Saturday, May 17, 2008

NHL Playoffs are Boring, Unavailable

My internet connection has been extra-finicky lately, and my schedule extra-packed, so my viewing time of these Conference Finals has totaled just about one-and-a-half periods of Game 1 of Detroit versus Dallas. Judging by some of the reactions of disinterested fans that I've been reading, I haven't been missing much. I came back from Krakow with the Final matchup more or less decided, both Detroit and Pittsburgh sitting on 3-0 leads over their opponents. Sure, both Dallas and Philadelphia have won a game since then, and there's still technically a chance they could pull their respective series out (if it has to be one of them, please please please let it be the Stars), but I find myself longing for first round, when there was still some semblance of parity at work. Don't get me wrong, I loved seeing the Pens sweep the Sens, but hard-fought, seven-game series are what the Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about, and with each passing game it's looking more and more like this year's Cup already has the Genetically Engineered Superhumans' names stamped on it. (Stars and/or Pens, feel free to prove me wrong.) So what's a Sabres fan overseas without any reliable internet streaming or captivating playoff hockey to do?

Luckily, Europe has the answer for me: UEFA Euro 2008

The summer of 2006, my first off-season as a hockey fan, I was saved from obsessively following contract moves and listening to the general belly-aching of the Buffalo fanbase (something I masochistically subjected myself to the following summer), in part by obsessivlt watching the World Cup in Germany instead. I'm one of the few Americans who actually admits to finding soccer an entertaining sport to watch, and the World Cup is as good as it gets. Second good as it gets, apparently, is the Euro Cup, which is being co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria this year, with some of the most important games, including the finals, happening right here in Vienna. I got a little taste of what the craziness is going to be like last weekend, when Krakow won the Polish-league title (which they apparently do without playoffs, how lame is that?), and hundreds of soccer fans poured into the streets, carefully supervised by hundreds of riot police in full gear. It was somewhat terrifying, but mostly exhilerating, hearing all of those people clapping and chanting in unison, spontaneously breaking out into Polish songs. So I've decided I'm going to take full advantage of being in the same city as the European soccer championships. What kind of sports fan would I be if I didn't? And what kind of sports blogger would I be if I didn't subject my readers to a sport and an event that they don't really care about? Well, you know me, I'm not going to pass up an opportunity to be a horrible blogger!

The purposefully garish countdown clock to your right says there are only 20 days left until the first game, so that means I have 20 days to beef up my knowledge of European soccer. Luckily the tournament website is built like an idiot's guide, so I'll be able to get to know the teams a little bit beforehand and prepare for the games. Stay tuned for a summary of my findings!

This is going to be fun!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pop Quiz

Find the twenty-year-old in this picture:

Sid may have thinner facial hair than some women I've seen,
but at least he doesn't look like he wants his mommy.
[Picture from]

This is why I love hockey photography. I haven't been able to watch a single second of this series, but I think that picture tells me all I need to know.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mom's Day!

You know, Dads get a lot of credit when it comes to cultivating their kid's sports consciousness, and rightly so; I distinctly remember going with my dad to Sabres, Bisons, and Blizzard (dude, remember the Blizzard?) games as a kid, tossing around a lacrosse ball or kicking around a soccer ball in the backyard. But those are stories for next month. Today I'd like to give the Moms of the world, and my mom in particular, their due for bringing an appreciation of sports to their kids.

As I've mentioned before, even though I was raised by two intense Buffalo sports fans, and thus always had an awareness of sports, I never really got turned on to hockey until the Sabres' 2005-2006 season. I didn't start getting hardcore until that playoff run, but in the spirit of full disclosure, the ball was set in motion well before that, and it was all my mom's doing. I was home one night during my winter break, lounging on the couch and not really paying attention while my parents watched a mid-season Sabres game. When the first intermission came around, my mom lit up and said, "You have to see this guy." The intermission show included an interview with a player on injured reserve who was saying something or other about the Sabres, sitting there looking sharp in a suit. It was Taylor Pyatt, and he looked good. He looked damn good. It's embarrassing to admit, but that was the first time I really looked at hockey and said "Huh. There might be something worthwhile to this sport after all." I watched the rest of the game with my parents. I don't remember who they played or if they won, but I do remember my dad telling me about a new young Sabre whose style and grit he liked--Paul Gaustad. After that, my mom knew my weakness. She kept needling me about Pyatt, using him as a reward to get me to keep watching hockey with her for the rest of my break. After I went back to school, of course, my dedication dropped off due to the distance, but with summer came the playoffs, when my mom finally got her wish and I fell in love with the Sabres.

And since she made me do it, I think it's only fair that she's around to help me deal with it, which she is. I've never known my mom to not be willing to talk about hockey. In fact, since I've been here in Europe, I don't think we've had a single conversation (mostly over AIM) that didn't center on the Sabres, at least as some point. First she would update me on the family: what my sister was up to in NYC, what new ways my brother had come up with to drive her nuts, how my dad was diligently working on his German. And then, inevitably, we would turn to talking about who looked like shit on defense last night, or why Pommerdoodle deserved the Lady Byng nomination, or how on earth my dad could be rooting for the Flyers. So, Mom, for getting me started on my hockey obsession, and then continuing to support me through it, I post these goodies on your erstwhile and current hockey crushes in your honor:

Rhett Warrener

Taylor Pyatt

Jason Pominville

Enjoy! And for all of the moms out there today, driving your kids to practice, picking up their equipment, making sure they're staying hydrated, and just generally being moms: Have a wonderful Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hockey Players are Cheap and Easy

The internet has a new toy!

Everyone's getting in on the fun of, which is home to not only more hockey stats than you could ever need, but also a kind of internet whorehouse where you can "sponsor" different players and use the ad space to enhance or deface their profiles as you see fit. Of course, anywhere you get to pimp your website and be silly at the same time is like a blogger's paradise, so the internets have been abuzz lately as everybody's been plunking down the (PayPal) dough and snatching up their favorite players.

Alas, Yo-Yo was already taken by the time I caught on to this whole trend. After I'd finished rending my clothing and tearing out my hair, I picked up the pieces of my broken heart and bought Marty instead. The reasons were fourfold: 1. I didn't want any Flyers fans getting to him first, 2. The tagline of my blog fits in well on the profile of a notorious chatterbox, 3. I realized during the Versus intermission piece on him that his accent has more Buffalo than Quebec, and that's just wicked, 4. I love him. Of course, then I felt bad about putting up $10 for a Flyer, even if it is Marty, and none for my boys in Blue and Gold, so I went and got Official Second Favorite Sabre Adam Mair as well. The reasons here were pretty much onefold: he kicks ass. All in all $20 well spent, I think.

Aside from the fun of the sponsorships, I'm absolutely fascinated by the broad scope of statistics available on that site, and regardless of the fact that I don't really understand stats, nor do I have any real use for them, I can see myself wasting a lot of time there. Hey, maybe I'll accidentally learn something while I'm at it!

By the way, while trying to learn more about this Felix Schutz character I'm bound to fall in love with someday (despite the fact that he looks astoundingly like a chubbier version of my cousin), I came across this tidbit in his Q & A session on
Jochen Hecht is German and he came over the first day of camp and said hi and said if I needed any help that I could ask him. Some of the younger guys helped me out too, but pretty much everyone was really great, a bunch of good guys.

I did keep in touch [with Hecht]. And there is another guy, [Phillipe] Gogulla, and we were hanging around and talking German at camp.
First of all, how cute is Yo-Yo, being all helpful and stuff? What a sweetie! But more importantly, I'm just going to say right now that if I ever hear Jochen Hecht speaking German, I may just faint dead away. Just saying.

By the Way

You're on a Sabres blog. Just in case the new giant Overlord Yo-Yo banner and color scheme changes are too subtle.

I'm going to Poland for a few days, and probably won't have any internet, but such is my renewed obsession with blogging that I've set a couple of posts to automatically update while I'm gone. I've never done this before, so if it somehow turns into a complete disaster, try to look the other way until Tuesday, when I come back and can fix it, okay? Also, don't be perplexed when I continue to ignore the existence of the playoffs, and don't be offended when I don't promptly answer your urgent cries for help in the comments. It's not that I don't love you (or the playoffs, or hockey, or blogging), it's just that I'm in Poland.

Friday, May 9, 2008

While I'm Here...

I don't know if you guys have noticed, but my taste for blogging has recently returned in quasi-full force! It's somewhat puzzling: are my usual prolific tendencies of the off-season hitting me a little bit early this year, or am I just trying to procrastinate on writing this German analysis of stage design in any way possible? Um, for the sake of the sanity of the people who pay for my education and also happen to read this blog, I'd rather not say. (Just kidding, Mom and Dad! That German stage design is so analyzed, it's not even funny.) In any case, I figured since I'm already here, babbling on about blogging, my personal ratings of the Sabres, and Germans I may someday grow to love, I may as well write something about, you know, what's actually happening in the NHL. This thing called the "Playoffs" has just reached a point called the "Conference Finals," and apparently it's some kind of big deal. Man, I feel so separated from the NHL these days, it's like there's an ocean between us, or something. Anyway, let's see what all the fuss is about! (A better blogger than I would have had this up before the games actually started. But I am not, in case you haven't noticed, a better blogger than I, so this will have to do.)

Western Conference Final
First things first, I have to admit that after the Devils succumbed to my bandwagon poison in the first round, the Stars sort of took over where they left off. As a Sabres fan from a Sabres fan family, and someone with pre-teen, PTSD-y memories of No Goal, I'm a little surprised to be rooting for the Stars, but what can I say? 1999 was a long time ago, and they've won me over with their spunky underdog ways. They so kindly got rid of the two teams I most wanted to see gone from the West in their first two rounds, which surprisingly few expected them to do. Unfortunately, I see a problem here. They're playing the Red Wings. Before last night I hadn't seen the Wings play a single game this season, but Detroit's reputation definitely precedes them. One look at their stats and standings for the season tells you that they're a well-oiled hockey machine, and maybe it's mostly the red unis, but I can't help but be reminded of the "Feeling of Futility and Impending DOOM" you're supposed to get looking at the Soviet team in the movie Miracle. In less historically problematic terms, they're the Genetically Engineered Superhuman High of the NHL, and I'm probably going to spend the rest of the series looking for the zipper in Nicklas Lidstrom's belly. So while my heart says Dallas, my head says Detroit. But either way, based on the half-game I saw last night, I think I'm going to enjoy this series, if I continue to be able to watch it. The Wings may not be as endearing as the Stars, but they are good at hockey. And I, despite what my Sabres fandom might say about me, enjoy good hockey. As long as Hasek remains on the bench, that is. Totally uneducated guess of a prediction: Hockey Robots in 6

Eastern Conference Final
Wow, this is weird, isn't it? I know it's kind of "Duh" to point out at this point so deep in the playoffs that the Sabres aren't in it, but I can't help but find it strange to think that there are only four teams left, and the Sabres aren't one of them. It's a little bit heartbreaking, actually. Anyway, a Sabres fan's rooting interests in the Battle of Pennsylvania are clear. (Not that I followed the rules for Sabres fans in the West, but the Stars are far less repulsive than the Flyers.) You may hate the Sidney hype machine, you may think Malkin is a slack-jawed idiot, and you may think "Flower" is the dumbest nickname a grown man has ever willingly endured, but none of that matters because they're playing the Flyers. If their blood lust and dedication to goonery don't make you puke, that shade of orange will. Fortunately for me, I happen to like the Penguins anyway. I adore Sid, and I can't think of a single player on the team whom I outright dislike. Plus, they seem to clearly be the better team in these playoffs. They easily swept the Senators (delightful!), dismissed the Rangers in five (double delightful!), and looked good doing it. Of course, the Sens were a mess and the Rangers were the Jagr Show (I think that pretty much says it all) so we'll have to see how they respond when they're actually challenged. The Flyers, on the other hand, had some trouble getting rid of the Caps, as their first round match-up went to seven games, but seemed to pick up some momentum when they won four straight games to send the Habs packing in five. (I guess. I mean, I didn't watch one second of that series.) And while I'm absolutely in the Pens' camp on this one, I've decided an upset wouldn't be the end of the world after all. Out of the "Three That Got Away" from the Sabres over the past calendar year, Danny Briere is the one I hate the least. (Basically at this point I only hate him because he's a Flyer--unlike Drury, whom I hate for reasons additional to his Rangerness, and Soupy, whom I don't hate for being a Shark [for now] at all. I just hate him for being.) I wouldn't rejoice if he won the Cup, but I probably wouldn't die either. Besides, the Flyers have Marty Biron, who's like this playoff's version of "In Case of Emergency, Break Glass." I've decided that should Philadelphia go on to the Finals, and should they win the Cup, my unconditional love of Marty will be enough to get me through it. Still, I'm going with my heart on this one. Totally uneducated guess of a prediction: Sidguins in 7

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The New Kids

Yesterday the Sabres increased their ranks of left-shooting German centers whose names easily lend themselves to lame puns by 100%. That Darcy, he knows just what I like.

Oh, and something about a kid named Gerbe, too. I guess he's going to be big. Except... small. He'll be big and small. Bigly small and smally big. If you know what I mean. (And what I mean is he's 5'5" and really good at hockey.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What a Difference a Season Makes

Yes, yes, I do realize that there is still actual hockey going on, but my access to the playoffs—due to my fickle internet connection and necessity for a somewhat stable sleep schedule—is becoming ever-more limited, so bear with me while I get a little prematurely nostalgic.

The other day I was cruising through some old posts, both on this blog and on some of my regular internet haunts, when something struck me: this Sabres season wasn't a total waste! Sure it was mostly frustratingly, heartbreakingly mediocre, and ultimately a disappointment, but that doesn’t mean it was completely worthless. You see, as much as we hockey fans are about devotion—to a sport, a team, a player—we’re also about changing our minds at a moment’s notice. We reserve the right to love a player one minute, and then think he’s a pile of puke the next, and vice versa. Sports fandom is as much about discovery as it is about dedication, and in a league where only one team can hoist the Cup in any given year it’s why the other 29 even bother playing the games. Maybe it’s just because I’m new at this whole hardcore fan thing, but I was stunned to find exactly how radically some of my opinions regarding certain players have changed, even over the course of this “worthless,” playoff-less season. Not to mention a season I only saw about a third of. So who are the major upgrades and downgrades in my affections? Let’s take a look:

#4 Nolan Pratt Pratters, I feel like we hardly know each other, and that saddens me. You came to a team already in progress, and I only had about two months’ worth of games with you before leaving the country. Toss in my indentured servantry to the Theater Department, and your frequent occupation of the pressbox keeping one or both of us from some games, and sometimes—I’m ashamed to admit it—I forget you even play for this team. Still, the general reaction to your play has been overwhelmingly positive, and you bring a much-needed tough defensive presence (not to mention the ability to grow facial hair) to this young and often irresponsible team, so I have no qualms about giving you a hearty thumbs-up! Let’s spend more time together next season, okay?

#5 Toni Lydman *Nananananananana Nananananananana Lydman!* This time last year I had no idea what Toni Lydman was about. Now, I still don’t have any idea what Toni Lydman is about, but I do know that I like it. Sure, it was a tough season for him, hockey-wise, as he and Tallinder struggled to maintain the quality of play that makes them our number one defensive pairing, but he’s just so delightful! He’s a self-deprecating, mom-hair-wearing, shot-blocking, drumming MONSTER! What’s not to love? That said, he better relearn how to kick ass on defense by next year, or else we’re putting him back in the cage.

#6 Jaroslav Spacek In terms of my fondness, Jaro is this season’s uncontested feel-good story. Last season I didn’t just want the Sabres to buy out his contract, I wanted them to abandon him in the dumpster behind HSBC Arena and leave him for dead. He and his $3 million contract were my very dictionary definition of worthless dead weight, by which all other worthless dead weights were measured. Well, to my surprise, he has not only risen from the ashes of my scorn, but he’s obliterated those ashes. There’s absolutely no soot on this guy anymore. It all started at the beginning of the season, when he started scoring on power play point shots, which are apparently his bread and butter. And then, even better, he started using the phrase “bread and butter” in his always-hilarious interviews. I sent him some apology cinnamon buns and that was the official death of my derision. As the season went on, he steadily became the more likeable and defenseman-like half of the Spacek/Campbell pairing, and by the time his January captaincy rolled around I was in full-on hockey love. Quite a miraculous turnaround for Spacho.

#9 Derek Roy During last year’s playoffs, Roy-Z was the only player I loved to complain about more than Spacek. He wasn’t just worthless dead weight; he was actively detrimental dead weight. But, unlike with Spacek, I actually recognized that Roy was just a good player going through a rough (okay, brutal) time. By the time his contract extension came through, I’d gotten enough bitching out of my system to admit that I was happy about it, and I was fully ready to continue my love-hate relationship with Derek for another six years. A lot of other people were way more down on the signing, however, and I distinctly remember Schopp and the Bulldog (back when I thought listening to WGR550 was a worthwhile pursuit) circulating the Buckyism that the Sabres, by not re-signing Drury and Briere, had forced themselves into criminally overpaying their young guys; they said the only way the contract would turn into a deal was if Roy suddenly turned into a point-per-game player, which they both derisively agreed was an improbability. Well. Here’s Roy-Z, sporting a team-leading 81 points in 78 games, and one of the best second-halves of a season in the NHL. Heh, what a punk.

#10 Henrik Tallinder There’s no way around the fact that Hank struggled this year. With a group of forwards who, outside of Hecht and Pominville, had only a vague familiarity with the term “responsible play,” not to mention Soupy systematically dismantling the blueline, we needed Hank to be great for us. And he and Lydman just… weren’t. I’m not saying I’m mad at him, I’m just disappointed. But I’m sure he’ll make it up to me next year. Still, that shootout goal against Brodeur was amazing, and Mr. Tall Indians is still the sexiest of our sexy defensive defensemen (based on both his sexiness and his defensive ability), so it’s not like it was all bad.

#12 Ales Kotalik Man, oh man, oh man. What am I going to do with you, Superfreak? You’re killing me! Is there any way we can just make you a designated shootout shooter? You’re like that kid in the Mighty Ducks whose only palatable hockey skill is his wicked hard shot, which has a 1 in 5 chance of hitting the net. Unfortunately, this is the real world, where “secret weapons” don’t exist, and no goaltender is going to jump out of the net to avoid getting hit by your shot. I’ve just about had it with you.

#19 Tim Connolly
You would think that after the non-season Timmy had last year, there’d be no place for him to go but up. But you’d be wrong. Maybe that’s mostly my fault, because after the co-captain exodus a lot of fans were looking to the return of a healthy Connolly to seamlessly pick up the slack, which was clearly a doomed endeavor. For a while it seemed to be working; his incredible hockey sense and patience with the puck, combined with his equal playability on the power play and penalty kill, had me going, “Briere who?” for a good portion of the beginning of the season. But then his groin started hurting, and then his oblique started hurting, and then his head started hurting, and then he fell down the stairs and shattered his skeleton into a million pieces like Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable, and then he got bone spurs, and then he… died? Seriously, has Darcy Regier discreetly flushed him down the toilet, hoping that we wouldn’t notice?

#20 Danny Paille Pie-Yay is still a bit of a non-entity to me, since apparently I only got to see him during his cold streaks, but I did hear about his curious cycles of disappearing, being benched, and then going on a scoring tear. Rinse and repeat. Sounds a bit problematic, but hey, as long as it results in 19 goals and 35 points from a guy whose existence I kept forgetting last year, I’m not going to complain.

#21 Drew Stafford You know it’s bad when even Connolly can be considered less of a disappointment than you. We fans weren’t fair to poor Staffy going into this season. The guy spent most of last season on the stretch of the 90 that runs between Buffalo and Rochester, and yet we were perfectly content to pin all of our hopes and dreams for the 2007-2008 Sabres on him. What can we say? We were hurting for a new Drury and Drew was out best bet. He never had a chance of pleasing us. Still, that’s no excuse for all but disappearing. The good news is, at least he has a future. While Timmy’s doomed to try to glue the remaining pieces of his skull back together and climb out of whatever sewer he’s been flushed to, Staffy can grow and learn and develop. He’s still young. And I’m confident he can turn it around. (It should also be noted that Staffy is way bad-ass-rockinger than Connolly will ever be. This much is beyond doubt.)

#22 Adam Mair I spent all of last summer retroactively discovering the awesomeness that is Adam Mair. With every new thing I remembered or learned—he’s an effective, not to mention hot, fighter; he works hard every single shift; he’s devoted to staying in Buffalo; he hates animal cruelty—I loved him more and more. As a result, there was really no way for him to rise in my esteem any more. And, since it’s mainly his stoic dependability I appreciate, I wouldn't have it any other way.

#26 Thomas Vanek Last season I was predisposed to like Vanek. He was born in Austria, where I knew I’d be headed within the year, and he played college hockey as a Golden Gopher at the University of Minnesota, right inside the very Twin Cities I’ve grown to love in my college days. Not to mention, he wasn’t a half-bad hockey player. Well, this season there was no “predisposed” about it. I unabashedly love this guy. My love should probably be tempered with more frustration with his play (or lack thereof), but it’s not. I know, I know, those who make the big bucks don’t get the luxury of excuses, especially not in Buffalo, but I don’t think anyone can accuse him of not trying hard enough, and that’s what matters most to me. As long as he’s not content to sit back under the shelter of his $52 million and let everyone else do the work, I think he’s going to be just fine. In any case, Vanek has found my soft spot, he’s moved in, he’s brought all his natural hat tricks, his one facial expression, and all the Weiner schnitzel you could want, and he’s not going anywhere.

#27 Teppo Numminen He only played one game, and I didn’t see it, but I love him more and more every day regardless.

#28 Paul Gaustad This was a big season for Goose. After his sophomore year was cut short (yeesh—no pun intended) by that grisly leg injury, he came in with something to prove. And, boy, did he ever. If there were any doubters, he’s now once-and-for-all secured his place as both Toughest Sabre—battling it out in front of the net and staying healthy for 82 games isn’t a walk in the park (to be fair, props to Vanek for the same), and Chris Neil isn’t going to just punch himself in the face—and Handsomest Sabre—I imagine those Green Team commercials were a welcome change from Veinsveinsveins and the Sweat Center, yes? A nomination for the Masterton Trophy and an invitation to the US World Championship Team came his way as a result of all his hard work. Perhaps more importantly, he’s now been officially canonized as Buffalo’s Working Class Hero. He’s like the new Chris Drury: this time with uncrossed eyes and a personality! What more could we want?

#29 Jason Pominville If Spacek was this year’s greatest redemption, Pommerdoodle was its greatest revelation. It’s not like he suddenly became awesome, he just suddenly got to show how awesome he’s always been while most people were too busy paying attention to Briere. A year ago I didn’t much think about him, except as the puckbunnies’ darling and my mom’s age-inappropriate crush. Of course he was on my radar as a player who would need to step up and fill the Great Void left after July 1st, but I never expected a season like this. Pommerdoodle was the picture of work ethic and sportsmanship, rocking consistently, but quietly, all season long. He showed a vast amount of versatility, playing on both special teams units, and adapting his game to account for all those assists that departed with Briere. We narrowly missed seeing him showing off his skills as a defenseman when we had exhausted all of our call-up options near the end of the season, and when Lindy gave him the C in March, he proved he could rock fairly effortlessly at that, too. How long before he pulls on the goalie pads or gets a coaching job? I know I’m beginning to sound like a kindergarten teacher with all the praise, here, but such is the intense enthusiasm Pommers’ season inspired in me. He was simply an absolute joy to have on my team. A+!

#30 Ryan Miller Poor, poor Crunchy. This time last year he was desperately trying to pile all of the Sabres onto his back and carry them single-handedly to the Finals. That was… heartbreaking, but awesome. This year he wasn’t quite so impressive, though it wasn’t all his fault. The general disaster area that was our defense for most of the year aside, our lack of a competent backup forced him into playing 76 games this year, and he’s no Marty Brodeur. Dude was down to mid-playoff weight a good two weeks before the end of the regular season! May I suggest we get a backup goalie we can confidently play before our number one guy completely disintegrates? Luckily for Crunchy, what he lost in hockey badassitude this season, he made up for in personality. Pre-season interviews saw Crunchy don his crankiest of cranky pants when talking about the ex-co-captains; mid-season he graced our TV screens in Amp commercials and Perry’s factory spots alike; he played the guitar and hosted a fashion show (sometimes both at once!); and now he’s writing a wonderfully charming playoff blog over at Maxim. Well played, indeed, Crunchy. If you can’t play like a superstar, at least distract us like a superstar.

#35 Jocelyn Thibault Things started out so well for T-Bone and me. For starters, he’s a cutie. And he seemed to know what he was doing. Well. I’m not sure what happened there. But I miss Marty Biron even more now.

#36 Patrick Kaleta Dude, I adore Patrick Kaleta. Not only do I have a soft spot for the hometown boys, but I also like to see an agitator who’s actually good at what he does. He’s compact, but he can hit, and it seems he might be developing some for-real hockey skills, too. Keep it up, kid!

#37 Mike Ryan Well, at least he didn’t put it in his own net this year. I think that alone deserves an

#38 Nathan Paetsch Last year I had a mostly inexplicable crush on Patches all season. It was born out of pity based on his sad draft history (originally drafted by the Caps in the second round in 2001, unsigned, and re-drafted by the Sabres in the seventh round in 2003), and tickled admiration based on anecdotes like Lindy strapping parachutes to his back, and Chara signing the dent in his helmet. Well, Patches, I’m cutting the apron strings. The time for cute/pathetic factoids getting you free passes to my affections has passed, and you’ve got to show me what you’re made of.

#44 Andrej Sekera This time last year I didn't even know this kid’s name, but now it seems everyone’s talking about him. He’s another one of those players I didn’t really get a feel for, because I seem to have missed out on his best games, but if word on the street is true—that he got better and better the more games he played at the big show—then sign me up. Something tells me we’re going to need all the defensive help we can get.

#45 Dmitri Kalinin It was another season of the same-old same-old for poor Tri. Everyone willfully looked the other way when he succeeded, and got out their best pointing fingers when he failed. As for me, I feel just as bad for him now as I did a year ago.

#55 Jochen Hecht *Happy sigh* There’s only one player who brought me more delight this season than Pommerdoodle, and that was Yo-Yo. A little less than a year ago, I finally gave in and admitted what had been true for a long time: Jochen Hecht is indeed my favorite player. He rewarded my declaration with pretty much the best season I could have asked for. He put my fretting mind to rest in the early going, extending his contract by four years quickly and cleanly, and then, against all common sense, started playing better once his future Sabre-ness had been secured. He and Pommers worked together to help each other through the absence of Briere, and though Yo-Yo continued his impossibly endearing habit of aiming for posts and goalie’s chest protectors, he was also finding the back of the net. In the midst of this season’s dank doldrums of mediocrity, Yo-Yo’s steady march toward his first 20-goal season was the light at the end of the tunnel for me. His 20th goal, in that awesome comeback game against Tampa, was the uncontested highlight of my season. But I wasn’t the only one who was noticing. He wore a letter in every month of this season, including the C twice, once as voted on by the players. And then it comes out that he’d been secretly playing, without a word of complaint, with an injured wrist since January. Man. My love knows no bounds, what can I say? It may have been a pretty sucky season to be a Sabres fan, but it was an awesome season to be a Hecht fan.

#56 Steve Bernier Big Bear, I don’t know you, you don’t know me, but I like the cut of your jib. You may not have made a big impression on me this season, but you’re big, you’re young, and you’re hella cute. I think you have a future ahead of you. Plus, anyone who helped us get rid of Soupy is a friend of mine.

#61 Maxim Afinogenov Oh, God. Max is both incredibly maddening and maddeningly incredible, and when he’s on he may just be the most entertaining player to watch in the entire NHL, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch him when he’s off. Especially when he’s coming off of a season where he was more incredible than maddening and seemed to have everything figured out. I have to admit, half of me is hoping he can find the magic again, the other half wants him to make himself at home in that dumpster I reserved for Spacek last year.

#76 Andrew Peters Poopers.

Well, looked at in this light, the season doesn't seem so painful after all! 15 upgrades, a couple of them some pretty delightful epiphanies, and only 7 downgrades, not including the most violent downturn, which I don’t have to worry about anymore. (Please stay in the WC, Soupy!) See what I mean about the season not being a waste? Sometimes it's fun being a hockey fan, even when it's not.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Late to the Party

But what else is new, eh? I may as well be posting this entry from the moon for how in the loop I am.

The playoffs are still going strong, but that's not what I came here to break my ever-more-frequent blogger silence for. The big story in the blogosphere this week is the official smack-down laid on internet writers of all shapes, sizes, and calibers on the Bob Costas show on HBO. (Bob Costas has a show on HBO? Who knew? Well, now the entire internet does. Well played, indeed, Bob.) Buzz Bissinger, famed sports writer, author of the book Friday Night Lights, and thereby the indirect creator of my newest TV obsession (so good!), endeavored to set a Guinness World Record for incredulous sputtering when matched up against Deadspin creator and one of the fancier pantsed bloggers Will Leitch for a little "discussion." And then some random football player was along for the ride. Many other bloggers have already beat me to it, and did a delightful job, but as someone who has been known to, and may again at some point, aspire to write for a living, I felt the need to weigh in.

The sports media takes itself way too seriously. I understand that sports writing enhances the experience of sports, and has been an essential part of the sports landscape for many, many years. I understand that these writers have worked hard to get to the point they have. I certainly understand that good writing is an art form to be appreciated and treasured. But credentialed journalists didn't invent good writing, and they won't be the last to discover it, so pretending to the throne of Ruler of All that is Good and Worthwhile in the Sphere of Writing is not only an insanity, but also, frankly, an insult to the craft they practice. Discrediting an entire group of writers based on a technicality--that their writing appears on a computer screen instead of in a newspaper, or that they share their space with a few bad eggs (to which I say, who doesn't?)--is ignorance, and the unmasked, intolerant vehemence with which Bissinger lashes out against anyone who dares take a different approach to writing about sports than the one he himself took is an embarrassment to his industry. And we're supposed to buy that bloggers are the only cruel ones? I've only been aware of the sports blogosphere for a little under a year, but I can tell you right now that you're bound to find more single-minded dedication to insult, humiliation, and cruelty in one Bucky Gleason column about Sabres management than in all the blogs I regularly read combined. (Unless those blogs happen to be posting about a Bucky Gleason column, and then all bets are off on the cruelty thing.) And yes, I'm sure there are corners of the sports blogging universe that fit Bissinger's description of stupidity and profane uselessness (it is the internet after all), but those are corners that I simply don't visit. And anyway what's wrong with doling out credit and blame where it's due? We fans may not be unbiased, and we don't pretend to be, but we are agenda-less; we're accountable only to ourselves and our readers, no bosses to please and no deadlines to meet. We get to write exactly what we want, nothing more, nothing less. What's so wrong about us publicly hashing out our opinions, thoughts and feelings about the game we love? Isn't that what sports is all about? Is it just because we decided to use a media (writing) that journalists thought was specifically reserved for them and them alone?

That's the real problem I'm having with this whole thing. I don't want to generalize journalists into a group, but in this clip Bissinger was certainly acting as though sports exists only for him, for the media. The games are only played so that journalists can write about them, and they can go down in the history books to be read about and admired later. I hate to break this to him, but that's not what sports is. At the end of the day, sports is an entertainment industry, and thus exists for the fans. It exists to give the people of one city, one region, one country something to cheer about, and suffer through. And just because we've suddenly found a more efficient method to cheer and suffer together--a method that that despicably doesn't include paper of any kind--doesn't mean we want to get you and your colleagues fired, Buzz. You professionals have your purpose. Leitch didn't argue that, and I won't either. I don't know anyone who would. You, by definition, have something we fans don't: access, an insider's perspective. And that's something that's had value to the sports media for a long time. But is it so bad that suddenly the fan's perspective is gaining value in the sports media, too? Is that really taking something away from you? Are you really so afraid of it that you're pulling out ludicrous parallels between what you do with sports and what Woodward and Bernstein did with Watergate, as though that's going to prove anything other than that you have a grandiose opinion of yourself? I mean, yeah, you're all about digging up the truth, but come on. The truth about Watergate was an issue of national scandal, and the "truth" about sports is an issue of who actually screwed up the contract negotiations. Watergate would classify under the "Things of Actual Importance" tag over at The Willful Caboose. (A tag, which, by the way, through its mere existence and seldom usage perfectly illustrates why I love that blog. Frivolity isn't necessarily the enemy of worth, as anybody who has read Katebits' writing can tell you.) Sports, as much as I love it, is not a thing of actual importance. That's not to say that the reporting of the truth in sports isn't valuable, but it's not the be all end all of the sports experience, and it shouldn't be. There should room for opinion and interpretation. There should be room for fans.

The reason Bissinger had such a hard time completing his final thought--some vague insult about Leitch not wanting the facts to inhibit him--is because, I guess, Bissinger has forgotten what it means to be a sports fan, since I trust he was one, at least at some point. It's not that facts inhibit us, its that they don't so much matter to us. If sports fandom were a pursuit of fact instead of a pursuit of passion, we'd all be Red Wings fans and we'd all own Crosby jerseys. Well, except that we would all be football fans and no one would even watch hockey. In short, there'd be no point in even being a fan if all that mattered were the facts. But people like Bissinger and Costas are too caught up in thinking of bloggers as the "new journalists," and all the threats that that label entails, to really recognize us for what we are: fans writing for the fans. We're not a replacement, we're a supplement. And yeah, sometimes we're unreasonable, and sometimes we say "fuck" too much, but I ask you, what's the point of being a sports fan if it's not an excuse to be unreasonable and say "fuck" too much?

All I have to say is that if talented sports journalists are really that threatened by the idea of the voice of the fan taking away their readership, maybe they should jump into the meritocracy themselves. Degree or no degree, you have to write something interesting if you want people to read, and if your readers prefer something written by some clown with no pants on living in his parents' basement, whose fault is that, really? Maybe instead of arguing you should adapt, before the only one left to hear your incredulous sputtering is you.