Saturday, September 29, 2007

Captain Roy and Why I Love Hockey: The Retirement Edition

Buffalo in July: I can't believe we signed that little punk Roy for so much money! This is gonna be a huge bust! Darcy's an idiot!

Buffalo tonight: D-Roy for Captain!

I love that Lindy rewarded a great performance and effort by giving Derek the C for tonight's game and I loved seeing Derek step up again tonight while wearing it. I do have mixed feelings about him getting the C right now though. On one hand, I think he totally has it in him - he was the captain of the Kitchener Rangers team that won the Memorial Cup in 2003 so this isn't a new thing for him - and he's going to be in Buffalo for the next six years so he has plenty of time to grow into it. But on the other hand, he is still very young and he has shown himself to sometimes be pretty immature on the ice. If he's going to be the Buffalo representative on the ice then he needs to find a way to deal with bad calls or non-calls that doesn't involve rolling his eyes and slamming his stick around. That said, as focused as Derek has seemed both on the ice and off, if someone like Lindy sat down with him and told him that's what they needed to see, I suspect we would see it. I think he wants that letter.

Why I Love Hockey #28 - Jim Lorentz
So Jim Lorentz announced his retirement. I have to be honest, I'm pretty sad about this. Chris Drury and Daniel Briere split? Whatever. We have a lot of young talent left. Jim Lorentz isn't going to be on my TV this season? I can't deal.

When I moved to Buffalo, I had watched very little live hockey. I looked at a game and I saw a swirling mess of guys on skates. It was fun to look at but it made very little sense. That's where Jim Lorentz came in. He was very good at breaking down plays and pointing out the little things that added up to big moments. After almost every goal he would point out what led to the goal - the d-man using his body to knock the forward off the puck, the other d-man swooping in to pick up the loose puck and then making a perfect outlet pass to a streaking wing - and he did it in a plain-spoken way that made it easy for even a newbie like me to understand what he was talking about. I can appreciate defensmen like Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman and defensive forwards like Jochen Hecth because Jim took care to point out the things they were doing to contribute. I know most of what I know about hockey because of Jim.

Where Rick Jeanneret is all bombast and enthusiams, Jim was more even-keeled and always, always honest. If the Sabres were playing like crap, he called them on it. When he said, "That was an absolutel atrocious power play by Buffalo," he echoed what every fan was thinking and feeling. When he applauded someone's effort, the player always deserved it and Jim didn't care if the player was wearing a Buffalo jersey or a Toronto jersey.

I'm very sad about Jim's retirement because no matter how good his replacement might be, it's not going to be the same. There's something very old-fashioned about the way Rick and Jim work. I don't really know how to explain it but I feel it very deeply. If they have something interesting to share about a player, they share it but it never overshadows the game going on in front of them. We don't get long-winded, twisting stories about Andrew Peters' childhood while Maxim Afinogenov is taking the puck end-to-end for a goal. They're not about the flash and the glitter - they're about the game. Rick and Jim's relationship in the booth was very warm and natural. They seemed to know instinctively when the other was going to speak and they never crowded each other out. Some of that was working together for as many years as they did (something unlikely to happen these days), some of it was clearly friendship.

Someone pointed out to me that when you watch most of the games on TV, the broadcast duo really does become a part of the team. That's even more true here in Buffalo where we've had the same duo for so many years. I don't like this whole retirment thing, Jim but I do wish you well. I'm glad I got to be part of your team for so many years.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Tiny Terror Terrorizes Toronto

Last we talked I was a little annoyed with Derek Roy for what I felt was an egregious display of puck bunny pandering. What can I say? Six points against the Leafs will earn anyone a little slack, especially a hat trick that consisted of one of every kind of goal - even strength, power play, and short-handed. I was listening to the game on the radio (I had a long, ugly battle with Sopcast before I finally convinced myself that I wanted to hear Matt Barnaby call the game) so I won't pretend like I was getting the full picture, but based on the highlight package I saw, I can say the Tiny Terror was buzzing, creating some havoc, and earned atleast a couple of his points through sheer hustle. That's the Derek I love. He was so brutal in the playoffs that I think a lot of fans forgot that he was very good in the regular season and terrific in the previous playoffs, particularly against Ottawa. All the youngsters have been saying the right things about stepping up and filling roles, but Derek is clearly chomping at the bit to get some extra responsibility on and off the ice. If he eases up on the whining a bit, he'll be aces. (Heather B's official prediction: 26 goals, 58 assists.)

It's really too bad that we don't have any offense. Poor Ryan will have to keep us in every game!

In other news, Jay McKee broke his foot. Oh, Jay.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why I Love Hockey, Part 27: GOALIE FIGHT!

Why I Love Hockey #27 - Goalie Fiiiiiight!
This video from last night reminded me of one of my favorite things about hockey: Goalie fights. Take a look at it and we'll reconvene below:

Now tell me that isn't one of the most entertaining things you've seen all week?

Goalie fights are great because they happen so rarely that it's like a nice little gift when they do occur. I was at the Ottawa brawl game in February and while the crowd was pretty nuts from the Chris Neil hit on, things really hit a fever pitch when Ray Emery and Marty Biron started edging out of their respective creases. My friend Monica and I were sitting next to each other and we're usually pretty low-key at games. But at that point we were like little kids. We grabbed each other, started jumping up and down and screamed, "There goes Marty! There goes Marty! Goalie fight! GOALIE FIIIIGHT!"

I love how some goalies come charging out of the crease, flinging their gloves and helmet as they skate, fists cocked and ready. It's like years of standing by the net watching other people fight has finally gotten to them. I also love how some goalies - like the aforementioned Biron - seem kind of delighted at the idea of a fight, like, "Hey, why the heck not? It might be fun!" Some goalies look like they might know what they're doing, some guys look like there's a good reason they've spent their entire hockey career standing by the net watching other people fight.

But the reason I really love goalie fights is because they're funny. They're easily the funniest thing in pro sports and quite possibly one of the funniest things ever. Watching a goalie fight is like watching the two chubbiest, most uncoordinated kids in gym class go at it. I know, I know... Many goalies today are very athletic and they have the disadvantage of trying to fight in 100 lbs. of crap... It's still funny. It's funny to see two guys charge towards each other with fierce determination, throw one punch and then tumble to the ground. It's funny to see the one who's falling grab the other guy, taking him down too. It's funny to watch their legs flail for a few seconds before they manage to stand back up and then do it all again. If they're slow to fall, chances are good they've grabbed on to each other and are basically holding each other up while skating around in a little circle, both looking down at the ice instead of each other. It's funny. Goalies do sometimes manage to have pretty vicious fights but usually? Funny!

For your viewing enjoyment:

First of all, I still can't believe anyone would suggest that Chris Drury was too busy watching his pass to notice the guy skating up behind him. Second of all, announcer guy, Marty knew what he was getting into. After the game he said his plan was to not get hit in the face too much.

One of my favorite goalie fights, Garth Snow vs. Steve Shields. I love how the linesman tries and tries to break them up before deciding it's not worth the bother.

(Somewhere during the course of writing this post, Jim Lorentz announced his retirement. I'll comment on that at some point but for now I'm pretending it didn't happen. That's my coping skill.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why I Love Hockey - Part 26

Why I Love Hockey #26 - Playoff Beards
One of the first things I loved about hockey was the tradition of playoff beards. You could say it's oddly symbolic - for the next untold number of weeks, we care about hockey above all else and we will show that by not paying attention to what happens to our faces during that time! - but mostly it's a dumb boy bonding thing. And I can get behind that. Hey, whatever works, fellas.

A couple of years ago when the Houston Astros made it to the World Series, some of them grew playoff beards. Despite Jeff Bagwell being a great example of a transformative beard (more on that later), this definitely did not work for me. First of all, the baseball playoffs are pretty short. They start and end in the same month, more or less. What kind of beard can a guy grow in that time? Certainly not one to rival a beard that's grown over the course of the NHL playoffs, a journey so long that it's practically a season unto itself.

The Astros also looked suspiciously like they were trimming their beards every night which is just a crime. I feel very strongly that this goes against the playoff beard code. The very best playoff beard resembles some kind of nest by the end of the postseason. You start growing that sucker and you go with it. If your beard turns out to be gray or oddly colored or especially wiry or poofy, then own it, baby. Let Scott Niedermayer (2006-2007) be your beacon.

I always enjoy seeing which players can grow beards and which ones can't. Jason Pominville was the youngest guy on his line last season and one of the youngest guys on the team but his beard put Jochen Hecht's little goatee and Daniel Briere's soul patch and dusting of fuzz to shame. (Can't you just picture Playoff Briere with a beret and long cigarette holder?) Some players - Paul Gaustad and Chris Drury - seem to sprout full beards pratically overnight though I suspect Drury is a :::gasp::: trimmer. Some guys are forced to work with what little they can get.

The last fun thing about playoff beards is comparing the before and after. Some guys look terrible with their playoff scruff. If I met Ryan Miller in downtown Buffalo during the conference finals, I would fully expect him to be shaking a tin cup and swearing at me after I refused to give him any money. The patchy beard along with the scraggly hair - especially the sweaty post-game hair - was not a good look. (This image is helped along by the fact that as far as I can tell, Ryan dresses like a homeless man.)

On the flip side, you have the transformative beard. If I were related to Brian Campbell in any way - parent, sibling, cousin, girlfriend, friend, gardener - I'd be begging him to keep a full beard all year round because he looks so much better with it. It's truly amazing. Let's compare, shall we?

Here's regular season Brian Campbell. Cute enough but you know, kinda dorky.

Here's postseason Brian Campbell, suddenly a dashingly handsome young man.

We'll close this increasingly frustrating post (#!@##@!@ Blogger and the $#@!@#$ images) with this, my favorite playoff beard, J.P. Dumont, 2005-2006. J.P's beard was truly a thing of beauty - full, thick, and clearly untouched by scissors or razors. He also had that awesome phenomenon going on where his beard consisted of three or four different shades of color, including streaks of bright red. If I'd seen J.P. in downtown Buffalo around the time of the conference finals, I would've crossed the street to avoid him. That's how awesome it was. This picture, while slightly frightening, does not do it justice. Trust me.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Top Shelf Birthday!

But first a few words about tonight's game. It was... not that good. There were clearly a lot of kids in the line-up and everyone seemed to have a bit of preseason rust. The overall play was pretty sloppy - lots of little turnovers and sloppy passes. But it was a blast anyway. Walking in the arena just as the boys came out for warm-ups, U2's City of Blinding Lights blaring over the PA, Doug Allen singing the anthems, the fancy video on the ice, the first spontaneous "Let's Go Buff-a-lo!" cheer... Hockey is really, really back and I'm pretty darn excited about that.

The other big plus for the night is that I thought Thomas Vanek looked really good despite not showing up on the score sheet. He was hustling all over the ice, he was throwing his body around, and he was back-checking like crazy, coming up with a couple of really solid defensive plays including the one pictured below. I admit, I was more than a little surprised when I realized it was Vanek who had just laid out on the ice. It was good to see him playing a more well-rounded game.

And now the real reason for this post. Today is, according to my Sabres calendar, Toni Lydman's 30th birthday. It would appear that this is incorrect since everything on the internet lists his birthday as September 25th but hey, whatever. I'm pretending it's today and as a gift, I'm giving him his very own blog entry.

Way back in March, when I first started this blog, I told you all that my favorite Sabres were Henrik Tallinder, Tim Connolly, Brian Campbell, Derek Roy, and someone who no longer plays for the team. One of the best things about open practice is getting to see those guys up close. I think it's a great way to find out who your favorite players really are because while I love seeing everyone up close, I definitely get a certain buzz when certain guys are around and find myself keeping a closer eye on them. Some of the players who got my undivided attention were not surprises - Hank and Timmy absolutely and Soupy mostly. But there were a couple who did surprise me a little - Jochen Hecht and the birthday boy, Toni Lydman.

Now don't get me wrong. I like Toni and always have. But I never would've thought of saying he was one of my favorites. I suppose I'm guilty of doing to him what most people do to Hank - I take him for granted. As players, he and Hank are very similar: big, strong skating guys who play very good positional defense. He's easy to overlook because aside from the occasional WHAT THE HELL! turnover (usually a clearing attempt that perfectly sets up the opposing point man for a shot on goal), he's always where he needs to be, doing what he's supposed to be doing. I'm excited about this year's team but there are a lot of question marks. Are the younger guys going to step up? Is the defense going to hold together, especially with Teppo out? Seeing Toni out there in the middle of practices was very soothing. On the ice it's nice to have a few guys from whom you pretty much know what you're going to get. You can watch them without being TOO nervous about what's going to happen while they're out there and I think Toni's one of those guys. Off the ice he seems loose enough to play around with and have fun with the guys but he also seems very steady and even-keeled. I could definitely see him bringing some maturity to the team if needed and I don't see why he can't provide the same kind of calm, professional leadership Drury did, atleast on some level.

So happy birthday, Toni! And congratulations because it would seem that you are now officially one of my favorite Sabres! I hope the boys let you have control of the CD player for the day so you can rock out to your heart's content.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another Day, Another Practice

First up, I hear Teppo's surgery went well so yay Teppo! (The guy next to me at practice this morning: "I'm assuming Teppo didn't die on the table since they're still having practice.")

Second of all, I learned via Sabre Rattling that the defensive pairing of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman is breaking up. Mark and I had noticed that Hank and Toni hadn't worked together at all in the preseason practices/scrimmages we'd attended and people have been talking about the need to do this all off-season. It makes perfect sense. With Teppo out, we're down a reliable d-man and if Lindy keeps Hank and Toni together he's leaving himself some pairings that could be quite adventurous to watch. And I totally agree that allowing Brian Campbell and Jaroslav Spacek to play to their strengths really requires them being paired with a more defensive-minded guy. Soupy can chase the puck to his heart's content and know that Hank, his new partner, is taking care of things at home. I can't argue with this decision at all. But I'm really very sad about the split. Hank and Toni are so steady and dependable. They belong together. They're peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, and every other traditional, comforting pairing you can think of. They're a warm, fuzzy blanket on a cold winter night. They belong! I feel like I need Lindy to sit down with me and assure me, "This has nothing to do with you. Hank and Toni still love you and they're still going to be great teammates."

Mark and I blew off work today and went to practice - a tradition we started last season that I fully intend to do for the rest of our lives - and while I will make some hockey oriented comments in a second, I have to get a couple of things of my chest because two things almost ruined my day.

I decided I was going to sit as closely to the ice as I could today and I ended up in the second row behind a group of college girls. Practice started late and one of them spent the entire time bitching about the very large group of teenagers there - it was some kind of field trip - and while there were a ton of them and they were extremely noisy, they were clearly enjoying themselves and extremely well behaved. She kept complaining that she couldn't "deal with these $@!@$$ people and all their *$&&@@! noise" and went on and on about how they needed to "just go the #$@! home already." Hey, girlie, you're at a hockey rink not a library so unless you rented the place out for you and your party shut up and let everyone else enjoy themselves.

And THEN as the players started trickling in the whole group started taping signs to the glass ("Jason Pominville" with little hearts around it etc.) Are you freakin' kidding me? You have the gall to complain about other people ruining your precious experience and you're going to clutter up the glass with ugly, inane signs?! And they totally knew what they were doing because the girl in front of me turned around and looked right at me while she was taping up her sign to see if I'd say anything which is when I told her (oh-so-politely of course) that this was not going to work for me because I couldn't see through her sign which is when she moved it up even more which is when I reminded her that there were people behind me as well which is when I'm pretty sure the Complainer called me a bitch under her breath. I probably should've complained to security about them just to be a witch but I ended up moving since Hank was on the other bench. Even after I moved though these girls were totally bugging me. All they did through the entire scrimmage was yell things like, "Kaleta, baby, over here!" and "You're hot, Kotalik!" When Derek Roy came on the bench and then did that stretch where the player lifts one leg up on the wall they were all giggling and taking pictures of his butt and yelling comments that made it clear what exactly they were looking at (and I was annoyed with Derek for seeming to enjoy the attention a little too much) and it was just totally gross. Listen, I certainly notice when a player is attractive (and seriously, Kaleta and Kotalik?) but I also know how said player performs on the ice. I'm extremely confident that if I'd asked these girls what they thought about Pominville's potential linemates they wouldn't have understood the question. They were super excited when Lindy Ruff read their signs. Girls, he read your signs and then VISIBLY GRIMACED (which was awesome). You're idiots. I know it and Lindy knows it. You're exactly the reason the NHL feels like it has to cater to its female fans with pink jerseys, "I Heart Crosby" shirts, and crap with butterflies on it.


Kate said during practice on Sunday, "Well, our socks are still cool" so I noticed these abominations right away. They're solid blue except for that strip of white down the back. Why? Why is the only color/design on the BACK OF THE SOCKS? I suppose for the same reason most of the color/design on the jerseys is IN THE ARMPIT AREA. Some of the boys evidently didn't get the memo on how to wear them because they had them on backwards and they looked, if possible, even uglier. People, horizontal stripes! What's so hard about them? I'll give it to Larry Quinn. Last year when he claimed the slug jerseys were designed with Reebok's re-design in mind, I thought he was blowing smoke up our collective ass. But now we totally blend in with the rest of the league's ugly. These are tragic.

I know I promised actual hockey content but I need to get to bed. I'll leave you with a few photos from today:

Hank on the bench right in front of me. He was very smiley and talked a lot more than I expected him to. He and T-Bone were having a grand time.

Timmy gets a lesson on tightening his chinstrap.

Part of the new mural. I'm totally digging the bloodied Adam Mair but I can't believe they used the picture of Timmy with that ridiculous facial hair. Timmy, this is what happens when you do stupid things - they get immortalized on the wall of a pro sports arena.

A little perspective on just how honking big the mural is.

Hockey! The Connolly line looked good again today.

The puck bunnies clearly didn't read the Sabres Squee-View since the three best-looking Sabres were sitting on the other bench, completely ignored. Hank, Jochen, and Goose.

I don't know what happened, but Jochen got traded during the second intermission of today's scrimmage. One minute he was wearing his own number on Team Yellow, the next minute he was wearing Max's number on Team Blue.

At the end of practice a few of the boys stayed and played around for a few minutes. Goose flipped a backhand down the ice to Toni and then told him to flip it back "from there." This went on for a while and they were getting the puck pretty high up in the air. I've never posted a video before so we'll see if this works. It's only a few seconds long and it's not the greatest quality but hey, it's fun. Goose and Derek are on one end (Derek was stretching until they started playing and then he immediately popped up and skated over). I can't remember who was on the other end with Toni. Oh, actually it was Stafford. I think.

It looked like so much fun that even Ryan couldn't help but get in on it. You can't really see the puck traveling but Ryan suddenly jumped up and knocked it right out of the air.

Mark has a couple more pictures at his blog.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Random Musings of a Cluttered Mind

A collection of subjects that have very little to do with each other:

- First up, I need to make sure that everyone knows Sportsquee's Buffalo Sabres Squee-View is now up. Margee's blog is one of the funniest, most entertaining blogs on the internet and one of my very favorite reads. And I'm not just saying that because she named Henrik Tallinder the team's MVSquee.

- During a postgame conference during the playoffs, Lindy Ruff mentioned that he had a theory about why Maxim Afinogenov was struggling and said maybe he'd share that theory after the season was over. Today, he finally let us in on it. You can read the whole story here, but here it is in a nutshell:

“Max, while warming up playing soccer in the playoffs, flipped over backwards and hit his head on the concrete before Game Three in Long Island,” Ruff said, “and I don’t think he was right for a little while after that.”

With the knowledge that Max didn't really do any permanent damage to himself, I have to say this is one of the funniest things I've ever heard. It's been many years since I've played soccer so I could be fuzzy on how the game works but how the heck do you land on your head playing a game that's about keeping the ball in the air? I desperately need someone to do a little more investigating into this story. And the quote from Vanek - "He fell straight back on his head,” Sabres winger Thomas Vanek said of Afinogenov’s spill. “Once he went down, we quit immediately" - cracks me up for some reason. In my head, Max decides to get all showy, ignores the fact that they're playing on concrete and attempts one of those upside down bicycle kicks. He lands head first and the other boys start freaking out, trying to figure out what to do. And then they hear Lindy coming and freeze for a long second before scattering in every direction, leaving Lindy to find a moaning, barely conscious Max with a soccer ball at his feet. Sometimes I'm just overwhelmed by affection for these guys.

- Mark and I went to the scrimmage tonight along with his mom, sister, and nephew. Mark was rooting for the Blue Team since that's where Drew Stafford was while I was pulling for Team Gold. Alas Team Gold got shellacked, 10-4 although they did win the shootout. I don't really have much to note about the game itself other than the fact that the Kotalik-Connolly-Pominville line looked really good. They didn't connect for any goals but Timmy just sent them beautiful set-up after beautiful set-up. Timmy, Hank may have knocked you off the Favorite Sabre pedestal, but I'm still super happy to see you back on the ice.

Anyway, I was pretty distracted by this:

I realize this might sound a little hypocritical coming from a girl who took the time to Paint Shop hearts all over a picture of Henrik Tallinder but... this is pathetic. Maybe - maybe - I could excuse a 14-year-old girl, but the woman wearing this jersey was definitely old enough to know better. Seriously, how do you place an order for that jersey without feeling ridiculous much less actually wear it in public? My favorite thing is that I feel pretty sure that if Ryan Miller saw this, he'd immediately assume this woman was a freak. I gave Mark very strict instructions: If I ever come home with a jersey that says MRS. HANK, punch me in the head until I come to my senses.

- And finally... I've been pretty mum about the Teppo Numminen suspension here, mostly because I feel like I've been talking about it ad nauseum on other blogs. But I will say this: I understand that it was a business decision. No matter how many other examples people give - Lemieux, Fisher, Pisani - this situation is different and it has different salary and cap ramifications. I seriously doubt that the parties involved hadn't discussed Teppo's health problems and how they would affect his contract if a problem came up. Honestly, the only opinion I'm that concerned with is Teppo's and while he certainly has other things to worry about right now, he doesn't seem particularly surprised or upset by the suspension. He's talking very openly about returning to the Sabres if and when he's cleared and the Sabres are talking very openly about welcoming him back. It doesn't sound like any relationships have been soured or damaged. If Teppo's okay with it, then everything else is just noise.

That said...

I love that joke!

Seriously... I really like Teppo. Anyone who's cool enough to go to a Justin Timberlake concert with his much younger teammates - and cool enough that his much younger teammates would want him there - is aces in my book. I'm very nervous on his behalf. My father died of a heart attack when he was very young (38) and because I was so young (4) I only have very vague memories of him. Heart problems make me twitchy. Teppo gets razzed for being an old man, but in the real non-hockey world he's still a pretty young guy with a very young family and a lot of life left to live. My prayers and thoughts are definitely with you, Old Man, especially today.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (and Watch Hockey)

I'm sure that some of you probably felt a shift in the blogosphere early Sunday morning. That was the exact moment that Kate, Courtney, and I met up - in real life! - at HSBC Arena for the Sabres morning practice. "New" friends and real hockey? Does it get any better?

News and notes:

Kate mentioned this on her blog but I think it bears repeating: Andrew Peters had the largest cheering section by far. Who knew? He seems like a nice enough guy but the mind, it was boggled. And this was not two or three people making a lot of noise. It was two or three ROWS of people yelling, "Peters! Peters!" every time he stepped on the ice.

The one good thing about all the injuries last year was that I recognized a lot of the Rochester guys - as long as they were near us. When they were on the other side of the ice I lost track of them because they were wearing incorrect or duplicate numbers. We lost our rosters between practice and scrimmage ("Yes, I believe these two flimsy photocopies WILL hold our seats for us!") which led to us calling them ridiculous things like "Yellow 19" and "Baby Teppo." ("They gave away Teppo's number?! Those bastards!") And there were a handful of guys I'd never, ever heard of who I kind of feel were completely made up.

Every year there's one prospect who makes me say, "What is he, 12?" but this year there was a kid there who really looked to be 12. In addition to being baby-faced he was very small and underdeveloped. This kid made Derek Roy look big and studly. We were actually debating whether he belonged to a coach because he was working off to the side for most of the practice but then he started participating with the big boys. The guy behind us in the stands jumped in to tell it was Nathan Gerbe - I think the poor guy was worried that we really were going to pull out megaphone and yell, "YOU THERE IN THE RED JERSEY! PLEASE STATE YOUR NAME, AGE, AND CREDENTIALS!" but we were kidding mostly. For some reason I really didn't think it was Nathan Gerbe however and sure enough my amazing investigative skills led me to the discovery that it was actually Paul Byron. Byron is 18 and listed at 5'8" (which means he's probably 5'7" at the most) and an unbelievable 135 lbs. I have sixth grade students bigger than this kid! He didn't take part in any contact drills so I have no idea how strong he is but he definitely has wheels. He hung right in there with Timmy during one of those "skate around the pylons and then race to the puck" drills and even beat him once. (But seriously, click on the link and tell me he doesn't look 12.)

Mark: So who looked good?
Heather: Hank.
Mark:... Are we talking about the same thing?

I think our favorite drill was the one that featured two guys wrestling at center ice. Okay, I think the point was for the guy without a stick to use his body to push the other guy off the puck but it devolved quickly into wrestling. It was the most fun to watch because it seemed to bring out both the players' competitiveness and silliness. Tallinder and Stafford were particularly feisty with each other (go, Hank, go!) and before too long guys were getting in first shoves before the whistle, purposely tripping each other up, and giggling with glee when somebody went down on the ice. It was somehow manly and adorable.

Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff were in the building, watching the team from across the arena. I thought it was a little curious that Lindy wasn't on the ice, but it was kind of neat watching them. They'd go through long stretches where they didn't say anything to each other and then all of a sudden they'd start having what seemed like a very involved conversation. ("Man, that Yellow 19 is very impressive. But what's with the 12-year-old?") Kate's gotten it in her head that not only should Darcy become a regular reader of our blogs, particularly mine since I'm a pretty determined Darcy apologist, he should sit down for a Top Shelf interview. I'm not sure he'd know how to handle being interviewed by someone who actually likes him and feels he's pretty good at his job at this point in his Buffalo tenure. Anyway, I told him I needed to talk to him before he left for the day and gave very clear directions as to where I was parked but he totally stood me up. Bastard! (Just kidding, Darcy! Call me!)

We decided that next year we're going to communicate with the players via post-its. It's sure to work. If someone slapped up a post-it in front of you, wouldn't you be curious enough to skate over and see what it said?




YOU CAN DO IT! YOU'RE A STAR! (Strictly encouraging for Tri.)


I don't care what his listed height is, I'm sure Derek Roy is shorter than me. If I ever meet him in real life, I'll be far too shy to say anything, but I fully plan on sidling up next to him to see how we compare. And yes, I will start my hand on top of my head and move it to the top of his if need be. I need to know this.

So all in all, it was a great way to kill a few hours. Kate and Courtney were both awesome and I hope we get together again at some point. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly we were comfortable with each other. And it was great to see hockey again! Sweet, sweet hockey!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why I Love Soupy

From an interview on

Q: What would you like to see differently on the power play this year?

Soupy: More goals?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why I Love Hockey #25: Henrik Tallinder

Back in 2005-2006 I thought Tim Connolly was my favorite player. I really did. I was in awe of what he could do with a stick and a puck. Sometimes, even watching in slow motion, I just could not see how he did some of the things he did. I was also getting a kick out of most of Buffalo backtracking and claiming they knew the day would come when it would be clear that we were on the winning side of the Peca trade. (Oh, Buffalo. I love you like crazycakes.) I was really upset when Timmy got crushed in the Conference Finals. I did not enjoy watching him lay on the ice, Kotalik peering down at him, looking for all the world like he was saying, "Dude. Are you dead?" I did not enjoy watching Kotalik and a trainer prop him up and slide him off the ice. I did not enjoy the glazed over, lights out look on his face. I did not enjoy listening to conversations about whether his career was over or not and in fact, temporarily banned another classroom aide from my room because he kept coming in to ask me things like, "Do you think Connolly will ever set foot on the ice again?" I spent the entire off-season scouring message boards for updates. I was encouraged when the Sabres re-signed Timmy for three years and then discouraged when he seemed to fall off the face of the earth after that.

And then the season started. And I missed Timmy. But I didn't MISS him. My friend Sue adores Maxim Afinogenov and any time he's out, even just for a couple of games, she's going nuts the entire time. I was bummed by Timmy's absence but I was definitely not going nuts and after a while, I didn't even notice as much. That's when I started to feel like maybe my favorite player was still out there waiting to be discovered.

I don't remember the specific game or opponent but I do remember there was a moment when I watched Henrik Tallinder move the puck up the ice and thought, "Holy cow, he is beautiful." Now I'm not talking about physical appearance here (though I do think he's a pretty handsome fella). I'm talking about his on-ice presence. He's just so darn graceful. I don't know if it's his long, lean frame or if it's simply something ingrained in his particular skating style but he's looks so effortless. Max and Soupy are blurs of legs and motion and Hank seems to almost be moving in slow motion in comparison. But four or five easy strides and geez, he's covered a lot of ice. Where Max often looks like he's barely keeping control of all his limbs, Hank never looks like he's about to lose control of the puck. Even on the rare occasion that he does lose control he never looks panicky or jumpy. I love watching him during pre-game skates. At some point during every skate he moves out to center ice and skates backwards from one side to the other, back and forth, over and over and I'm completely enraptured. I can't even stand on skates so how someone can look that relaxed and at-ease skating backwards is beyond me.

I will admit that a lot of my initial affection for Hank was in retrospect. After that day I first took notice of him, I started thinking about him more. "You know, he was really great in the playoffs, one of our best players. Losing Timmy really hurt our offense but it might've been Hank's injury that really caused the wheels to come off." At first I felt bad about that. If he were really my favorite player, wouldn't I have noticed him while he was playing the best stretch of hockey he's played in his career? (Not that he wasn't good this past season. But he spent a lot of time on IR - Hank the Tank my ass - and I think the broken arm, the re-broken arm, and the nagging ankle sprain affected his game physically and maybe even a little bit mentally.) But after a while I got over it because I think that's just the type of player Hank is. He plays a very solid, very quiet game which results in him being pretty under the radar. Every once in a while he pulls off a move that makes you sit up and take notice. I remember a game against Pittsburgh where Hank was the only thing between Sidney Crosby and the net. He stayed with him, stayed with him, stayed with him and then at precisely the right second calmly reached around with those long arms and poked the puck away, making Sid the Kid look like just another hockey player.

But that's not how it usually goes. Soupy sometimes looks flashier because he has to haul ass down the ice to make up for the fact that's he's out of position. Spacek and Teppo are more visible because they get more power play time. Hank is almost always where he needs to be so his play doesn't need to be dramatic. While he can carry the puck and he has a pretty accurate shot, he's not a goal scorer and probably never will be. He's a defensive defenseman and like I said in the previous post, if those guys do their job correctly, they're probably not getting noticed too much. Even Sabres fans who know how valuable the Tallinder-Lydman pairing are take them for granted, I think. Our defense was a bit of an adventure to watch sometimes last season so it was nice to relax for 30 seconds here and there and pretty soon people were relaxing without even realizing it. And you know, I like it that way. Listen, I have no problem with people loving Afinogenov and Vanek and Miller. They're all very good hockey players and their popularity is completely justified. I also think your favorite player is your favorite player. There's just something in that particular guy that calls out to you, that fits you and what you love and appreciate about the game at that point in your fandom.

But... I would be lying if I didn't admit that there's a teeny tiny part of me that feels like those guys are so easy. The flashiest guy on the team, the leading scorer, and the starting goalie? Man, come on. And I would be lying if I didn't admit that there's a teeny tiny part of me that's proud of the fact that my favorite player isn't that high on the popularity chart. I love walking into HSBC Arena on game night and seeing just a handful of Tallinder jerseys. I love wearing my jersey on Sabres day at the grocery store and getting comments like, "Tallinder, huh? That's an odd one." I love talking to people about what a beautiful skater he is and having them say things like, "Really? I've never noticed." Part of me wishes people would notice, but part of me knows if Hank were more noticed, he'd probably be a different kind of player. And if he were a different kind of player, then he wouldn't be my kind of player.

Earlier I mentioned that it was partly Timmy's time on IR that made me realize he wasn't really my favorite player. Well, Hank spent enough time on IR last season to help me realize that he really was. (I got it now, Hank, thanks. You don't need to spend any time on IR this season.) When he re-broke his arm, I spent weeks telling people how I thought the doctors should attach adamantium to his entire skeleton just like Wolverine so it would be impossible for him to break another bone. When friends complained about how long it was taking to come back from a "stupid sprain" I cited medical people who said that sometimes a high ankle sprain was worse than a break because it tends to linger for so long. When that jackass Daniel Alfredsson freakin' boarded Hank in the playoffs I sat in the 300 level of HSBC freaking out about how he wasn't getting up and how that usually meant he was hurt and how he probably broke his arm again. ("I knew they should have gone with the adamantium! I knew it!") During the Games to Remember this summer we got three games in a row with no Hank and even though I'd seen all those games once before, I was still upset that I had to sit through that many games without my favorite player. Who picked those games anyway?

So here's to you, Henrik Tallinder, Heather B's favorite Sabre. (Please don't get hurt.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why I Love Hockey: The Canadian Version

Why I Love Hockey #24 - O, Canada
Fans from other cities occasionally ask me why we sing the Canadian National anthem before every game even though Buffalo is in the U.S. The truth is, I have no idea. Maybe because we're so close to the border that we're practically in Canada. Maybe because we know hockey is, at its heart, Canadian. Maybe because we know a lot of our favorite players are Canadian. I don't know. All I know is, I'm really glad we do it. First of all, it's fun to sing. I'm an alto - I can't sing our National Anthem. I try but I'm sure the people around me aren't very pleased at the excruciating sounds they're being subjected to. But O, Canada? Totally in my wheel house. I can sing that sucker all day long and sound halfway decent doing so. I also think it's just a lovely melody. I often find myself humming or singing it under my breath. A couple of years ago I was doing this on vacation and one of my brothers expressed surprise that one, I was singing O, Canada and two, I knew all the words. But that's what hockey has done to me. And while I can't explain why we do it, I do love that Buffalo is, as far as I know, the only American city where both anthems are sung before every game regardless of the opponent. Just one more thing that makes us special.

On a slightly different note, I've never really gotten into the Bills or football in general. I watch a few games a year, I want the team to do well, but I don't go out of my way for them. However... I might be a little bit in love with Paul Posluszny. I grew up in Alabama so I do know college football fairly well - enough to know that linebackers who come out of Penn State are usually pretty darn good. He's smart (15th in his class in high school, Academic All-American in college), he goes to church every week, he seems like a nice guy, and he probably won't dance around the field after a sack when the Bills are down 31-17. And while I'm not sure I'd say he's handsome, he's kind of cute though he could smile more. I really think it's the Time Warner commercial with him and all the kids trying to pronounce his name that pushed me over the edge though. It's adorable. Also, I could be in that commercial. Every once in a while I say to Mark, "Okay, say Poz's last name again." When I'm looking at it, it's no problem. When I'm not looking at it I seem to want to put a "ski" at the end.

So yeah. I'm adopting Paul for the season. We'll see if it sticks.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Why I Love Hockey Part 23 (Hint: It's Not Jerry Sullivan)

Regular readers will remember that a while back, around the beginning of the summer, I placed a ban on the Buffalo News and certain message boards. I just couldn't handle all the manic obsession with the loss of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. People have the right to feel the way they feel but I really felt like it was a situation where people were making it worse by gathering together and pissing and moaning about it endlessly. I got over it relatively quickly and reading that stuff was still totally bringing me down. I also understand that part of the local newspaper's job is holding the team responsible for its actions but I also think there's a point where it's time to move on and focus on the team as it is with the players who are still here.

Well, yesterday I was looking at the stack of newspapers that had been delivered to my classroom and I decided to check out the sports section. I found this gem from Jerry Sullivan:

Hard to believe, but the Sabres play their opening exhibition two weeks from Friday. Something tells me Buffalo fans aren’t close to being ready. To borrow a time-honored players’ cliche, losing Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

It hasn't sunk in yet? It hasn't sunk in yet because you won't leave it alone! Maybe if we didn't have to read all summer that our GM is an idiot who never does anything right, it would sink in. Maybe if we didn't have to read interviews with Briere and Drury's freakin' agents weeks after free agency ended, it would sink in. Maybe if the news wasn't running stupid stories tracking Briere's movements all summer (Briere's house on the market! Briere buys a house in Philly! Briere has Belgian waffles smothered in whipped cream with a slight drizzle of chocolate syrup for breakfast!), it would sink in.

Why is everyone so intent that Sabres fans be depressed and pessimistic? Am I alone in not feeling that way? Because me? I'm excited. I can't wait. I can't wait to see how Afinogenov and Vanek respond to the higher expectations and pressures. I can't wait to see if Miller's confident postseason performance carries over into the regular season. I can't wait to see the young leaders like Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy and Brian Campbell step it up to the next level. I can't wait to see Tim Connolly for a full season after an off-season of hardcore training. I can't wait to see Henrik Tallinder playing, broken arms and sprained ankles completely behind him. I can't wait to see what Drew Stafford does in a full season in the starting line-up. I can't wait for hockey. And if you don't feel the same way, well quite frankly, that's your loss. And that goes double for you, Jerry Sullivan.

Why I Love Hockey #23 - Penalty Kills
I'm a defensive minded girl. Always have been, always will be. I think a diving catch or a throw from the outfield to nail a runner at the plate is more exciting than a homerun. I think a blocked shot or steal is more exciting than a slam dunk. I think an interception or blocked kick is more exciting than a completed pass.

Defensive defensemen and defensive forwards in the NHL are vastly underrated, sometimes even by fans of the team they play for. I think there's a lot of truth in the old adage that a defenseman had a good game if you didn't notice him but that kind of stinks for them. Penalty kills are one of the few times in a game that those guys get the chance to shine and it's one of the few times the crowd audibly appreciates them. I love when Derek Roy swipes the puck from someone and then skates around and around and around with it and I love that when he finally dumps it, the crowd gives him a hearty round of applause. I love when Toni Lydman backhands a puck down the ice and the crowd cheers, especially if the penalty is winding down. I love watching guys like Tallinder and Lydman, each seeming to know what the other is going to do and where he's going to be. I love watching them dash from side to side, follwing the puck. I love that move where they put their sticks flat on the ice and swing them back and forth. I love Miller coming up with that one awesome save that seems to happen in every penalty kill. I love Teppo swooping in to save the day by clearing a puck out of the crease or protecting the net when Miller is down or out of position for the shot. I love the desperation, the frantic pace, the edge of the seat-ness of it all. I love fans appreciating anew players that usually get taken for granted because generally when they do their job well, they don't stand out.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Home Again, Home Again Jig, Jig, Jig

Well, did you miss me? I spent my first day back in town unwinding and surfing the net to see what went on while I was gone but it seems like things were pretty quiet, especially in the hockey world. I was relieved to see that I made it back just in time for the final unveiling of Kate's Favorite Sabre. Congratulations to the big winner! (You'll have to check out the link if you want to see the victor. I'm not spoiling it!)

I spent much of my vacation in the car which means lots of sleeping and reading. One of the things I've had to adjust to in switching my primary sports allegiance from baseball to hockey is the lack of hockey literature. Granted, no sport matches up with baseball literature of which there is a freakin' ton, some overly pretentious and dramatic but some of it just plain beautiful and emotional. I've managed to dig up a few goodies though. Before break I read Money Players: The Amazing Rise and Fall of Bob Goodenow and the NHL Players Association by Bruce Dowbiggin and while on break I finished off Road Games: A Year in the Life of the NHL by Roy MacGregor. The subtitle of Money Players pretty much explains what the book is about - Bob Goodenow's take over of the NHLPA and the overall financial health of the league, up to the season long lockout a couple of years ago. Road Games is a journey through the 1992-93 season (or as Mark calls it, "the year Lemieux got cancer and stole Patty's (LaFontaine) Hart"). The book focuses on, among other things, the first season of the Ottawa Senators, the battle for last place and a chance at Alexandre Daigle, the rise of numerous European stars, the expansion of the league, and the never-ending battle between players and ownership. I recommend both very much, especially Road Games. The journey of the Senators is particularly good, alternately funny and sad, heart-breaking and inspirational. I thought Money Players was fascinating but I'm really interested in all that behind the scenes stuff that fans usually aren't privy to. (During the intermission of a Sabres game shortly after the trade deadline, we saw a video package of Darcy Regier wheeling and dealing with Lindy Ruff coming in and out. Even though the names on the master white board were blacked out and even though the footage was carefully cut so that we weren't hearing any guys being offered for extra pucks and a box of orange Dreamsicles, I could watched footage like that all night. I was completely captivated.) Anyway, Money Players was a bit dry at times and I know that stuff is not everyone's cup of tea. But! While reading these two books, I discovered what's wrong with the NHL.

GMs are stupid.

Really, that's all there is to it. The vast majority of the GMs in the NHL are stupid morons who panic at the first sign of trouble. There's always one guy who's going to throw wads of money at every free agent star he can, okay? We all know that. That doesn't mean the rest of the GMs have to follow but... they do. Every single time they do! So Eric Lindros got an insane rookie contract. I know that means the next kid is going to want one too but you know what, GMs? That doesn't mean you have to give it to him! If the rest of you would just sit on your hands and let the big spender spend, eventually people would realize, hey, maybe that's not the best way to build a team. This is especially true when working with a salary cap. Maybe players would realize if they're serious about eating cereal out of the Stanley Cup one day, they might need to take a little less money so they can actually have other talent around them. (Some players would decide they didn't really care that much about that ol' Cup anyway but I think many would get the point. Maybe.) Throughout both Money Players and Road Games there is example upon example of GMs shooting themselves in the collective foot. No one is putting a gun to their head and forcing them to overpay players but they do it anyway. Money Players is loaded with quotes from various GMs saying things like, "Yeah, that was stupid. I don't know why we all did that." But. they. keep. being. stupid.

This is so frustrating! If the players agreed to a $10 salary cap some idiot GM would offer his star player a contract for $9.75. And instead of letting that idiot GM figure out how he's going to ice a full roster with his remaining 25 cents, some other idiot GM would decide, Hey, I want that player, and offer him $9.77. And yet another idiot GM would decide he was going to be the top dog and go for broke, offering $9.92 even though no one else's offer was even close to that and the majority of local media and fans would applaud him for proving he wants to ice a winner while completely ignoring the fact that he now has 8 cents to work with which means the team mascot will have to play in the top defensive pairing. (And I'm sorry, but why is the Hurricanes mascot a pig?!)

How infuriating do you think this is for GMs who are logical, level-headed thinkers? And yes, despite what many in Buffalo might say, I'm including Regier in that group. (Sidenote: Lou Lamoriello is totally the star of Money Players. Throughout the book he makes comments like, "We really messed that one up" but he very clearly means, "Can you believe I have to co-exist with these idiots?" He's awesome.) Forget you, Buffalo! I say, good for Darcy for letting someone else overpay Daniel Briere and yes, I'm saying it, Chris Drury. Congratulations, Lou for never flinching when a player - any player - demands more than you want to pay him. Thank you, Brian Burke for patting Dustin Penner on the back and saying, "I like you kid, but I don't like you that much." It's nice to see a little sanity creep in once in a while.

Way back on July 6th, I wrote a little entry on why the sounds of the game are one of the reasons why I love hockey. In that entry I mentioned the distinctive blaring of goal horns. Well, some genius out there in the universe put together this video, pairing each horn with its team (a few teams are left out be he covers most of them). It's a really cool idea and it's neat to hear how really distinctive the horns are. Even more so than I realized. Oh, I saw this at Kukla's Korner and borrowed it. Enjoy!

Hey, anyone have any hockey books you'd recommend?