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.