Thursday, November 29, 2007

For Crying Out Loud!

Listen Sabres, I know you love me, but I'm not your babysitter. Sometimes (just sometimes) I have a life and I'm not going to be around to watch every minute of every game. I'm sorry, but last night was just one of those nights. As I'm sure you know, I had to leave after the first period, and word on the street is that's when things started falling apart for you. Apparently the last 40 minutes were a mess of lackadaisical passing plays and purposeless skating. Frankly, I'm not having a hard time picturing it, because it sounds somewhat familiar. I don't think I have to tell you how disappointed I am to hear that you were misbehaving while I was gone. I expected better from you. Keep that up and you'll go straight to your room without supper, misters! And don't you even try to put the blame on me for leaving you guys alone. I went to go see a very meaningful and important movie about Nazi Germany. Can you compete with that? Plus, if you saw the way my GPA is nosediving*, you'd understand just how vital that German extra credit was for me. Sometimes you just have to buck up and carry on. Without me. Be strong, I know you can do it.

*Not true, Mom. I promise. I'm just trying to make the Sabres feel extra bad.

Well, that keeps the losses I've seen through to the end at a whopping one on the season. On the fan hand, it's nice that the Sabres are saving their suckitude for times when I'm not around to see it, but on the blogger hand, it's sort of handcuffing me. It's hard to write about their successes when the only thing I have to compare it to is the hearsay of their failures. Also, far better (not to mention more regular) bloggers than I are already tackling the analysis. So all I'll say is that I'm willing to give them a pass for this loss. There were a whole mess of excuses at their disposal--fifth game in eight days, lots of defensive injuries, we haven't won against the Blues in ten years, not to mention they don't suck any more--and most other people are saying they don't buy those. But I don't know, maybe I'm just too soft on them. They better prove themselves to me against Carolina on Saturday, though. Luckily for them, I've cleared my schedule already.

A few of words about Carolina: I hate them. I really, really do.

Last night MSG put together a really nice piece on Jay McKee (the long-time Sabre playing his first game in Buffalo since becoming a Blue) that I caught during the first intermission right before I headed out. It was really sweet to hear him talk about how he is always and forever a Western New Yorker, but what really caught my attention was the discussion about the what-ifs regarding the ECF series against Carolina. All the memories just came flooding back full force. Of course, Jay missed what would have been his very last game in a Buffalo sweater because of some freak bacterial infection in his leg. And of course, the Sabres lost that game and the series. All summer long Buffalo agonized over what could have been: McKee would have soaked up that extra ice time. McKee would have protected that one-goal lead with his life. McKee sure wouldn't have just left that puck lying around near his foot for Brind'Amour to pounce on. And who knows? Maybe it really would have been different. But it wasn't, and that was hard to come to terms with.

Last night Jay said of that injury, that one day he was soaring with excitement about the team and the prospect of a championship, and then a few hours later he was crippled and confused and on the phone trying to work out what had happened. It was a complete and utterly debilitating turn around. And all I could think was, that's what the loss of that series was like for me. It was like a kick in the stomach (or, I guess in this case, the leg). One minute I was dreaming big dreams of Cups and parades, thinking finally, this is it. This is the year we finally win one. And the next minute I was cleaning up the rubble. Just like Buffalonians do at the end of every season. Except for me, it was just the first time. As much as hockey was always around in Buffalo, it was during that series that my true fandom was forged, and within two weeks of its birth it got its first real test. Sure, I hate the Stars and the Flyers and the Leafs, and I'll never forget what the Senators or the Slag-Faced Whores did to me this summer, but it was the Carolina Hurricanes who served this fan her first real heartbreak. And for that I'll never forgive them. So give 'em hell on Saturday, Sabres. Or else.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Love Letter

Dear Jochen Hecht,

I know we haven’t talked in a while (I’ve been busy. Do you know how much bureaucracy is involved in arranging a semester abroad in your country? Sheesh, this better be worth it.), but I want you to know that I have been thinking about you. I know I haven’t exactly been the best Yo-Yo fan that I can possibly be lately, what with rehearsals making me miss more than half the season’s games, but I’ve been keeping up with your numbers and news, and I’m delighted at all the glowing reviews you’ve been getting. Everyone from the players (belated congratulations on the October captaincy!), to Sabres management (ditto on the new contract!), to bloggers whose opinions I trust (see Top Shelf and Sabre Rattling, to name a couple) are singing your praises. Even Lindy Ruff couldn’t hide his severe mancrush on your dependable two-way play and solid penalty killing! And who can blame him? I don’t want to ruin your perception of yourself or anything, but you’re kind of awesome. (No, don’t try to argue with me, Yo-Yo, it’s true. Live with it.)

So I guess the question is, how did you get to be so awesome? I couldn’t experience it first hand, but I heard through the grapevine that even with the rest of the Sabres skating in molasses, your line with Timmy and Pommer was a continuous bright spot. And you took over the center spot with ease after the injury bug bit—so well that you’re still playing between Jason and Clarke even with Connolly healthy again. And even while revisiting your maddening(ly adorable) game of Shoot at the Goaltender or else Not at the Net and your seemingly desperate need to invent the instrument called Goal Post Marimbas, you continued to be one of the better players out there every night. That’s not easy to do.

Knowing you, you’re probably reading this while staring at your feet, drawing toe circles in the dirt and mumbling something about your linemates pulling a lot of weight for you, and you’re not exactly wrong. From what I’ve seen, both Pommer and Timmy have been consistent and solid, and MacArthur has definitely earned his spot with the big club. But listen: This letter is about you. And you? Are fantastic. I watched my first game in a long time last night, and whenever your line was out, it was always you I was focused on. Granted, I have somewhat of a vested interest in watching you, but it seemed you were always doing something interesting or productive, controlling the play in some way. One smart clearing pass here, another deft set-up there, and probably a billion subtle positioning things I didn’t notice, because that’s just your way. You really are playing well, and I’m so proud to see it.

You know, someone once told me that as a fan, you don’t really pick a favorite player, so much as that player picks you. So I want to thank you, Yo-Yo, for choosing me to be a Hecht fan. So far it’s been nothing but rewarding. And I promise that in the future when you’re going through a slump or things just aren’t gelling so well—as happens to everyone at some time or another—I may curse and I may whine, but I’ll look back on this time and I won’t let my devotion waver. I’ll remember how you stood by me, determined to shine as Captain October, even though you knew I couldn’t watch much. I’ll remember how you sat down and got that contract extension done early just so I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the season worrying about whether you’d still be with me next year. I’ll remember how you didn’t let the added money and years keep you from playing hard every night, even when surrounded by so much Sabres anemia. You’ve treated me well.

Simply put, Yo-Yo, I’ve just realized that you are my favorite player and there’s nothing either of us can do about it. We’re just stuck with each other. And I think I’m going to enjoy it.

Vielen Gl├╝ck und Erfolg!
Gambler

P.S. I know this letter may sound silly, but I assure you, I am not jochen!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ta Da!

What did I tell you guys? My play ends and voila! The struggling Sabres pull off a win against the league powerhouse and big rival Ottawa Senators. Once again, I'm sorry I was holding them back for so long.

Tomorrow I actually get to watch a game for the first time in about a month! I'm so excited! I just hope it turns out differently than last year's day-after-Thanksgiving game against Montreal, which I attended in person. I think a loss in literally the last second of overtime might be the most anti-climactic way for a game to end. So let's just try to avoid that, okay guys?

Hopefully more to come before the weekend's over, but I'm enjoying being home, so I'm not going to promise anything.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ding Dong the Play is Dead (And the Sabres are Alive Again)

Okay, Sabres, you're done losing now. Things were rough there for a bit, I know, but now everything should be all right again, see, because the cause of that terrible slump you were going through won't be a problem anymore. I'll explain.

The Sabres' recent losing streak was so bad that everyone seemed to have their own theories about what was going wrong. After a while it became apparent that they weren't just playing bad hockey or turning in half an effort, rather they seemed legitimately cursed. But by what? Top Shelf's Heather B. considered the fact that she'd had her Derek Roy wallpaper up for too long, but ultimately decided that this one was all on the Hockey Gods, while The Willful Caboose's Katebits started to get curious about Ryan Miller's conduct around the Cup that his baby brother brought home over the summer. But I don't think it was any of those things. I believe the Sabres were cursed, just like everything else in my life, by this godforsaken play I was in.

At first I thought my boys were just being considerate. They knew it would only deepen my homicidal rage coming home from rehearsal to find that I'd missed a really good hockey game as well, so they decided they'd better play like crap and take care of that problem for me. And it worked! I was almost happy to see those early losses, because it meant I wasn't missing out on anything by being trapped in rehearsal. But then things started to change. The Sabres started wanting to win, desperately trying to win, but it just wouldn't happen for them. I stopped being relieved and grateful and started getting frustrated and angry (about five games behind the rest of Sabres fandom) when I came home to loss after loss. And that's when I knew. That's when I knew the losses weren't on purpose, and they weren't coincidence; they were all a part of Lysistrata's never-ceasing campaign to suck all of the fun out of my life.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense: I mean, it had already ruined my moods, my grades, and my social life, why not go after my hockey team as well? But if you're still not swayed, here are some convincing statbits (this is about as statbitty as DH will ever get, so don't get used to it): On nights I didn't have rehearsal or a performance, the Sabres went 5-2-0, with the two losses being the first games against the Islanders--which, let's be honest, they weren't going to win anyway. They just had too many dues to pay for last year. On nights I was stuck on stage, they went 1-8-1 (not including Friday's win against Montreal, which I'll get to in a second). Defense was pretty much a push, as opponents scored 21 and 28 goals in the 7 non-rehearsal and 10 rehearsal nights, respectively, but the effect on the offense was alarming. While I was suffering, the scorers were struggling, managing just 13 goals. They scored more than twice in a game just once, the 4-3 overtime loss to the Lightning, and were shut out three times. Otherwise they piled on 32 goals in three fewer games, including only one instance where they netted fewer than four. That's some pretty persuasive evidence of evil, if you ask me.

But it's all over now, and the Sabres are already getting back on track. I thought their 4-1 win on Friday, before the official end of the curse last night, showed great force of will, especially considering it was one of the most heinously awful nights of the play ever. It seems that already their heads are in the right place and they know what it's going to take to turn their season around. It won't be easy, but I have faith. If they could overcome a curse as powerful as this one on a night like that, they can overcome anything.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that I personally am some sort of good luck charm. There were a couple of nights in there where I was rehearsal-free, but still missed the game for one reason or another, so I can't take any of the credit. I'm just trying to tell you where you should direct your blame. I'd like to sincerely apologize to everyone--players and fans alike--for ever accepting a role in this show. If I'd known ahead of time how much pain it would cause, I never would have done it. I'll do my best to make sure it won't happen again.

But beware Sabres. Your excuse is gone. Any losses from here on out? They're all on you.

It's good to be back!