Wednesday, December 31, 2008

State of Affairs

So... here's where we're at, dear readers. I love hockey. I love writing about hockey. I love the Buffalo Sabres in theory. But in reality, I really, really dislike the Sabres. I do. I find them very un-fun to watch. I'm cheering for them because they're wearing Buffalo jerseys and I'm cheering for them because it's not enjoyable watching a team lose over and over but I'm not cheering for them because I'm invested in this particular group of players. I feel bad for me that they stink but I don't feel bad for them at all.

Last year I did feel bad for them so I'm not really sure how to explain the change in attitude since there wasn't much change in personnel and the changes we did make are ones that I'm absolutely fine with. I think maybe last year I was willing to cut them some slack. They were young and they were in new roles and there were a lot of changes that were very sudden. It was frustrating to watch but it made sense too. They didn't play well but they seemed genuinely dazed and confused and when they all stood in front of microphones at the end of the season and talked about how sad they were to not be playing in the playoffs and how they were going to really take it to heart, I believed them and I was willing to look ahead to this season.

Boy, was I a sucker. It turns out that the Sabres are just a bunch of whiny, entitled, lazy brats. Thomas Vanek can be excused from the discussion because he evidently meant it when he said he would be better this year. More often than not, he's played hard and it shows in his stat line. I don't even want to imagine what this season would have been like thus far without him since he's the beginning and the end of the highlight reel. Everyone else though? Can start walking out of Buffalo and not come back for all I care. Quit bitching about the media, put down your excessive beers, say goodbye to all the puck bunnies and start moving.

It's such a waste because I do still think this team has a lot of talent. Not enough to win a Stanley Cup which yes, should be the goal but certainly enough that they should be competing hard in the very average Eastern Conference. But no matter how many times they get knocked upside the head by harder working teams, the Sabres are bound and determined that they can win on skill and skill alone. They think they can float through 45 minutes and win in the last 15. Newsflash, fellas. It doesn't work. It didn't work well for the last half/postseason of 2006-2007, it didn't work in 2007-2008, it hasn't worked in the latter half of 2008 and I can tell you already (because I know you're not picking up on the pattern), it won't work in 2009. This is the NHL. All of the players are good. A lot of them are better than you. You have to work. You have to want to win.

That's the most frustrating thing about this, I think. I want the Sabres to win. You want them to win. A whooole lot of people want them to win. I don't think the Sabres really care if they win or not. As long as they can cash their paychecks and hit the bars at the end of the night, they don't care. We care more about them being successful on the ice than they do and that's screwed up because, as I'm sure you've all realized, we don't have any control over the situation. Only the players do. And the players suck ass. Even the players that used to work hard all the time have been sucked into a blackhole of lazy suckiness.

I'm tired of them. I'm tired of hearing, "We're embarrassed and things have to change." I'm tired of hearing, "We need to play better at home." I'm tired of hearing, "We have to hold each other accountable." I'm tired of hearing, "We've hit rock bottom and now we'll start fresh." I'm tired of hearing, "If you don't play hard, you're not playing." Hey, guys? I'll believe it when I see it.

This team has no maturity, no pride and no heart. What to do about it?


More later today, I promise. I have something half-written but I'm going to be up in a few hours with the animal pictured below so I need to get to bed.

Marlowe looks a little bummed about the state of the Sabres, doesn't she?

Marlowe after watching her first Sabres game.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Top Shelf Takeover

Check it out. I don't even need to look at my fingers.

kkklfrrk kfkkkfkkfkjjjffffffffffffferjjjj2pfv5
llltlllllltltlllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllvvtrv bk rkkkkgmmmmmrkbkrkvwkvkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk vvvvotkktktptktkttktktkkkkkkttktkjkjsjksjsjjiqjvjjjjj ggggjggggggjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjgggggggggggggjhhhbjhh

Translation according to Babelfish's toddler mode:

Merry Christmas Eve from Grandma's house! Since she's been complaining about it, I thought you'd all like to know that Aunt Heather and Uncle Mark did finally arrive in Birmingham. I went to pick them up at the airport. I haven't seen Uncle Mark since I was three months old and man, he's really starting to look grown-up. Time flies. Aunt Heather told me that between Atlanta and Birmingham, they flew through a time portal, arriving in Birmingham 8 minutes BEFORE they left Atlanta. It's true! She showed me the proof:

Aunt Heather's the coolest person in the world. I guess this blog is about hockey but I've never heard of that. I don't think we have it in Florida. She says we do kind of but I think maybe she's just really tired from her trip. It's time for cake - yesterday was my daddy's birthday - so I guess I'll stop writing. You know, everyone makes a big deal about Aunt Heather's blog but blogging isn't really that hard. I'll bet a baby could do this.

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Well, here I am, safely ensconced in my childhood home, surrounded by warmth and love. After a day of visiting old haunts, followed by a dinner of real southern barbecue, I'm settled in on the couch and ready to share the beauty of hockey and the Buffalo Sabres with my little brother, long-time reader of this here blog.

Except none of that is true at all because I'm still in friggin' BUFFALO. Right now we're not scheduled to get out of here until Wednesday morning which means I'm only going to be in Birmingham half the day Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and half the day Saturday. That sucks. If I didn't really want my presents Golden Rule BBQ Chic-Fil-A to spend time with my beautiful family, I wouldn't even bother. Buffalo, I love you but sometimes I need time to be by myself. It's nothing personal.

Here's a glimpse of Top Shelf HQ as of this afternoon:

In addition to the change in travel plans I've managed to break my digital camera and my laptop cord is on its very last legs, my screen flickering as we speak. We're playing the increasingly obnoxious Penguins and we're doing it on Versus. I'm not in a good mood. So what better to do than live blog? Consider the above your Heather B. pregame show.


For some reason the volume on Versus is really out of whack. We have it jacked up full strength and we can barely hear it. Maybe God doesn't hate me, after all.

Joe Beninati informs us that, "As usual, everyone will be talking about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin." At least he knows it?

I will give Versus a little credit for pointing out that Derek Roy has finally come to life. Sixteen points in the last 18 games is nothing to sneeze at. As much as I'd love to see Thomas Vanek stay on his current pace, he's more likely to have hot and cold streaks. Nice to have someone else scoring when he isn't.


19:46 You know who really hasn't been that noticeable in any of our games with Pittsburgh? Brooks Orpik. Funny that. I thought he was a GAME CHANGING DEFENSEMAN!

18:58 Well. Danny Paille scores on a wrister that went off either the goalie's skate or the d-man's skate. Nice. Just put it on the net and see what happens. Kate and I were giving Paille a really hard time at the game the other night so it's nice to see him do something.

14:58 The Versus team is actually spending quite a bit of time talking about Derek Roy. I'm... not sure what to make of that. They seem to have given the goal to Adam Mair but I'm not sure he was even on the ice so I'm refusing to give it to him. (Okay, he probably was on the ice but I like Paille more than Mair.)

14:10 Teppo makes an egregious pass up the middle of the ice. I love Teppo but I just want to be clear that it was not Hank. One of the announcers followed a discussion about Teppo's heart problems with a "Teppo just gave his team heart failure with that pass!" joke. I'm not sure if that's funny or not. (If Phil Kessel had tried to do that and the announcer had responded with, "Boy, that pass took a lot of balls!" THEN it definitely would've been funny.)

10:04 Hank poke checks the puck away from Crosby. Just wanted to point that out.

5:30 Lost a couple minutes answering the phone to talk to my mom. She's seems to have forgotten we were supposed to be watching the Sabres tonight and needed some suggestions for candy for Mark's stocking. (Kit Kat, Twix, O Henry which set us off on a discussion about whether they even make O Henrys anymore and what exactly is in one.) Anyway, the Sabres are on a power play due to an interference call.

4:10 Versus calls Vanek "smooth and graceful" and Sid "a rhino." I appreciate them trying to give Vanek a little love but I don't know about that description. I guess if we're talking about his hands I could go along with that. I can't believe some of the stuff he pulls off in small spaces. But watching him skate down the ice? Rhino on skates is actually pretty fitting. He's a big boy and not exactly swift

Usually I have a pretty low tolerance for commercials and I'm not super interested in the game itself, but I love the Winter Classic Take Me Out to the Ballgame commercial. Mark doesn't like it because "hockey isn't baseball" but I love the tip of the hat to Wrigley Field which is a huge part of the draw here. I grew up watching Harry Caray and the Cubs on WGN though so it's possible the spot just hits an emotional soft spot.

0:00 Period ends with the Sabres leading 1-0. A lot of back and forth but not a ton of chances thus far.


19:39 Satan (booooooooooooooooooooooooo!) goes to the box. Andrej Sekera makes a very nice cross-ice pass to Spacek and Vanek has a chance right in front of Fleury but nothing comes of either chance.

17:20 Malkin intercepts a pass and tries to breakaway but Sekera keeps up with him and pokes the puck away. He had a rough few games there so I'm glad to see him being a little less of a disaster tonight.

15:10 This is boring. I can't complain about Versus OR the officiating because neither has been particularly offensive tonight.

14:50 A while back I wrote about the Bermingham family's tradition of ringing for a goal. Basically when the Sabres score, Mark and his family call each other, let the phone ring once and then hang up. It's like a long distance high five and it's pretty fun. I think it's cute. Occasionally we pause the DVR for some reason and forget to catch up and someone rings us before we've actually seen the goal. It's like a message from the future. We just got one of those messages.

14:37 Hey, whadaya know? Ales Kotalik scores! And not on a slap shot. I didn't know he could do that. (Very nice little breakaway created by some hard work from Mair and Paille and a good wrist shot from Al.)

13:42 Pascal Dupuis makes it 2-1 Sabres. Hmmmm, I seem to have missed which defensive pairing was on the ice there...

12:23 We're encouraged to go to and get our Sabres into the All-Star Game and Beninati talks about how the game has "become a popularity contest." Become? Isn't that pretty much what it is? I quit caring about who makes All-Star teams a long time ago. It would also help if I didn't have to give the NHL all my personal information before casting a vote. Sorry, Versus. Not that interested.

9:46 Seriously, I think I might be falling asleep. I try to fast forward but unfortunately, we're really caught up now. Too bad.

Michel Therrien is interviewed on the bench. (You know the coaches love that.) After the Pens got drubbed by the Maple Leafs there were reports that Therrien responded to a question about a leadership void with, "It's Sid's team." That's awesome. That's up there with, "I think they're trying to be the worst defensive corp in the league." And then there were reports that Therrien didn't say that at all, the AP made a mistake. I'm just going to go on pretending he said it because again, awesome.

9:10 The Penguins somehow muff a 4-on-2. Good thing since I don't know what Ryan Miller was doing there. He just kinda... flopped over. Ah. Replay shows that his skate blade hit a rut or something and got stuck. That was funny.

7:37 Goligosky puts one in Miller's five hole (heh) to tie the game at 2. Ugh. I'm regretting this blog right about now. I don't like where this is going.

5:14 Andrew Peters and Goddard hug and then fall to the ice. Miraculously, Peters manages to not completely negate the penalty called against Pittsburgh. That would actually be my biggest complaint about Peters. Not only is he an ineffective enforcer, he's a stupid one. And while I like him more than Peters, that goes for Mair too. Getting a little tired of watching him take stupid penalties.

4:02 Clarke MacArthur scoops up a rebound right in front of Fleury to put the Sabres back on top 3-2.

3:01 Versus kind of sort of criticizes Sidney Crosby. It's a Christmas Miracle! Right on cue, Hank makes a nice pass up the ice and totally catches the Crosby line off-guard as they try to leave the ice. Stupid forwards can't convert though.

0:43 "Malkin can't get loose of Tallinder." I'm pretty sure Hank's the best player in the game tonight. (I'm kidding. Mostly.)

But hey, speaking of Hank, check out the snowman I made today:

The snow wasn't packing very well so I couldn't really get the chin right. But I think it's a pretty good resemblance otherwise, don't you?


19:01 Pittsburgh's only two points ahead of us? Wow, I didn't realize they'd come down to earth that hard.

18:11 Mark just said, "I can't believe we haven't had a single penalty called on us yet." Pretty sure he shouldn't have said that. (Power play? Ugh-worthy.)

12:31 I'm losing steam here. This game is not that good. The Penguins look pretty listless. No one except maybe Malkin looks particularly interested in winning. I would also like to know what's going on with Jochen Hecht who hasn't been on the ice in forever, but Versus is evidently not concerned.

9:23 Annnnd there's our penalty. Good job, Mark.

Versus teases their exclusive conversation with Wayne Gretzky. Is it just me or has this conversation been going on all season?

8:30 Pens tie it up on the power play. Good job, Mark.

I hate this game. Games with the Penguins are supposed to be fun and spunky. This game is boring, yo. This is one of the worst 3-3 games I've ever seen. I've had a terrible three days, one disaster piled on the next and this is what I get for entertainment? Bah humbug!

7:00 We get a graphic showing the Sabres home record for the past 4 seasons. It's gone from very good in 2005-2006 to absolutely abysmal now. One of the announcers says an elite team has to be able to take care of business at home. If our record was the reverse and we were great at home and terrible on the road, I'll bet he'd say elite teams have to take care of business on the road. I don't say that to pick on him, just to say that really, elite teams should be able to win in both places. I think you have to be wary about any team that wins almost all of its games exclusively on the road OR at home. Have I mentioned that I'm really, really bored?

4:00 Toni Lydman takes the body when Crosby tries to go to the net. Very nice. Crosby has no shots on goal tonight. Crazy. Toni Lydman has been the unsung hero of the Sabres this season. He's been hands-down our best d-man, I think. A cynic might look at the way the rest of out defense has played and said that's not much of a compliment (okay, I might have said that very thing to Kate last week) but he's been good. Any time Toni and Have have been split up in the past, it's been Toni who really struggled so it's good to see him playing well regardless of his partner.

Ugh. OT? Really? God is torturing me at this point. Really, this is completely unnecessary.


Oh, good it's over. Wait, what are we talking about? Why are we talking about this? It's oooooover!

Oooh. That was close. But whatever. I just want to go home. Is that asking too much?

SIDNEY CROSBY IS A HERO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Big Wheels Keep On Turning...

I have to admit, I'm feeling pretty okay about tonight's loss to Montreal. Maybe it's the Christmas spirit. Maybe it's being done with work for two weeks. Maybe it's being focused on getting ready for vacation. (If by "focused" you mean sitting around and thinking about packing for 24 more hours and then finally doing so two hours before we leave for the airport.) Maybe it's sitting here in the dark looking at the softly lit Christmas tree and the glittery snow outside the window. Maybe it was learning that Jason Pominville types with two fingers or seeing Toni Lydman in a Santa hat. Maybe it's the fact that, when all was said and done, it was a pretty entertaining game. Whatever the reason, for one night hockey was fun and a loss didn't make me want to put a fist through my laptop screen.

I'm leaving town at an ungodly hour Monday morning so this will probably be it for me for a few days. If I don't check in again, I hope everyone has a very merry Christmas or whatever it is you celebrate.

Let's go Buff-a-l0!

Merry Christmas from Toni Lydman, Buffalo Sabres Defensman

Friday, December 19, 2008

Quick Thoughts

Inside the mind of Heather B. (the edited version - it's better if you just go all out with the swearing but my mom might be reading this):

3:15 - I guess I should shovel. It'd be nice to at least be able to get the car out of the driveway.

3:30 (looks back and realizes snow is already starting to fill what's been shoveled) - Crap. That sucks. Well, I guess at the very least it's less snow to shovel later! Gotta be able to get the car out bright and early Monday morning!

4:15 - (grumbling) Mothereffin' snow. It's effin' 72 degrees in Birmingham and I'm shoveling snow up to my effin' ankles. I may as well be dumping water off the Titanic for all the effin' good this is effin' doing. F$@!

4:42 - Eff this. Ted's is within walking distance and we can take an effin' cab to the airport. Eff it.

I'd include pictures for you non-Buffalonians reading this but I accidentally left my camera at work which is a bummer since I won't be able to retrieve it before vacation. So just take my word for it. Lots of snow. Probably a good thing we decided to fly out on Monday instead of tomorrow.

Moving on...

Nice that we finally beat a team we should beat.

L.A.'s goaltending is terrible. I almost feel like we cheated, some of our goals were so bad. Whenever I hear a Sabre say that they try to be too cute for the hometown crowd because that's what we want to see, I yell at them, "I don't care if you bank it off someone's head, just PUT IT IN THE NET!" I think that might have actually happened tonight.

I could not make any sense of the lines tonight. It was like Lindy had everybody's name in a hat, pulled out three and threw them on the ice together. No idea.

Chris Butler looked a-ok for a kid playing in his first NHL game. First appearances suggest that he might be handy on the offensive side while not being a complete and total disaster on the defensive side. That's nice. He was also totally adorable, responding to Rob Ray's comment about his quality passes out of the defensive zone with a genuine smile and "Thank you!"

Ryan Miller actually showed up tonight. Also nice.

How come I got stuck attending the awful Devils game instead of this one? I'm pretty sure Kate picked that game.

Five goals and Thomas Vanek didn't score any of them? Is that even allowed?

(Make sure you read the post below if you didn't already.)

And Now For Something Completely Different...

One of the more annoying things about writing a marginally successful blog is that I get a ton of unsolicited junk emails, most from someone asking me to link them. In addition to being off-topic - no, I do not want to link to your bowling blog - they're usually misspelled and poorly written. So it was with some trepidation that I began reading an email I received a couple of nights ago from someone I didn't know by the name of Adam Sherlip. But since the noun-verb agreement in the first few sentences was okay, I pushed on and well, I found a pretty nice email. Here's an excerpt:

As a former employee of the New York Islanders (handling digital marketing as well as amateur hockey development), I had the unique pleasure of traveling to China for youth hockey development with Angela Ruggerio - All-time leader in games played for Team USA, 3 time medalist, and all-around amazing woman - through the Islanders initiative Project Hope. Together, we worked to spread happiness and opportunities through ice hockey to kids that otherwise wouldn't have the resources, and I got to see first hand how the sport of hockey can transcend any borders and cultures, and become a language unto itself.

Adam and Angela. Click to enlarge the image and get a better look at those adorable faces.

I did some reading about Project Hope and it sounds pretty cool. It's an initiative begun by Charles Wang of the New York Islanders. The goal is to spread hockey to China while providing educational opportunities for kids and promoting cultural exchange between the East and the West. As mentioned in the above excerpt, Adam had the chance to travel to China recently and do some work with Project Hope. After returning home, Ruggerio emailed him about a village in Kashmir in India. An organization called Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) is working there and among other things has created a bio-sustainable, solar powered village in the Himalayas, organizes activities for local youth and provides services for locals in high school and college. Because of the popularity of hockey with nearby kids, they're looking for hockey volunteers. Kashmir is one of the few places in India where ice freezes but the village is mostly a rural area and hockey is an expensive sport to play even at a basic level. Having already seen how something as simple as hockey can become a tool for transcending borders and cultures, Adam is all ready to jump in and join up. The problem is that he needs to get to India as soon as possible because of the short winter there and is trying to raise funds - around $3,000 - to help pay for his travel and visa. Anything he raises in excess of that will be used to buy hockey equipment for the village and to pay for it being shipped there.

Anyone who has read my blog for even a short period of time knows that there are two things that are very near and dear to my heart: sports and kids. I spend a ridiculous amount of time blogging about hockey and my job entails working with kids who have very little chance of success in life and need a lot of help getting there. I was fortunate to grow up in an environment where I had tons of opportunities to play sports and all those cliches about kids learning life lessons through sports have become cliches because they're true. I learned a lot about myself and others through sports and when I look back over my life, some of the most wonderful people in my life have come to me through sports whether it was through playing them or blogging about them.

Adam and pals. (Click to enlarge.)

I know it's Christmas time and you've probably spent a lot of money already. But you've also probably spent a lot of it on things that will be forgotten and discarded by the time the snow melts around these parts. What's $5, $10, $20 more for something that might really make a long-term impact on the life of a child?

At the very least I would encourage you to check out Adam's website. He has lots of pictures from his previous trips, some blog entries and links to articles he's written about his experiences and why he wants to continue volunteering, an address where you can contact him for further info and a link where you can donate if you so choose.

Seriously, how cute is this picture? And how happy do those two guys look? (Click to enlarge.)

And yeah, I know he worked for the Islanders. Gross. But he went to school at UB so hey, go Bulls!

(Back to complaining about the Sabres after tonight's game, I'm sure.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Very Important Announcements!

First Thomas Vanek scored the 10,000th goal in Sabres franchise history...

(Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

... and then he sounded his barbaric yawp.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

That picture completely cracks me up. I know exactly what moment in the game it's from because Mark and I were laughing our heads off. Vanek was just screaming and screaming and screaming and I'm sure it was Austrian gibberish that no one else in the building understood. Part of me was hoping that the 10,000th goal would be scored by someone really random like Toni Lydman or Henrik Tallinder or Teppo Numminen but based on this season thus far, it really had to be Van.

A couple of notes:

First of all, those of you who venture into the comment threads here will recognize the name Lee Andrew. Lee, for anyone who hasn't picked up on it, is my baby brother. Lee and some friends recently started a Mets blog called New York Mets Online. Now I can't speak for the other schmoes Lee's partnered up with - my gut instinct is that the likelihood of there being three Mets fans in the world who can spell and write in complete sentences is slim* - but if you're around when I bring up anything baseball related you've seen that Lee loves his baseball. In addition to that he has the three most important characteristics for a good blogger to have: he's opinionated, he's a good writer and he's border-line obsessed. Personally I'm hoping this whole blog thing cuts down on the very lengthy, fine-detailed emails I get about the latest relief pitching prospect the Mets have traded. Let me tell you, that whole long-winded thing? It runs in the family. Anyway, I know there are some baseball fans out there and I figure maybe there are some Mets fans out there too, this blog being based in New York and all. Do me a big favor and check it out. It has the official Heather B. Stamp of Approval.

I clearly remember having every one of these baseball cards. ("Nice game, pretty boy!")

Second of all, posting will probably be light around here for the next two weeks. This week is the last week of school before break which is tough on the kids which makes for long, exhausting days for the adults. I am going to the game on Wednesday night so I'll probably post something about that but that might be it unless something big comes up. The week of Christmas I'll be in sweet home Alabama which really might as well be a different planet as far as blogging about the NHL goes. I believe one of the games that week is on Versus so hopefully I'll catch at least some of it but otherwise I expect fun and family to put blogging on the back burner. Don't forget about me though because I'll be back in full-force after the new year.

* - Just kidding, bro. It's not like you're Yankees fans after all.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Inside the Mind of Heather B.

First period: Whatdaya know? This game is pretty entertaining! Let's go Buff-a-lo!

Second period: Um... Goal please?

Third period: I hate hockey.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thomas Vanek Makes Me Happy

I remember the first interview Thomas Vanek did with WGR after the Sabres matched his offer from Edmonton like it happened yesterday. He came across as genuinely thrilled that the Oilers thought enough of him to make the offer they did and even more thrilled that the Sabres thought enough of him to immediately match it. He sounded like a big, dumb, sweet kid and I got the distinct impression that he had no idea what he had just gotten himself into. Huge money, huge years, huge expectations. When he struggled out of the gate last season, I felt really bad for him in a way that I've rarely felt for a professional athlete. Vanek was clearly trying really hard to live up to his contract and the more pressure he put on himself, the more he struggled. All kinds of people - yeah, you know who you are - were complaining loudly that the Sabres were stupid to keep Vanek over the pile of draft picks they've could've gotten from Edmonton and while Vanek never shied away from the criticism, he seemed to take a lot of it to heart. Even if he wasn't reading or listening to specifics, he clearly felt like he was letting everyone down. On locker clean out day he was looking at an extra long off-season and saying, "This is my fault."

Obviously, he's like a new player this season. He finally seems to have settled in to his skin a little bit. He looks and sounds more confident and comfortable and you know what? While it feels a little silly to say this about someone I've never even had a conversation with and probably never will, I'm really, really happy for Thomas. Unlike many of his teammates, he learned from the frustration and disappointment of last season and busted his ass from day one this season in an effort to make it right. As a fan I think all we can really ask of players is for them to care and he clearly does. It really, truly, genuinely makes me happy to see him being so successful. Isn't it strange how sports can make you care so much, positive or negative, about someone who is, at the end of the day, a perfect stranger to you?

Both of Vanek's goals tonight were beauties and the confidence and swagger emanated from HSBC, right through my TV. But what I love about him most, I think, is how low-key his swagger is. It's not loud and in-your-face. He's not bouncing himself off the glass and pointing at the crowd. He does his thing and then he skates to the bench. He's done it before and he'll do it again, no problem. Kate and I were talking about him via email tonight and when I made the above observation she said, "He has swagger but no cockiness," and I thought that was the perfect way to say it. Confidence galore but no cockiness and no ego. He's likable and while I know most pro athletes would hate to be described this way, sweet. I really don't know how anyone could not be happy for this kid.

Make no mistake, Vanek is special. When I watch a game like tonight's and I think about how young he is yet and I think about how many years he has to grow and I think about him doing much of that growing in Buffalo, I get a happy fluttery feeling in my heart. Say what you want about Sabres management, I think Vanek was exactly the right player to build a team around. I don't care if keeping him meant losing Chris Drury or Daniel Briere or Brian Campbell. I don't care if it means the team needs a year or two to pull the needed talent together around him. It's worth it. It bothered me that Vanek was being treated like a second class citizen by the Versus announcers the other night but now I don't even care if he never gets the press that some of his contemporaries already get. He deserves all the attention in the world but I'm just fine knowing that we have our own unappreciated gem in Buffalo. I'd say being overlooked and underappreciated makes him a pretty good fit for us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I'm going to take a brief break from hockey for a baseball post. While I was doing laundry at the laundromat today - did you know when you own a house and an appliance breaks no one pops over to fix it for you?! - I saw a scroll on the bottom of the TV screen that said Greg Maddux had announced his retirement today. In true Greg Maddux fashion, I had to dig around to find a halfway decent story about it on the internet. Low key and underrated to the end. Here's something I wrote about Greg on my very first blog back when he won his 300th game. Some of the details within are different now but the sentiment remains the same.

Dear Greg,


Thanks for being the kind of player who I could love even when I really, really hated the team you played most of your career with. The Braves handed my team, the Pirates, the most crushing loss of my life as a fan, and at the end of the day, I still really liked you.

Thanks for wanting to win and being super competitive without throwing bats at people and storming around the field like a madman. You've always done your talking with your arm and glove and not with your mouth. In some circles, that's pretty rare today.

Thanks for embracing the role the of The Professor, something most most athletes would hate. Thanks for wearing your glasses when you're not pitching. Hey, it's a small thing, but this bespectacled girl thought it was cool (and still does).

Thanks for being friends with the pitching staff that you pitched 10+ years with. I don't expect every athlete to be bestest friends with their teammates, but it is awfully nice when it does happen. Can I come golfing with you, Tom, and John some time?

Thanks for not really caring that people tend to overappreciate Roger Clemens and underappreciate you. Roger's heat is more attention-grabbing than your pinpoint control and pitch variation, but I don't think you care. Most people say they would take Roger as a starter over you, but I don't think you care about that either. When Roger got win number 300 we had weeks of countdowns, constant media coverage, and story after story in magazine after magazine. When you got close to 300 we didn't get much at all. When you GOT 300 you STILL didn't get much at all. But I don't think you care because in the end, your team got the win that day.

Thanks for being so great for so long. Sure, some of that is beyond your control - you've only been on the DL ONCE in your career! But here's a couple fun facts that you might not even know. Not one player who played in your first win (Sept. 7, 1986) is still playing. None of the other 12 winning pitchers that day is still pitching. You've had sixteen (!) 15 win seasons. For nine straight seasons you had a walk ratio lower than 2 per nine innings. Amazing.

Thanks for not coming out to tip your hat after your 300th win because it wasn't your home ballpark and you didn't think it was respectful to the other team's fans. I don't know that they really would've had a problem with it, Greg, but most athletes wouldn't have been able to see that moment as anything but theirs so you definitely get points for thinking beyond yourself.

And most of all - probably above all else - thanks for just being a good guy. I've never had to read a story about your sexual escapades, your adventures with drugs and alcohol, your anger management problems, or your cancerous attitude in the clubhouse. Your coaches seem to like you, and your teammates seem to like you even more. You've always gone out to the mound, thrown the ball, and then gone home and I love you for it.


Now that Roger Clemens is buried in a pile of steroid allegations, I think Greg Maddux is hands-down the best starter of his generation. You can disagree but you'll be wrong.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Quick Hits

I had a long day today and will surely have another long day tomorrow so I'm just throwing a couple of quick thoughts up. Sorry to rob you of my sparkling wit and amazing insight. (That's code for "lame jokes" and "long-windedness.")

- Not the prettiest game but one that was hard fought. And you know what? I'll take hard fought over pretty any day of the week since that'll get you more than your share of wins.

- How happy am I that after all the endless "Evgeni Malkin is soooooooo good but Thomas Vanek is trying waaaaaaay too hard" it was Vanek that scored the game-winner? Very.

- Seriously, usually I can just roll my eyes at Versus and move on but they were bad tonight even for them. Sidney Crosby brings the puck down the ice, shoots and misses because of a great stop by Ryan Miller and the announcer is flipping out about THE CROSBY SHOW!!!! even though hello, he didn't score. He didn't because the goalie - you know, that guy on the other team, made a really nice play. It was stupid for Vanek to take a penalty that put his team down two men but when Malkin did it it was a sign of leadership? Versus, I'm not impressed that Malkin skated by Paul Gaustad and went after Clarke MacArthur. Roy is a better player when he just focuses on playing hockey (true) but it's okay for Crosby to flop like a fish when 5'6" Roy-Z bumps his leg with one skate? Just. awful. Does Versus think we're incapable of watching the game and recognizing for ourselves that yes, Malkin is crazy talented?

- I like how Nathan Gerbe, two games into his NHL career, has already grown an inch from where he was listed last season. I knew that would happen.

- Our PK is unreal. The penalty killers kept us in the game tonight and they all deserve a very generous round of applause.

- All hail Thomas Vanek, first 20 goal scorer in the NHL. Last season he didn't get his 1oth goal until December 15th and he didn't get his 20th goal until February 12th. I like this season better. (Stat courtesy of John Vogl.)

- Toni Lydman on Malkin and Crosby: "As long as we win, they can have all the highlights they want. We'll take the two points." Word. Like I said, hard-working over pretty any day of the week. (Also courtesy of John Vogl at the above link.)

P.S. Even if Tom Golisano does sell the team, the NHL is not going to move the Sabres from Buffalo. We're one of the few genuine hockey markets in the States. Relocating Nashville or Atlanta is one thing, relocating Buffalo is another. If nothing else, the league would miss our crazy TV ratings. But I do love how most of Buffalo is all, "WE HATE GOLISANO! HE'S A CHEAP, STUPID JACKASS! GET US A REAL OWNER WHO WANTS TO WIN NOW!" until there are rumors that he's looking to sell the team and then Buffalo is suddenly all, "I HATE GOLISANO! I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT JACKASS WOULD EVEN THINK ABOUT SELLING OUR TEAM!" Buffalo, you crazy.

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures: In Which Heather B. Says "Bucky is Right!"

(If you haven't read Saturday's post regarding my feelings about shaking up the team by firing Lindy Ruff yet, you might want to read that first. But then come back here.)

I was delighted to pull up TBN's website today and see the headline Rather than replacing Ruff, kick players to the curb. "Oh, goody!" I thought to myself. "Someone agrees with me. It's... Bucky."

I sighed and shook my head for a few minutes but you know what? I'm just gonna say it. I agree with everything Bucky says. And I don't even feel conflicted about it. This might be one of the signs of the apocalypse.

There have been a lot of comments lately complaining about the system and how Lindy should just let the players go and play their offense-first style of hockey. I certainly understand the inclination because clearly these guys are, for whatever reason, not buying into the system even though it has worked for them more often that it hasn't when they actually do it. But Bucky is right when he says that Lindy isn't letting them play that style because it doesn't work in today's league. It doesn't. It doesn't work. It's not 2005-2006 anymore, guys. You can't make passes from one end of the ice to the other, you can't speed past five bodies in the neutral zone, you can't stick handle your way to the goalie's doorstep. We missed our chance to win a Cup playing that kind of hockey when the defensive corp blew up in the 2006 playoffs. The Sabres are victims of their own success. The run-and-gun teams were blowing opponents off the ice so teams that didn't have the personnel to play that kind of hockey compensated by playing a completely different style, one that has now overtaken the league. Lindy understands that and he's trying desperately to make his players, who seem to be stuck in 2005-2006 mode, understand that. If they can't wrap their brains around that, they're not going to win, at least not enough for it to matter.

I could say more on this subject - and probably will - but it's late and I have a loooong week ahead of me at work so I need to get to bed. But please discuss. I'm curious to see what everyone thinks. I'll chip in more later.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nathan Gerbe Come to Save Us All

I don't really have a lot of interest to say about the Tampa Bay game (other than those are some really dreadful third jerseys) but I figured I should go on the record with my opinion of the much longed for Nathan Gerbe.

I thought he was fine. He didn't score any points but he was a +2 and while he didn't look like a guy with a lot of experience at the NHL level (for good reason obviously) I didn't think he looked terribly overwhelmed either. I thought he looked fairly confident and if nothing else he puts the friggin' puck on the friggin' net. Most of the Sabres seem to have lost their ability to get a puck through all the bodies in front and they always seem hesitant to shoot unless the sky has opened and the sun is beaming down to highlight the perfect spot. Gerbe flings it toward the goalie AND actually gets it TO the goalie. The back-and-forth score shows that Gerbe was not the automatic solution to all the Sabres' problems but we did actually score some goals and I do think that Drew Stafford and Derek Roy both played one of their best games of the season, particularly Stafford. I don't think it's coincidence that they were Gerbe's line mates. I'm glad Lindy Ruff threw Gerbe right in there on a top line. I kind of wish we'd seen more of Mark Mancari with players who can actually play hockey.

And Jochen Hecht got in a fight! That happens maybe once every other year and I don't know, for some reason it always makes me really happy.

You can almost hear Ryan thinking, "Wait. Is that... is that Jochen?" (Photo by Scott Audette/Getty Images)

That's all I got. If you need more and you haven't read it yet, check out yesterday's Lindy post.

ETA video:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thinking WIth My Heart

A number of Buffalo blogs have recently started writing about the one potential solution to the problem of the Sabres that everyone has, up to this point, mostly avoided: firing Lindy Ruff. I'm not going to lie, it has crossed my mind as well. I think at this point, we're all looking for something - anything - to shake the team out of its ongoing rut of inconsistency and listlessness. I had an entry half-written about the subject. But as I was rereading it I realized, I couldn't finish it and I couldn't publish it because I do not want Lindy Ruff to be fired. I can't even think about Lindy Ruff being fired. I go into convulsions.

First of all, I think it's a pointless debate because the Sabres are not firing Lindy. Everyone knows how loyal Lindy and Darcy Regier are to each other but I think Larry Quinn admires and respects Lindy almost as much. I think both men want to have a winning team in Buffalo but I also honestly believe they'll watch the team struggle and the fans burn HSBC to the ground before they even think about firing Lindy. It is not an option. If Lindy asks to be released from his contract I think they'll grant that - after trying desperately to talk him out of it - but that's the only way he's leaving Buffalo before his contract is up.

Second of all, and most importantly, I'm just far too attached to Lindy to put that out as a serious suggestion. I've written a couple of times now about how I feel about Lindy and those feelings still stand. I get the logical side of the argument: The team desperately needs a shake-up, firing the coach is the easiest and most straight-forward way of making a major change, the players are tuning Lindy out, Lindy's system doesn't work with this team, part of a coach's job is being able to motivate his players, we're committed to these players so they're not going anywhere etc. etc. And you know, a little part of me would like to see how the Sabres players would respond to someone like John Tortorella bursting onto the scene and getting in their faces and turning everything they're used to on its head. I know all of the points above are very valid reasons for looking at a coaching change and I would love to offer a logical response to all of them. I really try to make an effort on this here blog to occasionally put aside my fan hat and try to be a little more analytical.

But it's not happening here. The logical side of my brain will never ever override the emotional side when it comes to Lindy. He's my coach. He's been coaching the Buffalo Sabres as long as I've known anything about them. I think he's smart and I think he's funny and I appreciate that even in the rough times, he always has that dry, mischievous sense of humor. When hockey fans hear Buffalo they think of Lindy Ruff and when they hear Lindy Ruff they think of Buffalo. Lindy and Buffalo are inextricably linked. He hasn't just passed through the city, giving us a few years out of his career. He's been here forever. He's settled here. He's raised his family here. He's one of us. That means a lot to me. It means enough to me that you'll never ever get me to say, "I think we need to fire Lindy." You could talk me into trading or releasing every player on the roster (some more easily than others) but I just can't come around to the same in regards to Lindy. If you tell me, "We can fire the entire team or we can fire Lindy," then I'm asking when the new players report. They're the ones who actually go on the ice and you know what, if they can't find it in themselves to show a little heart, then screw them.

So the rest of the Buffalo blogosphere can be all thoughtful and rational if they must. I'll be over here in the corner trying to think of a way to trade 25 or so players and insisting that Lindy Ruff be the coach of the Sabres until I die. That's just the way I roll.

Lindy 4 Life

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Maybe it's just me but these "new" Sabres look suspiciously like the old Sabres minus Thomas Vanek scoring goals. This "new" season opener was actually worse than the old season opener.

I'm sad.

Think of a Wonderful Thought, Any Happy Little Thought

So yesterday I threw together a quick post that struck me as being about nothing and I expected any and all comments to be along the lines of, "I can't believe you spent $9 on a stupid foam paw!" I did not expect to come home to a fairly lengthy discussion about sexual politics and the public image of the NHL. One of my favorite things about blogging is that I never know what people are going to respond to. I find that really interesting. Thanks to everyone who participated for keeping things calm and for expressing your opinion without insulting anyone else.

That said, wow, I so do not have it in me to post anything even halfway serious tonight especially with another potentially disastrous game ahead of us on Thursday. (But I'm sure it'll be fine! Really! It'll be great! I just know it!) I do have a couple of things bouncing around but I'll save them for another time. For now let's just all think happy thoughts. Some time killers that make me feel better.

Gene Kelly dancing on roller skates! (The really good stuff starts at the 2:20 mark.)

Bonus Gene Kelly. (My favorite single movie scene.)

Kermit the Frog encourages all of Buffalo to keep looking for the rainbow connection. (Some day we'll find it, you guys.)

Who's on first? (It will never not be funny.)

Peter Pan in Swedish. (I don't come across many Swedish dubs so I don't know, this totally cracks me up.)

One of the sweetest, romantic scenes in movie history.

Cats on treadmills! (There are a million of these on YouTube and they are all hilarious.)

U2 + Christmas = very happy Heather B.

And finally, the latest photo of Marlowe. She's five weeks here and a total doll, don't you think?

All right. Are we ready for Sabres hockey again now? I think we are. Right?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mumbo Jumbo (Nothing Interesting Here)

In yesterday's tally of monies spent on Buffalo sports in the previous two days, I left something out. Which is okay because it was hands down the best value for my money I got out of either game.

I'm not giving you the finger right now. Or am I?

I first saw these bad boys at the preseason game I attended with Kate and I've been noodling the idea of buying one ever since. I finally saw them available for purchase at the booths around the arena last night. Initially the $9 price tag seemed a little steep for what is essentially a circle of styrofoam but after walking away from the first booth, I caved and stopped at the next one.

Look, I'm not kidding when I say this was the best part of my Sunday or Monday. When you're sitting at the most boring hockey game in the history of the world, an oversized foam paw is pretty much the best thing ever. I spent the entire third period patting Mark on the head, pawing at his shoulder, forcing him to high-five my paw and waving my hand in his face while saying, "I'm giving you the middle finger right now but you can't see it." About halfway through the period he asked me, "So is this something you bring to every game now that you've bought it?" and I'm pretty sure he actually groaned when I said, "Heck, yeah! Wooooooooooooooooooo!" while shaking my paw at him.

Odds and ends:

- While I am in no way making excuses for the abomination of a game Monday night, I will lay a little bit of the blame on the scheduling. Both teams were playing their third game in four nights and that probably contributed to how lackluster the game was. I think that came into play a little bit in the Montreal game too. Both teams played in different cities the night before and by the time the third period rolled around both teams were running on fumes. Again, not an excuse for the losses since both opponents were in the same boat as the Sabres but that kind of scheduling certainly affects the on-ice product. Trapping is one thing, trapping as performed by tired, listless players is another thing altogether. You cannot tell me that November's schedule couldn't have been better, NHL.

- I'm so glad to hear the Sabres record is starting over at 0-0-0 as of Thursday. It'll be nice to be back on an even keel with Boston and Montreal. Wait, they're not starting over? Oh, okay.

- Sean Avery got suspended for making fun of Dion Phaneuf for dating his ex-girlfriend? Really? Players can hit other players in the head, behind the play, into the boards etc. without even getting a penalty but Avery is going to get suspended for running his mouth about a girl who, let's face it, has indeed gotten around in the NHL? I... don't understand the NHL. Avery is a douchebag, no doubt and I understand why all my friends in Dallas are thrilled that he's off the ice but again, come on. If there's one thing I've learned in my line of work it's that sometimes you have to come down on a kid and sometimes you just have to ignore their obnoxious efforts at getting attention. I think this was a time for planned ignoring. And if Phaneuf pounds his face in, hey, whatever. We call those natural consequences. Sean Avery: An Emotionally Disturbed Child in a Grown-Up's Body.

- Oh, and don't even go there on the outrage that Avery's comments objectify women, NHL. As Anne said during a discussion at IPB last night, I suppose all the video interviews of the members of the Blue Crew featured on the Thrashers' website are done in bikinis because it's so hot in Atlanta, right?

- I don't really like the Sabres right now.

- I wrote this entire entry with my Sabretooth paw.

There is nothing a foam paw can't do!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Someone Owes Me Money

So the Sabres evidently read yesterday's blog entry in which I stated that football was really boring and that the Bills were a complete mess and took that as some kind of challenge. Fellas, that reaaaally wasn't what I was going for. Tonight's game was one of the worst games I've ever seen live. It was three-fourths boring and one-fourth incompetence. I think low-scoring hockey games can be very entertaining but this was not one of those games. This was two bad hockey teams trying to see who could be just a little bit worse. And hey, the Sabres won due largely to Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman. Hank, get a grip, dear and please do it quickly. After I fired you for the third time tonight I was sitting in my seat seriously digging out my Tim Connolly jersey for the next game. I hate Tim Connolly! This is what you're doing to me and I don't like it!

So let's review. Yesterday Mark and I went to the Bills game. Tonight we went to the Sabres game. We saw a football team and an offensively gifted hockey team score a combined 3 points. Mark and I spent roughly $165 on tickets plus $13 for parking and somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 on concessions. Someone with the Bills and/or the Sabres owes us that along with 6.5 hours each plus commute time. One of the Sabres can cover my shift at work tomorrow and we'll call the time even. Start time is 7:45, loser.

Maybe I'll write a Bandits blog. Top Shelf works for lacrosse, right?