Monday, October 29, 2007

Bucky Gleason? Still Pretty Stupid.

I've been living a happy, Bucky Gleason-free life but Gambler went and blew that out of the water by commenting on his weekend column over at Desperation Hockey. There were many, many things to be annoyed about: Is Jochen Hecht someone who commands respect in the dressing room? I don't know, why don't we ask the teammates who voted him captain? The defense sucks but Brian Campbell should be re-signed right away? The Rangers' slow start isn't indicative of trouble but our slow start means disaster? Dmitri Kalinin has been mediocre? Bucky, do you even watch hockey?

Here's the part that really got me though:

The Oilers gave Ryan Smyth a video tribute when he returned last week with Colorado in his first game back since Edmonton traded him. They did the same for Jason Smith when he returned with Philadelphia. It was a classy move in both cases. Just wondering if the Sabres have anything similar planned for Drury and Briere.

Now I already mentioned in my last post that I thought what the Oilers did was stupid. If you want to give Smyth a tribute when he retires, fine, great, have at it. But while he's still an active player and he's on the other team, treat him like every other opposing player. If the fans want to give him a standing ovation or acknowledge him in some way, let them do it. Otherwise let it be.

But atleast Smyth and Smith played in Edmonton for a long time, eleven and seven years respectively, I believe. Chris Drury and Daniel Briere played in Buffalo for seven years combined and both chose to play somewhere else. Why should they get a video tribute that other players didn't receive? Jay McKee played here for almost a decade and was as valuable - I'd argue he was even more valuable - as Briere or Drury. No video tribute for him? Everybody loves Marty Biron and he also played here for close to ten years. Not worthy? Heck, Stu Barnes played here longer than Briere and Drury, wore the C, and played in a Stanley Cup Final. Dominik Hasek was the team for many, many years and while he was a prick at times he was also arguably the best hockey player to ever put on a Sabres uniform. How was he welcomed back to Buffalo? We booed his ass. Which is exactly how it should be. Let the fans welcome back returning players in the way they see fit. The organization needs to stay out of it. How are Tim Connolly and Ryan Miller and Jason Pominville supposed to feel, sitting on the bench before a game, watching a tribute to a player who left Buffalo of his own free will and is about to step out on the ice in a different colored jersey, especially after an entire off-season of hearing, "Geez, this team is really going to suck without that guy!" No, I don't think so. Let it go. Move on. I enjoyed watching Drury and Briere and I wish there had been some way to keep them and everyone else around. But if there's a video tribute welcoming them back, I'm throwing stuff at the jumbotron. Let it go, Bucky. Good lord.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down

I would like to give out an official Top Shelf thumbs up to Steve, hands down the best CSM at the grocery store where I work, for piping the radio in the manager's office through the speaker of the phone at my register last night so I could listen to the game. It was probably technically not allowed, but Steve is cool like that. Steve, this is why you're my favorite. (Note to other CSMs: Yes, it really is as simple as letting me listen to the Sabres at work.)

I would also like to give a Top Shelf thumbs down to Brett, the cashier who came back from his break, and without asking me or even informing me, switched the radio to the phone at his register because god forbid someone else listen to the game, especially a girl. Okay, he didn't say anything about me being a girl but he did try to be all cute and funny about it. So for the record, Brett, not cute. Not cute at all. What really annoyed me though is this: I went out to my car to listen to the end of the game while on my break and got there just in time to hear Daniel Paille score his shortie. I'm all excited because I'm thinking we finally tied the game up and then I learn the score is 4-2! So not only did Brett commandeer the game broadcast, he failed to let me know that we tied the game and then took the lead even though, hello! I WAS LISTENING TO THE GAME. Most people would take that as a sign that I might be interested in what's happening. Boys are so dumb sometimes.

Anyway... I heard the second intermission and a couple of minutes at the beginning and end of the third period. I don't really know how the game was so we'll just say that it was great. We won. That's good, right?

The last couple of years Mark and I have taken his mom to a Sabres game for her birthday and we realized today that we accidentally bought tickets to a game that I already had tickets to with my buddies from work. (I don't want to point any fingers but it was totally not my fault.) Mark is currently on the phone with his mom trying to decide who they should give my ticket to and he just said, "Yeah, she's going to go with her friends because she likes them more than us." Husbands.

I would definitely miss not being able to see games on TV if I were in that situation, but I love listening to the game on the radio during my breaks. I lean the driver's seat way back, close my eyes, and block out everything but Rick Jeanneret. The word "soothing" doesn't really seem to fit RJ's boisterous, excitable style, but that's what it is.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You Gotta Have Heart

I'm not going to comment too much on last night's game because I missed it due to work. Because I didn't see it, it's hard to separate the reality of the game from the standard Buffalo crazy. I did also promise myself I was going to give the team 20 games before I made too much criticism of how they were playing because I do think it's going to take them time to get settled into new roles on and off the ice.

But I will say this: The lack of effort at important times the last couple of weeks is disheartening. At the very least I expected this team to play hard. They should have a chip on their shoulders about the way people seem so eager to credit all the success of the last couple of years to Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. They should be chomping at the bit to show people they're not devastated or rebuilding. They went from pressing a little too hard in the first couple of games to looking pretty disinterested in the last couple. I'd much rather watch a marginally talented team that plays hard than an extremely talented team that coasts so hopefully this gets straightened out quickly. Right now this isn't about Darcy Regier, Lindy Ruff, Chris Drury, or Danie Briere. The Sabres are not losing because they're getting out-muscled or out-skilled. It is about the players on the ice deciding they really want to win more than the other team. It's lovely that they're saying all the right things but at some point you have to stop talking about working harder and start to do it.

A few random thoughts:

- I can't believe how dismissive some people are being about Dmitri Kalinin's injury. He's been our best d-man so far this season (which is damning with faint praise, I know) and outside of the Ottawa series, I'd say he was probably our most consistent d-man last season too. If Tallinder and Lydman don't pull it together quickly, our defense could be extremely ugly without Tri in the line-up.

- I also think it's time for the Teppo haters to admit that our defensive group - if not the whole team - misses him and his steadying, veteran leadership. And while we're being honest, let's also admit that Nathan Paetsch was not ready to step seamlessly into Teppo's minutes. I'm not going to come down on him too hard right now since it's early and everyone is playing like crap, but he's looked very overwhelmed in his own end.

- I understand that Ryan Smyth was in Edmonton for a very long time and that the fans there loved him, but I do not get the concept of a pre-game video tribute to an active player on the opposing team. In fact, it's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. Oilers fans, Smyth could've taken $100,000 less and stayed in Edmonton. He also could've come back to Edmonton as a free agent. Also did I mention that he's there to play on the other team? As in, against your team? I can't wait for the Jay McKee video tribute next month!

- “The Sabres have asked the NHL “to wear white jerseys at home for the month of November so that fans could differentiate divisional games from non-divisional opponents,” Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn said.” Thank you, Larry. How would we know the difference otherwise, especially since we play the same three teams 27 times in November?

I'm going to miss tomorrow's game too but I'm going to hope the 20 minute closed door team meeting involved someone flipping benches and throwing chairs and that we'll see a different team in Florida. I do not want to go sit in my freezing car during my break and turn on the radio just in time to hear the opponent score its fifth goal and our enforcer take yet another stupid, poorly timed penalty. So here's hoping!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sidney Crosby... REVEALED!

One of the first entries I ever wrote here at Top Shelf was an ode to Sidney Crosby. I love the kid. I think he's handled the pressure and spotlight amazingly well, particularly for his age, and he's a ton of fun to watch. So it was with much anticipation that I sat down to watch Versus' Sidney Crosby Revealed. Here's what I learned:

- One of the most important things about learning to play ice hockey is learning to skate.
- Sidney Crosby learned to skate at a young age.
- Sidney Crosby has always been really good at hockey.
- Other people in the NHL think Sidney Crosby is really good at hockey.
- Sidney Crosby loves hockey.
- Sidney Crosby would like to win a Stanley Cup.

I don't know about you guys, but I feel my life is now complete. Thanks, Versus!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lindy, If You're Reading This Blink Twice

Saturday morning I said right here that Maxim Afinogenov and Derek Roy needed to be broken up. Saturday night they played on different lines. Coincidence? I'm not so sure. (Hi, Lindy!)

Seriously, I was glad to see that move made and I think Max and Drew Stafford both looked better on their respective lines tonight. Max and Tim Connolly have played successfully together before and Tim and Ales Kotalik have established chemistry as well. I have mixed feelings about Pominville being buried on the third line with lesser skilled players but he does play well with Jochen Hecht and Jochen can set him up pretty well. I'd definitely like to see these lines stick for a few games to see how they gel.

Let me preface this next statement by saying that I'm in no way suggesting this caused the Sabres to lose because they were totally flat in the first period which is pretty sorry considering how poorly they played the previous night but... the officiating tonight was horrid. It was chintzy and worse, it was inconsistent. (At this point the only consistent thing about the officiating is that it's inconsistent.) Nathan Paetsch got called for interference for body checking a guy coming in for a shot - which some of us have been dying for a d-man to do for about a year now - and just a few minutes later a Montreal player played Max exactly the same way and there was no call. In fact, Max ended up getting called for roughing. And how was the puck that bounced in off of Toni and Ryan not negated by the Montreal player tripping Toni in the first place? I'd be curious to know how much time in this game was spent 5-on-5. And while I'm not fully into the "The NHL Hates Buffalo" conspiracy, I don't think the Sabres made it through an entire powerplay without getting called for something that evened things up.

It was really one of those games that you hate to lose because I'm not sure they really deserved to. Like I said, they were pretty flat in the first period, but they picked it up as the game went on and I wouldn't say the Canadiens outplayed them. Montreal got all the bounces tonight - those are some crazy boards they have behind the nets - which happens sometimes. It stinks but there it is. Hopefully the team looks sharp from the beginning against Carolina on Wednesday though. I'll admit, I'm a little nervous about that one.

The one thing that does really continue to bother me is the way no one seems too concerned with opposing players running and whacking at Ryan. I don't care if you have to take a penalty, the next guy who touches Ryan should get a beatdown, no questions asked. (And no, bringing up Patrick Kaleta is not the answer.)

On a totally different subject, I guess there really is some debate about whether the Sabres involved were in on the joke in the Sportsnet video I linked to a few posts back. I mentioned that in my original commentary although I was mostly joking. If you watch though it is debatable. Something about the way Tim Connolly fake laughed and looked around made me think he was wondering whether the interviewer was being serious or not. The storm-offs are obviously fake but maybe the guy interviewed them and then explained what was going on and filmed the endings. I don't know, I guess I can kind of understand why the players were annoyed. (If they were. I haven't heard any of them comment on it.) If you have to sit down and do a billion interviews, you probably don't want to be wondering if you're being jerked around. And the subject matter probably didn't help because I'm sure every one of those guys was tired of being asked about Drury and Briere before preseason even started. That said, I don't know how you watch the finished product and not think it's both complimentary to the guys left behind and really, really funny. Honestly, considering how poorly most of these guys act in commericals and stuff, it's probably funnier with them not knowing what was going on.

Girls Just Wann Have Fun Unlike the Buffalo Sabres

So that game really blew. I was there and here's what I remember about the action on the ice:

- Dmitri Kalinin taking a roughing penalty. It was definitely a penalty but I was kind of tickled since Tri doesn't usually get fired up like that.

- Henrik Tallinder blowing a gasket about a penalty and slamming his stick on the ice. Very uncharacteristic and I'm a little surprised he didn't end up getting an unsportsmanlike conduct call on top of the initial penalty. On the one replay they showed at the arena it looked like it was a penalty so I'm not sure what Hank's beef was. I'm assuming he thought the Blue Jacket player was holding his stick.

- Derek Roy sucking it up big time. Derek, you do not make it easy sometimes. (More about him at another time.)

Annnd... that's about it. This game was pretty unmemorable and kind of boring and almost every Sabre was completely invisible. The only semi-analysis I'll make is that the Sabres are really going to have to find a way to play against teams that bottle up the neutral zone and/or collapse around the goalie because they're going to see a lot of that this season. Opponents are going to do whatever they can to avoid a run and gun track meet.

Oh, actually I'll also say this: This game was a perfect example of why I think the RAV line should be broken up. When Vanek, Roy, and Afinogenov are playing well, they're great but when they're struggling at all, they completely drag each other down. Max starts playing the "I'm going to score this goal all by myself!" game and Derek immediately follows his lead. Vanek doesn't seem to do that quite so much but with his two linemates playing all by themselves, he's left on his own. That line was absolutely brutal tonight on both ends of the ice. When Derek plays with someone who's more defensively responsible - or just responsible period - it seems to trigger something in his brain and he plays more responsibly too. He and Max together? Bad combo.

Hank and Toni (BFF!) at skate-around, pretty much the highlight of the game.

Fortunately, even though the game was a bust, the company was great. After hearing all week about the fun everyone else was having, I finally managed to meet up with Kate (of The Willful Caboose) and Pookie and Schnookie (of Interchangeable Parts) and we had a total blast. We started the evening with dinner at local institution Chef's. Mark and I had been there once before and while I wasn't a huge fan, I hated to sound negative since I'm really not a huge fan of Italian food to begin with. I will admit to being a little relieved that none of the girls seemed particularly taken with Chef's either. I'm convinced that my meatball sub was a piece of bread, a layer of meatballs, and then an entire block of cheese melted over the top. They are not stingy with the cheese at Chef's. But hey, I suppose it's one more thing we can check off on the "Things to Do In Buffalo" list. That said, Daniel Paille, it might be time to try some new restaurants in Buffalo because there has to be something better out there.

After dinner we headed off to the game which, as we've already established, was not very enjoyable. It didn't take long for us to zone out and start talking about totally random things like who's funnier looking, Drew Stafford or Ryan Miller, Ryan Miller's playlist, how handsome Paul Gaustad is in real-life, and how bad Derek Roy sucks. For the record: I think Stafford is way funnier looking but I think I was in the minority. We all agreed that Ryan spent hours poring over his CD collection trying to find exactly the right songs and most likely had lengthy, in-depth reasons behind each selection. And the Derek conversations all went something like this:

Pookie and Schnookie: God, Derek Roy sucks.
Me: Stop it, he can totally be good, I swear! Just not you know, tonight!

We were right behind Ryan's net for two periods so we spent a lot of time watching him. He's pretty fascinating. At one point he was clearly upset with his teammates - I think it was Schnookie who said it appeared that he was telling them to check somebody but there was definitely general disgust, atleast momentarily. My favorite part of the night was when he skated over to the ice guy during a TV timeout and carefully explained what needed to be done to the ice in the crease. After the guy cleaned it up, Ryan skated back over and inspected the guy's handiwork so closely that his nose was practically against the ice, decided something was lacking and used his water bottle to fix up a spot by the post, which he then seemed to obsess about for a while. Goalies are great, Ryan Miller is even greater.

Other than that, the highlight of the game was the guy behind us who was clearly drunk by the halfway point of the first period and completely fixated on Pookie and I knowing where Sabretooth was at all times. (Pookie: I don't mean to alarm you, but there's a large tiger behind you. Do not make any sudden movements.) Oh, there was also the small boy in front of us who decided to rally the Sabres by stripping off his shirt and twirling it over his head. And there was the laughing and giggling over the signs I made for the occasion:

The wording and the lettering did, unfortunately, bring to mind small-town strip joints. Sorry, Hank!

Both of these signs were inspired by comment threads at IPB. "Tally Ho" is the affectionate - I think - nickname given to me by Kate and Pommerdoodle is the nickname given to Jason Pominville. In case the sign doesn't make it clear why, it's because he totally looks like a labradoodle puppy.

I also made this one but unfortunately, didn't get much use out of it tonight:

It turns out that I really enjoy making signs more than I enjoy holding them. I felt kind of stupid. I think to really pull off a sign you need to be either under the age of 10 or a committed puck bunny, two things that I am not. Kate slumping in her seat to hide behind the signs in embarrassment didn't help either. Also, it's a plus if your team isn't sucking it up on the ice. So mostly the signs just got trampled on during the game but it was worth the work for how amused we were by them.

We ended the night with dessert at Butterwood, a dessert restaurant in Williamsville. We sat in traffic for what seemed like an eternity, frightened that Butterwood would close before we got there and we would go home dessert-less, but the way did finally clear and holy cow, everything was very tasty. The IPB girls have photos of our plates up if you'd like to see them. We all ordered something different and shared. I had the molten lava cake with a smattering of fresh fruit and a little scoop of vanilla ice-cream. The way the waitress explained all the elements of each dish made me feel like I was on Top Chef but it was pretty cool. I even got an explanation of the powdered sugar which cracked us all right up.

So despite the wretched hockey game, it was a delightful evening. After we dropped Pookie and Schnookie off at their hotel, Kate and I were talking about how their blog is very representative of who they are. If you've read Interchangeable Parts, you've met Pookie and Schookie. I would also say the same for Kate and The Willful Caboose. I have no idea if that's the case for me, but I think that's probably a large part of why both of those blogs are so much fun to read - Kate, Pookie, and Schnookie are writing from their own perspsectives with their own voices and personalities rather than trying to be something they're not. Anyone who ever has the opportunity to hang out with any of them should definitely seize the day.

Ryan Miller's Playlist.
I don't remember hearing The Verve but bravo, Ryan. I like that one.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blow Leafs Blow!


Please watch this video.

(Canadian TV is so much cooler than American TV. Tim Connolly either thought this was a real interview or he's a great actor (bravo, Tim). And now we know why Derek probably got that unsportsmanlike conduct last night.)

A couple of thoughts during the Buffalo-Toronto game:

If anyone could possibly hit both posts and still not get the puck in the net, it's Jochen Hecht, God bless 'im. I popped in and out of the open game thread at Bfloblog and after Jochen completely missed the net on a breakaway (sigh), someone brought up old Hands of Stone himself, Mike Grier although someone quickly added that that's the only way Hecht compares to Grier. At the risk of offending those who bow at the altar of Mike Grier, I think they compare pretty well with the exception of Grier playing more phyiscally than Hecht usually does. The primary difference is that Grier always played on a checking line and wasn't expected to score whereas Jochen has always been on a scoring line even though his skill set is more suited to a checking line. He's not a scorer, folks. Never has been, probably never will be. (And almost exactly as I finished typing that sentence, Yo-Yo scores. Sorry, man.)

Seriously, tell me Tim Connolly isn't every bit as good as Daniel Briere. If anything, he's better. His vision is absolutely mind-boggling. Please stay healthy, Timmmy. Please.

Has it ever been more clear that Andrew Peters is dead weight on the ice? He seems like a decent guy, I know he's well-liked in the locker room, but why is he getting any ice-time? The fourth line was completely invisible tonight until Lindy started putting Derek Roy out there in Peters' place and boom, Mairsy puts it in the net. I know, I know... He was in the line-up to protect against any funny business from Belak and Tucker. But even when he's doing that he's just so stupid about it. Can't we let Mair and Goose take care of that stuff and move Peters on down the line?

Hecht extended? Granted, it's Eklund. But it's also an E5 which means someone else probably already did the legwork to confirm it and Ek is just latching on. I wouldn't mind seeing Yo-Yo around for a few more years so I hope it's true. Now let's get cracking on Campbell and Kalinin.

Worst Post Ever?

Mark and I went to the game the night Andrew Peters' playlist was played. I have a couple of bones to pick with this whole playlist thing. First of all, I don't remember half of these songs being played. I'm a Believer? Don't remember it. Where the Streets Have No Name? Don't remember it and my U2 sensor is a finely tuned instrument. Would You Go With Me? Nope, and I always notice when they play country music, especially good country music. Heck, I don't even remember Sweet Caroline and I know I would because I'm one of those stupid people who sings along. We did get stuck in line at the gift shop for the first five minutes or so of the second period but I find it hard to believe that I missed all of those songs especially since Sweet Caroline always gets played toward the end of the game. Second of all, this is not every song that was played during the game. You can pretend what you want HSBC music guys, I know I heard Unskinny Bop. (I remember because I turned to Mark and said, "Unskinny Bop?" to which he responded, "Definitely a Peters' selection.") Also, it's "Monkees" not "Monkeys." Honestly.

I also noticed that someone in the Sabres' organization needs some punctuation lessons. I'm not a big fan of the jumbotron encouraging the crowd to cheer in the first place (I get the concept, thanks) but it really bothers me that it says, "LET'S GO. BUFFALO." Theoretcially, "Let's go" is a complete thought and a period would be fine there if that was the end of the thought. But it's not! You've got "Buffalo" just dangling out there all by itself. I'm not a big fan of the exclamation point (long story) but even that would work here since you are ideally yelling it very loudly. But that period smack in the middle of the phrase? I don't like it. The ad for Sabres text message reports suffers from the same poor punctuation. "YOUR SABRES. DELIVERED." I think they're probably going for a dramatic pause in the middle - YOUR SABRES... DELIVERED! - but it just looks stupid written the way it is. Periods are not for pauses, people, they're for full stops.

But maybe it's just me. I'm sensitive about these things. I bought the Rick Jeanneret "NOW DO YOU BELIEVE?" t-shirt last season but instead of a question mark at the end it has a period: "NOW DO YOU BELIEVE." I would catch sight of the period while I was wearing the shirt and then I was completely fixated on it. I'd keep looking at it, thinking, "Why isn't there a question mark there? That sentence is clearly a question." And now I hardly ever wear that shirt.

And now, since this post has already gone completely off the rails, I present HEATHER B's ARENA PLAYLIST. (There are 40 or so home games and only 20 something guys on the team so I figure it's just a matter of time before Darcy starts calling all the local bloggers for their playlists.)

I Will Follow - U2
Even Better Than the Real Thing - U2
(I whole-heartedly approve of U2 but let's get out of the Vertigo rut we all seem to be stuck in.)
You Better You Bet - The Who
Papa Gene's Blues - The Monkees
I Want it All - Queen
(Not my favorite Queen song - that would be Somebody to Love - but this seems more fitting for a sporting event.)
MMMBop - Hanson
(Yes, I picked it, yes, I admit it.)
Rough and Ready - Trace Adkins
Enter Sandman - Metallica
(Probably a sports arena cliche at this point, but hey, I love it.)
Fighter - Christina Aguilera
Hey Jealousy - Gin Blossoms

If you're wondering where all the cool, hip music is, well, I don't listen to that garbage. Ha! I will say that I did this off the top of my head and as soon as I hit "Publish Post" I'm going to think of much better songs. (Edited to add: I knew it. I already want to sub in Def Leappard's Pour Some Sugar on Me and Rhett Miller's Four-Eyed Girl.)

Seriously, is this the worst post anyone's ever written on a hockey blog? I should just delete it, shouldn't I? I'll leave with you with a link to a real post, one that made me giggle pretty hard. This comes courtesy of Barry Melrose Rocks: Daniel Briere Finally Understands Teamwork.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Welcome to Top Shelf

According to my stat tracker, I've been getting an increased number of page views over the last couple of weeks. Either the regulars are so anxious to hear something new from me that they're re-loading the page over and over (that's a joke, regulars) or some new people are wandering this way.

If you're new to Top Shelf, welcome! Feel free to poke around, read some old posts, and leave comments. If you're looking for the best place to start, I'd recommend checking out a series of posts I wrote called Why I Love Hockey. I started Top Shelf a few weeks before last season ended - yeah, I don't know why - which left we with a lack of actual hockey to talk about. It turned out to be a very active off-season in Buffalo but it was also a very tumultuous one. There were endless weeks of he said/he said, debates about who screwed up what, panicking fans, and a lot of anger and frustration, some of it genuine, much of it fueled by the increasingly shrill and narrow local media (my opinion, of course). If I hadn't stopped to think about why I love hockey, I might have forgotten I did.

I'll probably add to this series occasionally - there are a couple of things on the original list I sketched out that I never got around to - but it won't be as regular as it was this summer. For those of you just joining in, here's a list of all the reasons I've written about so far along with a link to each entry. If you asked me to narrow this list down to a few must-reads, I'd recommend Community (which is in the same post as Brian Campbell so you get a bonus reason), Lindy Ruff, Street Hockey, Goalie Fights, Henrik Tallinder, and LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO! I don't know that they're necessarily the best written (I like the Lindy entry a lot but I'm not sure I really captured what I wanted to about Hank) but I think those posts will give you a pretty good feel for the style and mood of Top Shelf along with some ideas of what I appreciate about hockey in general and the Buffalo Sabres specifically.

Thanks for checking things out! Here's the rest of the list:
Rick Jeanneret
Playoffs/The Stanley Cup
Incredible Athleticism
Brian Campbell
There's Always Somebody Else (Choosing and Losing Favorite Players)
Because Most People Don't
Street Hockey
The Sounds of the Game
Schedule Day
Line-Up Flexibility and Debatability
Lindy Ruff
Hat Tricks
The Captaincy
Playoff Overtime
Marriage Therapy
"Let's Go Buff-a-lo!"
Good-Looking Boys
Michael Peca
Penalty Killing
O, Canada
Henrik Tallinder
Playoff Beards
Goalie Fights
Jim Lorentz
Seeing Games in Person

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Kids are Alright

Why I Love Hockey #29 - Seeing Games in Person
I've mentioned a time or two (or three or four) that I grew up in Birmingham, AL. Birmingham, for those not in the know, has no professional sports teams. Atlanta was the closest pro sports city while I was growing up (and still is, I think) but due to my single mother's work schedule and some financial restraints, we only got over there for a game every couple of baseball seasons. So the very fact that I can just get in my car and drive fifteen minutes down the road to watch a pro sports team play still seems very much like a luxury.

Watching this particular sports team in this particular city at this particular time however is even more special. I love everything about going to Sabres games which I did tonight for the first time this season. I love fans milling around in the lobby before the game, laughing and smiling and looking forward to a couple hours of fun no matter how good or bad the previous game was. I love looking over every inch of the mural there, pointing out the different players and the best and worst pictures (best: a toss up between sneering Teppo and bleeding Mair, worst: Timmy with that stupid fu manchu). I love keeping a running tally of all the different jerseys worn - Miller and Afinogenov still way out front with Pominville, Roy, and Vanek gaining - and I love finding one that I don't see often. A little girl in a Kotalik jersey! Someone brave enough to wear a Kalinin jersey! God bless you!

I love settling in our seats and feeling a buzz start to build as the clock winds down. I love the cheesy "I Love This Town" video, especially the shot of a grinning Henrik Tallinder ("say hey!") and the intros of the starting line-ups. I love hearing Doug Allen sing the anthems, complete with finger pointing. I love watching Ryan Miller stare up intently at the flag with the image of a waving American flag superimposed on the ice around him. I love the crowd going nuts when the singing is over and hearing, "And now let's play some hockey!" I love that first spontaneous "LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!" chant.

I love how engaged the crowd at a hockey game is. I think the speed and constant motion of the game demands it. Baseball is a slower, easy-going sport and because of that, the crowd tends to be laid back as well. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's something special about the up and down excitement of a hockey game. I love 18,000 heads going back and forth and back and forth as the puck moves down the ice. I love how united the crowd's reaction is: Everyone scooting to the edge of their seat and leaning forward when Max gets the puck and starts gaining speed, everyone gasping at the picture perfect pass Timmy fed to Al in front of the net, everyone watching the replay of a big save on the (snazzy new and improved) jumbotron and that one guy responding with, "Holy shit! I can't believe he stopped that!" I loved the crowd giving the kick ass penalty killing standing ovations, cheering every time the puck was sent flying down the ice. I loved the crowd cheering for Jason Pominville's goal and then taking it to another level when the fans put up the "1" next to "Pomminville Population" up in the 300s section. I loved walking around during the first intermission, hearing Harry Neale say, "Atlanta hasn't won yet and it looks like they won't win tonight either," and then hearing more than a few fans yell, "Shut up!"

I love how the whole world feels perfect and light after a win. I love fans whooping and hollering as they pour out of the arena. I love seeing how excited the younger fans are about being up past their regular bedtime and seeing a great game of hockey (Overheard conversation between a young son and his father: "Dad, what a great day to be a Sabres fan! We just kicked their anus holes right back to Atlanta!" "What did you just say?" "Anus holes!" "What?!" "ANUS HOLES!" "Don't say that." "... We just kicked their scrotums!") I love, love, love one car honking "Let's Go Buff-a-lo!" (honk, honk, honkhonkhonk) and cars all across downtown honking back in reply. I love that strange but undeniable camaraderie you feel with the strangers walking alongside of you and I love the overwhelming affection I always feel for the entire city of Buffalo in those moments. It's awesome.

Some quick notes about the game:

I think the Sabres were noticeably more relaxed tonight. They were focused and keyed in but they didn't seem to be pressing nearly as hard as they were in the first couple of games. Lindy clearly got on to them about doing all the little things right because there was less cutesy stuff and more work - chipping the puck into the offensive zone and chasing it down, cycling things down low, using the body a little. Tom mentioned over at Sabre Rattling how some of the current Sabres have struggled at home, often seeming to want to impress the fans with flashy play. Tonight they seemed more committed to playing simple and smart and it was effective.

What to say about the special teams? Geez louise. Three power play goals and perfect on the penalty kill? I'll take that any night. I can't even remember the last time I was actually excited about getting a penalty call. I won't pretend to understand all the different power play set-ups and structures but the puck movement just seemed much quicker than last season and things cycled to everyone and not just back and forth between a couple of players. The unit of Connolly, Gaustad, Kotalik, Campbell, and Spacek was particularly impressive. I've already heard some grumbling that Atlanta isn't a very good test because they're not a good team but a little confidence boost can't be a bad thing especially considering how much we struggled on special teams last season.

Speaking of Connolly, holy crap, Timmy looked great. Even when he didn't have the puck he was going hard, hustling all over the ice. If he stays healthy - and I know that's a pretty big if - I think he's going to be more than a fair trade-off for Briere. He's every bit as good a playmaker as Danny was - if not better - and he'll score his share of goals. He's also a much better two-way player who doesn't leave all the defensive responsibility to his linemates.

I know all the "Do it for Matt Man" stuff comes across as cheesy to some people, but I was really glad to see Ryan get the shut-out, particularly tonight. I'm not sure if the Three Stars were shown on the TV broadcast or not but when Ryan skated out, turned his helmet so the "Matt Man" on the back was facing the crowd, and then lifted it over his head, I admit I got a little misty-eyed. Matt was obviously very special to Ryan and the rest of the Miller family.

That's all I got for tonight. I have a couple of non-game related points to make but they can wait until tomorrow. Gotta get to bed!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Sky is Falling! The Season is Over! We're Dooooooomd!

I think every fan has atleast one That Guy as in "If someone has to beat us just don't let it be that guy." I have a few but at the very tip-top of my That Guy list is Mike Comrie. I hate Mike Comrie so much that I usually just refer to him as That Little Bitch and evidently have done it enough that most of my internet buddies know exactly who I'm talking about when I say it and use the shorthand "TLB." Man, I just want to punch him square in his smug little, Hilary Duff kissing face.

Listen, I know it stinks that we lost again, but you guys and gals on the message boards needed to settle right the heck down. Was this game great? No, it was not. Was it a death knell to the entire season? No, it was not.

Here are a few good things for you to ponder:

- The special teams looked better. The PK was very strong overall and while the PP was up and down and could still use more shots on goal, it did sustain some kind of pressure/possession for most of the time.

- Play in the third period was greatly improved. There was less "I'm going to get this goal if I have to do it all by myself!" going on and more dumping and chasing. The team had 17 SOG in the third period and created a lot of good chances. It was just one of those nights where the puck wouldn't go in the net. It won't be like that every night.

- When the team needed a goal Captain (of the Month) Hecht provided one. You could argue that it took a flukey hop up and over DiPietro (who played really well in both games) but it got to that point because of Jochen's determination to get to the net with the puck. I'm looking forward to Kotalik's return and a line of Stafford-Hecht-Gaustad. At the very least, those three are going to be fun to watch because they're all such hard workers.

- The defense didn't look quite so much like a train wreck. Tallinder looked more like himself, Campbell turned in a fairly solid game, and Kalinin was very good in both zones while soaking up Lydman's minutes as well as his own. (Haters, feel free to hate on, okay?) And hey, Spacek is on pace for 82 goals this season! I'll admit that there are things that could definitely be improved in this area. How about clearing the puck after Ryan comes up with a big save and is flat on the ice? Oh, and maybe you guys could keep the idiots on the other team out of Ryan's crease? On one hand, I was glad to see Tri take a penalty for hacking at the guy harassing Ryan after the whistle but on the other hand, it was a pretty mild hack. Knock somebody down! But overall I think you'd have to say the defensive game was better.

As much as I'd like to pretend that the loss of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere means nothing, they were the go-to guys for the last couple of seasons. That doesn't mean the team as is is lost forever. It does mean that they'll need some time to sort out how they fit together on the ice and off. The season is 82 games long. Last season the Senators had a wretched first half and ended up playing for the Cup. A little patience if you please? Let's give the guys a month or so before we decide they're going nowhere. As my pal Kate said while we we commiserating about opening weekend, "It would have been awesome to have a great start, but I would rather have a great finish."

A few other random notes:

- Drury and Briere are good hockey players, okay? They're going to score points. There's no rule that says every point they score is one less the Sabres are going to score for the season. It is entirely possible for them to play well AND for us to play well, maybe even at the same time. I really don't need a daily update on how they're doing. They're not on my team anymore so I DON'T CARE!

- The Sabres website is now listing all the songs played over the PA during games at HSBC which is pretty cool. Even cooler though is that some of those songs are being selected by a player every night and are noted as player selections. This has the potential for awesomeness. My life is already much improved knowing that somewhere in the world, Jochen Hecht might be getting down to Nelly. I picture Jochen as a terrible, terrible dancer. Make sure you bring your earplugs on Toni Lydman night, Sabres fans!

- My heart felt all light and happy when they announced Teppo Numminen during the official player introductions last night even though he wasn't there to skate out on the ice. Seems like hard feelings all around to me.

- Scott Niedermayer, you are screwing with my fantasy team. Please do something - anything! - soon.

And I'll close with this personal note to Tim Connolly (because I know the players huddle around their laptops just waiting for me to post): Timmy, please tighten your chin strap and wear a mouth guard. Your helmet currently barely qualifies as buckled and that's not going to cut it when some ass-wipe barrels into your head. Your helmet is going to go flying and you're going to make contact with whatever you hit - the boards, another player, or god forbid, the ice - with your unprotected, bald skull. You're going to get carried off the ice on a stretcher and I'm going to cry like a little girl. And here's the thing Timmy... I feel like this is probably going to happen. Players can talk all they want about having respect for each other and the league can talk all they want about cleaning up the game but they're all full of it. Someone somewhere is going to take a run at you and I really hope you get back up after it happens. Don't be stupid about this, okay? Don't let some idiot with no self-control end your career.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Quick Thoughts

GOOD NEWS: The offense looked pretty good while 5-on-5 for most of the game. They were putting pucks on the net and creating a ton of chances. The score could've easily been double what it was at the end of the first period.

BAD NEWS: After a pretty good first power play, things kind of fell apart. Shoot the puck, shoot the puck, shoot the puck.

GOOD NEWS: Jaro Spacek and Dmitri Kalinin were both fine, more or less doing what they need to do.

BAD NEWS: Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman were not good. What's up with that, guys? Those A's weighing you down? If there's supposed to be 4 guys in front of you and there's only 3, there might be someone behind you.

GOOD NEWS: Hank and Toni aren't going to play that poorly very often. If the other d-men pull their weight things should straighten out some. It really, really couldn't get much worse. (I'm laughing at Ryan's post-game conference: "I expect to get certain coverage. I really haven't had a chance to talk to anyone yet." That's Miller-speak for "The defense blew chunks tonight and they're getting a damn earful as soon as you guys leave.")

BAD NEWS: Turnovers, turnover, turnovers, especially late. Oh, man. Guys, no matter how great you are with a stick, your chances of taking the puck through three guys are slim. Dump the puck and chase it.

GOOD NEWS: All the guys interviewed during the post-game show - Campbell, Roy, and Miller - stepped up and said, "We made some mistakes, we didn't play the way we should have, we'll do better."

Lindy during his postgame conference: "Our defense didn't play well and our forwards turned the puck over too much." Lindy doesn't pussyfoot around, God bless him.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dear Bucci...

Most hockey fans are familiar with the work of ESPN's John Buccigross. I have kind of a love-hate relationship with Bucci. On one hand, I love how enthusiastic he is about hockey and it's go to know that there are atleast two people at ESPN who think it counts as a sport. His casual, goofy style can be endearing. On the other hand, his casual, goofy style can easily veer into over-indulgent. I don't care what bands he's listening to. I don't care what he would name people's babies. (Seriously, people, do you not have favorite hockey players of your own who you can name your child after?). I really don't care about his book (coming soon to bookstores near you!). All of that stuff would be bearable if it didn't often completely overwhelm the actual hockey content which is why I'm reading him in the first place. But Bucci's weekly column is a regular part of my routine and he is often right about various things so it was with great interest that I read his season preview of the Buffalo Sabres. My immediate reaction was something along the lines of "What the hell?"

If you want to read the whole thing you can find it at (I'd post a link but I can't pull up the article at the moment for some reason). Bucci slams management for not re-signing Chris Drury and Daniel Briere and says the team may still have a sturdy undercarriage but won't be able to survive without its spine. But this was the section that really bugged me and quite frankly, kind of shocked me:

The Bruins and Blackhawks appear to be reconstructing from the rubble of ineptitude with new people throughout the organization. The Sabres are (for now) stuck with GM Darcy Regier and owner Tom Golisano and their vision of mediocrity. The Sabres are still a good team with a very good goalie, but the magic is gone.

Now I will admit that I'm a bit of a Darcy apologist and probably defend him even when he might not really deserve defending but this is so far over-the-top that it almost reaches Bucky Gleason levels. That, my friends, is not a good place to be. I was so bothered by this that I had to email Bucci. A couple people I've mentioned this to have said they'd like to read what I sent so I'm sharing it here. It's a pretty good final summary of how I'm feeling about the team and what I'm hoping to see this season. Plus it's already written so I don't have to think of anything new to say. Oh, something else I should clarify so there's no confusion. With his preview of each team, Bucci includes lyrics from a song. For us he chose Pete Yorn's The Man which is why I reference it in my letter.

Dear John,

"The Bruins and Blackhawks appear to be reconstructing from the rubble of ineptitude with new people throughout the organization. The Sabres are (for now) stuck with GM Darcy Regier and owner Tom Golisano and their vision of mediocrity. The Sabres are still a good team with a very good goalie, but the magic is gone."

All I can say is, what the heck?

Did Regier and Golisano make some mistakes with Briere and Drury? Probably. But they did attempt to sign Briere last summer - he took them to arbitration and he was rewarded a then ridiculous 5 million dollars. And they were allegedly willing to match Drury's offer from the Rangers and he, for whatever reason, wasn't interested. It's easy to say that the Sabres should've re-signed both guys but it's not as easy as handing them contracts and asking them to sign on the dotted line. In your Philly preview you say that Briere isn't worth the money he was paid and say his production will probably drop over the next few years but the Sabres should've held on to him? For all the (well deserved) praise heaped on both players, Buffalo didn't win a Cup while they were here. Chris and Danny crapped out in the playoffs this past year as much as any of the other players not named Ryan Miller did (I know you love Chris but he got smoked in the face-off circle during the Ottawa series among other things).

Darcy Regier has been in Buffalo for ten years. His reign of mediocrity includes more conference finals appearances than every other team but one in that period. It includes the revival of a bankrupt franchise and a pretty downtrodden fan base. It includes the development of a farm system that was so rich that a serious string of injuries last season barely affected the team's regular season performance. Before the salary cap, Regier had to deal with a small market budget and GMs who were constantly blowing up the market with their bloated contracts and somehow, some way, he usually managed to put a competitive team on the ice. Have they won a Stanley Cup during his tenure? No, obviously not. But you know, only one team wins it every year. It's not that easy to do. Regier has regularly iced teams that have had a chance, and as a fan that's all you can really ask for. I know a lot of fan bases - including Chicago and Boston - who would happily take the mediocrity we've been saddled with during the Regier years.

Listen, I'm not going to argue that losing Briere and Drury isn't going to have an affect on the team this season. It certainly is and as a fan I'll miss watching them and I wish them well in their new locations. But the Sabres are still a very good team. We have two lines who can score like crazy cakes (Vanek-Roy-Afinogenov and
Kotalik-Connolly-Pominville) and a third line that will chip in its share (Gaustad-Hecht-Stafford). We have a great top defensive pairing in Tallinder and Lydman and a number of mobile, puck-moving defensemen. And we have a rapidly maturing Ryan Miller who was the one bright spot of the postseason last year. He kept the team in every single game, including a few they had no right to be in. Maybe most importantly, most of the above players are Buffalo draftees (Regier again) who have grown up and developed together as players and people. From all appearances, they like and care for each other and I think it's a mistake to underestimate the importance of that. I don't think it's incompetence or arrogance to let two guys who are being vastly overpaid walk out of town and show some faith in the undercarriage, especially when the undercarriage is skilled and still maturing. The Sabres most effective line last season is still here. Their best defensive pairing is still here. A vastly gifted playmaker who was on the shelf all last year is still here. Their very good young goalie is still here. The fact that these players haven't had to carry the show, doesn't mean they can't and won't. I'm thinking a little less "The Man" and a lot more "The Kids are Alright."

So yeah... I'm calling it now: The Sabres will finish second in the division (behind Ottawa), fourth in the conference, and will be hitting their groove in March around the time the Rangers implode.

Despite the above, I am glad to see you and hockey back. (But you're still wrong.)

Heather Bermingham

I did get a response. "Thanks for reading Heather! Enjoy the season! John." Clearly he knew my argument was air-tight and beyond debate. I'm disappointed. Bucky would've written back to tell me why exactly I was wrong.

So yeah... I'm optimistic. I know it's not going to be the same team it was last year but I'm really not convinced it's going to be a bad team. In fact, it could be a pretty darn good team. If nothing else, I fully expect to see the kids play their hearts out. They all seem tired of talking about Drury and Briere and they should have a huge chip on their shoulders about the way their contributions over the last couple of seasons are being disregarded. Derek, Max, and Van should be furious that people are acting like their line was unimportant last year. Hank and Toni should be annoyed that Drury evidently killed off all the penalties and shut down the opposition's best players. Pommers should be upset that Briere supposedly made him the hockey player he was. Ryan should be really pissed that Chris and Danny are being considered the difference makers. The entire team should be worked up about the way people are acting like Chris and Danny are the only ones who experienced the ups and downs of the last two seasons, like no one else remembers how great it felt to win and how heart-breaking it was to lose. I'm ready to see what the kids are going to do and I'm really glad I only have to wait... 17 and a half more hours!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

If I could take a moment to share a personal, mostly non-hockey related note... I would just like to wish my husband Marky Mark a happy anniversary. That's right, eight years ago today we were united in holy matrimony. I wrote a little bit about our relationship and how hockey has played a part in it in the entry Love and Marriage: Hockey Style! so I won't repeat myself now.

But here's a little bit about Mark. I decided it would be really cool to take a picture of us in our styling jerseys (me: vintage Tallinder, him: slugified Stafford) to post along with this entry. But I got this idea around 11:00 last night when he was trying desperately to go to bed. Instead of complaining or insisting that it wait until morning, he dutifully pulled his jersey on and then stood around while I tried to figure out where I could place the camera so that it would capture the photo.

Sit in this chair. That's not gonna work, all I can see is the top of your head.
Try standing up. Nope, all I can see is the slug.
Ooh, maybe if I put the camera here, it'll work. Nope, still a little too low. Hey, do you know of a book about this thick? Then it would be perfect.
Wait, that one's too thick.

And even when I found the right height (for the curious: the spice rack, DC Comics Encyclopedia, and two of the big Harry Potter books), the dance continued.
Crap, I forgot my glasses. I look stupid without them.
No, that one was really blurry. I think I moved the spice rack when I hit the timer button.
Ugh. Terrible.

Through it all, Mark remained calm, collected, and extremely patient.

Okay, so everyone has his breaking point.

Happy anniversary, buddy!