Friday, June 29, 2007

My First Hockey Love (Kinda Sorta)

I mentioned a few posts ago that I grew up a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates because of a family connection to the city. (I was born there and even though I was an infant when we moved to Birmingham, my parents both had family there so it was THE vacation destination of my childhood.) There was a point when I realized that I was cheering for the Pirates, who were very, very bad at the time - this was before the 4 year period between the 80s and the current 15 season losing streak when they were actually competitive - and ignoring the Penguins who were, at the time, developing into a very good team. So I started claiming to be a Penguins fan.

Now I wasn't REALLY a Penguins fan since we came back to the same old problem of not having much hockey coverage in Birmingham, Alabama, but I did watch a few games and my grandmother - God bless her - started throwing Penguins articles and tapes in with all the Pirates clippings she sent. From the beginning, I was drawn to Ron Francis. I don't know why it was him and not Mario or Jagr who were clearly The Stars of The Team although I've never been drawn to the marquee players so maybe that's part of the reason. And yes, the fact that I thought he was extremely handsome with his salt and pepper hair and his slightly askew nose probably also contributed. But I just liked him. He very quietly worked hard, accomplished a lot, and was cleary liked and respected by those around him. He was well-known for doing all kinds of charity work in the Pittsburgh area. He just seemed like a remarkably good guy which always wins points with me. In fact, the first hockey jersey I ever owned was a Ron Francis #10 that I bought with my very own money.

When I finally got to the point where I could honestly call myself a hockey fan, Ron was in Carolina and that early love for him had clearly stuck with me because I cheered really hard for him to win one final Stanley Cup. So congratulations to Ronnie for being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame today. (Technically it's Friday but in my head it's still Thursday, okay?) I've been fretting for weeks that he was going to be the odd man out since it was a year loaded with worthy nominees so I'm more than relieved about this. Since everyone else's coverage involves a picture of Mark Messier - even now you're being underappreciated, man! - I'll illustrate this post with an image of the dashing Ron.

(Do you know it was impossible to find a picture of Ron Francis with the Stanley Cup? You have failed me for the last time, interwebs!)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why I Love Hockey Part 8: Because Most People Don't

Why I Love Hockey #8 - Because Most People Don't
That's right, I may go on and on about how I wish everyone loved hockey and how I wish you could find, watch, and play hockey all over the U.S. but I don't mean it. I don't mean any of it. One of my very favorite things about hockey is the beat-down, underdog feeling about the sport. I love that most people look right over it. I love that even sportswriters try to pretend like they're totally above watching it. I love that those of us who have discovered hockey hold a tiny, unappreciated gem in our hands. I love that when you meet a hockey fan you automatically know that person can't be all bad. I love that there are stretches of the country where hockey is practically a foreign word but little pockets of the country where people live, eat, and breathe it. If I'd stayed in Birmingham, I know there's a very good chance that I'd still be living a non-hockey existence and knowing what I know now, that would be a pretty big bummer. But I love the contrast between Birmingham and Buffalo where there's a buzz in the air on game day, there's a pall over the city after a loss, there are kids in the streets with nets and sticks and oversized jerseys, people waving at fellow fans and honking and yelling, "Let's go Buff-a-lo!" It's something that makes Buffalo special and that wouldn't be the case if love of hockey was a universal thing. I love that being a hockey fan feels like being in on one of the biggest, bestest secrets in the world and for all the complaints about Versus and ESPN and people talking hockey down, I know if everyone loved it, I'd love it a little bit less.

Something About Me #7 and #8
I forgot this on the last post so today you get two exciting facts about me! Don't worry, I'll keep them short.

I'm a huge U2 fan. I love them. I adore them. I want to hang out with them and talk to them all day. I love that the band has always consisted of the same four guys. I love that they seem like they really like playing together. I love that they seem smart and interesting in addition to being really talented. I love the way they mix the secular with the sacred. Usually I say Edge is my favorite, but I have a soft spot for Larry. I'm going to stop here because seriously, I could talk about U2 for a very long time.

I hate cell phones. I don't own one, I don't ever plan on owning one. I barely answer our home phone and when I do, I end the conversation as quickly as possible. I'm just not a phone person. If I have to call someone and it's a call I can make without actually talking to anyone, I'll purposely call when I think no one will be home and leave a message on the machine. Mostly I hate how rude people are with their phones. If you ever find yourself in line to buy groceries from me, please for the love of all that is good and right in this world, hang up your phone. And if you don't - if all you can be bothered to do is grunt at me while you carry on your oh so important call about the new shoes you just bought - don't you dare complain to me about anything later. I'm not the one who wasn't paying attention.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I Still Hate the Off-Season - But I Still Love Hockey

I made it through this much of the off-season in good spirits but I crashed pretty hard this weekend. I was just cranky with pretty much everyone - Darcy for allegedly not making a firm offer to Chris or Danny yet, Chris for allegedly looking toward the west coast after being so important here for so long, fans for complaining about things that haven't actually happened yet and acting like Buffalo's entire worth is wrapped up in whether or not two hockey players are re-signed or not. The only person who really escaped my wrath was Danny because unlike everyone else, he's not holding his cards too close to his chest. He's said from the beginning that he and his family love Buffalo and want to stay here and he hasn't back off that yet.

It's ridiculous because this is, of course, all based on rumor and much of it involving two pretty tight-lipped individuals in Darcy Regier and Chris Drury. I doubt either guy is wandering around town, telling everyone who will listen exactly what he's thinking and feeling. But I just thought something - SOMETHING - would done by now. My husband has two thoughts on the lack of progress. One, the Sabres have decided Thomas Vanek is the priorty and they're waiting to see how much they're going to have to put into him and two, the Sabres have already decided that neither captain is a part of the plan for the future. The first one is possible - I agree that Vanek and Miller should be the nucleus of the team for the next few years. The second one is also possible - it's true that both Chris and Danny are going to be very expensive and I don't know if either guy, Drury in particular is a seven million dollar player. The front office has made no bones about the fact that they don't plan on spending to the cap again and it's probably not smart to pour so much money into two players, especially over the amount of years Danny and Chris allegedly both want. Miller is going to be a UFA in a couple of years and you don't want your hands to be tied financially when that happens. Intellectually, logically it all makes sense.

But... I don't like it! I know sports are a business. I do. But every time I start to think I've finally come to terms with the unlikeliness that I'll ever see one guy play his entire career in Buffalo, I find myself getting sad all over again about someone leaving or even potentially leaving. Being a fan is much harder than it should be sometimes, you know? After such a magical couple of years when the team and the fans seemed to live and breathe together as one, it's tough to switch back into business mode. It's tough to remember that the front office has to think about the long-term as well as the short-term and that sometimes they have to see players as numbers and dollar signs. It's tough to remember that the players really aren't as emotionally attached to us as we are to them. They don't love us in the same way, with the same fervor. We feel like we get to know them as individuals and to them we're really one big nameless, faceless mob of people. It's depressing.

So I spent the weekend in the doldrums. Ridiculous but there it is. Atleast it did lead me to Why I Love Hockey #7 - There's Always Somebody Else
It's true. As hard as it is to watch players go, atleast there are always new ones coming. And sometimes you realize there are other great players on your team already. My first real hockey heartbreak was when Jay McKee left Buffalo last off-season. I was devastated. He was my first favorite hockey player and he'd been a Sabre as long as I'd been a Sabres fan. I was a brand new fan back when he was a baby-faced youngster and we'd grown-up together. I was sure I would never recover. But when I finally bid Jay adieu and looked at the Sabres team in front of me I realized that you know, I'd always enjoyed watching Henrik Tallinder glide up the ice and man, he was so great in the playoffs. He has to be one of the most underrated d-men in the NHL. And just like that I had a new favorite Sabre and I was devoted enough to earn a silly but endearing nickname - Tally-Ho. (Thanks to the commenters over at Interchangeable Parts!) Even my husband, the guy with the mancrushes of all mancrushes on Chris Drury, has started pondering whose jersey he'll buy if Chris leaves. (He started with Miller but seems to be leaning more towards Stafford now.) I suppose some would call this defeatist or pessismistic, maybe even wishy-washy but I prefer to think of it as hopeful. In a world where guys sometimes change jerseys every few years, I need to know that there will always be another favorite Sabre out there for me.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I Hate The Off-Season (e5)

I wish there was a way to delete from the Internet because even though I can't stand it - so far we've learned that Briere is either staying in Buffalo or going somewhere else and the Sabres are either keeping both captains, keeping one captain, or letting both captains go - I cannot stop looking at it. Darcy Regier has always been a pretty tight-lipped GM so I guess I'm just looking for talk from somewhere about the players I'm concerned about. These rumors are maddening though and quite frankly, at this point I'd almost be glad to hear Chris and Danny are both going elsewhere just so Buffalo can start moaning and groaning about something else. My husband and I have really enjoyed the code Eklund uses for his rumors however and have taken to using it ourselves. "I'm going to Thursday At the Square after work - that's an e5. I should be home by 11 but that's only an e2." My apologies if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

More later. My internet service is down again - I'm not impressed Time-Warner - so I'm writing this at the library and my time is just about up.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Why I Love Hockey - Parts 5 and 6

Well, I got through four whole days of the "post every day" plan before falling down on the job. Honestly, that was way better than I expected so go me. Since I actually have time to write today - I don't have to go to work anywhere! - I'll bless you with a double post.

Why I Love Hockey #5 - Brian Campbell
I'll admit I was first drawn to Brian Campbell for a ridiculous reason - he's a red-head. But over the past few years I've found more defensible reasons to love Brian Campbell although most of them still don't really have much to do with hockey. Don't get me wrong - I do enjoy watching him play. He's quick and creative and there are times I actually mistake him for Maxim Afinogenov of all people before realizing what I thought was a 61 is actually a 51. It's been fun watching him really begin to put things together over the past couple of seaons, just as fans in Buffalo - and probably more than a few people within the organization - were beginning to think he was never going to stick at the NHL level.

But that's all secondary. I really just like Brian Campbell the person. In a league full of humble, down-to-earth guys, Brian still manages to stick out as particularly down-to-earth. I love watching him interviewed because he's very laid-back and really funny. And not funny in the desperate, trying-too-hard, overly prepared kind of way that many pro athletes are - just easily and naturally funny. I love watching him play because he looks like he's having so much fun. I adore Chris Drury and I hope he stays in Buffalo but he's so somber all the time. While it's a little unfair because I know that's just Drury's personality, he often looks like he's working in a coal mine instead of getting paid millions of dollars to play a game. Atleast once a game there's a shot of Brian on the ice or the bench with a huge "I can't believe I'm getting PAID for this" grin on his face. A fantasic, ear-to-ear, face splitting grin. I was thrilled when he made the All-Star game because there was no doubt in my mind that a) he really never did think that he'd be an All-Star starter unlike some guys who say that but don't mean it and b) he would have a blast. Miller, Vanek, Tallinder, and Lydman are on my "Cannot be traded because they're too important" list. Brian is on my "Cannot be traded because I'd miss him too darn much" list.

Something About Me #5
These are really supposed to be non-hockey related but in light of the "I picked Brian Campbell because he was a red-head" confession I'll also admit that when I first started watching the Sabres I decided Jay McKee was my favorite player because he was the same age as me. (He probably still is.) And while that is equally ridiculous as falling in love with someone's hair, it also stuck because as I watched him, I fell in love with Jay. He was absolutely fearless on the ice and I have a lot of admiration for the way he managed to make himself valuabe in the post-lockout season that didn't exactly favor his skills. I can't argue against Buffalo letting him go - he's definitely getting overpaid in St. Louis and between his style of play and his injury history he's due to start breaking down any day now (if he hasn't already) - but I was bummed for days after he officially signed with the Blues and okay, I might've cried one of those days.

Why I Love Hockey #6 -Community
I grew up in - all together now! - Alabama and one of the bad things about that was the total lack of pro sports. The closest Birmingham came to that atmosphere was college football and even that wasn't quite the same. While it was totally crazy - I can't even explain SEC football to people who haven't lived through it - the city was split between Auburn and Alabama and people didn't exactly bond over it. It could pretty ugly actually.

Atlanta was the closest city with big teams and it was close enough that we got there for Braves games every year or so but time and financial constraints made it hard to do that more often. As I've already stated, I was a Pirates fan as a girl and I did my best to follow the team but it was tough from so far away - this was before the days of team and league websites and MLB.TV - and no one else in my neck of the woods loved the same team. Part of me loved being the lone dissenter in a land full of sheep-like Braves fans, but it stunk to get all my Pirates news weeks later when my grandmother had cut out enough articles from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to fill an envelope.

So Buffalo was the first city I've ever lived in with a pro sports team and when we moved I was just starting to get into hockey some so I was kind of excited. I touched on this at the end of the season but hockey has been an amazing community thing here in Buffalo over the past couple of years. I know there's a bit of a lightning in the bottle aspect to it where certain things have met up at just the right time - a talented, likable, hard-working team in a blue collar city that came awfully close to watching its franchise move somewhere else. I know some of the excitement will fade when current players leave and the team isn't quite so successful. I know I need to embrace Buffalo's love affair with the Sabres right now while it's happening because it probably won't be quite like it is now forever.

All that said, man, it's freakin' awesome in this city right now. I wrote not that long ago about how unifying hockey has been in Buffalo so I don't want to repeat myself too much. But I will say, for that kid who would've killed to debate where exactly Andy Van Slyke ranked as a defensive outfielder with someone, it was very cool to be able to talk about the previous night's game with absolutely anyone - students, co-workers, bus drivers, fellow commuters, cashiers, and neighbors. The Sabres helped me fall in love with hockey but maybe more importantly, they helped me fall in love with Buffalo to the point where it's tough to imagine living anywhere else. Now that I've felt the buzz in the air of a great sports team, I don't think I could leave it behind.

Something About Me #6
Since it's Father's Day, I've been thinking a lot about my mom. My dad died very suddenly when I was four and because I was so young, he's only a vague memory at the outskirts of my life. What I remember is almost all Mom.

My mother never really got the whole sports thing. She's not athletically inclined herself and I'm not sure she ever really understood the appeal for me, but that didn't stop her from making an effort. I'll never forget the day she decided she was going to throw me some batting practice. I was around ten and we went to the old softball field at our church. It didn't take very long for us to realize this was a terrible idea. I was practically in tears because I just wanted to hit the ball and she was SO bad and SO far from the plate that I couldn't even get the bat on the ball by taking a couple of steps. I did not understand what was so hard about getting the ball near the plate! She was practically in tears because I was so upset and she was trying so hard. And I think we were probably both thinking about how my dad really should've been there with me which only made things worse. But looking back now, even though the day was a near disaster, saved only by Mr. Bailey seeing us and relieving Mom on the mound, I know the important thing was that she was trying awfully hard to do something she had no interest in because she knew it was important to me and she was sorry there wasn't anyone around to do those kinds of things with me. That's my mom. She was pretty awesome then and she still is. Happy Father's Day, Mom!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why I Love Hockey - Part 4

But first! How lame is the NHL Awards show? Even if you put aside all the scheduling mix-ups, the show is just not good. Every year I get excited about this and every year I zone out fifteen minutes into the show. Last night I watched the red carpet stuff and the presentations of the Pearson and the Selke and then I left the room, got on the computer, and listened to the rest of the show from down the hall. I applaud the NHL for trying to do something different and special with their year end awards but lame jokes and a band no one's ever heard of isn't the way to go. It didn't help that almost no one I wanted to win won. I was pulling for Niedermayer for the Norris, Luongo for the Vezina, and Pahlsson for the Selke and I came up empty. I can't really argue with anyone who did win except for Rod Brind'Amour who was just a terrible choice for the Selke - the least deserving of the three nominees and probably less deserving than some of the other guys in the top ten. Like say maybe Chris Drury.

Why I Love Hockey #4 - Incredible Athleticism
I was a pretty good athlete in my day - and I can still hold my own, thank you very much - and I'm absolutely amazed at the level of athleticism involved in hockey. As much as I love baseball, I can admit that you don't have to be a great athlete to be a good hitter or a good fielder. You just have to be really strong at a certain skill. John Kruk famously said, "I'm not an athlete, lady, I'm a baseball player." Successful hockey players have an unbelievable combination of skills - speed, quickness, flexibility, strength, hand-eye coordination, hand-foot coordination, vision, and balance. And then they need to be able to flip all those skills on in a split second because the game moves so fast. The thing that amazes me most about Maxim Afinogenov is not that he's so fast (though geez louise, the boy is FAST), it's that he can be going full steam ahead and then come to a full stop to make a play or cut in another direction. Andrew Peters get slagged on by Buffalo fans for being the least skilled player on the Sabres, but I would bet a decent amount of money that he's a better athlete than half of the guys in the Major Leagues or the NFL. There are so many games in a season that it's pretty easy to start taking what these guys do every night for granted but we really are watching world class athletes do things most people couldn't dream of doing. Amazing.

Something About Me #4
I have three brothers. My two older brothers are 10 and 11 years older than me, my younger brother is 2 years younger. Despite the fact that everyone automatically assumes this is why I was such a tomboy as a kid, I was the most serious athlete in the family. I played basketball through part of high school but fastpitch softball was really my sport. I played at school and on a travel team in the summers. I probably could've played in college, atleast at some level, but I was burned out by the time I got through high school. Softball was still definitely one of the best parts of my youth though.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ruff + Regier 4-Ever/Why I Love Hockey Pt. 3

Finally some official news came down from the Sabres today with the announcement that general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff have both come to agreements with the team, Regier for two more years, Ruff for three more years with an option for a fourth year. Both men received raises and while no specific salaries were mentioned, according to Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn, Regier and Ruff both accepted less money than they likely would've gotten on the open market. Not much to add to the announcement except a big "Yahoo!" I really feel like Regier and Ruff are the best GM/head coach combo in the NHL and they've survived some crazy stuff in Buffalo including a bankruptcy that left the location and survival of the franchise in doubt for a while. Both guys have done a lot to build and grow an exciting, competitive, still young team and I'm glad they want to stick around for a few more years and see things through.

The press conference was also the first real word from the powers that be about the season (good!), the postseason (bad!), and plans moving forward. Ninety-three percent of the questions asked were about negotiatons with Chris Drury and Danny Briere and four of the remaining seven percent were about something else on the surface but really about negotiations with Chris Drury and Danny Briere. ("Can you talk to us about the team's policy about negotiating during the season? Because it really bit you in the ass with Drury and Briere, don't you think?") I was fine with most of the answers - we struggled defensively in the postseason, we're in talks with the captains, we haven't eliminated the idea of a special teams coach, we'll see what Paetsch does at training camp. Lindy did say he thinks most of our defensive problems can be addressed from within which has some people up in arms but I'm not really convinced that means management has decided not to look at bringing in outside help if they can find someone that fits. I mean, what's Lindy going to say? "Our defense really crapped out! We're definitely looking to replace a couple of these suckers :::coughkalinincough::: so Ryan doesn't have to carry our asses next season." I don't think so.

The only thing that did worry me a little bit was this response from Regier to a question about whether the team had talked to Vanek or his agent at all yet: No, I'm not a believer in operating out of fear. I've seen it take place in this business, where you have to absolutely have somebody and you pay for it. You pay for it because of some rumor. The reality is (that) there's a market value. He's a very good player. He's a very important player. There's a market value and you have to stay the course. You have to be looking at things on a longer term - not just on a short-term reaction. The other part is that I think we'll be fine with Thomas at the end of the day, I believe.

I don't know, fellas. Granted I've only been following the off-season stuff for a few years, but I've never heard so many rumors about a player potentially getting offer sheets from other teams. I'm glad we're confident that Thomas wants to be here, but why risk letting another team set his price when you have the chance to do it yourself? We all agree that he's an amazing young talent and should be a cornerstone of the team for the next few years... So sign him now! Why put yourself in a situation where you have to match a four million dollar offer when you might be able to get him to agree to less than that? I hope they're confident in the idea that the offer sheets are just rumors because if we end up dumping Vanek for a bunch of draft picks, I'm marching down to the HSBC offices and knocking some heads together. I want to be watching this kid in blue and gold for a few more years atleast. I'm not REALLY worried because I do see us matching any offer that does come down but still... In this case, I don't really like the wait and see attitude.

Why I Love Hockey #3 - The Postseason/The Stanley Cup
Ah, the NHL playoffs. No other sport's playoffs come close to touching the NHL's. We get four rounds of skilled, physical, intense competition. I love the way the playoffs are like a whole new season, the slate wiped clean. I love the 8th seed that had to scrap its way into the playoffs upsetting the 1st seed that coasted through the regular season. I love the way guys like Chris Drury get that extra shine in their eyes and that extra grit in their teeth. I love the extra effort guys seem to put out - the pounding hits, the hustling after loose pucks, the diving in front of shots. The last team standing at the end of the NHL playoffs absolutely deserves the title of champions. Even the Hurricanes. And the Stars. Okay, maybe just the Hurricanes. (I kid! Kind of!)

And then the winner is presented with the Stanley Cup, the greatest trophy in sports. I love that it's given directly to the captain and not the owner or the GM. They're important but in the end, it's all about the guys on the ice and I love that the NHL gets that. I love that every member of the team gets his moment with the Cup on the ice and during the off-season. And I love that the trophy is so rich with history and tradition that every player in the NHL has dreamt about what he's going to do with the Cup when he gets it whether it's drinking beer out of it with his childhood buddies or eating cereal or popcorn out of it with his wife and kids. Even when it's not my team doing the celebrating (hopefully that day will come very, very soon) I can't help but get a little teary-eyed and sentimental watching all those grown men skating around willy nilly looking for someone to hug, laughing and screaming and dog-piling in the middle of the ice. For a moment, they're all little boys again. Totally awesome and the best ending in sports.

Something About Me #3
If I had to watch one movie on an endless loop for the rest of my life it would probably be The Great Escape. But if I had to watch one scene from one movie on an endless loop for the rest of my life it would probably be the "Moses Supposes" number from Singin' in the Rain.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why I Love Hockey - Part 2

Didn't think I was going to make it today, did you? Well, I have 24 minutes left in Wednesday so there!

Why I Love Hockey #2 - Rick Jeanneret
I grew up in Alabama - I'm really not going to mention that every single post, I promise - before the NHL was really in the south so when I moved to Buffalo after marrying my Buffalo boy, I had zero hockey knowledge. While I did love the scrappy little team we had at the time, I absolutely believe that part of the reason I fell in love with hockey is because of the incomparable Rick Jeanneret. He's very old-school in how much play-by-play he does, but I've never heard anyone else build drama and capture the emotion of a game the way he does. Listening to him and Jim Lorenz, I picked up the nuances of the sport - the way many goals develop long before the puck is shot, what part each player plays on the ice, how a guy who didn't show up on the scoresheet can be the most important guy in a game. I got lucky. If I watched my first NHL game on Versus, I'm not sure the love affair would've happened so fast because I swear, half the time those guys sound like they're not even watching the game in front of them. Jeanneret is excitable, enthusiastic, and extremely colorful. He has famous calls of big goals - "May Day! May Day! May Day!" and "Now do you believe? Now do you believe? These guys are good! Scaaary good!" just to cite a couple - but he can also turn a pretty plain goal in the middle of the regular season into a great call. My favorites this season - both involving Paul "Goose" Gaustad - were "The Goose is really honking now!" and "If you're out and about, give a honk for the Goose!" Does he get more excited about Sabres' goals than opponents' goals? Well, duh. He's the Sabres announcer! But I don't buy the argument that Jeanneret and Lorenz are homers. They will absolutely point out when the opposition is outplaying Buffalo and they will absolutely call the Sabres out when they're lacking. I clearly recall Lorenz using many colorful adjectives to describe our powerplay throughout the season - terrible, horrible, and atrocious being among them. There have been a few nights lately when Rick has gotten a little off-track and I'm sure retirement is coming soon... But hockey in Buffalo - heck, hockey as a whole - just won't be the same without him.

Something About Me #2
I'm a classroom aide at a day treatment program for emotionally disturbed kids. I work with 6th graders. Despite my complaints about it and numerous threats to leave, I've been there for five years now and don't really have any plans to go anywhere else. It is, as they say, tough but rewarding and I adore my tough, sad, funny, heart-broken, hopeful kids, most of whom have already been through hell. My second job - yes, I am a fool - is cashiering at a local supermarket where my shining moment was - here's where it all ties together, folks! - cashing out Jim Lorenz. Unfortunately, it was the express lane and by the time I decided I was going to say something to him, the transaction was completed so all I got out was, "Have a good night, Mr. Lorenz." But he was very pleasant and friendly and that made me happy. He bought asparagus and celery and now every time I see him on TV, I think of asparagus.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why I Love Hockey - The First in an Ongoing Series

I'm going to steal a page from the Interchangeable Parts book (thanks, Pookie and Schnookie) and pass the off-season by sharing some reasons why I love hockey. The IBP girls are aiming for 118 reasons in honor of the section their Devils tickets were in but that would require me to provide you with 323 reasons. While there probably are 323 reason to love hockey, I'm not sure I can squeeze them all in in the next couple of months. In addition to the exciting reasons I love hockey, I'm going to add one non-hockey fact about me that you probably don't know. I'm going to aim for one post a day, but I'm too lazy to count how many days there are between now and the beginning of the season so here's the first in an unspecified number of posts.

Reasons I Love Hockey #1 - Speed
I was a baseball girl growing up and baseball is, as most people know, pretty darn slow. I don't have anything against that - I love the lazy, monotonous rhythm of baseball. It's part of the beauty of the game, and people who refuse to watch baseball because of the slowness of the sport just don't get it. (Note to football fans: Your game is every bit as slow and boring as baseball. Yeah, it is.) But because I grew up watching baseball, the speed of hockey was completely mind-boggling to me at first and honestly, it still is. A baseball player can stand in right field all afternoon and never touch the ball. A hockey player is guaranteed he'll have to deal with the puck - or a large man with the puck - all day. A baseball player can stand in the outfield and think about what he's going to eat after the game. A hockey player had better be ready to go the second he steps on the ice because the game sure as heck isn't going to slow down for him. Hockey at its best is constant motion, back and forth, up and down the ice, defense to offense at a moment's notice. One team can be dominating and a few seconds later the puck is in the back of their net. The lead can change and the momentum can shift without warning. It is, in a word, awesome

Something About Me #1
When I was a kid I was a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was born in Pittsburgh and even though I was just a wee babe when we moved, I've always had a sentimental attachment to the city - a fabulous city, by the way. That made me a bit of an outcast in Birmingham which was mostly Braves country, especially in the early 90's when the Pirates and Braves met in the NLCS, but I didn't care primarily because I never met anyone who claimed to be a Braves fan until they were the best team in the National League. (To this day, that era of Braves fans is the worst bunch of bandwagon jumpers I've ever seen.) I thought Barry Bonds was a jerk even back then which put me way ahead of schedule and I adored - adored - Andy Van Slyke. Even now I'll watch a few innings of the Tigers when they're on TV just to catch glimpses of Andy coaching first base.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wait, the Season is Over? Are We Sure?

Congratulaions to the Stanley Cup Champion Ducks. I try not to be overly vindictive and I don't despise the Senators the way many in Buffalo seem to... but it was kind of fun watching them roll over in the finals, wasn't it? And for all the hate thrown at him, I'd much rather see Chris Pronger with the Cup than Chris Neil or Ray Emery. Punk or not, he's one of the best defensemen in the NHL and he certainly earned his championship on the ice.

The Stanley Cup presentation is the only sports championship that makes me cry every single year, even when it's not my team winning. (Last year is excluded because I didn't watch it. It wasn't really an anti-Carolina thing so much as last season was just really heart-breaking. I didn't watch much of the Finals at all.) First, there's the Cup itself, the greatest trophy in sports. Then there's the Cup going right to the players instead of the owner or GM. Seriously, Jim Irsay is a great owner (I guess) but did anyone really want to see him with the Super Bowl trophy? No. No, they wanted to see Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison toting it around. Every player gets his time with the Cup, his little moment in the spotlight, skating around and hoisting that sucker over his head just like a little boy. This year there were three things in particular about the celebration that got me:

I adore all three of my brothers (usually) so I'm a total sucker for Scott taking less money to play with his little brother Rob. I love that when Rob finally, finally got to touch the Cup - he flatly refused to do so every time Scott won it with the Devils - it was handed to him by his big bro. (Sidenote: Everyone and their grandmother has mentioned it at this point, but kudos to Scott for one of the all-time great playoff beards. If I'm his wife, I'm shaving that sucker off and putting it in a scrapbook somewhere.)

I was already soft on Teemu Selanne because of the whole "I'm going to keep a childhood promise to 16 friends and fly them in to Anaheim and cover all their expenses" story. And of course there was the fact that he was this year's chosen beloved veteran who's never won a championship. But then he started getting choked up before he even touched the Cup. And then he took the Cup from Pronger and the tears started flowing more freely. And then one of his little guys leapt off the bench into his arms. And then he hugged his wife and completely fell apart, blubbering like a baby. I really can't recall athletes in other sports getting as visibly choked up about winning as hockey players often do and I love it.

But this... this made me lose it. Aftter seeing this I was as gone as Teemu.

Even now, just looking at this photo makes me a little emotional. I'm really surprised Giguere's story didn't get more attention during the Finals - I mean, how many times did they remind us during game 3 that Chris Neil was a new father? - but even without the constant reminders that his son Maxime has been through so much in his very, very young life already, seeing J.S. skate that little guy around the ice hit me square in the heart. And how beautiful is that photograph with the confetti raining down and the cast-off helemt? Gorgeous.

In closing, can we end the whole "Ugh, I can't believe the Stanley Cup is in CALIFORNIA" stuff already? Is Anaheim as a region going bonkers about the Ducks winning the way Ottawa or Edmonton or Buffalo might had their teams won? Hardly. But that doesn't mean the players are any less deserving and it doesn't mean the fans who were in the building or watching on TV are any less excited. I don't know if the Ducks winning is necessarily GOOD for the NHL, but it's certainly not BAD. So quit your whining!

More to come. I have to figure out what it is that hockey bloggers blog about in the off-season.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Game Four Thoughts

- I intended to watch the game on CBC tonight but when I turned it on they were in the middle of a lengthy, "heart-warming" story about Chris Neil which I just could not abide. Also Time-Warner Cable continues to suck and the picture on CBC was super fuzzy. So NBC it was. For a while they spent so much time talking about Chris Neil (Doc, the new face of the team? Really?) that I was beginning to worry that I was just going to have bail on the whole game. Fortunately, they cooled off after a while.

- My favorite Pierre McGuire insight of the night: "There are only two Niedermayers in the league. The other is a forward and he is Scott's brother." Thanks, Pierre. I was wondering if those two were related somehow.

- I'm usually kind of meh about Ed Olczyk, but I really enjoyed his ranting about the diving going on during the game tonight and in the league in general. I hate it - yes, even when guys in blue and gold do it - and I'm in total agreement that if the league really wants to get rid of it, they need to penalize the diver and let the other guy go. Coincdenatal penalties don't really discourage anything because the teams are still even. If the diver puts his team short-handed, I think it's going to stop fast. Honestly, I was surprised to hear Olczyk, Emrick, and McGuire so open about their feeling that Neil and Emery both got away with horrendous dives. Good for them.

- Daniel Alfredsson, what the heck was that? Shooting a puck at Scott Niedermayer in the waning seconds of the period? And don't tell me it wasn't on purpose because he clearly shifted the direction of his body and Niedermayer wasn't in between Alfredsson and the goal. I tried very hard to overlook the horrendous boarding on Henrik Tallinder in the conference finals but atleast that was in the heat of the action. There was no excuse for what he did tonight. I can't believe that between that and the punch he threw during the scrum afterward, he didn't get penalized. And seriously, Scott Niedermayer?

- I love watching Anaheim's defense. They just look so poised all the time. They're never panicked, they're never flustered, they never rush under pressure. Tons of fun to watch. What do I have to give Anaheim to get Niedermayer off their hands?

I'll be at working during game 5 and for the record, the Ducks are 2-0 in games I've worked through.

Chris Neil Sucks

Here's what Chris Neil had to say about Brian Burke's assertion that he should've been suspended as well:

"He just pointed me out because I was the last person he saw leaving the building (laughs)....I am not him (Pronger)...He stabs guys in the back after the whistle with his stick...takes guys legs out..everyone knows that's how he plays. He been suspended for games multiple times, I haven't. You figure it out."

I wish I could figure it out, Chris but for some reason the NHL is content to let you play the way you play. When you finally hurt someone, I hope they feel embarrassed for all the times they let you get away with leaving your feet, making contact with someone's head, or hitting people who can't see you (and not because they're not paying attention). Considering who's in charge however, I doubt that will happen.

I left Chris Neil off the anti-Ottawa post because I didn't think he was really worth getting that worked up about. But I've changed my mind. I hate watching him play and no, I wouldn't feel differently if he was on my team.

All right, I'm moving on, I swear...

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Game Three Thoughts

I finally get to watch an entire finals game! Woo-hoo!

- How the heck does Scott Niedermayer get a penalty for lifting a guy's stick (a.k.a. playing defense) when Chris Neil gets away with leaving his feet on every single hit? New NHL, my ass.

- Can we please, please, please do away with the kicking motion rule? When no one - players, refs, analysts, fans - can predict which way a goal review is going to go, it's time to re-think things. The NHL has been so inconsistent with this rule during the postseason that it's ridiculous. You could play 10 goals that were reviewed one after the other and have no idea which way the call is going to go. I'm convinced Toronto just flips a coin on these. I think the rule is stupid to begin with - if a guy is skilled enough to direct a puck into the net with his skate, I say good for him - but if Alfredsson's goal wasn't a kicking motion, I don't know what is. He reached back with his foot and flipped his ankle toward the net. I'm not convinced the league didn't have an eye on the scoreboard and the series when they made the decision to allow that goal. Gah! I hope Sidney Crosby is there somewhere flipping out and throwing things because this goal was deemed good and his goal earlier in the playoffs wasn't.

- In regards to the Alfredsson goal, Brett Hull is tearing into the NHL for not getting it right during the Stanley Cup Finals. Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

- I’m sorry, the Senators stood up for each other during the Buffalo game? The Buffalo game where Chris Neil completely blindsided Chris Drury who, through no fault of his own, doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head? The Buffalo game where they all turtled and cried that the big mean Sabres came after them? The Buffalo game where everyone in an Ottawa jersey watched an enforcer fight their goalie? That game? Interesting interpretation, that one.

- All right, the Pronger hit to McAmmaond's head was ugly. But is it really that different than Chris Neil leaving his feet on every hit and connecting with people's heads? I really don't understand how some serious hits this season have been completely brushed aside and now suddenly the talking heads are all going on and on about Pronger possibly being suspended. Again, the inconsistency in the NHL is ridiculous.

- I hate Pierre McGuire. I don't need him to tell me that the Ottawa bench is upset by the no-call on Pronger. I don't need him to tell me that the Anaheim bench is encouraged by a successful penalty kill. I'm not an idiot. I don't need him to point out that Spezza is now wearing an Eaves jersey. There are two guys in the booth who can probably handle that. Go away, Pierre.

- Turns out I'm cheering for the Ducks. I was a little taken aback at just how much I wanted them to pull out the victory.