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?
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 SHOULD GROW BACK YOUR HAIR SO YOU HAVE AN EXTRA LAYER OF PROTECTION ON THAT SOFT MELON OF YOURS.
IF YOU QUIT SHAVING NOW YOU COULD HAVE A DECENT BEARD BY OPENING DAY. AND PLEASE DO SOMETHING WITH THAT HAIR. YOU'RE KILLING YOUR BEST PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES.
GAMBLER SAYS HI!
YOU CAN DO IT! YOU'RE A STAR! (Strictly encouraging for Tri.)
CAN I BORROW TWENTY BUCKS?
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!