Friday, November 30, 2007

NaBloPoMo Is No Mo'

Well, here we are at a place I thought we'd never arrive: December! NaBloPoMo has finally come to an end and I did pretty darn well, I think. Including this post, I'll have written 29 entries in 30 days. Some of those were crammed into one day, some of them were total throw-aways, and yes, I'm totally cheating and starting this post right before midnight on the 30th while planning to not actually finish it until I feel like getting around to it on the 1st... but hey, they're now out there for all posterity for better or for worse.

November wasn't easy for the Sabres who were 6-6-1 for the month. But even in some of those losses, they played really good hockey and they seem to be righting the ship and figuring some things out. Overall the team looks and sounds more confident than they did a few weeks ago. So even though their record still isn't great and even though I had a bit of an emotional breakdown about halfway through the month, I think there's a lot to be hopeful about. Ryan Miller has looked really sharp, Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek are coming around, the defense has been surprisingly solid (for the most part), and the team is inching slowly toward being completely healthy. November was also helped along greatly by the Senators current losing streak. Hey, you find your pleasure where you can.

So thanks to those of you who have been reading along with me. I'm not planning on falling off the radar or anything, but yeah, you probably shouldn't expect 29 posts in a month ever again.

Feel the Buff-a-love

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

Have you ever had an idea in your head that seemed really good but when you wrote it down you somehow managed to not say anything you were really trying to say? Yeah, that's this post. I'm tired of staring at the screen though so here it is anyway...

A couple of the comments on yesterday's post about Jay McKee (one of us! one of us! one of us!) made me start thinking about Buffalo and its relationship with athletes who used to play here. As I've mentioned before, I wasn't raised in Buffalo or in a city with any pro sports and this is one thing about the city that has always kind of fascinated me. After a lot of thought, I think Buffalo really only asks two things of its athletes.

The first thing is one that I'm not going to focus on too much: We want them to work hard. We're a blue-collar city and we bust our butts to make a living. When we sit down in front of the TV or fork over hard-earned money to attend games, we don't want to see any coasting. We'll complain about a lack of effort like we'll complain about nothing else.

The second thing is the biggie though. When it comes down to it, we really, really want our athletes to fall in love with us. Listen, I'll admit it, Buffalo has a little bit of an inferiority complex. We're not flashy and we're not glamorous. If people outside of Buffalo hear anything about us it generally involves the words "snow" and "cold." When I told people in Birmingham that I was moving to Buffalo they thought I was crazy and Birmingham is no great shakes, people. Those of us in Buffalo love our city desperately - faults and all - and we want everyone else to love it too. I think we know it's not always easy because the best of Buffalo isn't obvious. We know that you really have to spend some time here, get to know people, do some digging to find the stuff that makes the city great. But we know it's there and that's why when visiting athletes who spend 36 hours in the area around HSBC Arena make comments about how boring Buffalo is, it gets our backs up. They don't know what they're talking about.

I don't really know how to nail down what it is that makes us feel like an athlete has really fallen in love with Buffalo - it's not always the words they say when talking about us and it's not always playing their entire careers here - but we know it when we see it. Rob Ray fell in love with Buffalo. So did Matthew Barnaby and Lindy Ruff. Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas fell in love with Buffalo. Even though they're currently playing elsewhere, Marty Biron and Jay McKee fell in love with Buffalo too.

It might sound dumb but for a lot of us, I think it really is that simple. It's why a semi-talented guy like Rob Ray is so beloved even now while a future Hall-of-Famer like Dominik Hasek is, for the most part, really disliked. The Dominator was amazing during his time in Buffalo, but he never really got us. It's why a lot of fans put up with J.P. Losman as long as they did. He spoken very sincerely about loving Buffalo and he's repeatedly backed up those words with actions. It's why we practically ran Willis McGahee out of town and it's why we've been so quick to embrace Marshawn Lynch. He's embraced us with open arms and a full heart and gone out of his way to make Buffalo home.

We're shameless really and sometimes it can be annoying. The period between the end of the NHL season and the beginning of free agency was rife with emotions and the whole city seemed to take on the attitude that if Drury and Briere went somewhere else it was because there was something wrong with us. Our whole self-worth was wrapped up in whether or not two hockey players stayed or left. But I think it's very charming too. In the end we're not very demanding people. For all our tough talk about championships, we've made it this long without one. What we do want is very simple and very human. We want to know our athletes left it all on the playing field and we want them to love us as much as we love them.

Is that really asking too much?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One of Us

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Here's a quick one before I run off to the game...

I have some odds and ends I want to deal with, but I'm short on time. I do want to quickly respond to this quote from Greg Wyshynski at FanHouse however: Jay McKee makes his return to Buffalo with the Blues. Remember, kids: Jay McKee leaves Buffalo for a big free-agent contract = veteran getting his due. Briere and Drury leave Buffalo for big free-agent contracts = traitorous bastards.

I don't know that that's entirely fair. When Jay McKee first signed with St. Louis there were a lot of people in Buffalo who were pretty furious because he was chasing the money and signing with a non-contender, turning his back on the team that drafted and raised him. I heard more than a few comments along the lines of, "I hope you enjoy that money, Jay, since you just played in the last playoff game of your career." But you know, time goes by and sometimes fans cool off on guys. Jay was here for a long time and was an important part of some of the best teams of the past ten years. Many of us grew up with him and eventually people started to remember that. What separates him from Briere and Drury in my mind is that he was very embedded in Buffalo when he left - a decade is an eternity for a player to be in one city these days - and he's remained that way since. He married a Buffalo girl and they still live here in the off-season. Fans still see him around town and he's still the same funny, lovely guy he always was. I think some fans also softened toward him as it became clear that the Sabres weren't overly interested in keeping him around, not at a high price atleast. Fairly or not, fans seem to separate former players into one of two categories: He Was Never Really One of Us OR He'll Always Be One of Us. For a lot of Buffalo, Jay McKee will always be one of us. Time will tell what happens with Drury and Briere.

All I know is this. I loved Jay then, and despite some rocky feelings when he first split, I love him now. I insisted we buy tickets for tonight's game just to see him again. I've said fans should be free to greet former players however they choose, but I will throw ice cubes at anyone in my vicinity who boos when Jay has the puck. That's a promise.

Jay McKee, 1996

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rant Ahead

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! If I may be serious for a moment...



As soon as I saw this video this morning, I knew I was going to be reading the words "I was just finishing my check." (The best slow-mo replay is at the very end of the clip.) Sure enough, Scott Hartnell had this to say about the incident:

Lupul chipped the puck to that D-man and he went down low to block the puck. I thought it was going to get by him. I let up a bit and finished my check. I think he put himself in a vulnerable position. I definitely didn't intend to injure him.

He was in a vulnerable position, eh? I have a suggestion then, Scott: Don't hit the guy! Are you kidding me with that? Alberts was on his knees! Was that a dumb thing to do? Yeah, maybe. But he was in that position before you arrived on the scene. Where exactly was he going to go that required you hitting him instead of pulling up or peeling off or God forbid, playing the PUCK? I'm so tired of hearing players blame other players for their stupidity and I'm so tired of them acting like it's just a part of hockey.

The slow motion replay of this hit turns my stomach. There's so much that could have gone wrong here, so many crucial body parts in play - his skull, his brain, his neck, his upper spine. For a guy to recognize that the opponent is vulnerable and to choose to hit him anyway, especially in a situation where it absolutely wasn't necessary? I don't even know what to say to that other then maybe, "Geez, show a little respect, you freakin' idiot."

Hockey is a tough game, I get that. I don't want to take the physicality out of the game. One of my favorite things about the sport is how it can move so quickly between brute force and amazing grace, how it can be both powerful and delicate. Sometimes things are going to go wrong and people are going to get hurt. Brian Campbell's hit on RJ Umberger and Peter Schaeffer's hit on Tim Connolly (sorry, can't find a video) both come to mind. Players were moving toward each other, going after pucks and they collided in dangerous ways. It happens. But this is totally different. If Tim Connolly's career is ended by an aggressive hockey hit in the middle of a tough play, well so be it. That's a risk of playing hockey, especially with his history of concussions. But if his - or anyone's - career is ended by an asshole incapable of appreciating that he holds the physical well-being of the other players on the ice in his hands, that'll be a damn shame.

I fear the day is coming for someone and coming soon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why I Love Hockey # 33 - The Goalie Edition

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Four more days, four more days...

Why I Love Hockey #33 - Ryan Miller
I'm ready to admit something I don't think I've ever discussed here before. There was a time when I didn't really care for Ryan Miller. Don't get me wrong, I was never one of those people who thought he should be backing-up Marty Biron and I didn't cry angry tears that we traded Marty when we did. But I liked Marty so much. I don't think I really have to explain that since everyone likes Marty but he was funny, and charming, and just came across as very, very warm. Ryan... didn't, not to me atleast. He always came across as a little more standoffish, much more serious, and most concerning, somewhat fragile. I know I've mentioned it before but after he lost in front of his family and friends in Detroit, he completely broke down crying in a post-game interview. On one hand, awwww, poor guy, that's kind of cute and sweet. But on the other hand, geez, do you really want your goalie crying after tough regular season losses? The NHL season is a long one and even great goalies lose too often for that to be healthy. Marty wasn't as talented as Ryan but his easy-going temperament worked in his favor. If he gave up a goal, no matter how soft, he was over in the second the puck dropped again. Ryan was a brooder. Every goal bothered him, every mistake, no matter how small, hung over him.

Once Marty left town and Ryan was on his own, I started to get a better feel for him and some of the negatives started to look more like positives. The standoffish-ness was focus, the seriousness was competitiveness, and the fragility was a touch of humanity. I started to feel like he'd be just as interesting to talk to as Marty, albeit in a totally different way.

Kate at The Willful Caboose talked about Ryan a couple of days ago and she commented on how he seems to be cultivating the proper goalie temperament and that's so true. He's been very open about using a sports psychologist and his post-game interviews often have the sound and feel of someone who's thinking out-loud. A couple of nights ago when Ryan talked about the no-call on Saku Koivu's blatant goalie interference he was partly complaining, getting it off his chest, but he also seemed to be thinking over the events of the game that led up to that, trying to figure out exactly what happened and if it made sense. (Ryan, it made no sense.) When most players are asked, "What were you thinking there?" you usually get something very generic. "I was thinking we needed a goal" or "I was thinking I just needed to keep going to the net." When Ryan is asked, "What were you thinking?" he always has a sincere, in-depth answer - what angle he was looking at, how the puck had been moving on the ice that night, what the shooter's tendencies are - and he's always willing to share them with whomever's around.

One of the best things about being a fan is getting to watch a player grow up and develop. That's partly what makes Thomas Vanek so exciting to watch right now. You can just feel that he's in the midst of becoming something. I think this is part of my growing affection for Ryan Miller. That overly emotional kid who used to beat himself up on a nightly basis is slowly blooming into a very good goalie and an important guy in the dressing room, not to mention a valuable part of the Buffalo community and one of the faces - if not the face of the Sabres franchise. Remembering his struggles back then makes watching his successes now that much more special. The fact that we can really see his process and how hard he's worked to get to where he is now makes him that much easier to cheer for. When that serious facade cracks long enough for a little smile to break through it's a beautiful thing. I hope Buffalo gets to watch him for many years to come.

My favorite picture of Ryan.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rank the Sabres!

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Seriously, is it December yet?

Tonight Heather ranks the Sabres. Please note: These rankings are not based on performance or talent. This is strictly my personal preference.

1. Henrik Tallinder - Honestly, do you people actually read my blog? If you need more details, read this post.

2. Tim Connolly - I know he's fragile, I know he's one hit away from being done for good... but I just love watching him play. He's the one guy on the team whose talent just amazes me. His movements are always so fluid and his vision is incredible. I admit, I'm often trying to rush him to do something with the puck because he holds it and holds it and holds it... but a lot of times when he finally does something with it, it's perfect.

3. Derek Roy - Again, anyone who's read Top Shelf for more than a couple of weeks has probably stumbled across what I like about Derek. He can be completely infuriating, but at his best he's a feisty, hustling, talented little spark plug. If he grows up a little, he'll be more firmly planted here. As it is now, he fluctuates on my list although he never falls very far.

4. Jochen Hecht - Jochen Hecht is the offensive equivalent of a Tallinder or a Toni Lydman. He's not flashy, he doesn't stand out, he's not going to score a lot of goals. But he quietly does a lot of important little things. I said this a few days ago, but every team needs atleast one Jochen Hecht. You don't usually notice him when he's there, but you'd totally miss him if he were gone.

5. Brian Campbell - I admit, this is largely based on personality. I don't think Soupy is the defensive disaster some fans seem to feel he is - though offense is clearly his strength - but I really just like him. I like that he smiles all the time. I like that the players around him are almost always smiling too. And I really like that he always seems like he's having so much fun on the ice.

6. Toni Lydman - Can you tell I have a weakness for the soft-spoken, occasionally overlooked, defensive-types? Because I totally do. After kind of a rough start, Toni has been a rock. I also love his slow-talking, self-effacing interivews.

7. Ryan Miller - I'm working on a post about Ryan so I won't say too much here other than that I think he's an interesting cat. He's grown on me a lot over the last year or so, and I enjoy listening to him talk because he's so open and honest. And he is, of course, maturing into a pretty good goalie.

8. Teppo Numminen - I miss Teppo and I'm convinced the kids do too. Steady and soothing on the ice, funny and good-natured off it. Any old guy cool enough to go see Justin Timberlake with his much younger teammates is a-okay with me.

9. Dmitri Kalinin - I feel a very big sister-like affection and protectiveness for Dmitri. I guess I understand why other fans find him frustrating - he can unravel like nobody else. But I also think he's often the scapegoat. When he plays well it's overlooked, the second he makes a mistake everyone wants to put him on the first boat back to Russia.

10. Adam Mair - I do enjoy the way Adam usually plays hard on the ice. What he doesn't have in skill he tries to make up for with hard work. But again, I like Mairsy mostly for his personality. I loved him having the P.A. announcer thank the fans in Mair's Office for their support at the end of last season. I loved him saying he'd be back in Buffalo this season, no matter how much he got paid and no matter what his agent said. And I love him for actually following up and coming back. He also looks remarkably like the boy I had a massive crush on throughout high school.

11. Paul Gaustad - I like him for reasons similar to Adam Mair. Hard worker, willing to do what it takes. Definitely going to be one of the leaders of this young team, I think. Also a pretty handsome guy although the buzz cut was definitely a mistake.

12. Jason Pominville - I almost put Pommers in the ten spot because he's definitely grown on me this season. He's a consistently hard-worker, he's been important to the team from the second he was promoted, and he seems like a really nice kid. I'm trying to move past the whole puckbunny favorite thing, Pommers, I swear.

13. Thomas Vanek - Thomas is also growing on me. I think he's sincere about wanting to be an important part of the team for the next seven years and I think he'll ultimately be comfortable being the go-to guy. He's not going to be Alexei Yashin. Eventually I expect him to move up on this list, but for now, he's kind of hanging out in the middle. On a personal level, I was very neutral on him - didn't love him, didn't hate him - until the last few weeks.

14. Drew Stafford - I like Drew and I do think he's going to be a good player and an important part of the team, especially in the future. But I don't love him, not yet atleast.

15. Maxim Afinogenov - On the ice, Max has the ability to frustrate me like no one else. Why I can overlook Derek Roy's negatives and embrace his positives while not doing it for Max is something I can't explain. In my mind, Derek isn't as inconsistent as Max, I guess. I don't know. But yes, Max drives me bonkers. He has so much talent, but he just can't seem to get a handle on how to best use it and unlike some of the younger guys, he's been around long enough that he should be farther on down that road. He'll be great for a stretch of games and then fall apart and he's always been that way. Argh! Off the ice, Max is a total enigma so he doesn't pick up many points there.

16. Jaroslav Spacek - I'm pretty neutral on Jaro. I don't love him, don't leap to his defense. But I don't hate him, and even last season he didn't bother me as much as he clearly did some people. I will say this: Best interview ever. Between his accent, the timbre of his voice, and the speed at which he speaks, he is amazing to listen to. In that regard, I totally adore him.

17. Daniel Paille - I've really liked him in the past few games, but I don't have much of an opinion of him overall. I need to see more.

18. Ales Kotalik - Oh, Al. I want to like you, but I'm just over the whole thing. I'm over people talking about your potential. I'm over people talking about how great your shot is when you use it. I'm over hearing about how you can use your body when you feel like it. I'm over seeing you play lights out for a few games and then disappearing for the next stretch. I really need you to be more consistent, okay?

19. Nolan Pratt - Pratt's been on the team for about twenty minutes but I'm boosting him up from the bottom some for no other reason than the fact that he cross-checked a guy off of Ryan. Thank goodness someone is willing to do it. (Guys! Ryan is important! Protect him, please!)

20. Clarke MacArthur - I like this kid and his big smile and his little tiny curly head.

21. Michael Ryan - I admit, part of me feels like Michael Ryan shouldn't be on the team and that if he hasn't stuck at the NHL level by now, he probably isn't going to. But he's a fast little guy and he definitely plays hard. If he had a touch more skill he might be the leading goal-scorer because he creates a lot of good opportunities for himself and his linemates. I also love his accent.

22. Nathan Paetsch - Eh. Not much of an opinion here. Did I mention that I miss Teppo?

23. Jocelyn Thibault - I like what I've seen of T-Bone's personality but that's really not much. He has plenty of room to move up but I'm going to have to see more. Shutting out opponents helps though so let's keep that up, buddy!

24. Andrew Peters - Seriously, why is he still here? He seems like a perfectly decent guy, I guess, but he contributes nothing hockey-wise. Nothing.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Buffalo vs. Montreal... Again and Again and Again

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Geez, whose idea was this?

- Well, I guess there are worse teams to play 18 times in one month. Montreal was one of my favorite teams to play last season and the games have definitely been fun this season too. It's nice to see some fast, wide open hockey. And it has been kind of entertaining watching these two teams get feisty with each other. Still... I'm ready to see someone else.

- The feature on Thomas Vanek during the first intermission was one of the worst pieces I've ever seen. Kevin Sylvester teased us with "Here's a little about what Thomas Vanek does off the ice" and then we got what felt like 45 seconds of him playing bubble hockey - at the arena! - with Michael Ryan. I suppose technically he was off the ice, but he never even left the building. I learned more about Mike Ryan watching that. Usually these little fluff pieces are pretty good so I was really disappointed. Geez, Vanek seems like a kid though, doesn't he? I always forget just how young he is. When did these guys all get so much younger than me?

- Jocelyn Thibault has been unimpressive in every other start this season, but he looked really good tonight. Strike that - he looked great. He came up with a few big saves in the first period to keep the game scoreless and he stood strong for the rest of the game. He couldn't stop grinning after the game and I love when guys are like that. All his teammates looked really happy for him too, especially Ryan. I admit, I thought Lindy should have started Ryan tonight and saved T-Bone for the Capitals on Monday. Shows what I know!

- Thomas Vanek's goal was a thing of beauty. He got that puck in the net on sheer will. He decided he was going to score and nothing was going to stop him. I know I've said this after the last couple of games, but this is the player you build a team around. He's so much fun to watch right now.

- I knew Henrik Tallinder was hurt the second he took that hit. My Hank senses were tingling like crazy. I was waiting through the entire second intermission for them to tell us he'd re-broken his arm while Mark kept insisting he was fine. (Me: "QUIT SAYING HE'S FINE! I'M TELLING YOU HE'S HURT! HE WILL NOT BE BACK ON THE BENCH TONIGHT!" Mark: "Are you nervous?" Me: "NO!") Dear Sabres, I told you! Adamantium skeleton! Anyway... Kudos to Toni (Tony Tone) Lydman for stepping up in his partner's absence and helping hold the Canadiens to a big fat zero. And hey, how good has our penalty killing been? Holding Montreal to 1/9 over two games is pretty impressive.

- Part of the reason I love Derek Roy: Vanek is getting cheap-shotted behind the net and Derek comes flying in to take care of it. Derek could fit very comfortably in my pocket so he's not going to do much damage, but hey, he was in there swinging away.


- This is totally unrelated, but I've been meaning to mention it for a few days so I'm going to shoe-horn it in here. Last season Mirtle attempted to develop a formula to determine the best defensive defensemen in the league. It's not an easy task and what he came up with is imperfect - it doesn't factor in how good the team goaltending is for one thing - but I thought it was interesting. He narrowed down the list to the top 90 d-men in even-strength ice time and then narrowed that list down again by picking out the top 60 in shorthanded time, the idea being that good defensive d-men will be a big part of their team's penalty kill. Within that group, he looked at three different criterion: rate of goals against at even-strength, rate of goals against at shorthanded, and strength of opposition. Again, it's not a perfect science and I'd argue that part of the reason defensive defensemen (and defensive forwards) are so underrated and underappreciated is because defense is such a hard thing to quantify. There's no stat you can look at and say, "See? That guy's a great defensive player."

A few days ago, Mirtle wrote an entry about the best d-men so far this season, again using his formula. You can follow the link to see the whole list, but the top ten were Anton Volchenkov (OTT), Brian Rafalski (DET), Chris Phillips (OTT), Nicklas Lidstrom (DET), Chris Pronger (ANA), Jan Hejda (COL), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (SJ), Hal Gill (TOR), Michael Rozsival (NYR), and Kimmo Timonen (PHI). Squeaking in at number 11? Henrik Tallinder, BUF. Again... not a perfect science and I recognize that, but I liked seeing Hank up there, especially since he got off to such a rocky start.

"He likes me! Mirtle really likes me!"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Let's Pretend I Wrote Something Meaningful, Okay?

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

Look, I'll be honest. This is a total throw-away post. I enjoyed the game tonight, I'm glad we won, but I'm exhausted. It's been a long, busy, weekend and I've been desperately fighting off a cold. In honor of Thomas Vanek playing yet another confident, controlled game, here's a gratuitous YouTube video of one of my favorite moments from him last season, also full of confidence and swagger. If you watch the replay, the puck was in and out of the net before Huet even moved. Awesome. It's nice to see you again, Thomas!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What I'm Thankful For

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Tonight we give thanks with a grateful heart...

There's been a lot of discussion lately about blogging and how it compares and doesn't compare to mainstream media. I don't really know that I have anything to add that hasn't already been said by other people, but I do know this: I love blogging and I love my little corner of the blogosphere. I'm not kidding or exaggerating when I say, writing here and checking in with everyone else's blogs is one of the best parts of my day. So in honor of Thanksgiving, here are some reasons why I'm thankful for blogging.

I'm thankful for all the Buffalo blogs that offer an alternative to The Buffalo News.
Buffalo is a one newspaper town and in case I haven't made it clear before, I really dislike the majority of that paper's sports coverage, particularly where the Sabres are concerned. At best it's negative and one-sided. At worst it's unfair to the team and condescending to fans. It's refreshing to head off to one of my favorite Buffalo blogs and find criticism that's fair and and well-reasoned and also mixed with a dose of optimism and hope. (See Bfloblog, Sabre Rattling, Shots off the Crossbar, Desperation Hockey, The Goose's Roost, and Getting Caught from Behind to name a few.)

I'm thankful that blogging gives a voice to female hockey fans.
Certainly there are some females working in sports in the mainstream media... but not enough and many who do don't get enough respect. It's probably because I entered the blogging world via HLog, but most of the hockey blogs I read regularly are written by women. And many of the best I read are written by women. (See Hockey's Ladies of Greatness and all its related blogs.)

I'm thankful for the interactivity of blogging.
I think this is the aspect of blogging that's the most overlooked in the blogging vs. mainstream media debate. I can email a journalist about his column or article but I'm rarely going to get a response. I've gotten a handful of very short answers from John Buccigross, most of which I'm not entirely convinced were written by him, and one response from Bucky Gleason, detailing the burdern he bears as the voice of reason and reality in Buffalo sports (I wish I were exaggerating). And even if I were to get a response, that's pretty much the end of things. Not so on a blog. A blogger can write something that triggers a comment from a reader and that comment can spiral into an entire conversation. I've had conversations move from blog to blog and from blogs to emails. It's pretty remarkable but there are bloggers I feel like I know as well as real-life friends because I've spent so much time talking and debating and complaining with them. I love that about blogging. I love that when Toni Lydman takes a puck off the face, I think of Kate cringing. I love that when Jay Pandolfo scores a goal (!) I think of Schnookie and Pookie celebrating. I love that when Mattias Ohlund lost his mind for a second and slashed an opponent across the leg, I immediately felt bad for Alix. And I love that people do the same for me when it comes to Henrik Tallinder and other things. I've met four people I met through blogs in real-life and had a total blast. I've tried to make plans with a couple of others. Really, what are the chances Bucky Gleason or Jerry Sullivan would email me and say, "We have to go to Ryan Miller's Catwalk for Charity in February!" (Admittedly, it's probably best that they don't.) (See Interchangeable Parts.)

I'm thankful that blogging has opened me up to teams beyond the Sabres.
I don't have digital cable or Center Ice or anything fancy like that. I don't even manage to watch all of the Sabres games so you can bet I hardly ever get around to watching other teams. But I read about them. While the Buffalo blogs are at the top of my reading list, I also read blogs about the Senators, the Devils, the Penguins, the Stars, the Canucks, the Kings, and the California teams just to name a few. I don't even see the Western Conference teams most years but I read about them because they have bloggers who are smart and passionate and engaging. (See Scarlett Ice, The Humming Giraffe, Penalty Killing, and Purple Crushed Velvet.)


I'm thankful that bloggers aren't afraid to have fun with sports.

I mentioned recently that it seems like many sports writers don't like sports. I know hockey is a business and there's a lot of money involved in the day-to-day workings of a franchise and I understand that that stuff needs to be reported. But hockey is also a bunch of grown men skating around trying desperately to get a little black slab of rubber into a net. It's ridiculous. It's entertaining. It's fun. Not everything written about hockey needs to be serious. I'm thankful that many bloggers have a great sense of humor and are willing to let that shine through in their writing. (See The Willful Caboose, The Battle of California, SportSquee, and The Pensblog.)

Other things I'm thankful for:

... that the Sabres are still in Buffalo. We should never stop being thankful for this.

... the chance to watch Ryan Miller blossom into a very good goalie and a strong leader.

... Henrik Tallinder's graceful, easy skating.

... Brian Campbell's ear-to-ear grin.

... Tim Connolly's fluid, never-break-a-sweat stick-handling and his sometimes infuriating but often rewarded patience.

... Thomas Vanek's ability to take over a game. Despite his struggles, we may be watching something special in Vanek.

... Derek Roy on the penalty kill. I love watching him buzz around out there. When he's on, he hustles like crazy.

... Toni Lydman and Jochen Hecht's solid, no nonsense dependability.

... Nolan Pratt for being willing to knock people off his goalie.

... Lindy Ruff's unfailing, dry sense of humor.

... All the people reading this right now. Thanks for coming around.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sabres FTW!

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Tonight we talk about actual hockey! Again! I know!

I missed the game tonight because of work - the grocery store was a zoo in case you're wondering - so I can't make any real commentary. I would like to apologize to Kate, Toni Lydman, and Henrik Tallinder however. I was riding Kate pretty hard yesterday about Toni's terrible turnover right in front of the net during the last Montreal game and I think it's probably because of that that Hank made pretty much the exact same turnover tonight. Somebody up there didn't like my trash-talk. Sorry, Hank!

And how nice of Timmy Connolly to come back and put Derek Roy at ease about missing the net. "See Derek, it ain't no thang." I caught part of the post-game recap on the radio during my break so I knew Timmy missed an empty net but I couldn't believe it when I actually saw the video. Atleast Derek was dealing with d-men and/or goalies on most of his missed shots. Timmy had the entire net and no one between him and it and he still hit the goalpost. Unbelievable. He'd be kicking himself if we'd lost the game by a goal but as it is, hey, he'll get it next time. I loved Lindy poking fun at Timmy and Derek in his post-game conference.

A win is a win at this point but a win against Ottawa is especially nice. Since I didn't see the game I can't really comment on whether we won it or they lost it (or a little of both) but you know what? I don't care that much.

Sorry to make this so short but I have to be back at work in seven hours so some sleep might be good. But tune in later tonight for What Heather's Thankful For.

(For the females in the crowd: There's a video interview with Henrik Tallinder up on the Sabres website right now. The last 30 seconds or so are a perfect demonstration of why I love Hank... in addition to his strong skating and sound defensive play of course.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

First Quarter Comments

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Tonight we talk about actual hockey! I know!

A week or so into the season, I had a conversation with Earl Sleek. The overall gist of the conversation was, "Good Lord, our teams can't really be this bad, can they?" and we assured ourselves that no, they weren't. Teams sometimes have slow starts, no big deal. Earl, being the stat-head that he is however, couldn't just let optimism rule the day. No, he had to drag numbers and you know, reality into the conversation. Earl pointed out that the last few Stanley Cup winners have done really well in their first sixteen games. A good record in the regular season doesn't necessarily guarantee playoff success - after all, the 15-1-1 Sabres flamed out in the playoffs last year while the 6-10-1 Senators ripped through the playoffs and played for the Cup - but it does seem to be a good sample size. So here are some observations at the almost quarter mark of the season, some about the Sabres, some about the league in general:

- As Thomas Vanek goes, so go the Sabres. Other players can take the load here and there - Pominville, Hecht, Connolly - but for the Sabres to win, Vanek needs to be playing good hockey. I know, shocker, right? The good news is, despite some bumps in the road thus far, I think we'll be okay here. Vanek has definitely struggled and he needs to learn to channel his emotions better - he and Derek Roy both seem quick to let frustration take over too quickly - but he's pushed through the struggles and played hard even when it wasn't paying off. I believe Thomas is completely sincere in wanting to live up to his contract (good luck, buddy!) and he's too talented to not score more goals than he is right now. I think it's a little soon to decide that we should have kept Daniel Briere over him.

- Tim Connolly is important, especially on the powerplay. Last season I thought people got a little crazy with the "Timmy will make our PP better!" pronouncements, but there's no denying that the special teams have been better this season with him (even without Briere and Drury!) and have suffered some - especially the PP - during his injury. Fans can complain all they want about the wisdom of putting so much responsibility on a player who seems to live on IR, but you can't deny Timmy's talent. I also think Tim is potentially one of the most important players in the room. Some of the younger guys - Vanek, Pominville, Roy, Stafford - have been fortunate enough to succeed quickly on good teams and now they're having to work through things not coming so easily. Tim isn't that much older than them but he's been in the league forever and he's certainly had his share of ups and downs. I think his more even-keeled on-ice personality will balance out Vanek and Roy until they learn to use their emotions in a more productive way.

ETA: It turns out I'm not totally making things up here! Mirtle has some powerplay stats that reveal that yep, Timmy is indeed the straw that stirs the drink. See, I do occasionally know what I'm talking about.

- Derek Roy needs to be better. He's made some progress in the last couple of games but he needs to be so much better. More hustling, more getting under opponents' skin, more shooting. Less stick-handling, less whining, and less blaming things like bad bounces and chippy ice.

- For all the complaints about our defense, they've been anywhere from serviceable to solid which is especially impressive with the loss of Teppo and Kalinin. Losing Teppo's experience and leadership was a big blow and I think Tri was one of the few guys who played well from the drop of the puck this season. Considering that we had two very inexperienced d-men in the line-up for a stretch, things have been okay back there. Most nights they're holding the score down enough that the team has a chance to win and that's what you hope for. This group certainly isn't going to blow anyone away and there have been goals that were definitely the result of some kind of break-down. But the defense hasn't been the biggest problem most nights which is a very good thing.

- It might be time for Maxim Afinogenov to move on. He's very frustrating to watch. I know that, in his own way, he's trying to make things happen but after he finally seemed to figure things out last season, it's tough to watch him take such a big step backward. If we have to part with someone to pick up a missing piece - a big, physical forward for example - he's probably the player I'd be the most willing to see leave.

- No one's really mentioned it, but I think this first part of season has probably been an adjustment for Lindy Ruff as well. He had a young team last year too but he also had Drury and Numminen and Briere to take on some of the leadership. I'm sure you coach a team with that kind of player presence differently than you coach a team that's lacking that. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like it would require a little more hands-on work, more building up, and calming down. It's possible that he's been adjusting to a new role as well.

- How good does that Jochen Hecht re-signing look right now? Pretty good. Jochen's been busting his butt every night at both ends of the ice and he's done a bang-up job at center while Timmy's been out. I'm all for keeping him between Pominville and MacArthur and letting Timmy center Max and Ales Kotalik. Jochen is exactly the kind of player that every team needs and while he's under the radar most of the time, I think we would've really noticed his absence if he'd ended up elsewhere next season.

- The schedule this year blows. It feels like almost every week the Sabres have played two games in three nights or three games in four nights and then not played for four or five days. And this all-divisional games month is killing me. We still have two games against the Canadiens and I'm already tired of looking at them. One more "Ole, ole, ole!" just might drive me over the edge of insanity. Is it really that hard to spread these games out over the course of the season? You have 82 games to work with! A home and home weekend against Montreal should be exciting because the two teams usually do put on good games, but we've played them what feels like 18 times in the last two weeks. This is not building rivalries, it's killing them.

- I'm glad the league seems to be taking suspensions a little more seriously but I won't be completely sold until Chris Pronger gets more than one game for a transgression.

- Definitely a disappointing start but there are signs of life and I think the team will be mostly okay. In the end, struggling now might be a good thing. Let the kids learn now that it's a new game this year. If they want to win, they're going to have to work hard every single night. That's definitely better than them getting some flukey wins, deciding they can coast, and then discovering (again) that it's not that easy in the playoffs. While it's nice to finish at the top of the division or conference, I'm a firm believer that in hockey you really just have to make the playoffs. Once the playoffs start, it's a new season and crazy things happen. Guys who have been scoring all season suddenly stop while guys who have scored a handful a goals all season are finding the back of the net. Goalies get hot and carry teams or freeze up and doom them.

- You never know.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ryan Who?

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

(Slight explanation for this post: I'm a classroom aide at a school program for emotionally disturbed children. The classes are small - I have 6 kids right now though trust me, it often feels like 30 - and I think that makes for a more casual, hands-on relationship between the students and the staff. Just wanted to clarify that since people sometimes seem a little perplexed when I start talking about work because it's not really that much like a regular public school. Also, for the record, all the kids' names below have been changed due to confidentiality.)

Most of my students don't know the first thing about the Buffalo Sabres. Every couple of years I get one who watches hockey, but for the most part, they know very, very little. A lot of them don't have cable, they don't read the newspaper, and they don't have male figures in their day-to-day lives. (Not that mothers can't pass on a love of sports because hello! woman writing this sentence right now... but having a dad around helps, you know?) They generally know a couple of names, Ryan Miller being the primary one, but that's about it. The group I have this year is particularly unknowledgeable and not very sporty. Toward the beginning of the year one of them said to me, "Ryan Miller is my favorite! I love when he scores those goals!" (This kid is a total know-it-all who firmly believes that he's right about everything. When I pointed out that Ryan Miller is the goalie and has, as far as I know, never scored a goal, he said, "Well, he could score a goal if he wanted to, right?" When I said, "Yeah, I guess," he crossed his arms and nodded satisfactorily.)

The one thing I have noticed over the years though is that the kids quickly pick up on the fact that I love hockey and go out of their way to try and talk to me about it. It's cute really. Part of the reason most of them are in our program is because they don't know how to interact appropriately with other people so I find the whole "I don't care about this but I know you do so let's talk about it" aspect of the conversations to be very endearing. Every morning someone asks me if the Sabres won last night (even when they didn't play) and evidently they caught on to the ongoing theme for this season because when I said no, they'd ask, "Well, did they atleast play well?" They'll ask who scored, who we played, all that stuff, and they do occasionally seem to really soak up some information.

Last year there was a long stretch of the season where Tim Connolly seemed to cease to exist. He re-signed with the team before the season started and then fell off the face of the earth. I was secretly convinced that he was dead and the team just hadn't revealed it yet. So when I picked up the newspaper one day and saw a little picture of Tim at the top of the front page, I squealed. Alan, whose desk was right beside mine, asked what was going on so I explained how Timmy had been hurt during the playoffs pretty seriously, and how he'd missed so much time, and how I hadn't seen or heard him in months, and how he was one of my favorites so I was just really excited to see him in a hockey uniform and hear him finally talking about coming back. Alan nodded in slight interest and turned back to what he was doing. But at the end of the day he gave me this:


Seriously, how cute is that? (Margee, I apologize. I didn't think Alan would get the whole "Margee has dibs on Timmy" thing.)

Anyway, the one thing they never really seem to get is Henrik Tallinder. They'll ask me over and over and over who my favorite player is but they can't remember him. I don't know if they're just asking the question to ask it and not really listening to the answer or if it's not a name they hear much otherwise or if they have a hard time with it not being an American sounding name or what. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when Jake, who I've had for two years now, leaned over my shoulder the other day, pointed at a picture on my desk and said, "Hey, it's Henrik Tallinder!" No hesitation, no question, and perfect pronunciation which is more than some professionals can pull off.

"How'd you know that?"
"He's number 10, right?"
"Yeah, but how'd you know that?"
:::massive eye-rolling::: "Geez, Heather, you only talk about him ALL THE TIME."
"Do you know any other Sabres?"
"... Nah."

So there you go. I have helped create the only 12-year-old boy in the city of Buffalo who can pick Henrik Tallinder out of a line-up and not say, Ryan Miller. My work with Jake is clearly complete.

(I promise some "real" hockey content tomorrow. I spent all my non-working time in bed today due to a killer cold and I'm trying desperately not to get sick for my upcoming long weekend.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

For Those About to Rock...

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! I'm short on time today so nothing of real importance here...

Seriously, I love this whole Player Playlist thing. Toni Lydman's list is pretty much exactly what I expected and somehow, I'm still amused. I will never get over the fact that Toni, who always sounds completely sedated, listens to music like this, much to the chagrin of his non-Drew Stafford teammates. It cracks me right the heck up. I'm sure between the offensive outburst and these tunes, HSBC was rocking hard Friday night.

Captain Toni Lydman salutes you.

Toni Lydman's Playlist
Angel of Death, Slayer
Colony of Birchmen, Mastodon
I'll Cast a Shadow, Pantera
In Your Face, Children of Bodom
No Compromise, The Haunted
Refuse to Be Denied, Anthrax

(The language in some of the links isn't safe for little ears or sensitive big ears.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

V-Day

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Today I get to write about a win! I don't know what to do!

Well, true to my word, I did not really watch last night's game. I went to the library and stayed there for the entirety of the first period. (For those of you saying, "The library?" let me clarify that I love the library. It's my happy place.) I got in the car to head to Starbucks for a double chocolate chip frappucino and decided halfway there that I had to know what the score was. I was delighted to discover that it was 3-0! And then within minutes of me turning the radio on, Montreal scored. Eek! So I turned that sucker right off, went into Starbucks and hung out for a few minutes. But whereas I didn't really think too much about the game during the first period I was now dying to know what was going on. So I got back in the car and was thrilled to find that the Sabres had gotten the goal back to make it 4-1. It was also at that point that I decided the Hockey Gods are definitely screwing with me. Anyway, I did go home and sit in the same room as the TV but I tried not to pay too much attention since the team clearly needed to be out from under my gaze tonight. So while I'm glad we won, that leaves me trying to re-cap a game I didn't really watch. I could regurgitate what other people have said about last night but you know, you can just wander around and read those people yourself. Check out Goose's Roost or the open game thread at Bfloblog for game recaps.

I will share this quote from Derek Roy however. I got this from Hockey Buzz so take it with a grain of salt. I don't know anything about Garth, the Sabres blogger, other than that he clearly doesn't believe in proof-reading or spell-checking.

Tonight we said "we're not getting the bounces"...go out and don't look for bounces. We said that we would go out and play our game and work hard. I think that we did that. We weren't looking at the refs for penalties, and we weren't looking for excuses or bad bounces.. we worked really hard and executed the game plan.

That's more like it, Derek. No excuses, just play hard and deal with what happens. In my internet wanderings last night I saw a few people come down on Derek for shaking his head and laughing after he missed yet another open net, but hey, I'll take that every night. I think that shows a lot more maturity and self-control than swearing and slamming his stick around. I like seeing emotion but once he gets to that point he's usually putting himself out of the game. Seems like a step in the right direction to me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hockey, I Love You But We Need a Break

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

If for some reason this is your first visit to my little blog, I apologize in advance. This post is particularly long, rambly, and just generally all over the place. I'm usually not like that, I promise.* You've been warned...

This was the scene at Casa B. last night. It's halfway through the first period and the Sabres are once again outplaying an opponent but losing. I'm sitting in the recliner, blanket over my head so I can't see the TV, almost crying in frustration.

Mark (great concern in his voice): Uh... Are you okay?
Heather (muffled): No!
Mark: What's wrong?
Heather: Hockey hurts me!
Mark: I think maybe you and hockey need to take a break.

It was terrible. Even while this was going on part of my brain was saying, "This is pathetic. It's a stupid hockey game. You didn't get this upset about games you actually played in, ya big galoot." But the other part of my brain was completely committed to weeping and gnashing of teeth. How did I get here?

It would almost be easier to watch the Sabres lose like this if they were playing like garbage. But they're not. They're playing hard and they're mostly doing things right. The Senators did not blow us out of the water. If you break the game down minute by minute, I think we actually outplayed them. We controlled a lot of the play and our scoring chances were a much higher quality than theirs. But the Sens did just enough more to win and we did just enough less to lose. Derek Roy's tripping penalty in the last four minutes of the game was a perfect example of Bad Derek. It was in the offensive zone, it was right in front of the ref, and it was totally out of frustration. It was stupid and selfish and I hope Lindy ripped him to shreds after the game. His teammates should have each gotten one punch to the head after the game. He should be in a dunking booth outside HSBC Arena all day today so fans can stop by and take a whack at him. Derek: You talked a big game before the season. You said you were excited about taking on more responsibility, being one of the go-to guys. That means growing up, playing smarter, and being accountable. I don't want to hear, "We did everything right, it just didn't go our way," and I don't want to hear, "I was trying to bank it in off the post and it banked out instead." I want to hear, "I took a stupid penalty at a critical time and it cost my team," and I want to hear, "I missed an empty net and there's no excuse for that. I need to be better." Because dude, you need to be better. And I like you. You should hear what the other guys are saying.

I don't know. I feel bad for all of them because they certainly do seem snake-bit but at some point don't you have to stop blaming losses on a lack of fortunate bounces and start saying, "We're not doing what we should be doing." Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek should not be missing empty nets. Jason Pominville should not be whiffing on shots. Toni Lydman should not be driving to the net harder than almost every forward. I don't think complaints about a return to pre-lockout hockey and suffocating defenses are totally unfounded. I hate watching five players collapse around the goalie. I hate watching sixty minutes of shots from the point bouncing off guys before even getting to the goalie. And for the Sabres organization I'm sure it's disappointing to spend two years building a team around a skilled, wide open game only to have almost every other team focus on ways to shut that kind of game down while the league starts to backslide on officiating. But last night's game wasn't about that. The Sabres were getting pucks down low - an accomplishment against Ottawa's defense - but they weren't cashing in rebounds, they weren't making good shots, and hey, did I mention they were missing wide open nets? They can't blame that on anything or anyone but themselves and it might be kind of nice to hear someone say, "Man, we really screwed ourselves out of that game."

Honestly, I'm beginning to worry just a touch about the team's mental health. They're starting to look and sound really defeated, like they just don't know what else to do with themselves. Hopefully they can focus on the fact that they're mostly playing well and continue to tighten up the little things that need work while not getting too hung up on their record. That's gotta be tough though. I'm extremely frustrated just watching these games. I can't even imagine actually playing in them. Then again, plugging away and working hard is part of being a professional athlete. Things have to start going their way eventually. Right? Please? Can we hire Teppo Numminen to just hang around the room and calm everyone down?

Anyway, I'm thinking about taking a break from tonight's game. I think I'm going to go to the library, finish reading The Three Musketeers, and send my mom a long overdue email. When the library closes I'm going to come home, go back in the bedroom and watch one of the DVDs that have been sitting on our TV for what feels like years (Gracie, Knocked Up, and Veronica Mars, Season One, Disc One). Sabres, I love you, but this is not healthy. You'll have to survive without me for one night. I'm too old to be watching games through my blanket, you know? I'll be back next week for the Ottawa rematch.

*Total lie. I'm almost always long and rambly. Sorry.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Request

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

Next time can we schedule this whole "blog every day" thing for a month when the Sabres actually win a few hockey games? Please?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

True Confessions of Heather B.

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! That's right, two posts in one day. Blogger of the year, baby!

Before I get started I'd just like to point out that Marshawn Lynch was hurt on Sunday which is before I started publicly mouthing off about the Bills beating the Patriots. I had nothing to do with this. Nothing.

So Ottawa... They're pretty good, huh?

Okay, seriously, I have two major confessions to make here.

Confession Number One - I like the Ottawa Senators.
The affection comes and goes and I don't feel like I can pull for them too hard since they're division rivals but I really do like them. I've enjoyed watching Jason Spezza develop over the last couple of years. As a fan of defensemen, I'm super envious of Anton Volchenkov. And I love, love, love watching Dany Heatley play. He's a bit of a Sabres killer and he completely terrifies me when he has the puck but he's amazing. Love. him.

I think the rivalry between the two teams took a downward turn for some people after the brawl in February which is unfortunate. For the last couple of seasons, Buffalo-Ottawa games were always exciting games between two skilled teams playing similar styles. And unlike some rivalries, the two fanbases seemed to have some respect for each other and most back-and-forth was good-natured. I noticed a lot more sniping from both sides during the playoffs last season. I'm curious to see if any of the bad blood carries over now that Chris Drury is no longer a Sabre.

Just so no one thinks I'm going all soft on them however, here are a few things I don't like about Ottawa:
- Ray Emery. I'm so over him.
- Bryan Murray. No good explanation. He's very good at what he does but something about him gets under my skin.
- Chris Neil. No, I would not like him if he were on my team. Please stop telling me that.
- Daniel Alfredsson. You know how sometimes an otherwise decent, enjoyable guy does one thing that, fair or not, kind of ruins him for you forever? That's how I feel about Daniel Alfredsson. When he blatantly boarded Henrik Tallinder during the Conference Finals last year, I was upset. When he accused Hank of embellishing the hit in order to get a call - like the freakin' hit didn't deserve a call in the first place - and then questioned how hurt he really was, I was pretty furious. This is not Derek Roy. Tallinder hardly ever gets knocked off his feet, has broken his arm twice in similar situations, and has absolutely no reputation whatsoever for whining or embellishing. He barely shows any emotion on the ice. The hit was bad enough but I could maybe overlook it since it was the heat of the playoffs. But the comments, pushed me over the edge. I thought they were totally classless. Am I judging Alfredsson more harshly because Hank is my favorite player? I'm sure I am. Is it unfair to hold something like that against Alfredsson for so long? Probably. But hey, being totally irrational about certain things is part of being a fan. This is one of my things.

"It's okay, Trainer Guy, I'm totally trying to get a call. Did it work?"

Anyway...

Confession Number Two - I'm not scared of the Ottawa Senators.
I should be. Their record is not an accident. They have a very good number one line, decent secondary scoring, a goalie who's playing very well, and a great team defense. I love their defense. We couldn't buy a goal right now, our top line is barely visible, and we still have a couple of important injuries. But I don't know, I'm not as worried about this game as most people seem to be. Maybe I'm adjusting to watching a struggling team. Maybe it's the low expectations. If they're not expected to win, how can we be disappointed if they don't? If they do win, well, good for them! Maybe that'll turn the season around! And you never know... Maybe this is what the kids have been waiting for. They've been slowly righting the ship - the defense has improved, the effort has increased, most of the forwards are playing better, Ryan has looked much more solid in goal. Maybe the chance to right the terrible play in the playoffs last year will get them to finally focus and pull everything together at one time.

Or maybe I'm just crazy.

So in my continued efforts to tell off the Hockey Gods, I'm calling the game for Buffalo now. Final score 3-2, goals by Vanek, Pominville, and Roy, one of them on the powerplay. I totally reserve the right to delete this last paragraph later if need be.

State of the Union

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

So I guess we should shake things up and talk about the Sabres, huh? Okay.

Honestly, I have a hard time picking on them too much right now because most of them have worked really hard the last few games. The effort is definitely there now, they're just not getting the puck in the net. A few random thoughts that have been percolating in my brain:

- Thomas Vanek is not Miro Satan, okay, Sabres fans? I think it's killing him that the team is losing and he's not contributing. We went to one of the Boston games last week (the OT win) and watching him on the ice and the bench made it pretty clear that he's extremely frustrated and pressing way too hard. As much pressure as we're putting on him, he's putting way more on himself.

And this is exactly why a third year player shouldn't be making so much money. I'm not blaming the Oilers - what they did was within the rules of the CBA. I'm not blaming the Sabres - no one would've extended Vanek to a long-term deal after his rookie season and once there were rumors about offer sheets, his agent clearly wasn't going to let the Sabres anywhere near him. I'm just saying, it's a very unfortunate situation. Vanek doesn't have much experience with long slumps and he has no experience with being the go-to guy at this level. Now not only does he have to work himself out of this scoring drought, he has to do it while knowing that every single person watching him is thinking about how much money he's making. At this point I'm really just crossing my fingers and hoping he comes out of this in one piece. (I think he will.)

- It's not helping Vanek's case that he's playing with the two worst players on the team. Derek Roy and Maxim Afinogenov are playing wretched hockey right now, turning over the puck like crazy with fancy passes and extra stick-handling. Max is particularly frustrating to me. He finally seemed to put everything together last season - he used his linemates, he became a good playmaker, he figured out how to effectively use his speed to create space for himself and his team. To see him go back to his more selfish, careless bad habits is disheartening. Max isn't quite as young as the other forwards and he's been at the NHL level much longer. He should know better.

- So along those lines, let's break up RAV, PLEASE. I guess I understand Lindy's inclination to keep them together. They have played well in the past and Derek and Vanek have to get used to being centerpieces of the team. But with young players I think there comes a point where you have to worry a little bit about where they are mentally. Right now I think the most important thing is getting them jump-started no matter what it takes. When Tim Connolly comes back - hey, when is Tim Connolly coming back, by the way? - I'd flip-flop him and Derek. Tim has brought out good things from Max in the past and then you have Vanek with a playmaker who's actually playing well right now which might help get him back on the scoresheet. Tim would also bring a little responsibility and a level-head to that line, two things which are desperately needed at the moment. He doesn't seem to panic or press when things aren't going smoothly and in Vanek-Afinogenov-Roy you have three guys who are trying too hard to make things happen. Maybe Tim's more laid-back patience would soothe Max and Van a bit.

Derek tends to have a symbiotic relationship with his linemates. As they go, he goes. I hope that he'll eventually be able to bust out of that and impose his will a little more on his line but for now, putting him between Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville might be beneficial. Jochen and Jason are busting their butts every night
and playing strong at both ends of the ice. Maybe being surrounded by their hard work would bring out more of the fiery dynamo I love and less of the whiny turnover machine I hate.

- Tom L. made this point over at Sabre Rattling but I think it bears repeating: This team desperately misses Teppo Numminen. I'm sure he was partly re-signed because of his dependable defensive play but I'm also sure he was partly re-signed because he was a veteran who the younger guys on the team clearly like and respect. I really think Teppo's leadership was supposed to be a bridge from last year's team to next year's team. The d-men - Campbell and Kalinin in particular - have talked openly about how calming Teppo always was for them on the ice. I can't help but think that if he were around, he'd be able to help the younger guys get out of their heads a bit.

- The defense has looked better, especially considering that Kalinin is still out. Sekera still makes me a touch nervous but I do think he's much improved. Ryan Miller also seems to be finding his game. He hasn't stolen one yet but you can't really nitpick much about his last few starts.

- Seriously, what's up with Timmy? I get nervous when he's out and everything's hush-hush.

Come back later tonight/early tomorrow for some thoughts on Ottawa!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dear Hockey Gods...

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

Dear Hockey Gods,

Listen, you're really starting to bug me. It was one thing when you sent Ryan Miller home after a stellar playoffs while his little brother got his name carved into the Stanley Cup after playing 132 seconds all season. I didn't like that but hey, the Ducks were a great team and the Sabres played like garbage. It was mean but I get it.

And I really can't complain about the Sabres first few losses. They looked like they didn't realize the season had started yet. But now? Now they're working pretty hard and despite the conventional wisdom that hard work eventually pays off in goals, the Sabres could not buy a goal right now, not even with Vanek throwing in his salary. They're hitting posts, goalies who aren't that good are playing like Dom in his prime against them, and opponents are capitalizing on the one or two glaring mistakes the team makes in a game. I know you saw the goal that Boston tied the game with the other night. It was ridiculous. Seriously, what was that?

I feel, Hockey Gods, like you're playing with the hearts and minds of Buffalo fans and that's really not right. We've been through the wringer here and that's not even taking into consideration what your buddies the Football Gods have done to us. I'm a little tired of it, and quite frankly, I'm done playing your reindeer games. Until you start doing your part and getting some of those pucks into the net, I'm done. I'm keeping the Derek Roy wallpaper up no matter how many games we lose. I'm trash-talking other teams regardless of how bad our record is. I'm going to run my mouth all week about how the Sabres are going to slaughter the Senators Thursday night. (And you can tell the Football Gods that the Bills are destroying the Patriots on Sunday!) As soon as I'm done here, I'm going to Scarlett Ice to razz Sherry and all the other Sens fans. When it's 0-0 three minutes into the game on Thursday, I'm going to turn to Mark with a big grin on my face and say, "Looks like Ryan's getting a shut-out tonight!" And the next time I see the Stanley Cup, not only am I touching it, I'm hugging it tightly to my chest and then holding it aloft while bellowing, "BEHOLD THE BUFFALO SABRES, 2008 STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS!"

In closing, screw you, Hockey Gods!

Sincerely,
Heather B.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ron Francis, Hall of Famer

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

I was planning on sitting down and writing something really in-depth and meaningful today since I was off from both jobs today, but I woke up with a killer cold - I'm hoping that's all it is atleast - and I've spent almost all day in bed. So I'm going to keep this very short and a little sweet.

First of all, while it's a little late, I want to thank everyone for all the great comments the past few days, especially on the On Being a Fan post. I do enjoy just talking into the wind, but let's not kid ourselves, it's good to know there are people on the other side of the internet reading and enjoying what I'm doing. You're all very much appreciated!

Second of all, I'd like to offer a quick congratulations to Ron Francis on his Hall of Fame induction. It's probably a stretch to say I was ever a Penguins fan since I was never in a situation where I could really watch the team but because of my connection to Pittsburgh (born there, parents raised there, often visited family there) I always had a soft spot for its teams. (Only sporting event to ever make me cry tears of grief? The 1992 NLCS, Pirates vs. Braves. I remember every single detail about that night night in crystal clear, full color.) For whatever reason, the few times I did see the Penguins play, it was always Ron Francis that caught my eye. He wasn't as gifted as Mario Lemieux and he wasn't as flashy as Jaromir Jagr, but there was something about his quiet consistency that appealed to me. He carried himself with a noticeable grace and always seemed like a gentleman off the ice. And yes, even to that young kid he was undeniably handsome (and still is). Everyone thinks about Ron Francis as a good hockey player but I think a lot of people are still surprised when they see just how good his career numbers were and I think he's gotten a bit of a short shrift compared to some of the other inductees this year. But being underrated was always part of Ron's charm and it's kind of amusing that that's continued even into retirement. The first hockey jersey I ever owned was a Penguins #10.

So here's an official Top Shelf glove tap and helmet nuzzle to you, Ronnie. While I wasn't really a full-on hockey fan until I moved to Buffalo and started watching the Sabres, you were there leaving little waves in my life during a very impressionable time. For that I'll always be grateful.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The NHL Is Run By Monkeys

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

Someone - I won't name any names - told me that yesterday's post was weird and not really fitting for a hockey blog. I thought it was very entertaining - He's dancing on skates, people! Let's see Sidney Crosby do that! - but I'll try to get back a little more on-point tonight so someone can stop complaining. You try thinking of something to write every day. It's not that easy.

I don't really have it in me to whine about the Sabres right now, especially when they do seem to be trying pretty hard to win. Maxim Afinogenov, this is your official Top Shelf warning however. I am feeling a little complain-y at the moment though so let's complain about the Ice Bowl, shall we? Oh, my bad - the APM Energy NHL 2008 Winter Classic. For those of you not involved, let me tell you this: Everything about the Ice Bowl has sucked so far. This thing was so poorly handled that it could only be an NHL event. Here are a few of my complaints:

1. I cannot believe Gary Bettman and Larry Quinn are actually saying, "Gee, we had no idea interest would be so high!" Are you for real? Get your heads out of your asses and look around you. Fans in Buffalo were going nuts about rumors of this game long before anything official was announced. You put the game - a really cool, once in a lifetime kind of event - in Buffalo where the last two seasons have sold out and the TV ratings are the best in the league and you're surprised people want to go? This bears repeating: Only the NHL could be that clueless about fan interest.

2. The league announced the game one day and put tickets on sale the next morning. That didn't give fans very much time to make plans. We spent a few chaotic hours trading phone calls and emails with family and friends, trying to figure out who really wanted to go, how much money people wanted to spend, what our first and second choices for seats were, who was going to buy the tickets, whether we were going to call, get online, or go to the stadium or arena, and who exactly could take the day off to do that. It was a mess.

3. Along those same lines, letters went out to season ticket and mini-pack holders the day of the announcement. I don't know if season ticket holders got the same letter mini-packer holders got but ours was a collection of confusing contradictions, yet another problem. It basically said, "Congratulaions, we've reserved you seats! Well, maybe! But yes, we did! We'll see! I dunno, send us your credit card number and we'll get back to you!" Mark and I both read it over and over and neither one of us really knew what to make of it. Should we still attempt to buy tickets during the general public sale? Or were we in? Who knew? Because we didn't get the letter until after we were home from work, the ticketing office was closed which meant we had no chance to call and clarify anything because the office wouldn't be open again until tickets went on sale the next morning.

4. There was initially no cap on how many tickets one person could buy. I know the league came out and said, "Hey, settle down, no order was placed for more than 15 tickets," but how many orders like that were placed? Because 15 adds up pretty fast when there are thousands of people trying to get in to the system. Having no limit is just so asinine that again, it could only be the NHL in charge.

5. I'll preface this by saying that Mark and I have a mini-pack so I'm speaking with a strong bias. I have a problem with the fact that season ticket holders got their regular tickets and then got extra tickets before mini-pack holders got anything (which means that we got nothing because everything was all doled out by then). I know I'm not putting as much money into the team as season ticket holders, but our mini-pack wasn't cheap and we didn't get the discount that season ticket holders get. We paid a whopping two dollars less than face value for all of our games. Season ticket holders shouldn't have expected anything more than their regular number of seats and they shouldn't have gotten any more until as many different people as possible were taken care of.

6. I've heard mini-pack holders will have the option of buying a pair of the $10 obstructed seats. I've heard we don't have to enter the lottery - if we want them, they're ours. I've heard the "someone must be under 16" rule won't apply to us. But I don't know any of this for sure because no one from the Sabres has bothered to send us a letter or email filling us in on what's going on. If you're going to stiff us on tickets, the least you could do is go out of your way to tell us how we can get tickets.

Not really complaints but a few more observations:

- I think it's lovely that the Sabres are encouraging families to come to the game but insisting that someone in all the obstructed seat groups be under 16 is stupid. If I'm a parent, I'm not sure I'm bundling up my kid for a long, cold day and expecting them to sit through a game that they can't even see. It would've been much more impressive if the Sabres had deemed another section - one where everyone can see the game - as a family zone.

- Same goes for all the tickets they're giving away to charities. It's a nice gesture, but I would be much more impressed if they were giving away seats that aren't obstructed. A lot of my kids at work are involved in the Compeer program and any one of them would enjoy going to a professional sporting event, something most of them have never done... but they'd probably enjoy it more if they could - all together now - see the game.

- For the record, I know Larry Quinn said "obstructed view" is overstating things and that some of the seats aren't really that bad. But I also know that Larry Quinn is very good at talking out of his ass.

- Speaking of Larry Quinn: "This white jersey is something we may never wear again," Quinn said. He hopes the Sabres faithful in the stands will follow suit. "I think it would be great for our team to skate out there and see 50,000 people wearing their classic white Sabres jerseys — above their ski parkas."

Translation: Buy another jersey! We love your money!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hockey Game Tonight? What Hockey Game?

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! And now for something completely different...

Why I Love Hockey #32 - Gene Kelly
With respect to everyone else, there are two great dancers in movie history, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. The two of them are both amazingly talented and enjoyable to watch, but they have very different styles. Fred was very formal, almost always dancing in a top hat and tails. Very elegant, very graceful, a little stiff. Gene brought dancing to the common man. He danced in casual clothes and his movements were more powerful and athletic, his whole body chugging away. Because of the difference in styles, I think most people have a pretty strong preference for one or the other. While I like Fred (I particularly love Swing Time), I am a Gene Kelly girl through and through.

I know, I know... That's great, Heather. But what's it got to do with hockey? Hang on, I'm getting there.

A few months ago I read a book by Dave Bidini called The Tropic of Hockey: My Search for the Game in Unlikely Places. It was about Bidini's travels around the world where he found himself playing hockey in some very unusual places like China, Dubai, and Romania. It's a really sweet, fun book and I recommend it to the readers among you. I read it during the free agency frenzy and all the fall-out and it was the perfect antidote to all the crazies (players, GMs, media, and fans all included).

Anyway, in the book, Bidini makes a quick mention of Gene Kelly. Gene's father was Canadian and every winter he flooded their backyard in Pittsburgh and made a rink. Gene grew up playing hockey and even played in a semi-pro league for a time. Bidini said that Gene later credited hockey for some of his dance moves describing them as "wide open and close to the ground." I'd never made the connection before but as soon as I read that quote I got a mental image of Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain doing a move where they stand in one spot, swing their arms front to back, and kind of run in place. I thought of it because it looks almost exactly like they're ice-skating. I don't know why, but I found this to be completely exciting and endearing. If there are two things I never expected to be connected it would be Gene Kelly and hockey. But there you go, the power of hockey. Who knew that years before I fell in love with hockey I was falling in love with something directly influenced by it?

Below is the Moses Supposes routine. You can see the steps I was thinking of at the -1:54 mark when Gene and Donald jump down off the desk and at the -:12 mark after they stop piling all the junk on top of the poor elocution tutor. The image up before the video starts is a good shot of it too now that I look at it. I would recommend just watching the whole song because it's so charming and joyful. If I had to watch one scene from one movie for the rest of my life, it would be this one. I've watched it five times while writing this and it almost made me forget about the very frustrating hockey game I watched tonight which I refuse to talk about at this time.



ETA: In retrospect, I should have included this number from It's Always Fair Weather because duh, he's on skates! Granted, they're roller skates and not ice skates but close enough. Gene's hockey background would explain why he looks so comfortable on the skates. It gets really good dancing-wise around the -2:00 mark. I wanna see an NHLer pull this off.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Jason Pominville is a Good Hockey Player

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Yes, I missed yesterday, thanks for noticing...

I've been thinking a lot about Jason Pominville lately. This is a new thing for me because generally I don't think of him very often. I was as excited as every other Sabres fan when he scored his series winning short-handed goal against Ottawa in the 2006 playoffs but I admit I didn't really think of him as a super important part of the puzzle the following season. And even though he scored 34 goals and was the star of my (really bad) fantasy hockey team last season - I picked him up out of the undrafted pile for crying out loud - I still didn't really think of him that much until the playoffs. And then I reamed him, ranting on an almost nightly basis to Mark about how "Pominville better not think I'm going to let him coast on that playoff shortie forever." (For the record, I do think he was remarkably bad in the post-season and unlike some players, his name didn't come up much. And yes that was me indirectly defending Derek Roy. I told you, I have a thing about that.) Even this off-season, I didn't think much about Jason Pominville. I thought it was ridiculous for people to say his entire game was going to shrivel up and disappear without Daniel Briere, but I didn't think of him as one of the guys who was going to be a difference maker. A few weeks ago, just for kicks, I ranked the current Sabres roster from favorite to least favorite and I was about halfway through the list before I even thought of Jason Pominville.

But as I said, lately I have been thinking about Jason Pominville. You know why? Because it turns out he's a pretty good hockey player! I know! Before the season started, we got confident quotes from the usual suspects - Ryan Miller, Adam Mair, Brian Campbell. "The captains were great but we learned a lot from them and we'll be fine. We're a good hockey team." And once the season started and the team struggled, the same players kept saying the same things. "We just have to work harder and everything will start clicking." And while I appreciate all the confident talking, I was really hitting the point where I wanted a little less talk and a lot more action. One of the few players who seemed to really get that talking about playing better wasn't the same thing as actually playing better was Jason Pominville. He's worked hard every single game, even when it didn't pay off. He's played at both ends of the ice unlike many other forwards on the team. He's not flashy, his style doesn't usually jump out at you, but somewhere along the way he's become a very dependable, consistent, two-way player. I feel like an idiot. When did this happen?

After I realized, hey, you know this Pommers kid might have a real future in the NHL, I started thinking about why he's so often an afterthought for me and I finally realized what exactly the problem is. Puck bunnies. Seriously. I've never seen a POMINVILLE jersey on anyone who wasn't a)female, b)between the ages of 12 and 25 and c)carrying around a sign that says "I Heart Jason." As a female, I'm extremely wary of the whole puck bunny thing. While I occasionally let loose, I think pretty carefully about what I write here because I want people to take me seriously as a hockey fan. I know many people see me in a jersey they automatically assume I'm a puck bunny (even though I look nothing like your average puck bunny) so there's a strike against me before we've even started talking. Evidently I've sort of lumped Jason Pominville in with all things puck bunny and packed him away.


Seriously, doesn't he look more like the member of a boy band than a hockey player?

So Jason, I owe you an apology. It's not your fault that you have the non-threatening puppy dog looks that appeal to females of a certain age. It's not your fault that you sound like an earnest 12-year-old when you talk. You're a good hockey player and I promise from now on I won't take that for granted. I think you're going to stick, you know?

(See if you can't get those buddies of yours to play as hard as you are, okay?)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Victory!

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! This one barely counts as a post but hey, it's my blog...

I just got home from the game and I'm crazy tired so I don't have the energy to write much about it. (Short story: It was a pretty lousy game from both teams but a win is a win is a win.) Read yesterday's entry if you haven't already and enjoy this adorable photo of Henrik Tallinder and Clarke MacArthur celebrating Clarke's game-winning goal. We'll talk in more detail tomorrow.