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!


Kate said...

I've been living in Buffalo for six (6) years. At times since I've moved here, I would have sold my hypothetical first born to get the hell out. Buffalo is so wonderful in so many ways, but it is also so stuck in its sad little loser mentality. Because of the nature of my job (I play in the BPO) leaving Buffalo might be impossible if I want to keep playing music for a living, so I have really really really tried to open my heart up to this place. I have tried so hard, but I'm not going to lie, until the Sabres, nothing stuck.

Watching this community come to life around the Sabres has been an absolute joy. I am so touched that in spite of all of the years of disappointment, this town still has the heart to cheer with so much passion. Seeing everyone so full of hope gives me hope, not just for the Sabres, but for the community as a whole. There is so much potential here. I finally feel connected to this town, and I have hockey to thank.

Gambler said...

Heather, great entries once again! I don't think Brian Campbell will be on my list (unless I run out of things to write about, in which case, why not?), but I'll be giving him a different sort of tribute, I think.

Community, though, is something that will definitely make an appearence, and I'll have to find some way to put it all into words. It's a hard thing to explain to people who don't live here, but this city literally lives and dies by its sports teams. Which makes for some high highs like this year, but then also some low lows when it seems the team is stuck in the dark ages.

I'll second the McKee love, too. It absolutely broke my heart that he couldn't play that last game against Carolina as a Sabre. Because knowing what kind of player he is, if he wasn't there it meant he literally couldn't stand up. And then seeing him go to St Louis after ten years as nothing but a Sabre... Did I mention I'm a sucker for franchise players? (I'll admit at first I was a little peeved that we signed an injured Connolly over him, but now I'll admit it was the right way to go.)

Schnookie said...

Heather, now who's the one making people cry? That tribute to your mother is just beautiful! What a sweet, sad, wonderful, happy story to share. Thanks!

KMS2 said...

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.

Ever seen Pavol Demitra play? During his only season with the Kings, my boyfriend and I would cheer and high-five each other every time we saw him crack a smile because it was such a rarity to catch him actually looking like he enjoyed playing. But with his shaved head, he does look like such a bad ass.