Monday, June 30, 2008

Is It October Yet?

A week or so ago Mark's mom asked us if we'd be interested in taking her to prospect camp this weekend. We reluctantly agreed. I mean, do we seem like the kind of people who would be interested in a bunch of kids playing hockey in the middle of the summer? (That's a joke for those who don't recognize them.) Unfortunately she bailed on us so we ended up going by ourselves again, not that we had to drag ourselves there. As Mark said, "For someone who was complaining that you hated hockey and needed a break from it, you're spending an awful lot of your summer at hockey-related events." Hmmmm... Might be some truth in that especially since I already have plans to go back to camp on Monday with some friends.

The prospects broke up into two teams and scrimmaged so they only used one rink instead of both of them. I know a lot of people feel like the best way to watch hockey is from above so you can really see plays developing. I agree with that generally speaking and when we go to games we always sit way up (although that's partly because we're broke and cheap), but when we can get to stuff like this, I like to sit up close and see things from a different perspective. So we sat in the third row. I'm not going to pretend like I really know enough to judge these kids' performances - I can barely stand on ice skates so to me everyone out there looked amazingly talented - but here are some non-expert opinions.

Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber both looked really good. It's weird to call them the veterans at 22 and 20 but they did a lot of talking with the other prospects and just looked a touch more self-assured than some of the younger, less experienced guys. They were on different teams during the scrimmage so we didn't really get a look at them together, but I don't really see why either of them won't make the team out of training camp unless Darcy Regier brings in a veteran defenseman and/or Nathan Paetsch plays out of his head. I get why Paetsch is being referred to as the incumbent, but to me he's the one who really has to earn his spot going in. I've never been super high on him though so I could be biased.

Weber continues to be a pretty firm next-in-line as Heather's Favorite Sabre. I just really like the way he plays and handles himself. I'm in no rush to get rid of Henrik Tallinder - no worries, Hank! - I'm merely doing a little scouting. At one point Weber made an absolutely beautiful stick poke against his opponent and it made my defense-loving heart go all pitter-patter. Okay, I totally missed it because I was futzing around with my camera. But Mark assured me that it was exactly the kind of play that I would've loved. I also noticed that he's started referring to Mike as "your boy" which is probably a sign. We only do that with a few select players.

My boy takes the ice.

Nathan Gerbe is very small. No, it's true. He is very reminiscent of Derek Roy however in that he doesn't seem the least bit bothered by his size on the ice. Granted, they weren't really hitting each other during the scrimmage but they were playing hard and he wasn't the least bit afraid to stick his nose in there against players much bigger than him (i.e. everyone). The other thing I really liked about him is that he wasn't hesitant to put the puck on the net and go from there. After getting used to watching the Sabres refuse to shoot unless they have the perfect opening, it was a refreshing change. Gerbe's team killed the other team in the scrimmage and he roofed one absolutely beautifully placed shot over the opposite shoulder of the goalie. He's definitely very skilled and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him on the big team sooner rather than later.

Look at his tiny little legs. He looks like a kid in his first hockey uniform.

I didn't get a really good picture of Tyler Myers - those little brats wouldn't stand still long enough, the nerve - but I'm happy to report that he really is very tall. He definitely seems thin for his height but I know he's talked about how getting stronger is one of his goals. It's clear why everyone talks about his skating as a strength though. I know tall guys - especially tall guys who are still very young and new to their bodies - are often kind of awkward and unsure and that wasn't the case with Myers at all. He looked very strong on his skates, very smooth, almost graceful. I can definitely see why the Sabres were so high on him. Sadly, the BFG does not wear a visor.

Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff were there, of course, watching from above. (Dad in front of us to his small son as Lindy entered the building and walked across the ice: Look! It's Lindy Ruff! Small son: Lindy Ruff?! What's HE doing here?!) Both Darcy and Lindy seemed to be in a very good mood. Every time I looked up they were grinning at each other and laughing about something. I'm sure someone in the crowd was grumbling about Darcy being so happy when he should be out signing free agents and re-upping contracts but I enjoyed seeing them both looking so mellow. I know they are very good friends in real-life and it certainly appeared that they were enjoying each other's company. There was one point where Darcy was on the phone ("Darcy's on the phone!") so I'm sure the Sabres will be announcing the acquisition of Nicklas Lidstrom any day now.

Darcy's on the phone!

I'm just posting this picture of Darcy because it never fails to crack me up.

This one too.

Jhonas Enroth did play in the scrimmage and while I meant to keep an eye on him, I didn't really. Sorry. Goalies aren't my thing. He wandered out of the net a few times but unlike a certain other goalie we all know, he mostly handled himself well. Otherwise, sure he looked great.

Some guy I don't recognize chats up Enroth. (I think.)

After practice a handful of players came over to the corner of the rink and signed autographs and took pictures with the kids in the crowd which I thought was really sweet. Some of the kids were so clearly excited that it was pretty cute to watch. Their faces just completely lit-up every time someone new turned to walk in their direction instead of going the other way. The players seemed to really be enjoying it too. Must be nice to be able to make someone else that happy. I'm sure getting stopped by fans all the time gets old eventually so it was cool to see the younger players embracing it while it's fresh and new.

Mike Weber signed for quite a while. He'd start to walk away but came back immediately every time someone called his name.

Tim Kennedy looks to be 22 going on 12. Dude is rocking a serious baby face. Mark usually rolls his eyes at me when I comment on how young someone looks but this time he was the one who actually said, "Holy crap, look at him!" He didn't look that much older than some of the kids he was posing for pictures with. He looked good on the ice though.

So young.

I have no idea who this kid is. I did kind of half-heartedly flip through some photos but I couldn't make a match. He was my favorite though. He walked over with a pretty hearty, "Hey, guys!" and really talked to every single kid he signed something for, calling the kids "buddy." He was super cute with them. If anyone knows who he is, please share.

I have no idea who this is but I like him already.

The spot where the kids were standing was not in the path of where the players departed the ice so players had to walk out of their way to come over. Originally everyone was at the top of a little staircase but as things started clearing out the kids started inching down the stairs and eventually onto the floor beside the rink. One little guy was totally cracking up all the adults in the area. He kept screaming, "Hey! Hey! We're over here!" you know, in case the players couldn't figure out where the sound of the screaming kids was coming from exactly. This kid was the most aggressive about moving out toward the players and eventually he was standing about halfway between the stairs where the kids were and the stairs where the players were exiting. When one player started walking toward the exit this kid started jumping up and down, literally waving his hands back and forth over his head, yelling, "Over here! Hey, you! Over here! Please come over here!" The player hesitated for a second before finally heading toward the kids. This little guy started cheering triumphantly and as he handed the player whatever it was he had to be signed he said, loud enough that those of us in the stands could hear, "Hey, who ARE you anyway?!" It was hysterical. The player in question - Dylan Hunter according to the man standing in front of me which I'll just go with because I couldn't see his face very clearly through his pulled-down baseball cap - took it in stride though. And Mark refrained from yelling, "Your dad was an asshole!" so that was nice too.

All in all, a very entertaining day. Mark was complaining that it made him excited for the season to start and then he remembered it wasn't even July yet but it was a nice little sip of real Sabres hockey. It still amazes me that I can just walk into a building, totally free of charge, and plop myself down a few feet from professional athletes, not just here but during training camp and game day skates as well. I can't tell you how many bloggers in other NHL cities have said to me, "You can go to morning skates? You just walk right in?!" It's pretty cool.


Jaime said...

I love that Gerbe's jersey goes down lower than his bottom. Usually they end up around the hip area so he ends up looking so little. It's priceless.

Anne said...

I'm pretty sure the last mystery prospect is Mike Card.

I could be totally wrong though. He and Kaleta used to live together and in an interview, Kaleta talked about him being a really nice guy, and he's blonde. These are the factors that have lead me to believe that that might be one Mr. Michael Card.

twoeightnine said...

Wer there any rules on bringing cameras in? I just got a new lens and am thinking about making the trip today. That is if my car passes inspection in time.

twoeightnine said...

And judging by the hair I'm going to agree with Anne.

Heather B. said...

Thanks, guys! I believe it is Mike Card. Good to know!

289, as far as I know, there were no rules about cameras. We walked right in without anyone searching us and there were people walking around with some pretty heavy duty equipment.

dani said...

Oh! Oh! Oh! Heather! I love this! I didn't know who that one blonde kid was either. I was trying to figure it out for the longest time. I have all these pictures so I could try to find someone who looked like him. And I was also trying to figure out who was signing near the boxed seats at the end... Weber (thank you for that incite!). I have the same picture of Enroth haha! So weird.

Did you notice Lindy, Darcy, James Patrick... that whole row sat every other seat? haha

Heather B. said...

Jaime, I like that the bottom of Nathan's jersey almost touches the tops of the stripes on his socks. It cuts out his whole middle which I think makes him look even smaller than he already is. It is priceless!

Dani, were you there on Saturday? How funny! Between you and Goose's Roost I've probably walked by every Buffalo blogger at some point. I should have worn my Tallinder jersey so everyone would recognize me :-D I have a picture of that whole row of coaches/management but I didn't even notice they were skipping seats between them. Funny!

Kate said...

Dude, look at Lindy's legs! Nice gams, Lindy!

Vanek's Hair said...

What happened to "Hey Yo Mikey!" for Mike Weber?

I didn't know Darcy Reiger was a 1970's adult film star.

dani said...

I was wearing a purple tank top... and I didn't even mean to!! People kept smiling at me. I felt so awkward. I can't believe I didn't think to look for anyone!!!??! YAY for Sabre bloggers!

Shari said...

I noticed all the big wigs were sitting every other seat also. It's a homophobe thing. Ever see guys at a movie theater? Yep.
And yeah, I'm saying it again. Mike Webber is hot! The more I looked at him, the more my camera was snapping!
Vanek, Darcy does look like porno man! Hilarious!

amanda said...

I went to the camp on Sunday. They didn't scrimmage - booooooooooo, but they were doing drills like accuracy shooting, accuracy passing, acceleration, and measuring the speed of their shots.

Guess who kicked BUTT in accuracy shooting? Kaleta! Kid's got skills!

As far as Gerbe goes, he's so 'ittle and bite-sized I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home as my pet! My husband is 5'7" and 155 pounds and he looked big compared to Gerbe! But man, can that kid stickhandle!

Myers, Stafford, and a few other guys weren't on the ice. I'm not sure why. Weird. Weber looked really comfortable. It was funny - I said to my husband, "Hey, look, Weber's got actual Sabres equipment!" (He was wearing his normal #34 helmet, etc.

We were wondering if they'd let the kids keep their shorts and socks and stuff so they can show their grandkids someday. ;-)

Ebscer said...

As someone who had high expectations for Paetsch going into last season I can confirm that you are right about him. I'm looking forward to Weber and Sekera and think that Nathan can be a quality seventh D.

Lee Andrew said...

I can understand how hitting somebody while celebrating a goal is a cheapshot since celebrating a goal is common practice in the NHL.

However, from the perspective of somebody who grew up on baseball/football I don't understand why it is okay for every single hockey player to celebrate scoring a goal like they just won the championship but baseball players are criticized for celebrating a home run and football players are criticized for celebrating after scoring a touchdown.

Hitting somebody after celebrating a goal isn't that much different from when T.O. got hit for celebrating a touchdown and everybody was all for him getting hit.

Heather B. said...

Vanek's Hair, I totally forgot about "Hey Yo Mikey!" I'm going to have to change that because I do think it's pretty awesome.

Shari, I agree that Mike is MUCH better in person. He still definitely resembles Boner but it's not quite as bad.

Amanda, Stafford wasn't on the ice on Saturday which Mark was disappointed about. He played today though. Too bad Mark was at work :P

Ebscer, I'm totally fine with Paestsch as the seventh man. I think he can handle that just fine.

Lee, it's a hockey thing. You wouldn't understand :P Okay, seriously, all I can tell you is that I think there's often a difference. Hockey celebrations usually have more of a team feel to them - the goal scorer celebrates with the guy who set him up, the whole group comes together, everyone's happy. It's less "Woo-hoo! Look what I just did!" Or maybe I'm just trying to justify it. I don't know.

Myra said...

It still amazes me that I can just walk into a building, totally free of charge, and plop myself down a few feet from professional athletes...

Everytime I go to a Stars practice, I think the exact same thing. And when I tell my non-hockey friends, they are always impressed. The Stars development camp starts the 6th. Can't wait.

Hockey celebrations usually have more of a team feel to them...It's less "Woo-hoo! Look what I just did!"

Agreed, believe me, it's so not about the team when TO celebrates.

Lee Andrew said...

First of all. Sliding on the ice and pumping your fist is absolutely saying "look at what I did!"

Second I somehow doubt that anybody would call football players less cocky if the ENTIRE team danced in the end zone together instead.

It's a double standard no matter how you look at it.

NHL, Tennis, Golf - celebrating = passion
NBA, NFL, MLB - celebrating = arrogant egotistical jerks

Heather B. said...

First of all. Sliding on the ice and pumping your fist is absolutely saying "look at what I did!"

Most celebrations are not that elaborate. And even within hockey some celebrations ARE considered more excessive than others by some people.

But you're right that it is partly a double standard. The NFL and NBA have a reputation for being full of jerks and the NHL has a reputation for being more down-to-earth. I'm sure that comes into play.