Saturday, August 25, 2007

Why I Love Hockey and Yes, Michael Peca

Some of you may need to take a deep breath in preparation for this post.

Why I Love Hockey #22 - Michael Peca

Now, I know some of my loyal readers and internet friends are not exactly fans of Michael Peca. And I understand why. Look people, I'm from Buffalo, okay? I saw it all: the wedding scheduled for the same day as Game 7 of the '99 Stanley Cup Finals, the season long holdout, the alleged bad-mouthing of the organization to any and all free agents after he left, the pathetic pleading with various teams to sign him, please God sign him this off-season. None of that is very pretty.

But! It wasn't always like that. Michael Peca was one of the first hockey players I knew by name and by sight. And you know what? I loved watching him play. Peca is, in case you haven't noticed, not a very big guy. I was amazed that a guy that small could hit so dang hard. When he hit someone, that guy felt it and it didn't matter if he was twice Peca's size. During his time in Buffalo, Peca was a valuable piece of the team every single time he stepped on the ice. And this wasn't the new NHL where everything is called (sometimes) and little guys have more freedom and protection on the ice. The game was full of clutching and grabbing and it was built for big, physical men. Despite that, Peca made his presence on the ice known. Was he dirty? Sure, sometimes. Was he effective? Heck, yes, he was. For all the complaining about the Stars stealing the '99 Cup, I can tell you this - that Sabres team really had no right to be in the Finals at all. They did not, with the exception of Dominik Hasek, have an overwhelming amount of talent. What they did have in spades was fight and scrap and Michael Peca was the beating heart in the center of it all. (Until Game 7, I guess. Because really, what was he thinking with that?) He shouldn't have been successful at the game he was playing - it didn't make any sense - but he was.

Listen, I'm glad the Sabres didn't give into to Peca's pleading and bring him back for this upcoming season. That was a bad idea and I really think anyone who thought it was going to work was looking through the rose-colored glasses of yesteryear. I wouldn't even say Peca is one of my favorite players now. There's been a lot of water under that bridge in the last seven or so years. But part of me will always be that brand new, fresh-faced fan who loved watching that gutty little guy slam around guys who outweighed him. For a girl who had never been on ice skates and couldn't fathom the skills involved, Peca was my connection, the player I appreciated,the one who drew me in. For all his faults, it's quite possible that I wouldn't be here writing this blog right now if it weren't for Michael Peca. I couldn't have grown as a hockey fan if I'd never become a fan in the first place. That part of me will always wish him well.

Programming note: Tomorrow morning I'm heading out on a little jaunt around Pennsylvania - Pittsburgh, Hersey, and Lancaster - with some family. I assure you, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for Sidney Crosby even though it's probably too early for him to be back in the 'Burgh. I'll be out of touch for a week or so so this is probably the last you'll hear from me until after Labor Day. I hope everyone has a great week!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Remembering a Game to Remember - Third Period

All right, let's get this wrapped up.



20:00 We begin with Aubin in net. Raycroft gave up 4 goals in the last 6 shots faced.

17:40 Rick tells us that McCabe has been "LEVELED BY KALETA!" but we can't see it so I'm forced to take his word for it.

17:10 We get replay of the Kaleta hit. It was fine.

15:30 Not much of interest is happening. Rick keeps saying "Colaiacovo" and I think about what a cool name that is. That start me thinking about who has the coolest name on the Buffalo side. Off the top of my head I'm going to go with Maxim Afinogenov.

15:31 Vanek moves in on the net but loses his handle on the puck. It slides out to Soupy in front of the net but instead of SHOOTING THE PUCK! Soupy chooses to pass it back to Vanek who gets dumped, drawing a penalty. Soupy was standing about six feet in front of the net and the puck was sliding right into his wind-up. SHOOT THE PUCK! Emery isn't that good! I mean, Aubin! Aubin isn't that good!

15:20 Jim tells us that Vanek has had problems scoring goals the past few games. Has someone told Vanek he can't do that any more? I'll give it ten minutes into the first home game before some fan screams, "Hey, Vanek! Quit countin' your money and score some goals!" Also, replays show that Stafford poked the puck back out to Soupy with a neat little backhanded move. I'm gonnna go out on a limb here, folks and say Stafford cracks the starting line-up this season.

14:39Someone alert the media! A power play goal! Paetsch makes a nice move to keep the puck in the offensive zone and Hecht moves in on goal, waits a split second, and then lifts the puck over Aubin after Aubin bites. Oh, on the replay it looks like Jochen faked a pass which is probably why Aubin was moving. Second goal of the night for Yo-Yo and we get his little grin as he goes to the bench.

Let me mention here that I really think Jochen played some of his best hockey this season during this stretch when the team was battling injuries and he was called on to play more and step into the leadership role. He's wearing an A during this game and has been a noticeable presence on the ice. So you people complaining that there's no leadership on the team any more can put a sock in it.

14:26 Rick informs us that a lot of Leaf fans are leaving the building. Ha ha! Blow, Leafs, Blow! Blow, Leafs, Blow!

13:40 Rick tells us AGAIN that Briere is out with the flu. We get a close-up of Jochen on the bench. He looks at the person beside him (we can't see who it is), nods, and then slowly smiles and it is adorable. I can't explain why but he looks like such a little boy when he smiles. (Wow, who knew that game diaries would bring out the puck bunny in me?)

12:25 Roy breaks out of the defensive zone but just as he reaches shooting range, Gill stretches out from behind him and pokes the puck away. Jim tells us maybe Derek should've gone down on that play in an attempt to draw something. Jim! Don't encourage him!

11:19 The boo birds are out and seem to be targeting Bryan McCabe. Thomas Vanek, are you paying attention? This is what happens when you sign a huge contract and then don't live up to expectations. For the record though, I'm not into booing your team, no matter how pathetic the power play is and no matter how much they refuse to shoot on Emery.

9:53 Roy outworks pretty much the entire Toronto team to set up a beautiful chance for Vanek who can't connect from in front of the net. Thomas! But great hustle by Derek. He was all over the place.

9:09 Stajan gets a good chance when the puck jumps over Paetsch's stick but Miller makes the save and the puck jumps up to the top of the net where it sits while Miller swings his head back and forth, desperately trying to find it. It's been that kind of night for the Leafs. They've gotten plenty of chances, just haven't been able to bury them.

7:40 Stafford, Vanek, and Roy totally wreak havoc on the Leafs, each one of them getting a really good chance on goal, totally created by their own hustle. So maybe these three stay together next season and Timmy centers Max and Pommerdoodle?

6:07 Mair makes a beautiful pass to MacArthur in front of the net. MacArthur moves the puck around a charging Aubin and then taps it in the net. 6-1, Buffalo. This game is really getting boring.

5:31 Roy decides he's played well enough for one night and makes a lovely pass to a Leaf. Oh, Derek. You really don't have to do that.

2:53 Close-up of Adam Mair who took offense at a Leaf elbowing one of his teammates. I'll admit here that part of my fondness for Mair is that he reminds me a great deal of the boy I had a massive crush on all the way through high school. The resemblance is startling sometimes. (I told you this game was getting boring.)


Some observations:

I really came to enjoy the whole game diary thing - it made me watch the game in a slightly different way than I usually do - but holy crow, it is a lot of work. I got faster with each period as I figured out what worked best, but I still spent atleast two hours or so average on each period. This is definitely not going to become a regular thing here at Top Shelf. It worked out okay this week because I'm on vacation from my day job and can stay up as late as I want. Maybe once in a while I'll bust one out.

Rick and Jim are very good at what they do. Rick has moments here and there that make you feel like retirement probably isn't too far down the line, but overall they put on a good broadcast. They have a good rapport, hardly ever talking over each other, playing off of each other in way that seems very natural and unforced. Jim also does a very good job with video replay. They don't over rely on it but after every goal Jim pulled up the tape and pointed out something that had to happen for the play to go as it did, something you might not have noticed on first viewing - one player out hustling another to a loose puck, a great breakout pass, a takeaway, stuff like that. It really helps you appreciate players like Jochen Hecht and Adam Mair who don't show up on the scoresheet every game. I honestly believe that part of the reason I'm able to sound like I know what I'm talking about now, even though I didn't grow up watching hockey, is because I've spent the past few years listening to Rick and Jim.

This team is going to be fine. Really it is. The Toronto team we played in this game was also battling injuries and they were playing their 3rd game in 4 nights so I'm not going to pretend like we just beat the best team in the NHL. But there was plenty of good stuff on display: Lydman and Tallinder were very, very good and the rest of the defense was solid with no obvious mistakes. Thomas Vanek repeatedly made chances for himself by crashing the net and out-muscling defenders. Derek Roy and Drew Stafford were both all over the ice, hustling, working hard, and repeatedly setting up the players on the ice with them. There were very few turnovers and giveaways - I can only remember one really obvious one - and no stupid penalties. And Ryan was very good in net. He made a couple of great saves at important times and was otherwise just very solid. Without Drury and Briere, the team still managed to put up six goals and this was a line-up that was missing some important pieces who will be on the team next year, Afinogenov and Gaustad being the most notable. The only glaring weakness was face-offs. We need to be better at those. But really, the pieces of a strong, competitive team are all there. So chill the heck out, Buffalo.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Remembering a Game to Remember - Second Period

So... this whole game diary thing. I'm not sure how successful it was - I think it was heavy on the hockey, light on the entertainment - but I did kind of sort of enjoy it and since I started it, I feel like I should finish it. I'm going to try a slightly different method tonight. Last night I wrote everything down in my trusty notebook and then typed it up when I was done with the period. This isn't unusual for me. There's something about the feel of a pen (black ink, medium point) on paper that typing doesn't match and I almost always atleast start sketching my blog entries out on paper before I post them here. Last week we changed our internet service - you suck, Time Warner - and in preparation for a home study, moved the computer out of the back room and into the living room. So now it is possible for me to watch TV and type at the same time. I seriously did not even think of this last night. It was late, okay?

The first period recap is here. Let's get on with the second!

Jim starts out talking about trade deadline day and how quiet the mood was among the Sabres that morning because of the departure of Marty Biron. I remember this day very clearly. I was saddened by the news but not surprised but my buddy and then co-worker Sue was devastated. Practically hysterical. Sue was utterly devoted to Marty and firmly believed that he was every bit as good as Ryan and should be starting more often. (I love Sue but no, I don't think so.) I spent the afternoon trying to soothe her broken heart. At one point, the phone in the classroom rang. Each classroom has a phone so we can call other classrooms and offices. My desk happened to be right next to the phone so I reached up and answered it. It was Sue, calling from her office. "Marty's on the radio! I'm going to hold the phone up so you can hear him!" And for ten minutes Sue sat there with her phone against the radio so I could listen to Marty's lovely farewell interview and for ten minutes I completely ignored everything going on in the classroom. ("What? Not right now, I'm talking to Sue about something very important!") I pointed out to Sue that Marty seemed pretty happy about getting a shot to start somewhere and she agreed and seemed slightly cheered up by that.

19:48 Jim wraps up his trade deadline bit by saying that they all love Marty and wish him nothing but the best. And I think almost everyone in Buffalo would agree with that, even now. Marty's awesome.

19:01 Hank loses the puck behind the net and comes pretty close to tying up the game. Ryan has to sprawl across the crease to scoop up the puck before Stajan gets to it, but it's partly his own fault for wandering so far out of the net. He was practically at center ice! I hate it when he does that. (Yes, I'm trying to distract you from Hank's rare misplay. Is it working?) Hank does look slightly sheepish. Awwwwww.

18:26 Kalinin blocks a shot. I'm just saying.

17:23 Brian! I can't really recall seeing Campbell since his penalty in the first few minutes of the game. Jim calls him "Soupy" which seems odd. I can't decide if it's adorable or weird. I'm going to go with weird just because I know it does bug me when announcers from other teams refer to guys by nicknames during play-by-play. In Jim's defense, this was after the whistle but still. I'm drawing a line in the sand.

15:40 According to Rick, Hank just "flattened" a Toronto player but it was really more like delicately latching on to him. The guy did go down though. I'm not sure sure how that wasn't a penalty unless the ref decided Hank was just too sweet about it. I'll echo Kate and say, "That was weird, Hank."

15:04 Hecht makes a nice pass up the ice to Stafford while trying to get off the ice. Stafford tries to take the puck around a Leaf defender and bobbles the puck a bit. Fortunately ol' man Numminen was there to tap the puck to Stafford as he swung around the net for a wrap-around. 2-0 Buffalo. Great effort by Stafford, heads up play by Teppo. Too bad neither of them is going to be on the team this season. What's that? They'll both be on the team this season? Interesting.

14:21 Spin-o-rama! Soupy stumbles but manages to get away from the defender while hanging onto the puck. I'm terrified he's going to get leveled in the middle of that move one of these days, but I'm not going to lie, I love it. I clap my hands and yell, "Wheeeee!" like a little kid every single time.

13:50 Toronto takes advantage of a slow line change and gets a great scoring chance. Miller stones the shooter from point-blank range.

13:05 Miller makes another great save in the middle of an offensive flurry. Marty who?

12:13 A replay of the last goal shows that it was Vanek who tipped the puck back to Stafford. I think. I watched it a few times and couldn't tell for sure. The number suggests it's either Vanek or Pominville but it looked more like Vanek.

12:02 Lindy lets Mancari back on the ice.

10:59 Someone - I can't tell who and I watched it atleast 18 times, including slow motion - pokes a perfect breakaway pass to Vanek. Vanek misses. Thomas, for seven million, I'm really going to have to insist that you bury that every time.

10:04 Kaleta mixes it up in front of the net. Okay, I get that he's a local kid and everyone's excited about him playing with the big team, but I can't believe how many fans want Kaleta in the line-up next year. Right now, this is pretty much his entire game. It's nice to have someone physical out there, but he needs a little more maturity and discipline yet, I think.

10:02 A replay of the missed breakaway shows that it was Stafford who passed the puck up to Vanek. I was a little weary of the "DREW STAFFORD IS THE FUTURE CAPTAIN AND THE GREATEST SABRE EVER!!!" stuff that was going on during this period last season, but he has been very, very good in this game.

7:59 Roy, Vanek, and Stafford put on some nice pressure. Kalinin stops a Vanek rebound from leaving the zone and puts a shot on net. (Not bad for a useless head case.) Derek Roy is there to scoop up the rebound in front of the net. 3-0 Buffalo. This game has me seriously reconsidering putting Connolly with Vanek this season. This Roy, Vanek, Stafford line is causing all kind of chaos. Too bad they can't all play together next season. What's that? They can? Interesting.

7:58 I try to fast-forward the Tivo with the computer mouse. It doesn't work. Kevin Sylvester jumps in to tell us there are only two more Games to Remember left. I'm a little sad and then I realize what that means: New hockey is right around the corner!

6:45 Ryan goes behind the net to retrieve the puck even though the zone is full of Toronto players. Surprisingly, disaster does not ensue.

5:40 Rick reminds us during a break that the Sabres are a man short tonight because Briere is back at the hotel suffering from a sickness of some sort. He's totally on the phone with Marty right now, swearing that he'll follow him wherever he goes and that they'll be together again soon.

4:11 Mair, Peters, and Mancari get stuck on the ice in a situation where they have to do stuff like play defense and it doesn't go well. Leafs score to make it 3-1. Seriously, that was a great shift by Toronto. They fought to keep the puck in and it paid off. Total side note: I went to the Leafs' website to see how to spell "Ponikarovsky" (he scored the goal - great name) and was amused to find that the leading story on the front page is the unveiling of Sidney Crosby's new Reebok line. I know it happened in Toronto but really, that's it? I'm disappointed that I can't get the accompanying video to play.

3:28The Leafs seemed to have picked up some energy and the Sabres look sloppy. Everyone's skating around in circles. Ryan makes another big save. The Sabres haven't really looked terrible in this game, but Ryan really has been very good. He's kept them in control of the game.

1:31 The Sabres collect themselves and manage to keep the puck in Toronto's end for more than a couple of seconds. Lydman rips a shot from the point that bounces off Hecht who looks like he's actually trying to get out of the way. The puck totally changes direction and speed and gets past Raycroft. Next season, when the team is adamantly refusing to shoot the puck unless they have the perfect set-up and the perfect shot, Lindy should tie them to chairs and make them watch goals like this. Put it on the net and good things happen, especially against average goaltenders like Ray Emery. And no, I'm not thinking of any games in particular. Why do you ask?

Can I just say, I love when Jochen Hecht scores? He always gets this tiny little grin on his face like he's just so tickled. Kate, if you're reading this (God bless you), that was definitely a green mouthguard. There's a shot here of him popping it out of his mouth and then back in. Too bad because I love the idea of him blowing bubbles while he plays even if it would quite the choking hazard.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Remembering a Game to Remember

I love, love, love reading good game diaries. The game diaries are what led me to one of my favorite websites, Interchangeable Parts. I've also really enjoyed Gambler's diaries of the Sabres Games to Remember over at Desperation Hockey. And today Kate tried her hand at one at The Willful Caboose (and did a very fine job despite what she might tell you). I've thought off and on about giving it a try but now it's official: All the cool kids are doing it.

Let me set the scene for you. It's February 2007. The Sabres got off to a great start but cooled off some and then started getting hit with a rash of injuries. The team lost six starters in seven games and then lost one of its better call-ups. Chris Drury had his brains scrambled by Chris Neil. Danny Briere was down with the flu. It was trade deadline day so Marty, one of the best locker room guys on the team was on a plane to Philly. The average age of the line-up starting against hated rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs was 12.7 years. Let me emphasize this point: Chris Drury and Daniel Briere were both out of the line-up which surely spells certain doom since the team has no talent, desire, experience or discipline beyond the two of them. What happened? Let's see together, shall we?


FACE-OFF Rick Jeanneret informs us that Danny Briere is out with the flu. Oh, Rick, it's okay. We all know Danny is heart-broken over the loss of roommate and bosom buddy Marty Biron. He's probably back at the hotel right now, all the lights off, curled up in a little ball, listening to How Am I Supposed to Live Without You on his Walkman, while choking back sobs.

19:50 Hank gets the puck off the face-off, carries it into the offensive zone and shoots. It doesn't go it, but it should have! I may as well tell you up front that I intend to document every single thing Hank does in this game.

19:10 Rick and Jim Lorenz tell us what a couple of the lines are tonight. Jochen Hecht is centering Michael Ryan and Jason Pominville and Derek Roy is centering Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Jim tells us this Roy line has been together for several games now and has been "terrific." Without Drury or Briere? Inconceivable!

18:55 Buffalo's defense decides it rather likes the challenge of playing in its own zone and allows Steen to get offa pretty good shot that Stafford deflects out of play. No glaring mistakes on our part there but how about clearing that puck, fellas?

18:42 Mair, MacArther, and Kaleta are also a line tonight. Kaleta takes a run at his check. Kaleta hitting someone? How surprising!

18:28 Brian Campbell turns over the puck behind the net and then makes amends by hooking Battaglia to the ice. Go sit in the box, Soupy!

17:31 PK starts shaky. Toronto isn't making much of their shots but they are getting them. With 1:04 left in the penalty Hank decides he's had enough, takes the puck off a Toronto player, and gracefully and handsomely clears it down the ice, even with 2 Leafs hanging on him. I know guys, he really is irresistible, isn't he?

16:58 Toronto regroups quickly but a couple of blocked shots and big saves keeps them off the scoreboard. The crowd is chanting "Go, Leafs, Go" but I know that deep in their saddened hearts they're wishing they could be chanting something with the beautiful cadence of "Let's Go Buff-a-lo!"

16:49 Pominville and Roy bring the puck up the ice. Derek tries to squeeze between two defenders, falls down, and while sliding across the ice, manages to get control of the puck and fire off a fairly dangerous backhand. It doesn't result in a goal but A for effort. He then hustles down the ice, skates up behind the puck-handler, snatches the puck away from him, and clears it down the ice, killing off the last 10 seconds of the penalty. This is the Derek Roy I love watching. Too bad his penalty killing skills are non-existent without Drury beside him. What's that? Drury's not on the PK tonight? Interesting...

16:26 Soupy comes out of the box and Vanek goes in. Vanek and Lindy don't like the call but Vanek did pretty much chop the guy's midsection with his stick. You can't do that, Thomas!

16:12 Kalinin clears the puck. See, Buffalo! Tri's not all bad!

15:48 We take a look at a graphic telling us the stats for Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe. I am, as always, surprised to see that Kaberle has dark hair. For some reason I want to make him a blonde. Every single season I see a picture of him and say, "That's Kaberle? I thought he was blonde!"

15:25 Pominville steals the puck but can't get it up the ice to a streaking Tallinder. Hank was right there, all ready to score a goal too. Way to go, Pommerdoodle!

15:06 I was just about the say Toronto hadn't done much with this powerplay when the PKers decided to play another round of "Let's Keep the Puck in Our Zone." Miller goes down a little too soon but Steen shoots it just low enough that Ryan manages to snag it with an outstretched glove.

14:10 Tonight's Cold FX "Who's Hot for Buffalo?" Jim informs us that it's none other than Hank Tallinder! Jim, that's who I'd pick too! What good taste you have! He reminds us that the previous Saturday against Ottawa, Hank recorded his first two goal game. I totally remember that! Mark complained that he missed a defensive assignment and I said, "Pshaw! He's too busy carrying the offense tonight to worry about defense." Hank was adorable in his postgame interviews that night, sheepishly admonishing us "not to get used to that." I decide to go pull up that interview but the archive doesn't go back that far. Phooey. Oh, well. Here's to you, Hank Tallinder, Cold FX's Hot Sabre!

(I cannot believe how long this is taking. Seriously.)

13:34 Oh, look Andrew Peters is on the ice! He and Gill go at it and they do it without that ridiculous pre-fight dance that Peters likes to do. He actually looks a little bit like an enforcer here. Okay, I take that back. On replay it was really just a lot of pushing and shoving. Go back to the bench, Peters.

12:47 Lydman saves a goal by blocking a shot and then flicking the puck into the corner. The team should let him listen to the speed metal CD of his choice in the locker room tonight because Kaberle had Miller completely out of position and down on the ice.

12:12 MacArthur makes a nice move to get the puck into offensive zone and then makes a drop pass that actually connects with the intended recipient, Vanek. So that's what it looks like when those work! Vanek shoots and then shoves through the defense to get his own rebound. He doesn't score but does draw a penalty. That brief flurry made me feel that maybe, maybe Thomas Vanek will earn his absurd paycheck. He made that second scoring chance happen all on his own.

12:08 I will admit that we do need some of the younger guys to do better in the face-off circle. I'm not sure anyone not named Hecht has won one tonight.

10:42 MacArthur takes a shot that "just went wide." If by "just went wide" you meant "managed to stay in the building" then yes, Rick, I totally agree.

10:24 Stafford and White both go for the puck, totally run into each other, fall over, and hit each other in the face with their sticks. Stafford is called for interference. Curious.

9:29 Ryan makes another great save but it requires him to slide over to one side of the net. Hank sees this, pulls in to cover the other side of the net, puts his stick flat against the ice, stops a shot, and clears the puck into the corner. Whew, that was totally hot.

(When I want to pretend like I know what I'm doing in hockey games during gym class I'll put my stick flat on the floor. It actually works and every time it works, I'm a little surprised. When I want to really pretend I know what I'm doing, I put my stick down and sweep it back and forth. I'm sure it doesn't look quite as impressive as it does when Hank does it with those long arms, but it makes me feel good about myself.)

9:18 Our first close-up of Mats Sundin! Even though there's no one in the room with me I bust out with, "Excuse me, sir! Are you Swedish?" in my very worst French Canadian accent. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, watch this video immediately. And learn how to make a kick save!

7:24 We come back from commercial break to a split screen of Hank and Toni and then we re-watch a couple of their great defensive plays tonight. Awww... Toni + Tally 4EVER!!!!

6:19 Kaleta, Roy, and Ryan - okay, that's quite a crew - work up some good offensive pressure. Roy gets destroyed in front of the net and Rick tells "Lindy Ruff is about to have kittens." Trust me, it's even funnier than you think it is. This was an ongoing theme for Derek last season. His reputation for diving clearly preceded him and he had to absolutely brutalized to draw a penalty. I know he brought it on himself but come on, he's just a tiny little guy. I am pleased to note that Derek just kept playing which he doesn't always do when he feels a call should be coming. More of that, Derek!

5:58 Pominville makes a nice pass to MacArthur who shoots. He misses but Pomminville crashes the net and roofs the rebound to make it 1-0. It's really too bad for Jason that he won't be playing alongside Briere next season. Clearly Danny brings out the best in him. What's that? Briere isn't on his line tonight? Interesting.

3:56 Roy, Vanek, and Stafford get a nice buzz going. Stafford passes up a great opportunity to shoot to make a dumb pass. Are we teaching them that move in Rochester or what? Can we stop?

2:54 Jim takes us back to the Sabres goal and shows us how the break-out started with Dmitri Kalinin beating a Toronto player to the puck and then firing a perfect pass up the ice. See, Buffalo! See?!

1:36 Mancari? Where the heck did he come from?


It's 4:23 in the morning - what am I doing?! - and it took me forfreakingever to do that one period! Maybe I'll finish the game later, but I'm going to get ahead and post this just in case I never get around to it. Man. This is a lot of work.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Whatever Pops Into My Brain (Pretty Boys Ahead!)

I just realized it's been a pretty quiet month here at Top Shelf. Summer malaise is setting in, I think. The last couple weeks of summer school are chaos and trying to balance the two jobs with some terrible allergy attacks has sucked me of all energy. I've been spending most of my time at home sleeping. I'm now on vacation from the day job however for two weeks and will soon have a week off from both jobs while my mom and one of my brothers come up to visit from Alabama. So maybe I'll get a much needed energy boost. For now, here's a hodge-podge of things:

Much of Buffalo is currently talking about the price increases for the upcoming Sabres season. I'm not really sure what the big deal is. First of all, we all knew a price hike was coming. It's not like the team has been hiding that fact. And while there are certainly a number of bronze games that could be value games, silver games that could be bronze etc. I just can't get that up in arms about this. A seat at a Sabres game is still much more affordable than a seat at many - if not most - pro sporting events. Mark and I spent a nice little chunk more on our mini-pack than we did last season, but what we spent on five games would still barely get us into a couple of games in Toronto. I'm the first to forget this sometimes or whine about it when it doesn't suit me, but this is a business. There are people involved who would like to make some profit. If you're going to complain that management isn't throwing enough money at players to keep them around, I don't know if you can complain about them picking up some money in an area that, let's face it, they've probably been underpricing the last few seasons. It's all about supply and demand. The Sabres are hot right now and if you want to see them in person, you're going to have to compete with fans who are willing to pay more money. That's the way it works. Of course Drury and Briere's returns are going to be be gold games - lots of people want to see them. The truth is, management could've raised prices much more than they did. Pony up and go to the games or don't. But take a look at what other fans are paying to see lesser quality teams play before you complain too loudly.

These new jerseys are largely frightening. Columbus's new design is much improved and the Bruins did a great job of making their classic look fit the new streamlined look, but everyone else? Ugh. What is up with all the weird piping and color blocking on these designs? And a lot of them suffer from the same thing the Sabres re-design does - very plain chests with an explosion of color and design under the arms. Why would you put that much of the design in the most useless place on the jersey? I can appreciate the new jerseys being made of better material and providing improved performance, but I don't understand why it's proving so hard for teams to make something decent of them. And if the Bruins can design the jersey they did, why exactly was it impossible for the Sabres to use the vintage logo on their re-design? The shapes of the logo and the striping are almost exactly the same.

My husband Mark (check out his new blog, SabresDance) has spent his summer trying to select a new favorite player so he can purchase a jersey replacement for his now useless Drury jersey (although we did decided that we can tape LYNCH over DRURY, making it somewhat wearable). Right now it seems Drew Stafford is in the lead with Ryan Miller trailing in second.

My buddy Kate recently started up a new blog called The Willful Caboose which everyone should, of course, check out. Kate is also in the process of selecting a new favorite player - darn you, Chris Drury! - but unlike Mark, she is factoring physical appearance into the equation. This led to us turning a comment thread on the otherwise respectable Bfloblog into a debate on whether or not Teppo Numminen is hot (yes, he is). I'm genuinely gob smacked at the idea of someone not finding Teppo attractive, slicked back hair and all, so just so everyone knows where I stand, here's Heather B's list of the three best looking Sabres, in order of preference. Aw, heck... Let's just call this next section:

Why I Love Hockey #21 - Good-Looking Boys
1. Henrik Tallinder - Hair the color of burnished gold, bright blue eyes, sweet smile, and dimples. The long, lean frame seals the deal. Very pointy chin but that can be avoided by not looking at him in profile too much.

2. Paul Gaustad - Really hot especially when he's throwing punches at people.

3. Jochen Hecht - He's got the whole shy boy vibe working for him. I don't know that I'd say he's hot, but he's totally adorable. Especially cute when you can get a little bit of a smile out of him.

Honorable mention to Teppo Numminen. Eternal favorite status to Jay McKee and Marty Biron.

As for the puck bunny favorites...

Ryan Miller is not cute. He's interesting looking - I have a lot of affection for his perpetually cocked eyebrow - and he seems like a cool guy, but he's not good-looking at all. Plus he's so darn scrawny. I am not a small woman. I have a hard time being attracted to a guy who I'm mostly convinced I could break in half with my bare hands.

Jason Pominville is not cute. He looks like a puppy dog (thus the nickname "Pommerdoodle") and I want to pat him on the head and say, "Good boy" when I see him with that frizz of hair.

Derek Roy is very cute so I'll give the puck bunnies that one. He's so tiny though. Not really his fault but I have a hard time getting past it.

All right, I'm done. Maybe I'll be more organized and coherent tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Let's Go Buff-a-lo! (Why I Love Hockey - Part 20)

Why I Love Hockey #20 - "LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!"
During a game last season, the group of rowdies behind us started up a "Let's go Sabres!" chant. I turned to Mark and asked, "Why would anyone in Buffalo chant 'Let's Go Sabres!' when they could be chanting 'Let's Go Buff-a-lo!' That led to a topsy turvy conversation about the pros and cons of each chant and probably involved a lecture about how I should let people chant what they want, but I'm being totally serious when I ask this: Why would you live in Buffalo and NOT chant "Let's go Buffalo!"

Now I know some of the people reading this aren't Sabres fans so you've probably never chanted, "Let's go Buff-a-lo!" To understand this entry, you really should stop and do it right now. Yes, I'm serious. Yes, I am. Go ahead, I'll wait.

It's fun, isn't it? Oh, sure any fan anywhere can chant "Let's Go NAME OF CITY HERE!" But none of them will sound as cool as Buffalo does. New York? No. Dallas? Uh-unh. Tampa Bay? Close but not quite. Toronto? Ha! No other city (or state) has the rhythm, the cadence, of "Let's Go Buff-a-lo!" And it rhymes! It rhymes for crying out loud!

I'm beginning to realize how ridiculous this entire entry is, but I'm telling you, I love the "Let's Go Buff-a-lo!" chant. I'll chant it at the TV no matter what sport or team we're watching. I chant it during P.E. which for some reason - I can't imagine why! - cracks my kids up completely. And my heart warms a little every time I hear it. I love it when - despite thinking I'm crazy when I do it - my kids yell, "LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!" in gym class. I loved walking down Main Street behind a huge herd of kids, all screaming "LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!" over and over at the top of their lungs. I loved hearing about concerts at HSBC ending with the crowd streaming out, spontaneously bursting into "LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!" I loved hearing about the crowd at a Tragically Hip show in Erie, PA calling for an encore by chanting "LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!" (I also loved the Hip responding by coming out and playing the Rolling Stones' Street Fighting Man, the team's entrance music last season. I'm pretty sure I'm not making this up.)

Is this the most ridiculous reason to love a sport, a team, a city? Probably. But God help me, I do love it. Chanting anything else just wouldn't be as much fun.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why I Love Hockey - Part 19

It's a joyous day here at Stately B. Manor because we received our mini-pack order form in the mail today! Yay! It's official - hockey season is slowly but surely getting closer! The January 1 game, the rumored Ice Bowl, isn't on the form which is good news and bad news. Bad because, c'mon Sabres you can't let mini-pack holders order tickets to that game? The Ralph holds 80 bajillion people, it's not like we're going to buy the place out. But it's good because that seems like pretty good confirmation that there is something special going on with that game. It would be nice to have first dibs on reserved seats, but I don't really expect availability to be a HUGE issue considering the seating capacity of the stadium. I do know this - I will be there. If I have to mug small children and steal their tickets, I will be there.

Most of our other games will probably be value games since we're living on the cheap right now which means unexciting opponents like the Blue Jackets, the Islanders, and the Blues (okay, I did request the Blues game in hopes that Jay McKee will be healthy and playing). But we're planning on throwing in an Ottawa game, and Penguins game, and maybe the Flyers depending on what I decide about seeing Danny Briere back in town. Right now I can't decide if I want to be there or not just because I'm not entirely sure what kind of reaction he's going to get from the crowd. I have no desire to hear Danny get booed. I'm a little sad that he ended up in Philly because I was really looking forward to seeing Marty Biron's triumphant return to Buffalo and now I think the crowd is going to be a little more mixed. Although it's possible Danny will get cheered like a returning hero and Darcy Regier will get booed all season. Who knows? Buffalo, you're so hard to predict!

Why I Love Hockey #19 - Skating
I cannot ice skate. Not at all. Granted I grew up in an area of the country where ice skating is not exactly the happening thing to do since the only place to find ice was in the one rink in a 300 mile radius. I only attempted skating once in my life and it didn't go well. I've said many times since moving to Buffalo that I was going to take another stab at it, but I know in my heart, it is one athletic skill I'm just not destined to be very good at. This is part of the reason hockey blows me away. Hockey players shoot, pass, juke, jive, spin, fake and fly... and they do it all on ice skates! It's such an integral part of hockey that it's easy to take it for granted. But everyone once in a while I see an amazingly awesome move and I realize, "Holy crap! He just did that on ice skates!" I couldn't pull off some of these movies in plain ol' sneakers.

I love that some guys are purely functional skaters. They look terrible and clunky but they get the job done. Andrew Peters is not a great skater by NHL standards but he could skate circles around you and all your friends whether you want to admit it or not. I love that some guys are just amazing skaters, poetry in motion. I love how even great skaters can have completely different styles. I love watching Henrik Tallinder take those long, smooth strides, so graceful that it sometimes looks like he isn't even working that hard. But I also love watching Brian Campbell duck his head and take off down the ice in short, choppy strides, his little legs pumping just as fast as they can. I love watching Maxim Afinogenov hit full speed within a couple of steps, come to a complete and total stop just like that, turn, and then blast off in another direction. I love watching Scott Niedermayer effortlessly skate around oncoming hits, as nimble as a dancer. I love watching Jaromir Jagr just power his way through opponents with those big, powerful legs. I love watching Sidney Crosby take a pass and then kneel down, while still moving forward, to place the shot exactly where he wants it. I love guys going into a full body slide to block a shot and then popping right back up on their skates. One of the things I hate about the new streamlined jerseys is that it means no more jerseys flapping behind players as they fly down the ice. That just ain't right.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Pretty Useless Post

On a non-hockey related note, I was really happy when Barry Bonds hit homerun number 756, not because I'm happy he broke the record - steroids or not, he's one of the biggest jerks in the history of pro sports and I refuse to be happy for him about anything ever - but because I figured all the single-minded devotion to Bonds would cease. I could watch a baseball game without having to sit through cutaways to every single one of his at-bats. I could read the internet without having to skip over yet another person's commentary on Bonds. I could read the newspaper without having to look at an official Barry Bonds homerun countdown. It was a joyous day at Stately B. Manor. And then I sat down at work today, opened up The Buffalo News, and saw the front page of the sports section: a huge photo of Barry Bonds with the headline BONDS BLAST 757th. Are you kidding me? Who cares? Is he going to get a headline for every homerun he hits for the rest of the season? Do we really need to keep a running tally now? At this point I'm just not reading anything in TBN at all.

Now there are rumors that the Sabres are looking into re-acquiring defensemen Rhett Warrener. Now I like Rhett and actually wouldn't mind seeing him return - he's exactly the kind of defensemen we're lacking and he's not falling apart at the seams like his former partner Jay McKee (best looking defensive pair in hockey) - but I'm greatly amused by all the rumors about former Sabres. Hey, Buffalo, maybe we should just bring back the entire '99 team! They made it to the Cup Finals after all so they must be better than the pile of crap team we have now, right? We don't really need Rob Ray between the benches, do we? Put him on the ice! He'll bring us some grit! :::eye-roll:::

More later.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Love and Marriage: Hockey Style!

A few random things:

Congratulations to Thurman Thomas on his Hall of Fame induction. I wasn't in Buffalo during the Bills' heyday and I can't remember ever watching him play, but Buffalo has gotten to me so much (in all its crazy, woe is me, inferiority complex ways) that I couldn't help but get teary-eyed when he talked about how great the fans in Buffalo are and how much he loved playing here. Take note current Bills and Sabres! This is what happens when you decide to love us the way we love you. We never forget you, we'll defend your honor to the death, and then we'll arrive by the busload at your Hall of Fame ceremony and make sure that everyone knows we're there and that we're there for you.

Michael Peca, I'm begging you to sign somewhere as soon as possible because I really can't take reading another word about why we should/shouldn't bring you back to Buffalo. Please. I really need you to do this for me. Note to Buffalo fans: If Darcy Regier decides not to sign Peca it might not have anything to do with personal feelings - though let's keep in mind that Peca was a total punk his last season in Buffalo and has allegedly taken every opportunity to badmouth the organization to other players since his departure. It's possible that Regier simply feels that Peca doesn't make the team that much better than it already is. Crazy, I know, but see if you can wrap your brain around that theory.

In a fit of jealousy and rage, my husband Marky Mark has started his own blog. (I'm kidding about the jealousy and rage thing. It was more along the lines of, "Hey, that seems like fun.") That's right, the B's are taking over the internet. His blog is called Sabres Dance and it promises "unbridled optimism" so those of you worn down by Buffalo cynicism and gloom and doom should check it out.

Speaking of Mark...

Why I Love Hockey #18 - Marriage Therapy
I'm convinced that becoming a hockey fan is one of the best things I've ever done for my marriage. Don't get me wrong - Mark and I had a very good relationship already. We have a fair amount of common interests and we're similar personalities in a lot of ways, the most important being that we both prefer to stay at home in peace and quiet than go out and interact with other people. But there was a time when I'd complain through much of hockey season. "Are they on again? Geez, how many games do these people play?" Eventually I fell in love with the Sabres and those complaints switched to "There's no game again? Geez, how many nights off do these guys think they deserve?"

Watching games together - Mark on the couch and me in the recliner unless the Sabres need a bit of a shake-up - is one of my favorite things to do in the whole wide world. Mark's lifelong status as a hockey fan sometimes combines with my relatively new fandom to create some interesting conversations, my personal favorite being WHY DOESN"T THE GOALIE HAVE TO SIT IN THE PENALTY BOX? It goes a little something like this:

Me: Wait, who was that penalty on?
Mark: Marty.
Me: He doesn't have to go to the box?
Mark: (laughing hysterically) No, of course not.
Me: Why not?
Mark: Because he's the goalie.
Me: So?
Mark: So who's going to play goalie if Marty's in the box?
Me: Well, who plays left wing if the left wing is in the box?
Mark: Nobody really. Everyone sort of adjusts because then they're short-handed.
Me: So why can't they adjust to cover for the goalie?
Mark: (losing all semblance of patience) Because it woud be too easy for the other team to score if there was no goalie!
Me: So maybe the goalie shouldn't be taking stupid penalties like that. Ha! I win!
Mark: (long pause...) I might've liked it better when you didn't watch hockey.

Other great conversations in the annals of Stately B. Manor include WHY DO SOME COINCEDENTAL PENALTIES CREATE A 4-ON-4 SITUATION WHILE OTHER COINCEDENTALS CANCEL OUT AND WE STAY 5-ON-5, HOW CAN SOMETHING BE A PENALTY AND A DIVE, and of course, SERIOUSLY, HOW UGLY ARE THOSE UNIFORMS? (Me: Seriously, how ugly are those stupid slugs? Mark: (wearing blue slug jersey) Don't call it that! Me: Oh, I'm sorry. Slug. Slug! Slugslugslugslugslug!)

This past year was a pretty darn crappy one all the way around for the B. family. I won't go into details because I'm sure it's not very interesting for anyone who isn't us, but whether we were watching at home or at HSBC, for a few hours the Sabres helped us forget about all the real world stuff and enjoy a little frivolous fun together. There's nowhere better to be than at HSBC watching the Flyers getting pulverized side-by-side with my Marky Mark.

Something About Me
I met Mark on the internet. DC Comics used to have a huge section on AOL and we "met" on one of the messageboards in the Batman section. We started emailing and IMing regularly, occasionally even speaking on the phone. After six or seven months, we decided to meet in person. Evidently it went well because Mark, who had never lived anywhere but Buffalo, moved to Birmingham, AL where I was living and attending school at the time. He was there for a couple of years, we got engaged then married, and moved back to Buffalo. We'll celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary in October. The celebration will probably consist of ordering in pizza and watching the Sabres.

Something Else About Me
I still think it would be kind of awesome if goalies had to serve their two minutes in the penalty box.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

This Game's Going to Ooooooovertiiiiiiiime!

It's late so I'm going to make this short and sweet. But first! My husband Marky Mark came out of hiding and commented on "O Captain, My Captain." And okay, I pretty much browbeat him into it ("You had a blog for four months and didn't tell me about it so I'll comment when I'm good and ready!") but everyone please say hi!

Why I Love Hockey #17 - Playoff Overtime Games
There really is nothing else in all of sports like overtime in the playoffs in the NHL. Nothing. I've mentioned before that I grew up in Alabama, not exactly a hockey-centric area. The Sabres' playoff run in 1999 was my first real dose of the NHL, and the excruciating, agonizing excitement of overtime really helped suck me into the sport. I'll never forget totally ignoring my babysitting duties during the first OT of Game Six, scooting to the edge of my seat every time the Sabres took the puck into the offensive zone and leaping up with every shot or sinking into the couch and covering my eyes every time Dallas had the puck in our zone. I'll never forget jumping in the car and breaking every speed limit between the Hamilton's house and mine in an effort to get home before the second OT started. I'll never forget the knot in the center of my stomach and the devastating suddeness of the loss. Things were going, going, going and boom! Just like that it was all over. Even though the Sabres lost, I really think it was partly the memory of the fun and agony of that night that led me back to hockey. Basketball's overtime scoring goes back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Baseball's extra innings are, with the exception of a walk-off homer, long and slow. Runners move progressively around the bases and the other team often has a chance to tie the game back up. You can see it coming. Same with football. Even though it's sudden death, play generally moves slowly down the field. Overtime hockey isn't like that. Guys fight and scrap, leaving everything they have on the ice, and with one shot, it's all over. Someone's a winner and someone's a loser. It's an amazing high when you're the winner and completely heart-breaking when you're the loser, but I wouldn't have it any other way.