa! Whoa. Did Peters really just steal the puck in the slot? And get a genuine scoring chance? Andrew Peters? If you’re a Flyer right now, you’re not just questioning your defense, you’re questioning your life.
1:05 Miller hasn’t done anything in so long, he’s forgotten how to play goal. He just kind of ineffectually sits down instead of trying to save the puck. Fortunately, the Flyers suck too much to score.
0:00 As we head to intermission, I think RJ and Jim try to tell us that the Flyers have one more shot on goal than we do. I must have heard that wrong. That’s just… not possible.

Third Period
19:20 Hah! The hobbit does a gorgeous swan dive down to the ice. I could watch that one over and over again. And I do.
18:38 Okay, Miller has obviously fallen asleep. He’s sort of camped out in front of the crease for no reason, and someone in orange scores with a really easy shot from just inside the blueline. This is about seventeen and a half minutes before Miller usually decides to ruin his shutouts, so obviously something is wrong.
18:12 More beautiful play by the RAV line gives Roy a wide-open net to score on, and he doesn’t miss. Oh, I guess it’s not the playoffs, then. I’m kidding, Derek! I love you! Please sign a contract for not lots of money!
16:39 Novotny scores on a clean shot from in front. Okay, Philly, the joke’s over. You can start playing now. It was really funny, but this is getting ridiculous.
16:13 RJ says he thinks that after this game the Flyers will have to agree with the praise the Sabres got from Jaromir Jagr and the Rangers. I suspect they might be far too busy crying themselves to sleep.
15:05 Vanek scores another one! Max feeds him in front, and he just kind of lazily pokes it into the net. His goal celebration looks like it consists of rolling his eyes and muttering, “Honestly!”
--Versus gives us a shot of Philly’s backup goaltender. Uh, I think it’s a little too late for that, fellas. Too bad they don’t have any backup skaters they could put out.
14:42 The fans are chanting “We want ten!” Yeah, yeah, you want a Cup, too. Always with the demands, Buffalo.
14:06 Apparently Forsberg just punched Peters in the face to get him back for a clean open ice hit. Peters has a priceless “Are you kidding me?” look on his face. RJ declares that the Flyers have “lost it.” Rick, they’ve not only lost it, they’ve forgotten they even had it. Have I mentioned how much I love this game?
13:05 RJ says, “No one is watching this clock more than the Philadelphia bench. Trust me.” By this point I think they’ve just given up hope that this game is ever ending, since they figure they’ve just died and gone to Purgatory.
12:07 I’m wondering why this power play sucks so much, but then I realize it’s because Mair, Goose, and Peters are out on it. Now Lindy, that’s just rubbing it in! Awesome.
11:21 What? The Flyers have 31 shots? That seems impossible. Well, at least we know they won’t be using the “We can’t score, if we don’t shoot” excuse later. They’ll just have to settle for saying “We can’t score…” and letting their voices trail off.
9:42 Max dances in and tries to score. As much as the Flyers have sucked tonight, I have to admit Esche hasn’t been as bad as the nine goals suggest. Most of those beat him because of crazy fancy set-ups that his skaters never should have allowed to happen.
8:27 Tallinder gets pummeled along the boards. Hey Philly, Hank is not a stress ball! Take your frustrations out somewhere else!
7:31 Mair has another beautiful scoring chance. He’s really been on tonight. Why couldn’t he have scored instead of Drury?
5:49 This game has quickly devolved into a routine of “Sabres skate in unmolested, almost score three or four times, then Flyers try to take it in to their offensive zone and promptly lose it.” Rinse and repeat.
4:15 Jochen makes a great steal in the neutral zone, but I don’t pay attention to what happens next. I’ll just assume Briere give it away. Stupid hobbit! Ruining all my Yo-Yo’s hard work!
3:23 Peters wants to see what this whole scoring goals thing is all about. The Flyers almost let him.
0:46 Between Lindy trying to up the fourth line’s ice time, and get Vanek and Roy a hat trick, I haven’t seen the slag-faced whores in a while. Just how I like it.
0:00 After the clock runs out, we see Esche can’t possibly get to the dressing room fast enough. He’s pretty much elbowing people out of the way. I almost feel sorry for him. What we don’t see is Briere going up to the Flyers bench and saying, “You’ve really convinced me that you’re committed to winning. Any chance you have lots of money and need a number one center?” Idiot.

Okay, I’m feeling good. This game was just what I needed. It was light on the co-captains and heavy on the Roy line. And it was obscenely fun to watch the Flyers unravel like that. Schadenfreude is the best medicine! Next up? The Bruins.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #12


One of my most hated conversation-starters, and one that comes up way too often at college is "Where are you from?" This question sends me into a long song and dance number about Buffalo, and Western New York, and not being near NYC at all, and lots of snow, and so on and so forth. No matter how much I try to explain it, no one can quite grasp where my hometown is. So finally I just opted for the simple explanation of "It's near Canada," said with a twinge of pride. Of course, this, more often than not, elicits responses akin to "How sad for you," which only sends me into another song and dance. I love Canada. I'm a total Canada-phile. And people who try to bring Canada down based on falsified facts and assumptions are my sworn enemies. So, to these people, I list off my well-practiced reasons why my Northern Neighbor is so great. I start with the somewhat impertinent fact that they have a better view of Niagara Falls than we do, then work my way up through great Chinese food, Toronto, Tim Horton's, getting drunk at 19, the anthem, the accents, Algonquin Provincial Park, and the fact that they continued airing Clone High when no one else would, etc. etc. to the culmination, the crowning moment. Canada invented hockey, and therefore can do no wrong. Ever. Of course, most of the people who are down on Canada are similarly ignorantly down on hockey, so this usually does nothing to increase their love of either. But on rare occasions, I get a reply of "What's so great about hockey?" said with genuine inquisitiveness instead of disdain. At a cast party last semester, my routine defense of Canada lead to an hour and a half conversation about hockey, and why the Sabres rule and the Canes drool, with a non-fan from Raleigh. Even though he had no real idea of what I was talking about, it made me infinitely happy that he was not only interested in listening to me blabber (it was March, and I really needed an outlet), but he also actually agreed with me. A couple of months later I saw him again, and he told me he had tried to buy me a Hurricanes hat, "so you could burn it, or something," but unfortunately they apparently "suck so much that no one even bothers selling that stuff anymore." And thus a hockey friendship was born. Brought to me by Canada.

It's such a perfectly symbiotic relationship: I love Canada because it gave me hockey, and I love me hockey for giving me one more reason to love Canada.

Reason I Love Hockey #11

The Superstitions

Now, I'm a good, superstition-fearing theater person. I do not, under any circumstances, utter the word "Macbeth" in or around a theater, and even in other settings I flinch and glance warily over my shoulder to make sure the Theater Gods aren't listening. I consider the fact that I can't whistle to be one of my greatest assets as an actress, as that also brings bad luck to the theater. Participating in the single most cursed production ever (our director needing to take medical leave a week into rehearsal, having to rebuild half the set the day after opening, and calling 911 for one of our cast members ten minutes before curtain one night were just three in a long series of unfortunate events) put the fear into me for good.

But nothing, nothing prepared me for the full-on devotion to superstition that comes with being a hardcore hockey fan. It's part of the game: there are unwritten rules, things that will make the Hockey Gods either pleased or angry, and it's our duty to figure those things out. Because without their blessing, we're cursed. There are some pretty extreme examples of hockey-fan superstition: people who don't shower or change their clothes after a win, who need to have their viewing area arranged just-so, who observe a strict code of behavior, clothing, and consumption in order to help their team. But I think every fan has at least one thing they're superstitious about, whether it's a lucky shirt or an unlucky word to mention.

Buffalo has an abundance of these types of crazies, because, let's face it--we have a lot of failures to blame ourselves for, and we're self-hating enough to do so. After Game 1 of the ECF this year, sports radio was fielding calls from people who needed to clear their consciences and admit their guilt for causing a painful Sabres loss. There was a call from a woman who had taken the night off work to watch the game, even though she knew they always won while she was working, and from a guy who was kicking himself because he met some Sens fans in a hotel lobby and actually accepted the drink they bought him. Meanwhile, I'm sitting in the car, convinced they had lost because I had worn my Sabres sweatshirt to the game. The same sweatshirt which had proven itself unlucky in the Islanders series. I hadn't heeded the warning signs, and now I was paying the price.

Sure, it can be a pain in the ass being superstitious--having to avoid food and clothing the shade of on of your opponent's colors like the plague, mentally dragging yourself over the coals when you slip up and cause a loss--but there's something to be said for feeling like you are somehow responsible for your team's fate. Truly believing that the attention paid to details which couldn't be less related to the game at hand can change the course of history. It's somewhat hubristic, but we fans are just that important.

Desperation Update

Wow, it's been deader than a doornail around here lately, hasn't it? Do not fear! I am not dead, and I have not abandoned my blog. I was just in Toronto for a few days, doing touristy things with some Floridian family members, away from the internets. Despite the Leafs-ness, it's such a beautiful city, and I had a very good time.

But I've been leaving my hockey duties in the dust! This is unacceptable! So I'm updating now to tell you what the deal is: I'm going to be writing and posting in rapid succession three or four Reasons I Love Hockey, so I don't fall too far behind. I've missed two Memory Mondays in a row, but I already have a topic lined up for next week, so that's just going to have to turn into a semi-weekly series, I think. I've been meaning to write a post about the Thomas Vanek signing, and my overall reaction to the post season happenings to date, but that will probably have to wait another week or so.

And then there are the Game Diaries. I think I'm going to have to give up on the Rangers game. Aside from the fact that I'm not sure I'll be able to stomach watching it (let alone pay enough attention to write about it) I'm now more than a week and another game behind schedule. And if I don't get started on the newest Game to Remember Diary I'll be even more in the hole. So, without even watching it, I think I can sum up the game against the Rangers in a few phrases: Drury is slag-faced, Lundqvist is way, way too good for the Rangers, and my heart is broken. There. 12 to Remember is now 11.

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #10

The Stanley Cup

Considering the Cup just spent 24 hours in WNY a couple of days ago, and yesterday it quailed under the steely death glare of Ryan Miller, this seemed like an appropriate time to bust this reason out.

The Stanley Cup is called "the greatest prize in sports" for good reason. Not only does it take superior achievement to win (more on that later), but it also wraps up all the history and tradition of almost a century of hockey in one 35 pound chunk of metal. Hockey's champions and legends have their names engraved and immortalized on it for all eternity where the stars of today can see them and begin to dream. You just know that when Miller looked at the Cup yesterday (from a safe distance, of course), seeing names like Roy, Brodeur, Hasek, etc. carved in silver only fueled his already potent desire to win. Not to mention the name that probably stung the most--little brother Andrew Miller. The Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal of hockey on any level. Players in the minors and college, high school and bantam dream of making it to the NHL so they can hoist the silver trophy, the only true validation of success in this sport. They spend every second on the ice trying to get to the Cup, and once they do, they don't rest until they either get a second day with it, or retire trying.

Most of all, I love that the Stanley Cup is truly a player's award. Once those final post-season seconds are played and the red carpet comes out, it goes right into the hands of the winning captain. After he spends a few seconds smearing his sweat, tears, and saliva on it, he passes it to the next player in line, and then the next, until every single contributor--no matter how seemingly insignificant--has had his moment. Only then do the off-ice personnel get to touch hockey's most sacred prize. After that, the names of the champions are printed on the surface of the Cup, and each player is awarded a day of the off season to spend with his new best friend. Stanley's adventures range from dunks in the pool to grave-side visits to dispensing horse feed, and each player finds a way to make his experience as a champion unique and personal. Only in hockey. Only in hockey do players have the opportunity to have their names written down, not only in the history books, but right on the Cup for everyone to see. Only in hockey do they get to experience winning as part of a team, and being a winning individual. Only in hockey does victory have universal body-language: both hands on the Cup, the Cup over the head, the head held high.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

In the News: Bucky Gleason Needs to be Slapped

Okay, there's been overwhelming amounts of Sabres news out there lately, but nothing I particularly wanted to touch on. Can you blame me? Most of it revolves around what's quickly becoming a he-said, she-said blame game over the loss of the two co-captains, and all roads lead back to Darcy Regier. Drury and Briere are gone? Blame Darcy. Zubrus signs with the Devils? Blame Darcy. Numminen re-signs for the same money he did last off-season? Blame Darcy. We didn't win the Cup last year? All Darcy's doing. Your garbage disposal is clogged? That damn Darcy stuck his spoon down there again!

Somewhere, the forgotten Tom Donahoe is going, all Jan Brady: "Darcy, Darcy, Darcy!"

The only thing close to positive press that the Sabres have been getting in Buffalo (aside from the coverage of the Numminen signing--which I view as good news, even if the pricetag's a little high, and it means Paetsch staying in the 7th spot) was an editorial yesterday by Allen Wilson, which boiled down to little more than "Buffalonians, you may talk tough with all your promises of rallies and boycotts, but at heart, you're all just gluttons for punishment. So you'll gladly dig into whatever shit Regier ends up serving you next season, whether you like it or not." Not exactly heartwarming stuff.

And then came this morning, when Bucky Gleason decided to plumb new depths of putridity in journalism. He took a perfectly lovely story about Todd Marchant bringing the Cup he won in Anaheim back to WNY to celebrate, and twisted it to fit his latest favorite game of taking a dump on Sabres management. If you read the front page of the story, you'd hardly know it was written by Gleason at all, since it's a relatively unbiased and sentimental recount of all the various ways players have used the Cup in their alloted 24 hours, and a recap of the journey Marchant took to get his day with Stanley.

But turn to the second page, and you'll find Bucky picks up on his own cues, and takes it upon himself to gripe irrationally about Darcy Regier. Because, you know, no one else in Buffalo is doing that job adequately enough already. Apparently Bucky's strategy is just to throw every bit of blame he can think of at management and see what sticks. It's true that they let Drury and Briere slip through their fingers, but we have yet to see whether that's as big of a mistake as everyone is claiming. My prediction: No. The rest of the accusations Bucky flings at Darcy range from the merely uncorroborated (losing McKee, Dumont, and Grier was such a huge blow that we had to suffer through a 113-point, President's Trophy season) to the absurd (Darcy should have forgone signing Numminen in favor of bringing up Sekera--a kid from Rochester whose name I've never even heard before).

The fact that all of this criticism is framed around Marchant's Cup-winning tale just serves Bucky's greater purpose of showing how Anaheim does everything right and Buffalo does everything wrong. I don't want to take anything away from the Ducks, because they certainly deserved their championship, but they win one Cup and all of the sudden they're the be-all, end-all of organizations? Give me a break. Obviously Burke is a very capable GM, but just because Regier has a different style doesn't make him incompetent. If the recipe for a Stanley Cup were as simple as taking a proactive approach to player signings, I think people smarter than Bucky Gleason would have figured it out a long time ago. Some might say that more important than putting the right players together is making sure those players show up to play every night. But, then, such people would be claiming that Drury and Briere are capable of doing wrong, wouldn't they? And we can't have that. They're on the fast track to canonization.

So who is the authority Bucky uses to prove a free-agent-happy GM is the key to winning? Todd Marchant's dad. That's right, a player's father. Now, I'm sure he knows more than a thing or two about hockey, and he may even get to experience the business side of it a little through his son, but I'm willing to bet even he opened the paper this morning, saw Bucky's declaration of "Peter Marchant For General Manager," and said, "What a headcase."

Bucky, no matter what you say, Darcy deserves his job. It's the fact that you remain employed that never ceases to amaze me.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Reason I Love Hockey #9

Team Comes First

The last 48 hours have been rough ones for us Sabres fans. We’ve had our beloved co-captains snatched away by two of the Sabres’ most hated rivals: the Flyers and the Rangers. Actually, the worst part of is that they weren’t exactly snatched, were they? They went where they wanted, and what they wanted wasn't in Buffalo.

But there is good news: I still love hockey, and I still love my team.

There’s nothing like the loss of a player (or two) I adored to prove that it was really the sweater I loved more than anything. Thinking about Briere in black and orange, or Drury in blue and red breaks my heart, but it’s pretty clear-cut. They’re not Sabres anymore. Therefore, I can’t love them. If you’d asked me a couple of days ago, I would have told you that I didn’t think I’d have it in me to hate Danny or Chris, even if they went to teams I loathed. While they were still officially in the blue and gold, I thought nothing could possibly come between us. I was wrong. Okay, so I don’t exactly hate them. I still love them for all of the great moments they brought me as a fan of Buffalo, and there are certain memories I won’t be able to erase. But as far as I’m concerned, they’re not those guys anymore. Those guys were Sabres. Those newest members of the Flyers and the Rangers aren’t.

When you think about it, a sports team is a funny thing. Its identity is fluid, changeable; players come and go, administration changes, logos, names, and even locations aren’t set in stone. And yet the definition is pretty simple. Either you belong to a team, or you don’t. And, ultimately, that’s what dictates a fan’s loyalties. So, while this experience definitely sucks, it’s nice to be reminded that I really do love my team more than anything else. Chris Drury, I don’t care if you really are the same guy who scored that 7.7 goal. Without the Slug on your chest, you’re gonna be just another player.