Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Questions

Why can't I watch all Sabres games in HD?

Why do I hate Alex Ovechkin so much?

If we have the fourth best penalty kill in the league, why all the sudden can't we play like we have the fourth best penalty kill in the league?

Why does Clarke MacArthur have more goals than Jason Pominville?

Why does Adam Mair have more goals than Jochen Hecht?

Why is Jochen Hecht doing this to me?

Why do I do this to myself?

Is 2008 over yet?

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Dangerously Close to Love Letter

Dear Thomas Vanek,

I'm dangerously close to loving you. 

It's been a rough last couple of games, and I've been desperately looking for something positive to cling to and post about, so that I wouldn't have to spend my time photoshopping this picture with my and all other appropriate faces, and posting it under the title "The Sabres are Killing Me":

Et tu, Yo-Yo?

And that something positive is the fact that I'm dangerously close to loving you. As frustrating and sometimes depressing as these past three games have been to watch, you've found a way to put a smile on my face and a lighter feeling in my heart every time. What's remarkable is that you've been doing so without having to score. (Of course, that helps. Don't get me wrong. Please.) That's the indication that my regard for you is steadily moving beyond a mere appreciation of your talent toward a blind and unconditional love. You're not quite at the point where you can shoot the puck directly at the goalie on every shot and have me giggle affectionately instead of threatening to cut your hands off and sell them on the black market (that place in my heart is reserved for the most special of players), but you're a lot closer than most other Slugs I can name.

I already mentioned your play in the Pittsburgh game, in which you took on defending one of the best players in the league with enthusiasm, and still managed to work your magic in front of the net. You didn't find a way to put one home, but even from the 18th row of the lower bowl I could see how much you wanted to win, and watching you move the puck with confidence, swagger and creativity in the crease was still something. It may not be a flashy deke or breakaway, but if that kind of play ends with a puck in the back of the net more often than not, it's hard to hate it. It's hard not to downright dangerously close to love it.

In the Washington game you proved that you don't just play smart and you don't just play to win, but you also play tough. I'll admit I was too distracted with beating my family at Proclaim! to notice when you got hit by Ovechkin's shot, but I looked over in time to see you crawling to the bench, and I can honestly say that not only my heart, but also my pancreas, liver, and appendix were in my throat at that sight. (Granted, that could have just been my enlarged tonsils I was feeling, but the figurative meaning holds.) I'm pretty sure I could hear the collective scream of terror from all of Buffalo at that moment. I don't think you can blame me for letting myself get sucked in by the board game again after that. Down by two after two with you apparently gravely injured, I gave the game up for lost and decided to save myself the disappointment. So imagine my surprise when I turned around later and saw your number 26 flying around the ice, in one piece and, as demonstrated a couple of minutes later, in scoring form. The next night Kevin Sylvester recounted you pacing up and down the aisle during that second intermission, absolutely insistent on coming back out to play. Once again, I'm loathe to make this comparison, but even though no stitches were involved, I couldn't help but be reminded of a certain Sabre's last game in Buffalo. And as I'm certain you know from your up-close experience with that Sabre and his time here, that's exactly the kind of dedication that gets you loved around these parts. Or at the very least dangerously close to loved.

Saturday night was a little tougher. I suppose the win is the only thing that should matter, but somehow I couldn't agree with that and in your post-game interview, you didn't seem to want to, either. From the moment I saw your face during Lindy's rant after that goal with 2 seconds left, I knew you weren't going to be happy no matter what happened. From one perfectionist to another, I know that look, and I know there's no way Lindy could be as mad at you as you were at yourself in that moment. And even though Lindy was right after the game when he said it was noble, but wrong of you to take all the blame for yourself for that goal, you were also right when you said you could have done something to stop it. In a season full of guys being able to play better and needing to play better, it was so nice for once to see someone step up and say, "I could have played better. I need to play better." It was especially nice coming from you, someone who could have easily passed the buck on to guys who haven't been busting their asses all season. As high as Buffalo and that big contract have set the bar for you, it'll never be as high as the bar you set for yourself, and that brings me dangerously close to loving you. (I should also mention, speaking of televised interviews, that it definitely helps that you've somehow become legitimately foxy this season. Remember when I said I was looking forward to watching Nathan Paetsch grow into his hotness? Well, you did it, dude.)

I guess the short version of what I'm trying to say (which of course I can't say until I've already gotten the long version out), is that 1) I'm going to do everything I can to spend the Sabre Bucks I got for my birthday on something with your name on it, and 2) if I have to derive my main entertainment during this so-far maddening season (and I'm knocking on wood as I type this for fear of jinxing you) from nothing more than your play and your attitude, I... think I can do that. Of course I'd prefer it to be easier than that, but it just might be enough for me. Dangerously close to enough.

Liebe Grüße,
Gambler

P.S. Because I don't want you to think that I'm leading you on, I should let you know that the 15 second mark of this video is a prime example of why, even if I decide to strike the words "dangerously close" from this letter, you'll never be able to be anything more than second best in my heart.

Friday, December 26, 2008

HSBC Homecoming

The HSBC debut of the Magic Jersey could have gone a little better than it did. Instead of spurring the Sabres on to a six-goal third-period comeback from 4-1, like it did the first time I wore it while watching a game, in Berlin; or bringing about a four-minute comeback from 3-1 to win 4-3 in overtime like it did the first time I wore it to a game, in Saint Paul, instead we got... that. We got the Sabres giving up a 2-0 lead to lose in overtime to a team they could have tied in the standings, we got my favorite player leaving the ice halfway through the game, we got the game ending in a goal knocked in by Sidney Crosby's (who else's?) questionably high stick. We got all that, and in the most soporific of fashions. Um, at least we got a point?

Still, I get to see live hockey too seldom to let a boring game ruin things for me, and I find myself with a couple of things to say anyway.

First of all, the atmosphere in the arena the other night was a little sad. Considering the last time I was there was during an ECF game, and the times before that during the best regular season the team has ever had, it's really not fair of me to compare, but I couldn't help but notice. I'm certainly not blaming the crowd--the way the Sabres have played this season has hardly earned blindly wild enthusiasm--I just found myself a little nostalgic for the times when there was palpable magic in the air at each and every game. As much as this city loves its sports teams (more or less) through thick and thin, that season was really something special, and I'm so glad I was around to appreciate it. I will say this: the game was practically a rave compared to the one I saw in Saint Paul in October, where the home team was leading for more than half of the game. State of Hockey or no, getting only one spontaneous "Let's go Wild" chant going in the entire game is pretty pathetic.

He may not have shown up on the score sheet, but Thomas Vanek had a pretty great game regardless. I had a good feeling from the moment his first shift ended with his shoulder in the middle of Malkin's back, and he went on to live in Geno's back pocket the rest of the game. Malkin's a pretty formidable player at any time, and he's been especially on fire this year (I should know, he's been great for my fantasy team), and he couldn't even think about heading toward the net without Vanek all over him. And he made it look so easy. For as much lip service as I'm sure Versus was giving Malkin and Crosby during their broadcast, it was ultimately Vanek who was attracting my attention on the ice. (Granted, I'm a little biased.) So I noticed, near the end of the game, how much he really wanted to score. As much as all of us in the building wanted him to put the game away for us, he wanted it at least four times as much. He slammed his stick against the boards after a missed chance near the end of the third, not because he really wanted to be the hero, but because he just really wanted to win. Visible, tangible desire to win is something we haven't seen on this team since the days of... that guy I'd rather not name, and it was a refreshing presence in a game we were apparently meant to lose. Watching Vanek I had a feeling--I know there's no way for me to prove this and it's ultimately useless--but I just had a feeling that he was going to score. Crosby just... got there first, I guess.

I somehow missed whatever happened with Hecht, though you would think your favorite player getting hit in the head with a puck would be pretty hard to miss. I spent the last minutes of the second and the better part of the third worrying about where he'd gone and peering down at the bench to see if he had returned yet, and as soon as we got back to the car I turned on the radio to hear what the word was. At first all we heard was that he'd suffered a laceration below his ear and had to leave the ice, which prompted my mother to say, "What, does the sight of his own blood make him queasy or something?" As is always the case with me and my mom in such situations, one thing led to another and we decided that the scene in the locker room during the second must have looked something like this. (I really want that video to embed, but blogger really wants it not to. You win this round, blogger. Please click, everyone.)

No wonder they came out and lost their focus in the third. They spent the intermission in a room full of smoke and half-cooked noodles! Who could stay focused at a time like that?!

All in all, a pretty average game. It could have been a lot better, but it also could have been a lot worse. Thanks to Santa bringing someone a new Pominville third this Christmas, our next trip to HSBC  (January 9th against the Rangers) will be another jersey debut. Let's hope that one falls on the "a lot better" side of the fence.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays from the Gambler Clan!

I have a post about the other night's game forming in my head, but I'm too stuffed with food and drunk on the joy of the season to deal with that now. Instead I'm just going to send you, all five of my readers, a copy of my family's Christmas card picture and a heartfelt wish for an enjoyable Christmas/other applicable holiday for you and your loved ones.

Love, the Gamblers

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ch-ch-ch-changes

For those keeping score at home, since Thanksgiving I have:

  • written five papers
  • taken one exam
  • finished my penultimate semester of college
  • turned 22
  • traded in my buzz-cut for a mohawk
  • driven the roughly 1200 miles from Saint Paul to Brooklyn
  • taken the roughly 10,000 hour train ride from Brooklyn to Buffalo
  • seen exactly one Sabres game
  • written exactly one blog post

There are only two of those things I'm not very happy about, and they're both changing tonight. Tonight I'll be attending the Sabres/Penguins game, which will be my first live game since the Sabres came to Saint Paul in October, my first live game in WNY since the Winter Classic, and my first live game in HSBC since Game 1 against the Senators in the 2007 ECF. Yeah, it's been a while. It will also be the official Buffalo christening of the Magic Comeback Jersey, so I'll be carefully monitering its effects. As for the other thing that's changing, this may be a lame, cheap post filed under the much-used "I'm a Horrible Blogger" tag, but it still counts. Hopefully, if this game proves to be as exciting as our other games against the Pens have been this season, there will be more (and better) where this came from later.

In case anyone else is going to the game tonight, and happens to read this in time, I'll be in section 106 if you want to say hi. I should be the only girl with a mohawk and a vintage blue Hecht sweater, unless I have a serious stalker.

Let's go, Buffalo!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

News from the Abyss

Finals have had me in their deadly clutches practically since Thanksgiving, so I haven't had much time to think about hockey lately, let alone write something coherent about it. (I have a feeling if I tried to write a real post at this point I would end up either writing in German or citing Michel Foucault. My brain is so fried.) But I would be majorly remiss if I didn't take a second away from studying and writing to showcase this photo of Yo-Yo's latest handiwork, which I found this morning thanks to Goose's Roost:

*Swoon*

That is all. The light at the end of the tunnel is approaching, and hopefully by tomorrow I'll be able to find out exactly how tiny Nathan Gerbe is.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bruins @ Sabres: A Ten-Word Preview



There's no way it can be worse than last time. 


(Programming notice: I know I've been AWOL again recently, but I have a good excuse: I decided to ignore the Sabres this past weekend. Partly because my sneaky, free internet ways failed me and partly because I really needed a break after the way the last Boston game upset me. Despite the discouraging text messages I received about the scores this weekend, tonight I find myself somewhat refreshed and ready for more hockey, even if it means more heartache. Unfortunately, I'm going to be spending this evening flying between Saint Paul and Nashville to join my family for the holiday, so whatever happens in tonight's game, for better or worse, I won't be able to see it. And since I'll be spending the weekend with mostly non-hockey-appreciating family members, I'm not sure I'll get to see either of those games either. But stick around. I'll have something to say soon, regardless of whether I've seen the games or not. Promise. Happy Turkey!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

There's No Beauty In The Breakdown

That's right, the Garden State soundtrack lies.

I'll be honest, I didn't really pay much attention to the last game. After losing half of my Friday night to the "game" against Columbus, I chose to dedicate my Saturday night to doing more collegey things with actual people, which I figured was almost certain to be more fun, even if it didn't provide the opportunity to make fun of ridiculous names. Still, because I'm a crazy hockey fan and my friends expect it of me anyway, I kept the game running on my computer in a corner of the room, and checked in every ten minutes or so. I'll admit, I was tempted at a couple of points to abandon my pretense of being social and settle into the action. Through the first two periods they seemed to have things under control, and I was intrigued by the Vanek-Hecht-Pominville line. Mostly because of the high concentration of love involved there. (Seriously, the Vanek love is getting out of control.) 

Well, I sure am glad I didn't fall for that old trick. I successfully resisted the siren call of my computer, and as I watched out of the corner of my eye as the Pens scored in rapid succession in the last five minutes to take the score from 2-2 to 5-2, I felt vindicated. At the same time, I also feel completely unequipped to tackle the question every blogger and fan is trying to figure out: What went wrong? Really all I can do is try to guess at what the problem was. On the one hand, the Penguins are a good team. (Although there's still plenty of time for that Stanley Cup runner-up curse to catch up with them, just like it did with Ottawa last year.) It's not entirely impossible that they managed to take over the game even if the Sabres looked like they were doing everything right. On the other hand, the Sabres have been playing like crap lately, and maybe keeping focus for a full 60 minutes is too much to ask of them. As strong as the defensive play was to start the season, it's been full of holes recently, and lazy backchecking by the forwards coupled with shaky goaltending isn't helping things. 

Whatever the cause, Saturday's game is the type that I instinctively want to just chalk up to bad luck, bad karma, bad energy and just forget about. I tell myself it's still early in the season, far too early to be putting any stock in the standings, and there's still plenty of time left for improvement. The problem is, I've had to tell myself that too many times recently. There's plenty of season left, but if a team can't focus for a full 60 minutes, how are they going to be able to focus for a full 82 games? Even good teams have bad nights, but how many bad nights does it take to mean you have a bad team? It's a question we slowly learned the answer to last season, and no one wants a repeat demonstration.

Come on, Sabres. The real beauty is in pulling it back together.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Sabres got the Blues, but I don't have to

Well, that was a pretty awful series of games. Following an uninspired win against the Blues with an un-boring but completely frustrating loss to the Bluejackets, isn't exactly my definition of fun times. So what's a fan to do to entertain herself when her hockey team fails to come through for her? Not to mention, what's a blogger fighting to get back in the game supposed to write about when the only complete sentences that come to mind about hockey are creative death threats? Why, it's one of my favorite pastimes: Making fun of hockey names!

I'm pretty sure that at least half the Blues' roster is made up. The fact my most dominant memory of Wednesday night's game (aside from Hank Tallinder, newest Wiggle, of course) is of me shouting at my screen "There's no way that's a real person!" every time the name Pietrangelo was mentioned, probably tells you all you need to know about that game. But, seriously, Pietrangelo? That's totally not a real name. Just take a second to say it out loud. Pietrangelo. It's like saying the word "eleventybillion." It just feels false on the tongue, like someone squished two different last names together to make a nonsense last name. Also, as much as his name was mentioned in the play-by-play--which was relatively frequently, since I was forced into watching the St. Louis feed--I never actually got visual confirmation. Amongst the numerous close-up shots, I never once got one of the name "Pietrangelo" on the back of a jersey. Furthermore, the name is nowhere to be found on the Blues' roster page. Very suspicious. I'm pretty convinced that the Blues announcer came into this game with an incomplete roster list, panicked when a player touched the puck whose name he didn't know, and blurted out the first name that popped into his head. Unfortunately, that "name" was Pietrangelo, so now not only does everyone know that he's bad at his job, but also that he sucks at making up names. That's not the only suspect name, though. There's also this "Hinote" character, if that really is his name. Unlike Pietrangelo, this one was supported by visual evidence, so at least I know it's not just in the imagination of the announcer. But still. I'm supposed to believe that someone named Hinote completely coincidentally plays for the Blues, where he gets to wear a musical note on his chest every game? I don't think so. I'm a big fan of nominative determinism, but how do I know there isn't some Chad Ocho Cinco-esque name change action going on here? Add in the fact that "Polak" is apparently pronounced like the Polish slur and not like Jackson the painter, and I can't trust that anyone's name is real. At this point, I'm willing to bet that "Blues" itself is a completely fabricated title.

The Bluejackets also have entertaining names, but for different reasons. First of all, there are those names that completely caught me off guard. The first time Commodore was mentioned, I had to double check that we weren't playing Ottawa. (Serves me right for spacing out during the off-season, although it didn't freak me out nearly as much as realizing Darcy Tucker is all of the sudden in Colorado. When did that happen?) And the first time Novotny was mentioned I had to double check that we weren't playing a team from somewhere off the face of the earth, which is where I imagined Jiri fell when he left the Sabres. Of course, they also have a universally silly name in Tyutin, and a universally bitchin' name in Chimera, but the one that entertained me the most was Huselius, for the way it fit into the play-by-play call. "Huselius," when spoken, at least by RJ, sounds an awful lot like "his alias," which became particularly funny to me in the phrase "Afinogenov is intercepted by Huselius!" Me: "It's like Spy vs. Spy!" I think it may be the first time a Max interception has ever made me laugh. Also, unrelated to names, but am I the only one who thinks Pascal Leclaire looks a bit like a werewolf? A little fake fur and he and Staffy could have some kickin' haunted house Halloween parties.

Anyway, Sabres, do you see what you do to me (and this blog) when you force me to draw entertainment from something other than the brilliance of your play? Please play better against Pittsburgh tonight. I know it's probably too much to ask, but there's nothing for me to work with on that roster of names. The "Satan should be traded to the Devils" line is practically older than Teppo, you know?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Heard Tell There's Some Hockey Going On Tonight?

Leave it to me to return to bloggerly form just in time to have a busy weekend, miss both games, and then sit through a four day layoff. It's like I go out of my way to keep myself from blogging. Anyway, barring any emergencies or interruptions in my illegally-obtained internet feed, I'll be around for tonight's game, and might even have something to say afterwards.

I have to say, I'm not feeling too optimistic. Even aside from the fact that the Sabres are coming off a long break after two lackluster performances, that they apparently now love giving struggling teams the jumpstart they've been looking for, and that we haven't beaten the Blues in something like 12 years, it just doesn't feel like a good day. Currently my room is sitting somewhere around 4o˚F, the illness I thought I was finally over returned this morning with a wicked cough, and what had at midnight last night been an insanely idyllic snowglobe-esque winter landscape here on campus had by morning light turned into a slushy, foggy, overcast mess. So I'm just not feeling the mojo of this day.

Then again, these just might be the perfect circumstances for watching the Sabres. If they win, then I can forget about all that crap. And if they lose, well, it's not like I can feel much crummier.

Let's Go, Buffalo, I guess. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Triumphant Return!

Tonight, those wearing number 55 get back in the game.

That's right, Jochen Hecht, backbone of the backchecking forwards and official ambassador to my heart, will set skate on ice again tonight for the first time following what seemed like the longest surgery recovery period ever. (That's the last time he borrows a finger from Tim Connolly.) In a show of solidarity, I'm coming out of my months-long blogger hibernation to set fingers to keyboard and start reversing the troublesome trend in this, an ostensible hockey blog in which 90% of the posts appearing on the first page are about a sport that is not hockey. (That's the last time I borrow my work ethic from Jaromir Jagr.) 

You know, after spending most of last season and the summer in Europe, I guess I just started to take being out of the loop for granted. Why bother writing anything when those other, more diligent minds behind the ever-growing number of excellent Sabres blogs out there are just going to cover it better? Being in Minnesota doesn't really help. My only access to the (non-Versus) games has been through grainy internet feeds, and outside of text messages with my family, no one in my daily life has any desire to talk about hockey. So it's been easy to grow complacent. I've fallen back on the excuse that since most of my contact with hockey is through hearsay and guessing games, I couldn't possibly offer up any kind of worthwhile insight. Well, no longer. I'm not going to let those excuses cover up the truth anymore, the truth that caused me to start this blog in the first place and the truth that is still true today: I have shit to say. That's the main issue. Whether or not anyone wants to read it has always been a secondary concern.

So what do I have to say about this season so far? Well, overall it's been pleasantly surprising, with few notable exceptions. Here's my distillation of the young season down to the highest highs and lowest lows:

Highs
  • Captain Rivet - I'll admit, when I first learned via text message that off-season acquisition and grumpily reluctant new Buffalonian, Craig Rivet, had been chosen captain, my reaction wasn't thoroughly positive. It was somewhere between wanting to laugh out loud and wanting vomit silently. (You know, that sensation that somehow only your favorite sports team can provoke.) It's not that I didn't like him, more that I was worried he didn't like us. How could he possibly be ready to lead a team he'd known for a mere matter of weeks? My anxiety lessened some when I learned that the appointment was the result of a team vote, and it disappeared completely after I first got to see him in action. From leading the defense with a steady hand, to finally applying the crease-policing force Miller's been needing (wow, that sounded dirtier than I meant it to), and unhesitatingly jumping into any conflict to protect his teammates, I'm pretty sure he's done all he needs to do to get everyone in Buffalo head over heels. 
  • TV Upgrade - What is there left to say about Thomas Vanek at this point? It's pretty obvious that he's turning into a player worthy of his contract, maybe even worthy of mention alongside the league's elite right before our very eyes. And it's been a delightful transformation to witness. Not like we didn't know this before, but a confident Vanek is a force to be reckoned with out there, and it's nice to see him proving it consistently. On a personal note, I'm glad to see my previously irrational affection for him find justification. Now I can say I love him because he's Austrian, Minnesotan, and an ass-kicking hockey player.
  • Penalty Thrilling - The PK has been the most consistently delightful thing about the season so far, from my view. Especially following a season where special teams were so abysmal, it's a beautiful thing to have a unit of players that kills penalties and not our souls. It's gotten to the point that I almost cheer for every penalty we have called against us, just because I love seeing our PKers in action, usually competent and often downright dominant while down one man. Through 12 games we've only been outscored 5-2 while killing penalties, and that's one sexy statistic.
Lows
  • Brochen Jochen - Okay, so this one might be a little personal, but it definitely counts as one of the low points of the season when I found out my favorite player wasn't going to be healthy for the game I saw here against the Wild on October 23rd. The game was an exciting one regardless, but it just wasn't the same without being able to watch for good old number 55 to miss an open net or shoot right at the goaltender. Apparently scoring a goal so early in the season was too much of a strain on him, though. He has to learn how to pace himself better. I'll be honest, I didn't really get what the big deal was for this injury, especially for a player who apparently played with a broken wrist for four months last season. I mean, couldn't they have just taped his fingers together and waited for it to heal on its own? It's not like Yo-Yo's known for his great dexterity or anything. No, I'm pretty sure he just sat out to spite me. It's okay, Yo-Yo. I still love you.
  • Disappearing Derek - There have been a number of disappointing player performances so far this season, but for the most part it's been what's expected. Stafford continues to be a non-factor with promise, Connolly continues to be held together with chewing gum and dental floss, and Max continues to be... Max. But Roy-Z has only 6 points in 12 games, and that's just not acceptable, especially after the bedazzling end to his season he had last year. He's not yet gotten to the "pile of puke" stage in my eyes (I save that for when he's being actively detrimental to his team), but even given his over-exaggerated 5'9" stature, I know he can be more visible.
  • Relapses - This has got to be the biggest fear on every Sabres fan's mind right now. It's why those losses against Ottawa and Tampa made us so nervous. The season began with a number of encouraging displays of things last year's Sabres failed to do on a regular basis--sticking out a whole game against a good team, blowing away a bad team--but that Tampa game in particular looked like a direct cut and paste from last year's worst: scattered offense, sloppy defense, and shaky goaltending. It looked way too familiar for comfort. The Sabres bounced back from those two tough losses with a pair of shutout wins, which is reassuring, but if they want to keep these good times rolling they're going to have to avoid pulling games like that on their jumpy, PTSD-y fans.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Home, Sweet Home

So, Ryan Miller extended his contract by five years yesterday, and, as usual, I'm a couple of steps behind everyone else on this. Luckily, there are other, more dedicated bloggers than I out there who have done a pretty excellent job of analyzing the deal from all angles, but I still feel like adding my thoughts.

Obviously, this is a very positive move for the organization, but the sweetest part isn't that the Sabres finally signed a big name, or held on to someone they needed to keep, but rather that Buffalo finally has a player they can concretely believe wants to be here. Someone who had other, more financially lucrative options open to him, and chose instead to stay. Sure, we've always had those players to some extent. Last off-season I cheered when Adam Mair declared that he wanted to stay in Buffalo, that he intended to stay in Buffalo, and then actually stayed. Then, when Vanek signed the offer sheet that the Sabres ultimately matched, I chose to believe him when he said he'd wanted to stay in Buffalo all along. Sure, I may have just been falling for the shallow pandering of a player who'd just committed to playing 7 more years in this city and knew how important it was to get the fans on his side. But, I argued, if he hadn't wanted to stay, why had he bought a house here even before he had a contract? Still, there was the nagging fact that he had almost become an Oiler, and the lingering question of whether or not it would have really mattered to him. We'll never know for sure. And there are those players who have that "always one of us" air about them--players like Biron and McKee--who were sent or pulled out of town, despite not really wanting to go. (Note to Bucky Gleason: If you're looking for examples of players who were "forced to jump ship," these are the names you should be mentioning.) But in the wake of Briere and, especially, Drury moving on to bigger and better things, the choruses of "No one wants to play here," "We'll never sign a big name," and "We'll never be able to hold onto our young talent once they get successful" became stifling. For the past couple of months the consensus among fans on this Miller deal was that it wasn't going to get done, that he was as good as Detroit's at this point. Well, it's nice to have them proven wrong.

But this isn't just about shutting up the whiners (after all, this is Buffalo, people will just find something else to whine about eventually); more than anything, it's about having confirmation that this is a worthwhile team, that this is a worthwhile city, that we are worthwhile fans. As pathetic as it may sound, last summer when Chris Drury took a look at the money the Rangers offered him, took a look at the equal money the Sabres offered him, and chose to turn his back on the fans who had done nothing but worship him since the moment he set skate on our ice three years previous, it was hard not to take it personally. Some people lashed out at management, convinced that Drury couldn't have actually wanted to leave us, and some people labeled him a Slag-Faced Whore, convinced that he'd wanted to leave us all along, and that no amount of negotiation could have possibly changed his mind. But I'm willing to bet all of us, on one level or another, reacted to his departure with a certain amount of "Did we do something wrong? Why doesn't he love us the way we love him?" All the rest--the anger, the blame, no matter toward whom it was directed--was just a coping mechanism. It's a dangerous business, hinging an identity on sports heroes (having recently read Friday Night Lights, I was able to draw more parallels between Odessa, Texas and Buffalo, New York than should be considered comfortable), but it's pretty much what makes us Buffalonians such a wonderful and dedicated fanbase. More often than not we get burned (McGahee, Hasek, and O.J. Simpson are names that come to mind), but sometimes it pays off, and by signing this contract, by returning the faith of the Buffalo faithful, Ryan Miller is on his way to becoming the Sabres' Thurman Thomas.

He likes us. He really likes us.

One thing that especially hit home for me in his comments following the contract signing, which Schopp and the Bulldog brought up a number of times on the radio yesterday, was that Miller really appreciates the sports atmosphere here, the fact that hockey matters. He specifically mentioned that he enjoys that he can go out to Wegmans (product placement!) and be approached by fans who recognize him, respect his space, and just want to say, "Hey." He pointed out it's not something you get in most NHL cities, and he's right. Even with such dynamic superstars as Sidney Crosby, and such perfectly-run teams as the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, hockey can't shed the cloak of insignificance on the national stage. Since the national audience can't seem to be bothered to give a damn, you would think playing for a community that cares would hold a certain cache for players in the NHL, but it's normally not considered one of the main factors in guys deciding where they want to play. And for some players craving more anonymity (like Drury), the fanaticism can even be considered a disadvantage to playing and living here. So the fact that Miller brought up this example was heartening (not least because he better get used to it, at least for the next six years), but it also spoke to me on a personal level, since, having returned from six months in Europe two weeks ago, I was appreciating the same thing about my home.

Of course, there were many things that I missed from Western New York while I was abroad (chicken wings!), but one of the biggest surprises was how much I had in fact missed being in the middle of a hockey-crazy town. My unwilling separation from hockey for essentially the entire second half of the season was made easier by the fact that the Sabres were more or less sucking it hard, so I didn't really feel like I was missing out on all that much, but I really missed being in an environment where I don't have to depend on the internet for my hockey-talk fix (not that I don't do the majority of my hockey-talking on the internet, anyway). So I get a rather strange, but very real sense of comfort out of coming home to see my mom's editorializing of the poster that's hung in our kitchen for more than a year:

My mom? She's just another classless Buffalo fan like the rest of us.

Or out of sitting down to play hours of NHL 08 with my brother and discussing the authenticity of the game (more on that later). Or out of going to my dad's company picnic and discovering that if you're willing to talk Sabres, you share common ground with pretty much everyone, strangers or no. Or out of having my dad turn to me and ask, "What do you have to say to that?" after someone's made the claim that Hecht wasn't one of the players who stepped up this season, and being able to carefully and reasonably refute that argument. Caring so much about sports may drive us crazy sometimes, Buffalo, and it may make us a joke, but I for one hope we never take it for granted.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sigh.

Sorry to abandon this project just as it's reaching its exciting conclusion, my dear readers, but to be honest I'm just not in a blogging mood at the moment. (Want to hear a funny story? In a matter of four days I'll be back on American soil for the first time in six months. Wow.) I'll still be going out to watch the final (Germany/Spain) tonight, of course, and maybe I'll write about it a little later when I have more time, and am feeling a bit better. Thanks for understanding.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 17

Germany vs. Turkey
8:45 pm

Ahhhhh. That was a nice two-day break from football. But now I'm ready to get back into it, and tonight's game is going to be a doozy.

Here's a pretty cool story from the New York Times about this match-up and how it's affecting the nationalistic loyalties of Germans and German Turks. The whole thing is pretty interesting, but here's some important infos relevant to tonight:

The Turkish side will need everything Altintop can give it, with the team whittled down by injuries and suspensions to just 15 players — 11 starters and 4 potential substitutes. The possibility that one of the team’s backup goalies could play forward has added to their underdog appeal.

Wow. I knew they were getting low on men, but I didn't know it was that bad. Are they going to bring in Pommerdoodle to play defense for them? (You know, in the universe where Pommers is American, Canadian, and Turkish. That traitor.) Still, Turkey has shown many times that they thrive in the role of underdog and spoiler, so I wouldn't let this count them out.

In other news, German Derek Roy is devastatingly adorable.

[Getty Images]

Monday, June 23, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 16

Spain vs. Italy
0 - 0
4 - 2(p)

Okay, I'll be honest. I completely skipped this game. I meant to go, I really did! But I got so wrapped up in my video project (which is now finally, mercifully, totally, 100% finished) that I just didn't make it downstairs to see it. (It's been too ungodly hot in Vienna the past couple of days to even think about undertaking any big treks like walking down to the fan mile and standing next to thousands of warm bodies. Ugh.) But, from the sounds of it, I didn't miss much--other than, I'm sure, Fernando Torres being dreamy.

Truth.
[Getty Images]

Anyway, sorry to let you, my 3.125 readers (I wish I could actually get an accurate count on that, but my Google Analytics page has recently died, perhaps to save me the pain of knowing exactly how few people are paying attention to this), down with this "coverage" of the game, but here are a few reasons I'm glad Spain won:

1. I don't like Italy. My resentment of the Italians (just the team, I'm sure regular Italians are lovely, though I've never really had contact with them) has recently returned full force, and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe my proximity to Germans, who are still bitter about the World Cup. In any case, I'm somewhat proud of myself for successfully navigating the Euro without ever seeing Italy play. I don't particularly feel like I missed anything. (Except for that penalty kick save, but I'm trying to pretend that didn't happen.)

2. My brother recently spent 3 weeks in Spain on an exchange trip. He had a blast. It seems like a cool place.

3. They will make the semifinal hotter. I feel I'll be much better prepared to endure close-ups of Russia's team of creepy man-children with David Cassidy's hair, if I know it will be interspersed with shots of the likes of Spain's Torres, Fabregas, and Casillas.

Mmmmm.
[Getty Images]

Okay, this is just getting gratuitous.
[Getty Images]

What was I saying, again?
[Getty Images]

Alright, now I know you've beaten them once already, but watch out for Russia's Black Magick, Spain! It'll sneak up on you.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 15

The Netherlands vs. Russia
1 - 3 (aet)

Whoa. Whoa! Russia! What are you on? Did you finally figure out soccer is basically just hockey on grass, or what? Color me impressed.

Yes, it's true I was rooting for the Netherlands coming into this game. Their Dutch charms really won me over. But somewhere along the way, probably after Russia scored first, my allegiances started to turn. At first I was just shocked, but then I started secretly hoping that they could actually pull it off. It seemed so impossible. For instance, as Hannah, Alice, and I were heading down to my dorm's common room to watch the second half (we opted for a more relaxed evening of football watching following the previous two nights) we placed bets as to what the score was. Hannah started off with 1-0 Holland, while I said 2-0 Holland. Alice: "Well, that only leaves me with 0-0 or 3-0." Hannah: "Or Russia could have scored." All: "Yeah, right." As it turned out, it was tied 0-0 at the half, but not for too much longer.

To the surprise of pretty much everyone in the world, Russia scored the first goal, 56 minutes into the game, on a blistering shot from Pavlyuchenko. When the Netherlands scored with 4 minutes left in the game, it seemed things were going back to following the script of normalcy, but then Russia dominated the overtime period, scoring two goals, and Holland never looked especially interested in making a comeback.

So, Russia, I guess I owe you an apology. Clearly I judged you too harshly based on that game you played against Spain in the group stages when it didn't really look like you knew what you were doing. Maybe you were just having an off day. Anyway, there's no argument that you've proven once and for all that you're a legit soccer team. Sorry for all the hockey jokes. That being said, you still kind of creep me out. Your players look like the stars of a 1975 educational film about puberty. (I know this tournament hasn't exactly been a showcase of attractive hair, but Russia's in particular looked like it just stepped out of a time machine. Sadly, photographic evidence of this is severely lacking.)

I'm pretty sure this kid gets carded while buying vodka. In Russia.
[Getty Images]

And this guy needs to do a better job of blending in his blush.
I could see it even with the camera a good 15 meters away.
[Getty Images]

But my expectations of this game weren't just based on the fact that Russia was crap (after all, after they beat Sweden I suspected they must have it somewhat together), but also on the fact that the Netherlands was so good. They completely dominated both teams that appeared in the WC finals two years ago, and seemed destined for great things. I think most people assumed this would be a pretty one-sided match. Their fans certainly seemed way into it, showing up in square-mile blocks of orange for all their games.

Bold.
[Getty Images]

So what happened? I think Russia might have some sort of Black Magick. Is Team Russia the Bruins of the the Euro Cup? I guess we'll have to see how the semifinal goes.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 14

Croatia vs. Turkey
1 - 1
1 - 3 (p)

Just so you know, Croatian for "Are you choking?" is "Jesu te gušenje?" Man, it has to suck to be Croatian this morning. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

Yesterday Vienna was teeming with Turkish and Croatian fans alike, and we knew the fan mile was going to be a veritable war zone, so we opted to go to a bar to watch the game instead. It was a good choice, mostly because if I had had to stand and watch that game, I'm pretty sure my legs would have given out from boredom long before it was over. At some point during the game I decided I was tentatively rooting for Croatia, based on their jerseys, their superior cuteness, and the fact that so many Croats had driven to Vienna to see the game. I thought they deserved to see a win for their troubles. But as the game wore on--and on--I found myself hoping that someone, anyone, would just score already. There were some close calls, mostly by Croatia, but they always ended up with someone hitting the crossbar, or falling down before heading the ball, or some other such nonsense. It was pretty frustrating. So it ended up going into overtime, which should have been exciting, except that it wasn't. It was just more of the same boring game. Finally, after 119 minutes of play, the Croatians scored with just under two minutes left in the second and final overtime. It was a bit of a haphazard play, but it worked. The Turkish goalie came out of his net to play the ball, not knowing that a Croatian player was coming up behind him. The Croat ended up getting the ball away from him, and centering a pass, which was headed in before the goalie could get back in his net. We all cheered, more from relief than from actual excitement, thinking that the game was finally over. Unfortunately, soccer overtime isn't sudden death, so we still had a couple of minutes left to play. It seemed like just a formality, just another way to punish us with this never-ending game. But then it happened. With literally a second left in the game (actually, pretty much negative time left in the game, since we were in the stoppage time of the overtime period), Turkey somehow scored. I never actually saw how it went in, because I was too busy laughing that it had actually happened. Croatia, and all the Croatian fans in the crowd, were completely stunned.

So I got my first taste of penalty kicks last night, and let me tell you, it blows. It sucks even harder than hockey shootouts, because not only is it a competition based on individual skill that has nothing to do with the 120 minutes of team sport played before it, but the keepers really have no shot. At least in hockey, a goaltender has trained extensively to stop scoring situations similar to a shootout goal (breakaways, etc.), but in soccer it's basically a guessing game. A keeper has to choose if he's going to jump right or left before the ball is even kicked, if he wants any chance at saving the shot. And since he's not allowed to leave the goal line until the ball is touched, it's not at all how he would try to defend that situation in the course of game play. It's pretty bullshit. On the other hand, I understand that soccer games can't go on indefinitely, and in the case of last night's game, I'm glad they do come to an end sometimes.

That being said, Croatia really has no one to blame but themselves for how they choked in the penalties. Their first and third shooters completely missed the net (which, as a hockey fan, I find impossible--it's so big!), and their last attempt was saved to give Turkey, who had made all of their penalty kicks, the victory.

[Getty Images]

The whole thing made me wonder if Croatia is really just a neighborhood of Buffalo that I've never been to, because it was the kind of last-second heartbreak that would be right at home alongside Wide Right, the Forward Lateral, and Jay McKee's leg. Even though I was very neutral through most of this game, I feel especially bad for the Croatians today, because I can appreciate what it feels like to, in the span of five minutes, go from this:

My brother's Doppelgänger, after scoring.
[Getty Images]
To this:

Aw, cheer up, Dan. You're not even really Croatian.
[Getty Images]

So that's it. Germany's going to be playing Turkey, the team that refuses to die, in the semifinals on Wednesday. They certainly have a taste for the last-minute dramatics (winning 2-1 in the stoppage time against Switzerland, coming from two goals down to win 3 - 2 against Czech Republic), but here's hoping Germany can put an end to that. Also, here's hoping everyone in Berlin stays safe. It's gonna get intense.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 13

Portugal vs. Germany
2 - 3

Holy cow, was that a good game! I'll admit, I was a little scared going in, because Germany had been playing like such poop lately, and Portugal had been on fire, but right from the very beginning of the game, the Germans made it clear that they had come to play. They scored just 20 minutes in and led the whole way after that. The goal was such a beauty, too. A swift succession of give-and-go passes found Podolski powering down the wing, breaking free of his defender to cross the ball right to the goal mouth, where Schweinsteiger redirected it, mid-slide. What a way to come back into play, in his first game back since getting that red card in the game against Croatia! He played an instrumental role in Germany's other two goals, too, which were both headed in off of two perfectly-placed free kicks by Schweini. Of course, Portugal had to make it interesting, though. They scored their first goal right before the half to cut the score to 2-1, then their second with just a few minutes left in the game, and continued putting on the pressure right up until the last second. Waiting for the clock to run out practically gave me an ulcer, which hadn't yet happened in this tournament. Portugal can't be disappointed in the way that they played--they were a real threat for much of the game--but Germany was just better. They played the way everyone knew they could, and it was incredible to watch.


On a shallow note, it was almost as if former Euro Cup boyfriend Cristiano Ronaldo knew I was going to have to root against him this game, since he took the trouble to make his (usually awful) haircut look especially heinous. Much appreciated, man. Have a nice summer. Of course, now that Ronaldo's out of it, I'm going to have to choose a new guy for my Euro Cup boyfriend. That guy, as if there was ever any real doubt, is Lukas Podolski.


He didn't have his best game yesterday--I suspect he's still hurting from whatever injury to his calf he sustained in the Austria game, though he's playing through it--but the way he set up that first goal was just beautiful. Also, I'm having a hard time finding photographic evidence of it, but he has the Derek-Roy-patented Little Bastard Grin mastered. What can I say? He just does it for me. Go Poldi! (By the way, google Poldi and/or Schweini--which I did to check the spelling--at your own risk. Apparently there's a rather extensive collection of fan videos on the internet dedicated to that slash pairing, which is... odd. To say the least.)

So, I find myself facing a conundrum when it comes to tonight's game, which will determine who Germany will play in the semifinal. On the one hand, Germany lost to Croatia the last time they played. Pretty badly. On the other hand, if they had played like they did last night instead of eleven sacks of shit, they would have had a much better shot. On the other other hand, a Turkey/Germany semifinal would literally split Germany (the country) in half. It would be civil war, and I don't even want to think what Berlin, which has the greatest Turkish population of any city outside of Turkey, would look like after a matchup like that. I'm told it's happened before, and that no one died or anything, but it seems like something you'd rather avoid. Anyway, I guess I'm just going to have to go down to the fan mile, play the part of disinterested spectator, and see what happens. Even though that means I apparently bought a Croatia jersey for no reason other than to look like a tablecloth. Oh well.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 12

Greece vs Spain
0 - 2

Russia vs Sweden
2 - 0

I don't think I'm going to make it down to the fan mile tonight. I've really hit my stride in this video project I've been working on for one of my classes, and I think if I just keep working through tonight I'll be able to finish it. And then I'll be free to go watch the football that really matters (ie the quarterfinals and beyond!). I'm not sure which game they'll be showing tonight, anyway. You would think Sweden/Russia, since that's the only game of consequence, but that didn't stop them from airing the pointless Portugal/Switzerland game. Either way, I'll be surprised if tonight's victors aren't Sweden and Spain (unless Spain lets all of its best players take a rest, then Greece might win). Heja Sverige!

Update: Whoa! Who saw that coming?! I sure didn't! I'm sorry, Sweden, I feel like I let you down by not going down to the fan mile and supporting you. How the hell did Russia win? Were they just having an off day that game when they were playing Spain? Do they really, secretly, actually know how to play hockey? I don't know, but I'm going to go on record right now in saying that if they end up beating the Netherlands in the quarterfinals I will be really impressed. Poor, poor Sweden. It was nice knowing you, Team Tall Indians! Stay Swedish!

Euro 2008: Day 11

The Netherlands vs Romania
2 - 0

France vs Italy
0 - 2

I didn't go to the game last night, partly because I knew they were going to air the France/Italy game, and I wasn't exactly interested, but mostly because I had some homework to finish up on. I didn't plan on taking a break from blogging, but I guess I needed it. Sorry to all of you waiting with bated breath to find out the results. (I'm sure there are so many of you.)

I'll be honest, I was really hoping Italy would lose this game. As I've already said, I'm a not a huge fan of either of those teams, but I am a huge fan of Schadenfreude, and having both the reigning Euro and World Cup champs miss out on the quarterfinals is about as schadenfreutastic as it gets. Plus, ESPN would have looked even dumber, which is always fun. Sigh. Anyway, I hope Spain stomps them in the next round.

By the way, Hannah, being the smart cookie that she is, found out why all of the last games of the group stage are being played simultaneously. One of her friends directed her to this article from CBC online, which tells the story of the collusion between Germany and Austria at the 1982 World Cup. I admit, that was a very cheating cheater thing to do, but the way the writer gets all righteously indignant about it is still pretty funny

In the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Austria and West Germany shamefully conspired with one another, draping a blanket of controversy over the competition and leaving an indelible stain on the sport that will never be cleansed away.

Algeria, playing in its first World Cup, had pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament when it earned a 2-1 victory over West Germany in Gijon on June 16, 1982. The Africans looked a sure bet to go through to the next round from Group B.

Austria and the Germans faced off in the final match of the group in Gijon on June 17. Because FIFA did not require the final two games of the group stages to be played at the same time, Austria and West Germany knew that a 1-0 win for the Germans would be enough for both nations to advance to the next round at the expense of the upstart Algerians.

And so, the two neighbouring countries had their arrangement and stopped playing when the Germans went up 1-0 after 10 minutes.

From that point on, the game slowed to a crawl with neither team seriously venturing forward, instead killing time with a series of short passes inside their half of the field.

The Spanish spectators in the stands booed both countries unmercifully as they carried out the most despicable of sporting frauds, and Algeria protested the result to FIFA the next day, but soccer's world governing body turned a blind eye and let the injustice stand.

Both the Austrians and Germans denied they had made any sort of arrangement beforehand, but their act of collusion was as obvious as it was abhorrent, and it prompted FIFA to change the rules for subsequent tournaments so that the final two games in each group were played simultaneously.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 10

Austria vs Germany
0 - 1

Poland vs Croatia
0 - 1

Today's the day! The day we find out who's moving on from Group B, and it's still pretty much up for grabs. Croatia is definitely in, but no one is technically out yet, though Germany has the best chance of moving on. If they beat Austria, regardless of what happens in the other game, they'll be in. Austria needs to beat Germany, and for Croatia to beat Poland. Poland will need to beat Croatia and for Austria to beat Germany, and then some goal differential stuff to work out. Poland is definitely the long shot, here. Hopefully neither of these games end in a tie, because thinking about ties makes my head hurt.

If I had to guess, I would say that Croatia is going to beat Poland, and then it won't matter, anyway, because Germany will beat Austria. That is, if they decide to actually start playing something resembling soccer this time. And, actually, even if they don't, they would still probably win, since Austria is a team full of Thomas Vanek's who can't score to save their lives. Schweinsteiger will have to sit out due to the red card he got last game, but luckily, despite having a painful cyst on his foot a few days ago, German Derek Roy has been cleared to play tonight. It would really suck for the Germans to lose their only goal scorer so far this tournament. Also, it would mean I wouldn't be able to hear one of my favorite chants: Lu, Lu, Lu! Lukas Podolski!

The fan mile is going to be INSANE tonight, and I can't wait. Even though I do love Austria, and feel bad that they haven't won a game, my heart's pretty much made up it's mind on this one: Auf geht's Deutschland, schiess ein Tor! Schiess ein Tor! Schiess ein Tooo-ooo-ooor!

Update:
The crew.

Okay, I said the fan mile was going to be insane, and I was right. We all got there at around 5:30, over three hours before the start of the Germany/Austria game, and it was PACKED. Even the streets outside the various entrances were teeming with fans. Since we were all decked out in Germany gear, we got our share of heckling from the fans in red and white, but nothing really got started, mostly because we have no idea how to react to heckling in German so it was easier to just ignore it. Actually, we were all way more familiar with the Austrian chants, which created a bit of a problem, because we had to resist the urge to join in. They're just so damn catchy! There was a fair share of Germany fans chanting outside, too, so we got a chance to practice before we went in. We spent the time before the game hanging out in a park, playing cards and drinking way-too-expensive white wine spritzers. (Yes, I'm pretty sure Austria is the only country where it's perfectly acceptable to drink white wine spritzer at a sporting event. Even if you're a guy.) It became increasingly apparent that we weren't going to be able watch the game from the main section of the fan mile, where we'd watched all of the other games so far. Even if we were able to push our way into the crowd, which was almost impossible. We were pretty much guaranteed to not be able to see the screen. So we decided to go to the part of the fan mile that was almost always deserted, where it was still crowded, but not uncomfortably so.

Sadly, the game didn't really match the intensity of the atmosphere. Germany didn't play like shit again, but they didn't dominate the way everyone knew they could, either. Austria had a few close calls, but they continued the tradition of not really knowing where the net was. The Germans were having a bit of trouble, too, though. Their one goal was off of a Ballack free kick from just outside the penalty box, which arced around the Austrian wall and just out of the reach of the goalkeeper. It was a gorgeous shot that went in clean and untouched. At another point, a German player got in alone on the goaltender, only to have the play called, bogusly, offside. It would have almost certainly been a goal, and it was made possible by a neat little backwards kick by Lukas Podolski, who, by the way, is probably my favorite player in this tournament now.

Arguing with the ref: He really is the German Derek Roy.
[Getty Images]

He was all over the place in that game. He's a striker, which is the forward-iest of the forward positions, but there were a couple of times that he was all the way back in his own corner defending an Austrian attacker, and doing a pretty awesome job, too. I don't really know much about the responsibilities of the different positions, so I don't know if it's unusual for a striker to do that or not, but I was sure impressed. He also has this great, booming shot that's dangerous from pretty much anywhere on the field, and he can create plays as well as he can shoot. He's pretty cool to watch. That's why I'm terrified to read that he may not be available to play in Germany's quarterfinal game, due to some calf pain that was bothering him in the second half of the Austria game. (Geez, first a cyst on his foot, now pain in his calf? I really hope he's not the German Tim Connolly, too.) Werd besser, Lukas! Bitte!

Hands down the best part of the game, outside of the goal, which was more relieving than exciting, was when both the German and the Austrian coaches got kicked out of the game at the same time. No one really knows what happened, but they were arguing with one of the officials, and then they were both suddenly dismissed. It was pretty cool to see them very reluctantly leave their benches, and then shake hands in a show of bad-boy solidarity as they left the field.

So, that's it. Our first two quarterfinal matches are set: Croatia vs Turkey, and Germany vs Portugal. Damn, Germany, that's going to be tough. You better wake up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 9

Switzerland vs Portugal
2 - 1

Turkey vs Czech Republic
3 - 2

So, some genius decided it would be a good idea to have both daily games for the last round of the group stage playing at the same time, and I have no idea how this is going to work. Today it's pretty clear cut, since the Portugal/Switzerland game is inconsequential and the Czech/Turkey game is crucial to determining who moves on. But in the future, I can see it getting tricky for the TV stations to decide which game they should air, and I have no idea what the fan mile is going to do. I'm pretty burnt out on standing and watching games, and I need to conserve my energy for the Germany/Austria game tomorrow, so if I end up watching this game at all, it will probably be from the comfort of my dorm's common room. This may facilitate more instantaneous blogging, but I'll probably just fully give in to my laziness and write up a recap tomorrow morning, as usual. As for my rooting interest, I'm pretty apathetic. Right now I'm tentatively cheering for Turkey, but I feel this is a very wait-and-see-how-I-react-to-the-first-goal type of game. I'll keep you posted.

Update: So I ended up taking a break from football last night, and didn't watch either game. It's probably just as well, since I heard that Portugal/Switzerland was the game they televised, which doesn't really make sense, and I would have wanted to see the game that actually mattered. Instead, I hung out and played some charades, and learned some swear words from Alice's Czech roommate. It sounds like I missed some pretty exciting games, though. I'm totally astounded by the outcome of the Swiss game, and I'm curious to know if Portugal just played a bunch of their second-string players, or decided to let the host country at least win one game, or what. Because the Swiss really had no business winning that game. I'm happy for them, though.

The other game seemed like a real heartbreaker, and I sure could have put my newly-learned Czech swear words to use, as the Czechs gave up a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2. It was the first time the score has changed dramatically so far in this tournament, and I'm somewhat sorry I missed it. Actually, I'm surprised I couldn't hear the Turks celebrating from my dorm room. I'm sure they must have been excited.

Anyway, we now have our first 100% certain results: Portugal takes first place in Group A, and Turkey takes second place. Czech Republic and Switzerland, thanks for playing.

Happy Dad's Day!

So, last month we talked about moms, and now it's the dads' turn to get the old Desperation Hockey treatment for their contributions to their kids' sports lives. Since he's the best dad I know, I'll mainly be focusing on my dad, but doing so is my way of saying "Thank You" to all the dads out there today, and wishing them a great Father's Day!

As I may have mentioned before, both my parents were big into sports in school, and both went into sports-related professions (my mom teaches gym, and my dad is a sports physician), which means that, though you wouldn't know it from watching me throw, kick, or catch anything, sports is in my blood. It's somewhat of a latent gene, though, and I'm not just talking about my lack of coordination. For the better part of my young life I took a strictly participatory interest in sports, and spectatorship was only occasionally on my agenda. Mostly, those occasional times were because of my dad. While my mom was the one driving me to my soccer practices in the summer, and picking me up from my lacrosse games in the spring, my dad was usually the one who took me to see the Sabres, Bisons, or the Blizzard (man the Blizzard were cool) at various points during the year. But, while I usually enjoyed the games once I got there, I really only went because I wanted an excuse to eat hot dogs and ice cream. I remember one time we got to see a no-hitter at Dunn Tire park (or whatever the hell it was called then, it was a really long time ago), and it was while watching my dad be completely enthralled by the last tense minutes of that perfect game that I really realized for the first time that sports is more than just an excuse to eat junk food and visit with mascots. Still, it would be a long time before I totally caught on to the whole sport spectator thing, but it wasn't for lack of trying on my dad's part.

Eventually, obviously, I did become a huge hockey fan, which just happened to coincide with my dad's office buying and sharing season tickets in HSBC. They were perfect: lower bowl, fourteen rows up, right behind the visitors' bench, incredible view of everything on the ice. There was only one problem: there were four tickets, and five people in our family. It was fine, as long as I was away at school, when my parents and siblings could go without me, but as soon as I came home, I laid claim to one of those tickets, and fast, which meant that someone else was the odd man (or woman) out. In May of 2007, I got my first opportunity to go to a playoff game, specifically Game One of the Eastern Conference Final with Ottawa. Instead of drawing straws or having a round robin Rock Paper Scissors tournament, my dad graciously bowed out and let my mom take the kids. (It turned out to be his gain, since that game stunk, and was only the beginning of the can of suck the Sabres had opened.) Another time, when those four tickets had been allotted to someone else for the Ice Bowl, that guy decided to only use two of them, and offered the other two to someone else in the office. It was shortly before Christmas, and my dad immediately had his eye on the tickets as the perfect gift for my sister and me, who were both bummed when we failed to get tickets the good old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, my dad's partner at the practice was also interested in the tickets for his kids, though in a much more casual, half-hearted way. So desperate was my dad to get a hold of those tickets that he considered offering the guy money outright to buy tickets that he had technically already payed for, but he ultimately decided to trust in the coin toss. Of course he won, because, obviously, it was meant to be that Meghan and I would go to that game. And it was pretty much the best Christmas present ever. But my favorite story regarding my dad and those tickets was when one of his partners approached him about using the tickets to help the business: to court clients and potential new fellows and whatever. My dad resisted the urge to laugh in his face (I hope), and made it very clear that he had no interest in using those tickets for anything but having fun with his family. "Look, I have three kids who are all very interested in the Sabres, and we have a lot of fun going down to the games and enjoying ourselves. I'm not going to give that up," he quoted himself when he shared this story with me, and I perfectly understood. He'd spent a long time getting his children interested in attending live sporting events, going back to all of those nights at Marine Midland Arena (I never did get to go to the Aud) and whatever-it-was-called-then park, and now that he no longer had to lure us there with promises of nachos and Sabretooth, he wanted to enjoy it to the fullest. "Besides," he continued, "I want you to be there to see the look on my wife's face when I tell her she can't go to the games anymore."

So, here's to you, Dad! Even though you wouldn't let me follow my dream of playing hockey in high school (a good call on your part--I probably would have just embarrassed myself, anyway), I still love you to pieces for, among many other things, bringing me live hockey (repeatedly), and eventually making me love it. Thanks! Ich würde sagen, dass ich ein Bier für dich heute trinken werde, aber Bier (besonders österriechisches Bier) mag ich wirklich nicht, also stattdessen werde ich ein Glas Grüner Veltliner für dich heben. Prost!