Monday, March 31, 2008

I'm Making This Up as I Go

So I've been trying to avoid certain spots on the internet because I know things are going to get ugly right about now. People are certainly allowed to have their opinions but those opinions often don't mesh with mine and I'm not really in the mood to be brought down even more by weeping and gnashing of teeth. I mean, geez, the team has been depressing enough as it is.

But I did wander over to Sabres Edge today and when I saw it was about Derek Roy I started to read. Something about the headline made me think it was Mike Harrington who is, as we've discussed before, pretty safe. I should have known better because the Indians opened today so Harrington has been hanging at Inside Pitch but by the time my brain started sending Bucky Gleason related "RED ALERT! CEASE AND DESIST" messages it was too late.

I'm not going to go into details about what I did and didn't like about the post - parts of it were not bad by Bucky standards and he did kind of admit that maybe he was wrong about Derek Roy peaking at 23, parts of it were his typical Drury/Briere ramblings still served with huge dollops of hindsight - but one of the responses left in the comment section, written by Don F, cracked me up:

Bucky, weren't you the guy who, just before the Bills vs Giants Super Bowl, suggested that Scott Norwood should aim a little more to the left than usual on any late-in-the-game attempts over 45 yards?

Anyway, I don't really have much of interest to say - like the Sabres I'm simply playing out the string and hoping that some other team saves me - so I thought I'd respond to some comments. It still probably won't be interesting but it'll fill space and kill time.

twoeightnine (check out his cool shirts), had this to say:

Here's something for you to do, I'm too busy/lazy to do it. Since we're such a cheap organization, figure out how much more money the Rangers and Flyers (two of the biggest markets) spent than us this off season to barely make the playoffs (or not make it.)

289, I've done some research and by my estimation the Flyers spent 15 billion dollars while the Rangers, not to be outdone, spent 16.3 billion. (On centers. They spent $48.23 on defense and kind of forgot about their goalie.) The Sabres on the other hand spent $7.18 but billed Marty Biron for the rolls of tape he stole when he left town, therefore actually making a profit of $32.74. You might want to double-check those numbers though.

Whatever the Rangers spent, it was ALL WORTH IT for the GAME WINNING GOAL Chris Drury scored last night. DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE GAME WINNING GOAL? In case you didn't, let me tell you about it: Last night the Rangers played and CHRIS DRURY SCORED THE GAME WINNING GOAL. IN OVERTIME. (In case, you're wondering, we paid approximately 37 cents for our game winning overtime goal on Sunday so I think we might have gotten a better bargain. Too close to call.)

(Also, my husband really wants one of the Kaleta missile shirts but I've been holding off on ordering it until you have a Hank shirt available for me. That's in the works, right? Surely the masses are demanding it.)

Matt (bowlofpork) chimed in with this:

Wait a second... Kate still doesn't have a jersey?!? I'm shocked and appalled.

Aren't we all? Seriously, Kate, buy a friggin' jersey already. I know that in this, your first full season as a hockey fan, the Sabres have treated you like an abusive boyfriend ("They don't mean it! They're better than this! You don't know them the way I do! They can be so sweet and good at hockey!") but if you've survived this season, I have a good feeling about you. Take a deep breath, pick a player, and go for it. I'll even pretend that I don't mind that you're buying a slug.

Amanda threw this out there:

How about taking a quick look at the draft rankings to see who you like? Should the Sabres trade their two 1st round picks to get into the top 5? Buffalo Sabre Steven Stamkos has a nice ring to it...

Amanda, that is a great idea and something a good blogger would probably tackle. Unfortunately I know nothing about anyone who's in the draft and would more or less be parroting other people's opinions. If I'm going to ramble on endlessly, I want to know what I'm talking about. At least a little bit. I keep referring to "Steve Stamkos" as "John Stamkos" and honestly, I'm not sure if I'm mixing him up with John Taveras, next year's sure thing draftee, or John Stamos, former star of Full House.

However, you guys will be getting top notch coverage of the draft because I will be there LIVE and IN PERSON! That's right, a few friends and I are piling into my car and driving to Ottawa. Why am I going to the draft when I've just revealed that I don't know anything about what's going on there? I dunno. Sounded like fun. Oh, I'm taking a collection to help the Sabres pay for Jason Pominville's extension so if you want to chip in, let me know. I'll write a check and slip it to Darcy while I'm there.

Amy said:

I'm wondering which of the players is going to be on the first plane out of Western New York once the lockers have been cleaned out and final autographs signed.

I would've put my money on Tim Connolly but since he's already out of town (and possibly dead since we haven't gotten the usual "the surgery went fine" update even though it's been a week), I'm going to go with Maxim Afinogenov.

And finally, Sam added this to the discussion:

Weber's picture is classic. He looks like he was surprised by the camera or something. poor guy.

Seriously, you guys, check out these pictures.






Maybe after he gets in a long nap in the off-season, Ryan Miller can give Mike some lessons on how to use what God gave you and take a good roster photo.

Thanks for your contributions, everyone! And while this was a totally half-assed, mostly ridiculous post, I do actually mean that in all seriousness. I've really enjoyed all the conversation going on here for the last couple of weeks.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Buffalo Sabres: Only MOSTLY Dead

Here's the thing I find the most frustrating about the Sabres this year. They're NOT untalented and they were not often going out on the ice and getting overwhelmed by another team's talent. Even now when I look at the Eastern Conference I'm not bowled over by anyone except maybe Montreal and possibly Pittsburgh. There were enough games where we hung in with talented teams to show that it wasn't accidental and it wasn't just catching teams on nights when they were tired or playing poorly.

I'm always hesitant to suggest that a team isn't trying because I don't think that's usually the case. In fact, early on in the season I think the problem was often players trying too hard to do too much. But I just expected to see so much more obvious effort from these guys. I thought they were going to be fired up about proving to everyone that the team was much more than Chris Drury and Daniel Briere and too many nights they appeared to be coasting. They were so feisty in the shootout win against Ottawa but where was that the rest of the season? Why weren't they playing like that before it was too late to save the season? Some nights that heart just didn't seem to be there. And that's not on management or coaching, that's on the players and no one else. If they were playing all out and losing that would be another story. It's so irritating to me that it took them all season to figure out that a 40 minute effort wasn't going to be enough for them to win anymore especially since I'm still not sure they've really learned that. Hopefully having an extended off-season will help it sink in.

A few random notes:

- Let me state upfront that this has indeed been a pretty awful season for Maxim Afinogenov. I think as the team has slowly moved away from just playing a skilled game, Max has become the odd man out and I'm more than happy to have today's game be his last at HSBC in a Sabres uniform. But everyone passing judgement on his contract is using a massive dose of hindsight. Last season his contract looked good because he really produced (61 points in 56 games, 73 points the season before that) and if he had continued to produce at that clip his price would have been a bargain compared to some contracts out there now.

And I will at least say this for Max. He doesn't always turn his brain on but he always, always tries hard which is more than can be said for some of these numbskulls.

(For the record, this isn't in direct response to Bucky Gleason. I heard he wrote about Max in today's column but I didn't read it. I'm not going anywhere near TBN for the next year at least. Do I look crazy?)

- Brian Campbell is doing very well in San Jose but let's examine this a little closer, shall we? He went from a team scrambling to make the playoffs to a team that was pretty safely in. He went from a team that didn't really have a great partner for him to a team that can pair him with a more defensive d-man which allows him to wheel freely up and down the ice. He went from a city where everyone is in turmoil over the hockey team to a city where, outside of the arena, most people just don't really care. He went from playing on a slapdash powerplay to playing with Joe Thornton, one of the best hockey players in the world. The man could not negotiate a contract and play hockey at the same time. You remember that, right? He was a walking, talking, skating DISASTER in the few weeks leading up to his trade. I see no reason to expect that were he in Buffalo right now, he'd be producing the same way he is in San Jose. He's in a totally different world, one that I think is much more conducive to him playing well.

And seriously, people, Brian Campbell is almost 29-years-old. Steve Bernier is almost 23. It's a little unfair to compare them to each other.

- The defense has been pretty mediocre lately but I feel that they're also getting some of the blame for poor goaltending. In the last few games there have been times when the d-man has played the opposing player just right (cutting off the pass, keeping the shooter to the outside and cutting down the angle) and Ryan Miller has muffed what should have been an easily stopped shot. I'm really down on Miller right now. If he called me tonight and told me he was thinking about signing with the Red Wings, I might tell him to enjoy Detroit. I don't really want him to go away but he's driving me crazy.

- I do want Ales Kotalik to go away.

- The "Here's what needs to happen for the Sabres to make the playoffs" scenarios that MSG displayed and discussed during the second intermission were awesomely hilarious in a I-have-to-laugh-so-I-don't-cry kind of way. I have a better chance of making the Sabres out of training camp next season.

- Throughout the hockey game my Tivo kept trying to change the channel to baseball. I think it's trying to tell me something. HOCKEY IS OVER! THIS GAME IS ALSO OFFENSIVELY BORING! I THINK YOU SHOULD WATCH BASEBALL INSTEAD! I'M ONLY THINKING OF YOU!

- Speaking of defense, the d-men ruled the day. Toni Lydman kept the puck in on the powerplay and then crashed the net to pick up a rebound for a goal. And then in overtime Mike Weber made a great play to keep the puck in the zone and Andrej Sekera ripped a pretty shot in for the game-winner. Go, defense, go!

- Yes, yes, yes. The '92-'93 Rangers were the last team to miss the playoffs after winning the President's Trophy the previous year. But you know what they did in '93-'94? They won the Stanley Cup. Now I'm not saying the Sabres are winning the Cup next season (or am I?) but I am saying that bad seasons happen, sometimes even in between two really good seasons.

Spinning My Wheels

You guys might have missed it because I'm pretty subtle with my opinions sometimes (that's sarcasm) but I'm really grooving on Mike Weber right now. This is kind of a new thing for me as far as hockey goes. In the past it's always taken a while for a player to grow on me. I have to take them in for a bit. But I don't know, I think I like him. In addition to being a mostly defensive defensemen (which you regular readers will know is totally my thing) he wears Bo Jackson's number, he has Travis Tritt on his Player Tunes list (along with Brooks and Dunn, Keith Urban's best song and NO rap), and his stupid roster photo is kind of endearing. The only negative I've dug up so far is that he's vehemently anti-visor. That's a tough one to swallow. Hank wears a visor AND a neck-guard so that's a big step back for me. I don't know how much I can enjoy watching a guy while fearing I'm going to some day see his eyeball pop out of his head and roll around on the ice.

Let's see if we can look a little less dorky next season, yes?

I have to admit, I'm kind of at a loss as to what to blog about these days. It seems kind of pointless to go the "rah-rah, the season isn't over!" route because well, the season is over. But it seems kind of wrong to start end-of-season review type entries because well, the season isn't over. I can't even tell you for sure who I'm planning on cheering for in the postseason because nothing is set. A few teams are trying awfully hard to get in and a few teams are trying awfully hard to get out. So I'm in a weird holding pattern.

Anything you guys wanna hear me talk about? Any questions? Anything you're dying to know? I have to kill at least another week, you know?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Introducing SabreCast!

Hi. Yeah, me again.

Okay, the real reason I went over to Kate's last night is because we got it in our heads that we were going to record a podcast. I haven't quite figured out how to post the file here - it's 1:33 a.m. and my brain is just not functioning anymore - but you can listen to our first episode over at the Willful Caboose.

Please keep in mind that this is the first time we've ever done this and it was mostly about us figuring out the software and playing around with musical cues and sound effects. There is some real hockey talk mixed in but it's definitely a work inprogress. Still we found it really amusing and thought some of you might too.

Go check it out
. If you have any suggestions, questions, or things you'd like to hear us discuss, please pipe up. I don't know how regularly we're going to be doing this but we are planning on doing it again so any feedback would be helpful.


Oh, a note for those who have listened: Jason Pominville has indeed passed his production from last season. Fewer goals so far (34 vs. 27) but more assists (34 vs. 50). Good boy, Pommerdoodle!

(I've kind of buried the post I just wrote but it wasn't really that interesting. There is some information for those of you in the fantasy hockey group though so check that out at least.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

:::SIGH:::

First a note: Most of you seemed to figure out the NHL.com fantasy link but if for some reason you can't figure out where to go, I can send you an official invite to the Top Shelf group that makes things a little easier. When I was signed in, the link included in the previous post took me directly to the group's main page but it evidently doesn't do that if you're not already registered. So if you're interested but having troubles, drop me a comment or email!

Also, be aware that your full name will be visible to other owners. There's probably a way around that but I haven't really played with it yet. If you'd prefer we all not know who you really are, feel free to register with a fake name. Others have done it and it worked just fine. I should have mentioned that before but I didn't realize it did that. Sorry. You can edit your info to change your name if you like.

Geez, these guys can't even slink off into that good night without torturing us, can they?

Okay, I'll concede that Henrik Tallinder has been not good the past few games. He had a horrible giveaway in overtime last night and a couple of rough giveaways tonight. And while Ryan Miller was way out of position on the one goal, Hank also should have been playing the guy tighter than he was. But the one thing I do really hate about being a huge fan of a defensive defenseman is that those guys hardly ever get credit when they're playing well and doing all the things they're supposed to be doing because with the exception of the occasional super awesome play, they're not noticeable then. But when they screw up, look out, the hate and spittle fly. So consider this a friendly reminder that one month ago, Hank and Toni were one and nine on a list of the top defensive d-men in the NHL when considering quality of competition, goals against on at even strength, and goals against on while 4-on-5. And that's while playing on an inconsistent team in front of an inconsistent goaltender.

Have they been bad the past few games? Yes, they sure have. The top pairing needs to be better in games as important as these are. Should they be shot, assaulted, retired, traded or cut? Gimme a break. Let's see what the defense looks like then. And let's also please note that neither of them will throw their teammates under the bus without taking any blame on themselves. (I realize this is kind of irrational and defensive especially after complaining that Ryan Miller has to stand up in important games but I don't care :P This is what I'm reduced to.)

See? Hank knows he's been bad lately.


Have I mentioned that I really, really like Mike Weber? Because I do.

Odds and Ends

So somewhere in the course of last year's playoffs, I met Kate of the Willful Caboose. After I spent weeks talking her down off the Chris Drury ledge and answering her every email, she appointed me her Sabres Mentor. (No giggling out there, please.) In case you haven't noticed, it's been kind of a rough season for a first-year fan, our personal highlight probably being an all-night IM session that was more or less some variation of "RYAN MILLER IS GOING TO BE A RED WING!" "No he isn't, I promise," over and over and over. So recognizing that Kate was a fan in crisis, I did my mentor-ly duty and went over to her place to watch the Ottawa game last night. After all, no one should be watching the Sabres alone. Well, okay that meant Mark was watching them alone. But he's been a Buffalo sports fan all his life, he can handle it.

Anyway, we did really well. We managed to get through fifty-eight minutes of hockey without getting too high or too low. Even when Ottawa scored the go ahead goal we stayed relatively calm. We were working on a project and kind of distracted by futzing around with our laptops, a microphone, and GarageBand so that probably helped but still, we were healthily engaged in the game. And then Goose, that little punk, had to go and tie up the game and the crushing anxiety and pathetic hope returned. Seriously, these guys can't even go away without some kind of drama. Like every other Sabres fan we figured it was a sure loss but we were sucked in again. I spent the evening bargaining with the Hockey Gods about Daniel Alfredsson (Please just don't let Daniel Alfredsson get the game-winner, Please just don't let Daniel Alfredsson get the game-winner while Hank is on the ice, Please just don't let Daniel Alfredsson get the game-winner while Hank is on the ice looking ridiculous) so I was sure he was going to score and all the Sabres were going to miss and that was going to be it but what do you know? We won. I don't know whether to be pleased that we finally won another shootout or annoyed that we lost nine to begin with. I guess I'm both. Even if they don't make the playoffs (see the hope creeping back in?), it would be nice for them to at least finish the season well. But seriously, five more shootout wins - five points for us, five points away from the teams ahead of us that we lost to - and this season is at least a slightly different story. It's frustrating.

I have to admit to being pretty annoyed with Ryan Miller. I usually appreciate his candor. I really love how open he is with how he's feeling and I enjoy listening to him wind through all the different things he was thinking and expecting on a goal or a good save. But after the game on Tuesday he was pretty bratty to his teammates which would be fine if he had been playing wonderfully himself but he's had a pretty rough month. And if you're going to point fingers at other people you sure as heck better follow it up with the best game you can play and maybe I'm crazy but last night was not it. I say "maybe I'm crazy" because all the postgame guys were saying they thought Ryan played better than he did the previous game but I don't see that at all. I thought he was okay on Tuesday and terrible tonight. He did pull out the victory in the shootout and I suppose the win is all that matters in the end but again, if you're going to call out your teammates, try not to play like garbage. We were joking that someone really quiet and non-confrontational like Toni Lydman needed to make a crack about the bratty goalie playing behind him.

So the Canadiens tonight, huh? I tell myself that Jochen Hecht was out for the last game and that's why the Montreal powerplay destroyed us but I'm a little frightened of them, I have to say. Let's see if we can maybe wait an entire minute before taking a penalty, fellas?

Oh, hey, I forgot. I started up a group for NHL.com's Playoff Fantasy Hockey game if anyone wants to join me. Right now it's just me and Mark (Mark doesn't know yet) so there's plenty of room for everyone and I don't think there's a team limit. I played in a similar game last year and it's pretty fun while also not being a lot of work. Every week during the playoffs you pick a line-up of six forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender and you earn points based on how well they play that week. The only real strategy is that you can only pick a player three times so if you ride Nicklas Lidstrom for the first three weeks and then the Red Wings end up in the Finals, you won't be able to use him. You do have to sign up for an NHL.com sign-on if you don't have one but it's free and relatively painless. If you're interested, go here. Password is hank.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We Must Accept Finite Disappointment...

but never lose infinite hope. (Bear with me, this one's kind of all over the place mostly because I wrote it at two different times in two different moods.)

Okay, seriously, that was the worst thing I've ever experienced at a live sporting event. I still have no idea what happened. Someone please fix our powerplay. If you can't, please train the players to immediately take a penalty so we don't have to play with an extra man.

My mood was not helped by the really, really annoying guy behind me. I'm pretty tolerant of other people. I know some people are just there to hang with their friends, I know some people aren't necessarily very knowledgeable about hockey. I know some people just like to scream and yell and complain. I'm fine with all of those people. The guy behind me was your classic know-it-all. The guy who says everything in that tone of voice that implies he's absolutely right even though halfway through the game he said, "Hey, is Connolly playing tonight? I don't see him."

Most of what came out of his mouth was wrong, but the kicker was the conversation he and his seat mate had right after the "This Day in Sabres History" video that said, "On this date in Sabres history, Grant Fuhr became the first goalie in NHL history to win ten games with two teams in one season after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs."

Seat mate: Cool, who'd we get him from?

Know-it-all: Edmonton. Edmonton Oilers.

At that point I wanted to turn around and scream, "ARE YOU GUYS STUPID?! THEY JUST SAID WE GOT HIM FROM THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS! THEY JUST SAID IT! JUST NOW! SHUT UP AND LET ME WALLOW IN MY MISERY!"

Before the game they showed an old Sabres-Senators game. Mark pegged it as a 95-96 game and when they flashed the date later it turned out he was absolutely right - April 1996. It was really cool. In retrospect it was far more entertaining than the game we actually paid to see. I didn't watch a ton of Old NHL hockey so it was very, very amusing. Mike Peca got hit with an elbow in the schnozz, no penalty on the play. Jason Dawe sent a perfect pass up the ice to a streaking Pat LaFontaine and the Sens d-man grabbed him in a bear hug from behind, lost his stick, ignored the stick and then hugged him again. No penalty on the play. Holy moses! No wonder skill players were so frustrated. He may as well have tackled Patty. Rob Ray had a kick-ass fight right off a face-off, sticks and gloves literally thrown to the side. Andrew Peters has been the enforcer for most of my fandom so I'm always thoroughly entertained by old Rayzor fights. He and the other guy must've gotten thirty punches in on each other. Their arms were just pumping like crazy and they were both bleeding when it was done and Rob headed for the tunnel, an ear to ear grin on his face. He also has this weird twitchy thing I've never noticed before where he nods his head over and over. I don't know if he's trying to adjust his helmet or what but it looks like a tic and it was kind of adorable. It was Daniel Alfredsson's rookie year so it was kind of neat seeing him as a young'un. But the highlight was 18-year-old Jay McKee playing in his very first NHL game. There was a close-up shot of him in the penalty box and oh my gosh, he was so young. And so, so cute. On the way home I even said, "At least I got to see Baby Jay."


Going back to Peters for a second, there's now a PSA for domestic abuse that's run during the games starring Andrew Peters. "I'm Andrew Peters and even though I'm an enforcer, when I go home I leave the violence on the ice." Mark, not in a very good mood, muttered, "It's not like you'd do any damage any way. You'd still be circling her when the cops got there." Now, I know domestic abuse is nothing to joke about, but I'll admit it, in the moment it totally cracked me up. Again, MUCH more entertaining than the actual game.

But here's my positive spin:

- The Sabres are going to miss the playoffs. It sucks but I stand by my argument that this might, in the long-run, be good for both the players and the ownership. I personally am going to enjoy the rest of the season a little more knowing that it's pretty much over. This whole on the bubble thing is for the birds.

- Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber look very, very good for as young (21 and 20 repsectively) and inexperienced as they are. They don't look nearly as tentative or overwhelmed as guys in their place usually do.I really loved Mike Weber in particular. I'm not going to say that Sekera is going to jump right out next season and match Brian Campbell's production but I do think he has the potential to be more well-rounded than Campbell and obviously he's going to be much cheaper for the next few years.

- Derek Roy played very hard all night and scored two more goals, putting him at 31 for the season so far. Not bad for a kid who some people :::coughbuckycough::: said had probably already peaked especially since he struggled for a lot of the first half.

It's not much to hold on to on a night where even Jochen Hecht was making passes to guys who weren't there but after a visit to Sabres Edge (I know I promised some of you I wouldn't go there last night - I'm weak) I will say this:

I'd still rather have Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy for the next six to seven years than Chris Drury and Daniel Briere for the next six to seven years.

I still think it was a good call to let Brian Campbell go, especially with Andrej Sekera in the system. If a guy can't negotiate a contract and play hockey at the same time, I'm not sold on him having the mental strength to handle a six million dollar plus contract.

I still think a lot of this season's failures can be chalked up to underperforming players rather than poor management decisions. Those poor decisions certainly exist but slightly better goaltending here, an overtime or shootout win there and suddenly the Sabres are fighting for the 5 or 6 spot.

I still think Henrik Tallinder is probably one of the most underrated defensive d-men in the NHL and I still think people who are still complaining about Jay McKee are nuts. If the deal includes a time machine, sign me up. Otherwise I'd have to say that was a pretty good call.

I still think it's promising that the Sabres signed Jochen Hecht during the season, negotiated with Campbell until they had to do something with him, and have made a lot of noise about signing Ryan Miller as soon as he'll let them.

I still think no one - no one - has the right to complain about Ty Conklin unless they were doing it right after he was not re-signed. Seriously, people, did you see his season happening? If you're nodding your head, I don't believe you.

I still think the Sabres are young and inexperienced with losing a lot and that this might just be a good thing for them. Not a fun season to watch but a season that might have been necessary for them as part of the learning process that every player has.

I still think I'd rather be out of the playoffs with players who still have room to grow and improve and salary space to add some missng pieces than be a 5 or 6 seed that still doesn't really have much of a chance at a Cup but is now up against it financially and committed long-term to older players.

I still don't understand why some fans are insistent that the Sabres are now doomed to finish out of the playoffs for the next five years. Minus Drury and Briere the Sabres still have one of the best offenses in the league. They have some pieces to work with on defense. They have some room to maybe bring in a couple of players if they feel the need to add on. They have a good young goaltender who struggled this season but who I think will be okay. They have a handful of very talented players who had "bad" seasons but will finish with pretty good numbers (Vanek and Roy in particular). They have a few players who I think exceeded expectations for them for this season (Pominville, Hecht, Paille). They have a couple of guys who maybe weren't quite ready for the full load this year but who showed really good leadership potential (Pominville, Roy, Hecht). They've kept some skill while slowly adding a little size and toughness (Bernier, Kaleta, Gaustad, Mair, Paille).

I'd still gladly buy season tickets for next year if my name comes up on the list and honestly I'm kind of annoyed that all the bandwagon fans will probably jump off in the year when I've missed three months of work and have no money. Thanks for nothing.

So while Heather B's hopes and dreams for this season may have died a cruel and agonizing death last night somewhere between nine and ten p.m. Eastern time, her hopes and dreams for next year and years to follow still stand. It's like Andy Dufresne once said, boys and girls: Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hockey Has Killed Me Dead


Free Myspace Generators


I am dead inside.

My spirit is broken.

How - HOOOOOOOOOW - do you manage to give all the momentum to a clearly gassed opponent when YOU HAVE THE MAN ADVANTAGE! YOU HAVE MORE PLAYERS ON THE ICE!

I can't even cling to Hank tonight because he was awful too. He got completely undressed by Daniel "Please Don't Let It Be That Guy" Alfredsson. Hank, you KNOW I can't stand it when he scores against us!

I am just stunned. The friendly Sens fan in our aisle who joked with me all night exited the other way, I'm sure because I looked like I had just been punched in the face. I feel like every single Sabre walked by and hit me with a shovel.

This game was the season in a nutshell. A little bit of not great but not terrible, followed by a period of soaring hope, followed by getting cut off at the friggin' knees.

Top Shelf is officially in mourning.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Teppo

Two entries in one day! It's been a while since I did that. Make sure you read both of them!

For anyone who wants to hear a little more about the Teppo Numminen situation, there's a really interesting interview from this morning with Paul Hamilton up in WGR's Audio Vault. Considering that one of you pointed it out to me (hi, Meg!), chances are good that some of you have already listened to it but for those of you who haven't, here's a brief breakdown:

- Despite people's eagerness to compare the Sabres' dealings with Teppo to the Canadiens' dealings with Saku Koivu, the situations are not really that similar. When Koivu was diagnosed with cancer, he was already into an insured multi-year contract. Teppo was beginning a new contract and that contract did not officially kick in until he passed his preseason physical which, of course, he didn't do. (And while Hamilton didn't say this, I'm pretty sure his contract wasn't insured anyway because of his pre-existing heart condition.) The reason the Canadiens didn't suspend Koivu is because there was no reason for them to do so. It wouldn't have made any difference to them. They weren't paying his salary, the insurance company was. That would not have been the case for the Sabres.

While it's kind of crappy, at times like this hockey's a business. If Teppo was going to be out for an extended period of time, the Sabres were likely going to have to pick up another d-man. And while they were able to pick up Nolan Pratt for a very reasonable price, they might have been in a situation where they had to pay someone a lot of money in which case it made sense to clear Teppo's salary from the books.

- Hamilton also addressed the quote from Darcy Regier that made it sound like the Sabres are not allowed to pay Teppo for the rest of the season. Thank goodness because I was dying for clarification on that and no one seemed to be getting it. He said that Darcy seemed reluctant to go on-record because he didn't want to sound like he was being critical of the league but that he implied that the Sabres were willing to pay Teppo from this point on and were prepared to do so but that the NHL stepped in and said they couldn't, that at this point they have to wait for the arbitrator's ruling. I was glad to hear that because while I can justify the initial suspension it seemed pretty petty to dither over his prorated salary for the last two weeks of the season especially since they do have cap room.

- Totally unrelated but I was happy to hear Paul Hamilton pick apart Al Strachan's diatribe on Sabres management on a recent Hockey Night in Canada Hot Stove.

- Also unrelated, but I love the re-design WGR has done to its Audio Vault. I never understood why there wasn't a search feature. (Now let's get some Henrik Tallinder interviews up there, people!) I also really like the way some of the interviews are earmarked where different topics start, allowing you to skip over topics you're not interested in. Very nifty.

- Still unrelated, but wow, Teppo looks great. I am so glad that it appears he's quit slicking his hair back! I don't always like longer hair on men but his is very pretty and full and the old dog is handsome enough to pull it off. It also helps that unlike Ryan Miller's former Jesus haircut it doesn't look like it was trimmed by a drunk teammate wielding nail clippers.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hello. My Name Is... Jochen Hecht.

I scrolled through some pictures from the Sabres recent Aces and Blades event and really people, this is too much. I know he's underappreciated, I know some of you don't think he's really that important, I know his name is not as flashy as "Briere" or "Drury" but Jochen Hecht just signed a four year extension. He's been one of our best players this season. In a season riddled with inconsistency he's been as steady as the setting sun. He's worn the C for most of the season. So what's up with this?


He's wearing a photo ID badge! At a Sabres event, one of the Sabres is wearing a photo ID badge! There are pictures of Ryan Miller and Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy and Adam Mair and none of them are wearing ID badges. I don't know why but this totally cracks me up and it FILLS me with affection for Yo-Yo. I love that everyone else either never put their badges on or threw them aside at the first opportunity but Yo-Yo is either such a stickler for the rules or so sure that no one would recognize him without his name and number on his back that he left his on. What a doll.

I don't even know what to say about the game tomorrow. In the Sabres and the Senators we have two teams that can look either dominant or pathetic depending on the night. It just depends on which version of each team shows up. If the good versions of both teams come out, it could be a really fun, exciting game to watch. If the bad versions of both teams come out, it could be some darn ugly hockey. If one good version shows up to play one bad version, well, I hope the Sabres are the good ones because it could get brutal. (I don't mind if it's brutal in our favor.) At any rate, Mark and I will be there tomorrow for our last appearance at HSBC this season. I'm currently weighing going with crutches vs. going sans crutches. For the last few days I've been going out without crutches and doing okay but the ol' ankle does start to hurt eventually and it swells up like crazy which is uncomfortable. Since the Sabres have caused a fair amount of discomfort themselves over the course of the last few weeks, I haven't decided yet what my best course of action is. Oh, if you're one of those people who enjoys reading the other side's point-of-view, I would keep an eye on Scarlett Ice, one of my favorite blogs on this here internet, for the next couple of days. Sherry's pretty cool even for a dirty Sens fan :P

There is one other thing I wanted to talk about but it involves me having to walk alllll the way over to the desktop computer which is way too much to deal with right now. Maybe later. For now just enjoy Jochen.

Top Shelf Review: Cold-Cocked: On Hockey

I'm going to take a break from the Sabres today. I've had this book review half-written for weeks now and this seems like a good time to throw it up for public consumption. Happy Easter! I'll be back on Monday.

It was with much anticipation that I curled up in my blankets with Lorna Jackson's Cold-Cocked: On Hockey. I'd heard a lot about how it was the first book about hockey from the perspective of a female fan and I was ready to absolutely love it to pieces. Unfortunately, I wanted to love it more than I actually did love it.

I will admit up front that I was a little turned off before I even started reading the book. I flipped it over to read the back cover blurb and read the following:

Star-struck biographies, nostalgic histories, gonzo road trips: hockey books say we're obsessed with the game because we grew up wanting to be players. Not women.

I've mentioned before that I didn't grow up watching hockey but when I was a little girl watching baseball I totally wanted to be the players. I wanted to be diving across the field to grab the scorching line drive. I wanted to make a perfect throw to nail the runner at the plate. I wanted to feel the crack of the bat, wave the ball into fair territory and run around the bases, fist high while the crowd went bananas and chanted my name. When my sixth grade counselor and I set long-term goals, I said, in total seriousness, that I was going to play in the Majors. Even now when it's pretty safe to say I've missed my chance to make the NHL, I watch hockey with a little bit of sadness that I didn't grow up in an area where kids played it. I don't know how good I would have been at it but knowing the kind of kid I was and the kind of athlete I was, I do know I would've loved playing it. I thought saying "women don't watch hockey that way" was a pretty broad statement to make in a time when lots of little girls are playing hockey, more colleges have womens programs, and the USA and Canada, among many other countries, have women;s national teams. So I kind of went into the book feeling like maybe it wasn't for female fans like me.

There's a lot in Cold-Cocked about Jackson's family - her father, their relationship through the years, her relationship now with her daughter - and other parts of her personal life. While I mostly see how the things connect in her mind - she talks a lot about the rhetoric of hockey as war and players as warriors in comparison to her father who was captured and held prisoner for a time in World War II - I think the way the different aspects are spread across the book is disjointed and kind of all over the place. The transition from the stories about her father's life to the travails of the Canucks are not always very smooth. Her father has an interesting story, it just often felt to me like I was reading two very different books.

Which is not to say the book was all bad. When Jackson does talk about hockey it's interesting and funny and different from a lot of "rah-rah, sports are beautiful" sports writing. She's clearly a fan of the game but she also doesn't hesitate to criticize it, particularly on the topic of violence. I don't have a problem with fighting in general but there have definitely been times when I've been disgusted with how little the league or the players or the Flyers certain teams seem to care about head shots and concussions. Concussions are not broken arms or sprained knee ligaments. When you're dealing with them, you're dealing with a guy's long-term health, something that's going to affect him long after his playing days are through. Jackson is following the Canucks during the time of the Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi incident so that gives her ample opportunity to talk about some of the issues surrounding the game that bother her.

I did also really enjoy the sections of the book that dealt with Jackson's efforts to get interviews with a few players for the book. I have no doubt that being a female in the world of pro sports journalism is sometimes bizarre and uncomfortable even in this day and age and I liked how honest Jackson was about her desire to come across as professional and intelligent but also at least somewhat attractive and how thrilling it was to be up-close with the players she roots for. In those moments, the book really is different from other hockey writing.

But in the end I just didn't feel like there were enough of those moments. And while I do appreciate that there is sometimes a difference in how males and females take in sports and athletes, I don't think it's as easy as men here and women over there. I'm writing this long after I finished the book so I have to admit that now I don't know if it was really the book itself or just the press releases and reviews that came with the book, but it was definitely presented as, "Finally! A woman speaks about hockey!" And while it's true that there doesn't seem to be a ton of writing out there by women about hockey, as I said in the first paragraph, I'm obviously coming at sports different than Jackson is and it's possible I would've liked the book a little more if it had been less "This is how women feel about hockey!" and more "This is how this particular woman feels about hockey." One of my favorite fellow bloggers is Kate of The Willful Caboose and while we're both smart, reasonably insightful fans of hockey (in my oh so humble opinion :P) I think it's pretty safe to say that if we both wrote books about following the Sabres they'd be two very different books.

And while I'm totally getting off-track here (I'm sorry!), at the risk of upsetting my fellow female hockey fans and bloggers, I'm kind of over the whole "I'm a female hockey blogger!" thing. Don't get me wrong, one of my favorite things about the hockey blogosphere is that there are a ton of really smart blogs being written by women and I very, very rarely run into a neanderthal male blogger who disregards my opinion because my handle is clearly a female one which is a refreshing change from real-life. When I first started writing Top Shelf I was very self-conscious about saying anything that was too female-y - I never talked about players being good-looking for example - because I wanted people to take my blog somewhat seriously and I worried that if I mentioned Henrik Tallinder's dimple or Jochen Hecht's shy smile, people would immediately label me a puck bunny. But eventually I decided that was stupid. If John Vogl can talk about which team has the best-looking Ice Girls and still be taken seriously as a journalist, why can't I acknowledge that I think Hank is an extremely talented defenseman AND an extremely handsome man? I don't want to sleep with him. I'm not even sure half the time I want to actually meet him. But yeah, I kind of noticed that he's good-looking. I figure there's enough hockey content here to balance that out and anyone who would accuse me of being a puck bunny is probably not that smart and therefore not worth worrying about. I'm proud to be a woman blogger but I don't really have a desire to wave a flag and yell I AM A WOMAN BLOGGER and I'm just not sure how important it is to other people that I'm female. Do people go read Goose's Roost for the male point-of-view and then come here thinking, "Now to get the female point-of-view!" I don't know, maybe they do. I don't really think so though. I'm just... another blogger, you know?

Anyway... Back to Cold-Cocked. In the end I liked it enough that I would probably check out something else written by Lorna Jackson but it definitely left me wanting. I do seem to be in the minority though from what I've seen. Here are some other reviews:

Scarlett Ice
Untypical Girls
Hockey Blog in Canada

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ugh.

I'm tired, my ankle is swollen like a balloon, and I just popped a painkiller which means I'll be out soon so I'm going to keep this short and simple. Here's why the Sabres lost this game:

- The powerplay was embarrassing. Almost eleven minutes of PP time in one period and we managed six shots on goal. Note to Ales Kotalik: I don't care how hard your shot is, if there's a guy standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU, it's probably not getting through.

- A couple of really undisciplined penalties, particularly Max Afinogenov's stupid, stupid hook on Jason Blake after the play was over which led to a Toronto PP goal. Nice work, Max!

- Vesa Toskala outplayed Ryan Miller by a country mile. Not even close. Ryan made some big stops but not when the team really needed them. I try to be careful about putting all the weight of a loss on one player, even the goalie, but he has to be great if the Sabres are going to get to the postseason.

On top of being kind of ugly, this game was really boring. At least entertain me with your badness!

How is it possible to love and hate a group of men I've never met in my life so much? Is this healthy?

More tomorrow at some point. If you need more right now, read the previous post if you haven't already in which I tell you why it might be good for these guys to miss the playoffs. (I know, it still sucks. Missing the playoffs, not the post. I think.)

Why I Still Love This Young, Immature, Inconsistent Team of Little Brats

Here's the deal with this post. I wrote it over a course of a few nights while on vacation last week, mostly after the losses to the Rangers and the Penguins. I think it's clear in some spots that I'm assuming the Sabres are missing the playoffs. But those little rats went on to win the next three games and mostly look good doing it and now I'm back to thinking they probably will squeak in after all. And like I said a few posts ago, once the playoffs have started, it's a whole new season. But I figure a lot of the people complaining now will keep complaining. They'll just shift gears from "I can't believe the Sabres missed the playoffs!" to "I can't believe the Sabres barely squeaked into the playoffs!" and in that case, my defense pretty much stays the same as do my feelings about the team now and in the next couple of years. I also talk some about being a fan and what it means to me which I just talked about a little bit a few days ago. So in addition to being long-winded, disorganized, and scattered, this entry is also a little repititive. How's that for a build-up? Here goes:

A few days before I left for vacation, reader and commenter Jennifer emailed me and asked my opinion on something that she heard on XM radio. Since I know this is going to be long I'll skip all the set-up and boil it down to this: If you're in charge of the Sabres and the Flyers call and tell you Daniel Briere is available, do you take him? Forget who would have to be traded or released to make room for him and forget the money. If you could keep your current roster and fit him in your budget, would you take Briere?

My initial reaction was, "Yes, of course!" Before the season I really thought the team would miss Chris Drury more but as the season went along I decided it was Briere we really needed. Our penalty kill was pretty good and Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville were doing a nice job of becoming the main checking line. While we probably do miss some of Drury's leadership (more on that in a bit) and his face-off ability, I think that the current team has done a pretty decent job of filling in a lot of the things he did. For most of the season we were missing that guy who could decide, "You know what? We're winning this freakin' game," and then carry the puck down the ice and put it in the net. We missed the guy who played with visible passion most nights. The Sabres were scoring goals but they were having a hard time scoring them when it really mattered and Briere was good at that.

But as quickly as I thought, "Yes, of course I'd take him!" I decided, "No, I don't think I would." A Danny Briere like player? Yeah, maybe. Danny Briere himself? No. I just think it's really hard to turn back the clock. Just because Danny worked well with this team in the past, it doesn't mean he'd work there now. When he was in Buffalo, the Sabres were partly his team. This year they're not his team. To try to recreate that would be a tough thing.

And I'm not sure that's all that bad. Despite what the naysayers will tell you, there's still a very talented core in Buffalo. At some point I think the team had to be handed over to them. What's the point of drafting great young talent, much of it with good leadership potential, if you're never going to let the team belong to them? The change probably happened too soon and I think it definitely happened too abruptly - though I do think management intended for Teppo Numminen to help out with that by providing a leadership bridge from that team to this team - but I don't think it's a bad thing and while it's frustrating to watch it take a whole season, I don't think the season can be considered a waste in that regard.

To me, if you look at the season on a whole, Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, and Jason Pominville have made huge strides both on and off the ice. It was a struggle for most of them but why shouldn't it be? They were all cast in new roles and three of them are still pretty young. Miller was suddenly backstopping a team that couldn't overwhelm everyone with talent and became a more vital part of the game. Because the team struggled, he also found himself playing more games because more games were important than in the previous two seasons. Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy went from third liners to first liners, the top defended players, and Vanek was now The Man, the player expected to carry the team. And Jason Pominville became more important as a two-way player. Three of them were up and down for much of the season and even still are a little bit (God bless Pommers, steady and dependable to the end) but there were and are signs that they're putting things together and getting more comfortable. And even when struggling on the ice, I think all four have shown new maturity off the ice. Vanek never shied away from the criticism he received, agreeing that it was more than justified. He just continued to plug away until things starting working. Roy cut down on the diving, really cut down on the whining and responded extremely well when Lindy challenged him to be better because it was what his team needed from him. Pommers busted ass every night even when his teammates were slacking off around him and found other ways to contribute when he wasn't scoring.

Now don't get me wrong. The team still clearly has problems with consistency and the roster definitely needs some tweaking. A physical, stay-at-home defenseman would be nice. A steady, hard-working veteran would be even nicer. But not someone who's going to take over the team. Someone who's going to help the current team take the next big step. Young players have to grow up and while they may not be enough to build a championship team around right this second, I think they will be eventually and I don't think we're even that far away. I think they're moving in the right direction. Putting Danny (or Chris) back in the mix would, in my opinion, be a step backward. Players who are the future of the team, players who played under those two in the past, would naturally give that leadership back over to them and that's not a good thing. Something that I think a lot of people are overlooking is that cores change because they have to. That's the way sports work. Again, I'll definitely accept argument that it happened before the young'uns were really ready but with the long-term contracts that players are getting, I think it almost had to happen that way. If you ask me if I'd rather have a Jay McKee/Chris Drury/Danny Briere led team for the next six to seven years or a Vanek/Roy/Pominville team for the next six to seven years, I'm going with the latter. I might be in the minority but I think there's more room to grow and get better with that group than with the first group.

I'm also going to be a blasphemer and say that I think Chris Drury's leadership has been greatly exaggerated. I loved him and I'm in no way questioning that he did a lot for the Sabres and taught the players who are still here a lot. He absolutely did. But the truth is that last year's team - his team - played uninspired hockey for long stretches of the season, particularly in the second half. They repeatedly coasted through two periods and then turned it on in the third. The only difference between that team and this one is that that team had enough talent to pull that off and this one doesn't. Last year's team - again, Drury's team - sleepwalked through the first two rounds of the playoffs and then got embarrassed in the third round, playing one of the worst games I've ever seen a Sabres team play. Except for occasional flashes, they looked disinterested, unorganized, and almost completely lacking in passion. The only person who saved them from an embarrassing early round exit was Ryan Miller.

Please don't think I'm saying that Chris Drury was the problem or any part of the problem. I think there were a lot of things going on. A very talented team was maybe getting a little too comfortable with winning without full effort. The New NHL was moving back a little to the Old NHL which works against a small, skilled team. Other coaches were learning how to defend the Sabres. But whatever was going on, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere weren't the magic solution. I don't really see why people think they'd be the magic solution now.

I just... I guess I just don't understand why people think this team is doomed forever now. They've had a bad year but it happens. The Hurricanes went from winning the Stanley Cup to missing the playoffs because their most important players had tough seasons and two young guys (Eric Staal and Cam Ward) had a hard time adjusting to being two of the most important guys on the team. This season they got themselves back on track and the team is faring better, right back in the playoff mix and playing really good hockey here when it matters the most. The price of parity is that one or two players underachieving can kill a team's season. Chris Drury and Daniel Briere were two players on last year's President Trophy winning team. They were two important players but they were still TWO players. I really hate the way people are crediting all the team's success last year to two players. They helped make the team better maybe but they didn't give the current roster all its talent. Based on what we've seen from Drury and Briere this season I think it's pretty fair to say it was more of a two-way street. They all made each other better. Jochen Hecht and Pominville helped Briere as much as Briere helped them etc. I don't see why the talent that left outweighs the talent that's still here and I don't see why, with some growing and tweaking, the current roster can't be successful. The team before the lockout was not a great team and here we are two years later with two Eastern Conference Finals appearances. So why can't we turn it around again and do it just as quickly?

Let's face it, the current Sabres have had it pretty easy. The bulk of them played together on a very good Rochester team and then they came to the NHL and played on very good Sabres teams. Everything has broken their way in their pro careers. People talk about them having a lot of experience for young players but very few of them have much experience with losing a lot of games. They learned to win a lot which is good but they also learned to win without putting in a full sixty minutes as we've seen PLENTY of proof of this season. While it totally bites as a fan to watch them dither away an entire season, I'm not sure it'll be a terrible thing for them to wake up the day after the regular season ends and have to face the reality of not being in the postseason, not to mention facing the reality that they're sitting at home because that's exactly where they deserve to be. Their play this season doesn't merit anything else and despite what the media or some fans will say, that's ultimately on them. Not on management and not on coaching. It's on the guys who take the ice every night. Having plenty of time to think about all the one period games they played might be exactly what they need because you know what? No matter how much they've talked about the need to play harder I really think a lot of them fully expected to play exactly the way they have the last couple of years and get exactly the same results. And even when they struggled early, I think a lot of them figured it would be fine in the end. Finding out that it might not be as fine as they thought will suck for them (and us) but hey, sometimes you learn the lesson the most clearly when you screwed everything up.

When the Sabres were winning the division and leading the Conference people complained about all the bandwagoners who were suddenly buying jerseys and going to games. And now all those same people are freaking out and telling me that I need to stop drinking the Sabres Kool-Aid and stop supporting the team with my money. That seems... a little hypocritical, you know? If you're unhappy with ownership and you're pissed about the team and you feel like the only thing you can do is stop going to games and buying merchandise, hey, knock yourself out. But please stop assuming I feel the same and please stop telling me I should feel the same way. I don't have to. I don't want to.

I've been having a lot of discussions lately with a few friends about how being a sports fan consists of really high highs and really low lows. Jason Pominville's shortie against the Senators in the 2006 playoffs was a really high high but the reason it was such a high high was because of the low lows that came before it. Missing the playoffs completely the season before the lockout. Believing it was just a matter of time before the Sabres moved. Going without the NHL for a year. Struggling against the Senators all season. That goal wouldn't have meant nearly as much as it did if it wasn't for all the struggles that led up to it. Losing to the Hurricanes - watching a fun, talented team hang on as long as they could, battling to the very end despite the blueline blowing up around them - was a low low. And part of the reason it was so low is because of all the highs that came before it. Watching a fast, skilled team surprise the NHL. Seeing young players start to blossom and make real contributions to the team. Feeling the buzz in the air around Buffalo all season. Beating the Senators in five games on Jason Pominville's shortie. Living through all of that made thinking about Jay McKee crying in a hospital room while the Sabres lost feel that much lower.

But that's sports. You have the good and the bad and you need both. If you skip out on one, the other doesn't mean as much. When we're laughing at what a bargain Vanek is at seven million - a day that's going to come pretty soon, I think considering that Dan Boyle just re-signed for 6.67 - it'll be even funnier because everyone complained this season that he was never going to be worth that much. When Andrej Sekera is a steady, contributing member of the defensive corps we're going to laugh at how he initially showed up because the blueline blew up for the second time in three years. When Ryan Miller is saving the Sabres' bacon in the playoffs again we'll shake our heads when thinking about how he looked so exhausted and beat down this season and how Buffalo was all up in arms about how it was just a matter of time before he became a Red Wing. And don't tell me that those things aren't going to happen because they might not. But something like them will and that's the point really. Building a relationship with a team and a player means being there for the good and the bad and this year was just a whole lot of the bad. And yeah, I get that people who have been in Buffalo longer than I have been have had their fill of bad but again, it's part of the deal and you're a bunch of spoiled brats because while you haven't had a championship team yet, you have had plenty of high highs, a lot more than some cities have had. Championships are hard to win - even harder to win in the NHL and even harder to win in an NHL so full of parity. If you're watching sports just to win championships, you, my friend, are probably going to spend a lot of time being miserable.

So what's my point? I was a Sabres fan last year when the team was mostly good. I've been a Sabres fan this year when the team was mostly bad. I'll be a Sabres fan next year when they're hopefully mostly good again.

And I would definitely not take back Daniel Briere. He's got Flyers cooties.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Awww, Was That For Me?

Oh, boys. You didn't have to be all dramatic on account of me.

That was a totally bizarre game. The first period was okay - not completely terrible but not good at all. And then the second period was garbage. One of the worst periods I've seen all season. I'm not a booer (I have no problem with others booing, it's just not my thing) but I very well might have been the only person in the entire building not booing. It was ugly and totally deserved. And then Lindy barked at everybody in the dressing room ("DID YOU GUYS FORGET THAT HEATHER IS IN THE BUILDING? SHE'S ON CRUTCHES FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!") and the third period was awesome. Twenty minutes of awesomeness from the second the puck dropped until the final horn sounded. It was the Sabres' season in a nutshell.

As annoying as it is to see the team play great hockey for 20 minutes yet again, it was a totally awesome game to be at especially after missing so many games. Live hockey again was amazing. I missed it all so much! I missed the crowd of people on the escalators, everyone chattering about the game and reasonably happy since nothing bad has happened yet. I missed checking out all the random and varied jerseys. (Dude, a Lindy Ruff SLUG? No, that is not okay.) I missed watching Henrik Tallinder skate back and forth near center ice, sometimes forward and sometimes backward. I missed the cheesy but adorable video intros and the crowd cheering when the team hits the ice for the first time. I missed the crowd feeling and breathing and yelling and oooohing and ahhhing together for two and a half hours. I missed chanting, "LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!" I missed screaming, "Derek Roy, you are KILLING ME!" I missed jumping up and high-fiving everyone around me after a goal. I missed Sabretooth and that stupid drum and maybe even the puckbunnies and their stupid "Royzie Is My Boyzie" signs. I missed people shouting stupid things that don't always make sense (he can't shoot with his back to the goal) but knowing that they're shouting it because the team or player is DRIVING THEM CRAZY. I missed leaving with a happy, satisfied crowd with people occasionally bursting out in WOOOOOs and YEEEAAAAAHs. I missed leaving downtown Buffalo in a line of cars, a chain of HONK-HONK-HONKHONKHONKs echoing through the night. I missed HOCKEY.

Random thoughts:

- I wasn't entirely sure it was Jochen Hecht who got the goal originally but as soon as the PA announcer said, "The Sabres third goal, his twentieth of the season - " I started whooping and hollering and pumping my fist. I don't think anyone else in my section understood why which is disappointing but I guess we all have those little things that excite us. I said a couple of months ago that no matter what happened, I wanted to see Yo-Yo get that elusive twentieth goal. Yo-Yo tried to talk down how much it mattered to him in his postgame interview but he was totally grinning so I don't think I really believe him. (Aside to Gambler: Of course I made good on my promise. I'm pretty sure I saw him mouth, "I love her too! Do you know if she's watching? When is she coming home anyway? I miss her! I hope she loved Germany!")

- Derek Roy was killing me. If he made one more drop pass to someone in a white jersey I was going to storm the bench and he was going to get a crutch shoved in a very uncomfortable place.

- I went to this game with some girls I work with/used to work with. In September or October Monica broke a couple of toes which healed funny and she ended up having surgery and pins inserted not that long ago. In November (I think) Sue slipped on a patch of ice that was hidden under a pile of snow and seriously messed up her back and knee and had numerous surgeries. And of course in December I messed up my ankle. (Kathy somehow managed to make it this far unscathed.) Monica has her pins out and is off crutches but still has a noticeable limp. Sue is still on crutches. I'm still on crutches. I'm sure we looked awesomely ridiculous hobbling around the arena together. Despite our disabilities however we jumped up and celebrated every goal although by the time we all got to our feet everyone else was sitting down again.

They're a fun group because they all like hockey and the Sabres but they're not super super obsessed with it which is occasionally a nice change of pace from watching games with Mark. If Mark had been at this game that second period would've been absolutely miserable because he takes terrible play like that much harder but we just started talking about other things instead. It's also kind of fun because I'm pretty clearly the most knowledgeable in the group so I get to feel super smart. Someone else used my ticket to the last game with them and Kathy said, "There were new numbers and none of us knew who they were! We needed you!"

- Okay, so I was wrong about Hank's hat trick. Hopefully none of you really put money down on that one.

- I'm pretty stoked about the idea of Teppo Numminen coming back if he's fully cleared and can get back in shape in a reasonable amount of time. I suppose it's likely that after being off all season he could potentially make some mistakes but I think it's just as likely that one of the baby d-men makes a major mistake. And in that case, I'd trust the guy with 1200 plus games under his belt to deal with that better than one of three babies who have a combined 45 or so games. Between Campbell's trade and the various injuries most of the pairings have been pretty scrambled anyway and it's only going to get worse as guys come back from injuries (if they do) so I don't know if chemistry is a huge issue. Although I will say, having finally seen them instead of just listening to them on the radio, Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber looked fine and they both played more than twenty minutes.

- I'm more conflicted about Tim Connolly. I think when he's in and on he definitely brings something amazing to the ice. And despite poking some fun at him the other day I do believe that he's in a ton of pain and I do appreciate that instead of just shutting it down for the season he's doing what he can. But chemistry is such a weird thing and knowing that he's going to be popping in out and out of the line-up is tough. Asking the other forwards to play with different linemates from game to game especially in the playoffs when you really need players to be jelling is kinda tricky.

In closing, I would just like to say that today - well, yesterday at this point - is Top Shelf's birthday. That's right! One year ago today (yesterday) I wrote my very first entry - click on the link if you're feeling sentimental. At the time I wasn't entirely sure I had enough to say about hockey to fill a blog but it turns out that I actually can't stop talking most of the time. I just want to say thanks to all of you who've come here to see what's on my mind and let me know what's on yours and linked to me over the past year. I can't believe how many really cool people I've met - online and in real-life - through blogging in a single year.


(Heather's favorite Beatle: George)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I'm Baaaa-aaaaack...




Hank, you've looked pretty good the last couple of games but is it weird knowing that Heather isn't watching?

















I hear she's back in Buffalo now.












Yeah.












Hank, is it true that the Sabres could have had you for 25 million over 5 years?!











Five years!











25 million!












Maybe I know something you don't know!











What? Nah, I can't stand that chick. She's mean.











Hank, her blog does say she's back in Buffalo. In fact, a source close to the situation says she's actually going to be at the arena tonight.












Yep.








How does that make you feel going into the game?








That's right! Not only am I back in Buffalo, I will soon be making my TRIUMPHANT return to HSBC Arena! Jochen will score his 20th goal and Hank will get a hat trick! Place your bets now, people!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Written By Anonymous

So I have this anonymous commenter that has popped up a couple times now, always on posts that are months old. I deleted the last comment without writing it down but it went a little something like this:

Hether,
Your a tool. Never right anything like this again.


To which I say, dude, at the very least, could you spell my name correctly? It's over there on the right next to the picture of Hank and at the bottom of EVERY SINGLE POST!

Here's comment number two:

You guys all suck for jumping on the ban wagon shut up i hate him i hate that shut up already have you ever been in the nhl[tougher than it looks]So you dont know what its like GO BUFFALO

I see you decided to skip my name. Too tough, right, with the whole silent A? Well, I applaud you for at least recognizing your limitations although you really don't have much excuse for missing the hard "d" at the end of "band." Also? Brilliant job picking out one of three or four really negative posts I've written this season. Seriously, do you pay attention? I'm the hopeful optimist of Buffalo! I'm the one who excused losing Danny, Chris, Jay, Soupy and pretty much every guy ever! I'm the one who said the team would be fine without all of those guys! I'm the one who'd rather meet and chat with Darcy Regier than any hockey player in the league! I'm the one who only just publicly admitted LAST WEEK that the Sabres probably weren't going to win the Stanley Cup! And I didn't even really mean it! I totally think they're still going to win it all and I won't believe they're not until the season's over!

It's true. I have one guiding thought when it comes to watching sports in general but the NHL specifically: You never know. Once the playoffs start, YOU NEVER KNOW! A goalie or top scorer that goes hot or cold changes everything. An average team that strings together a bunch of wins can go all the way, a great team that struggles can hit the skids fast. It's awesome! It's amazing! And YOU NEVER KNOW! Why give up on your team when YOU NEVER KNOW?!

I'm getting off-track a bit, but I have to say, this is what I most don't understand about Buffalo. I get that the team is less talented than the two teams that went to the Conference finals. I get that the team has been desperately and frustratingly inconsistent. I get that it's pretty hard to have any faith that they're suddenly going to right that here and now, nine games before the end of the season. I get that for some people it's a defense mechanism, kind of I'm going to break up with you before you have a chance to break my heart kind of thing. I get that between the four Super Bowl losses, the No Goal, the Music City Miracle, and random things like goals scored through the sides of nets, the instinct is to be bitter and cynical and I get wanting everyone else to feel that way too.

Except I don't! I don't get it at all! What's the point of sports if you're going to be all bitter and cynical? Why watch players who you seem to think suck and are worthy of all your hate? Why not enjoy when the team you root for does win even if it is fleeting and hard to predict? And why - WHY - must you travel all over the internet and city spreading your pessimism to everyone who clings to a shred of hope? If I wanted to wallow in cynicism and hopelessness I'd pay more attention to politics. I don't watch sports for that stuff! I watch sports for all the good stuff - watching people in awesome athletic displays that regularly blow my mind, to cheer on people who I've never met and probably never will meet and don't really care if I do meet and totally feel attached to anyway, and to hope for those guys to triumph in the face of ridiculous odds. Not only do I want to be optimistic, I want to be STUPID optimistic. Okay, let me get back on course...

Look, anonymous commenter, I have no real beef with you. I'm a little offended that you're lumping me in with the ban wagon fans of the world but I can appreciate your GO SABRES! attitude. But come on. Look at the comment again. Am I really supposed to take that seriously? For the future, here are a few guidelines for you and the anonymous commenters of the world who might wander by:

1. Spell any and all names in your comments correctly. This applies to any players but it goes double for me. Seriously, my name is all over the friggin' place and it's not exactly uncommon.

2. Punctuate. If you're not sure where the period goes, just take a guess once in a while.

3. Make a criticism that actually makes sense. If you're going to attack someone's outlook, look around you first. Read more than one entry, maybe read something from the last two months. Respond to what the person you're responding to is actually saying.

4. Man up and leave a name. Dude, if you really have to, use a fake name. It's not like I'll know. But real names are preferable. If you're say... I don't know... Tim Connolly, just fess up. Anonymous comments are lame, yo.

(I am in no way suggesting that Tim Connolly can't spell, punctuate, or read. And I'm sure he's totally above leaving lame comments on the internet. I would never say that he's not that smart. Never.)

(But okay, doesn't that second comment sound like something a drunken Connolly might leave somewhere. "Have YOU ever (hic!) played (hic!) HOCKEY BEFORE? Haaave yoooou?! 'Cause it's really, really (hic!) (swaying back and forth) REALLY HARD! (passes out)")

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I Can't Believe He Did This To Me!

Henrik Tallinder!

Dude, I've stood up for you all season long! I waded into every "Campbell and Spacek are our top pairing!" discussion, no matter where it was taking place and told people they were crazy! I argued with everyone and I never backed down! I crunched the numbers that proved you were the most valuable defenseman on the team! Okay, that was actually Meg! But I wrote them up in organized bullet point form and put them on my blog! I have banged the "Hank Rules!" drum long and loud! And how do you repay me? How?!

You score a goal while I'm out of town! Hank, I'm in ALABAMA! They don't have running water and electricity much less HOCKEY! (I'm kidding. They totally have running water and electricity. That's a myth.) You've probably noticed that you don't score that many goals. I don't mind, it's not your thing, that's fine. If you scored a lot of goals you wouldn't be my kind of player and that would be sad. But dude, when you DO score goals I want to see them! In real time! When they happen! I don't care that it was an empty netter because I love empty netters, especially ones that go pretty much the length of the ice. Oh, sure I saw the video on NHL.com. But the video doesn't include the celebration and the big smiley grin that I'm sure followed. Consider yourself lucky that Mark just emailed me to tell me that he Tivo'd the goal since he knew I would want to see it.

I'm just going to assume you got your days mixed up. When I said I was going to miss four games maybe you thought I said I would be back for the fourth game. Fortunately, I will be back for the next game. Score another goal and we'll forget this happened, okay?

P.S. Dude, I did not forget about your shootout goal but it doesn't count in the stats - which is stupid, by the way, because if the points count in the standings, the stats should count somewhere for the individuals involved - and I've publicly stated that I hate the shootout so I can't go crow about it too much. (But it was awesome. I can't believe it's not included in your highlights on NHL.com.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Radio Ga Ga

Well, based on a few emails and comments I've received it would appear that some of you don't seem to think a blogger who's posted every singe day - sometimes twice! - since New Year's deserves a break. You guys are JERKS!

Just kidding! It's totally nice to be missed. I have been working on a really rambling disorganized slightly incoherent BRILLIANT post that is sure to BLOW YOUR MINDS but it's not quite ready for public consumption. And I will admit that it was written with the assumption that the Sabres weren't going to make the playoffs and while I've almost come around to feeling like it might be better that way, these little punks insist on keeping things interesting. So for now I'll hold off on that and hit you with some random stuff.

We've been out during the other Sabres games this week but tonight we were in. (My little brother cooked dinner and hey, he can cook! Who knew?) Yes, that's right, my family was introduced to the glory that is Rick Jeanneret calling a hockey game. I had it on my laptop in my bedroom but WGR kept coming in and out so I hobbled into my brother's room and put it on in his room too. So everyone on the second floor - all of us for most of the night - could hear it and my little brother even pretended to be somewhat interested. While I miss watching the games with Mark - especially ones like tonight's - being far away gave me the opportunity to ring him when the Sabres scored which I don't often get to do since we're usually in the same room when that happens.

I know I've mentioned this before but when I was working my part-time job at the grocery store I really enjoyed sitting out in the car during my break and listening to the game on the radio. I'd lean the seat back, close my eyes, and soak it up for a bit. Hockey is a great radio game anyway because it's one of the few sports you can really hear even when you're not seeing it - the skate blades cutting through the ice, bodies banging against the boards, shots ringing of crossbars, the crowd chanting - but Rick really elevates it. He's just so fabulous at getting across the pace and emotion of the game and probably could make a snoozer at least sound good. Harry Neale doesn't really have the TV/radio simulcast thing down - there were a few times he'd make a comment like "look at that" without explaining what he was talking about - but RJ more than makes up for it. Nothing goes without explanation. There was one point where the crowd starting booing for some reason and RJ immediately jumped in with, "The crowd is looking at a replay on the big board and they don't like it" and then explained what the replay was (some guy taking a hack at Danny Paille's legs). I'm just going to be so sad when RJ retires. I don't want it to ever happen.

I vote for Paille to get benched every six or seven games by the way. He tore it up after his last benching and he's doing it again now. Man, alive. Part of me is a little exasperated with the team. Why oh why can't they play this hard and look this good every night? Why? Why are they still insisting on coasting through so much of the average game? Let's face it, we've seen this before. They explode for a big night, go on a little streak, and then put it back in neutral. But mostly I'm glad to see them fighting at least. They've put themselves in a hole and really they deserve to be on the outside looking in right now. But if they miss the playoffs - if! - then I'd much rather see them fighting than looking like they're just ready for the season to wrap up.

Somebody help me out with a report of the defensive babies. I know they were all pluses or evens but how'd they look?

Oh, yeah, I'm too lazy to look right now but I think I might have accidentally left Erik Cole off my "Don't let it be that guy" list. Ugh, I can't stand that guy. I know I'm supposed to be all sympathetic about him breaking his neck and I am definitely glad he's okay and playing hockey again but for a guy who almost had his career ended and screamed that Orpik should have had the book thrown at him, dude is dirty.

For the record, vacation has been really great. "Family" here consists of my mom and my brothers Chris (ten years older) and Lee (two and a half years younger). I have another brother (11 years older) but John and his wife and son (Luke, see post below) live in Florida. Both Chris and Lee live with my mom so we're all under the same roof. My mom and usually one of the boys visit us in Buffalo every summer but it's been a few years since I got down here so it's been really nice visiting the old haunts. Outside of the sudden death of my dad when I was young (I was 4) I had a fantastic childhood/adolescence. My mom is crazy awesome and I'd gladly hang out with all my brothers even if we weren't related. (When we went out today Chris wore a Monty Python Black Knight shirt and Lee wore a Thundercats shirt. I flipped out when Chris showed me a link to a Han Solo in carbonite desk. We, by the way, talked about making a Han in carbonite coffee table, complete with little cupholders where his hands are years ago. I think that all about sums up how cool we are.) I've been sleeping in my old bedroom (though I keep hearing it referred to as "Luke's room") which is kind of strange but cool. I slept here for the first time as a six or seven month infant and for the last time the night before I got married (we kick it the traditional way in the Henderson family) so there are a ton of memories here. I'll be honest, growing up I couldn't wait to get out of Alabama but it turns out I like it after all. (Insert sappy "Sweet Home Alabama indeed" comment here.)

Before I sign off for the night, I just want to give a Top Shelf glove tap to a couple of people. War Penguin, a Penguins fan who was at the game Wednesday night, was kind enough to email me all the photos he or she took of Henrik Tallinder that night. How awesome is that? And regular commenter Sam, of the newly minted blog Face First Into the Boards, was kind enough to offer to pick me up a Henrik Tallinder pin on Monday since I'll still be in Birmingham. I was kind of refusing the pins since I was super annoyed with the Buffalo News at the time they started (I also have nightmare memories of working at Tops when the coins were out last year) but what can I say, I'm totally weak. It would seem that a lot of people think of me when they think of Hank and vice versa. I wonder why that is? (Thanks, guys!)

Together again! (Photo courtesy of War Penguin)