Friday, May 30, 2008

Have I Mentioned That I Really Like Nick Lidstrom?

Nice article about Nicklas Lidstrom by John Vogl in today's Buffalo News. You can read it here but a couple of things really jumped out at me.

First of all, Lidstrom is a plus 378 for his career. That's an average of almost plus 24 a season. I would say that's fairly impressive.

Second of all, Lidstrom has only missed 28 games in 16 years. For those of you who don't do well with numbers, that's less than two games a season. The six games he missed this season were the most he's ever missed in one year. Can you even imagine? I think most of the current Sabres have already missed more than six games in a season. A lot of them have probably already missed 28 games for their career and they're just babies compared to Lidstrom. I think he's a Cylon.

Vogl also touches on my favorite thing about Lidstrom's game. He's not particularly big or strong and he's not overly physical. He's just very, very smart. His success is based on reading the play well and putting himself in the right position. He makes playing awesome defense look pretty effortless. I wish we saw him more often. Shouldn't they be in the Eastern Conference anyway?

About the only thing Lidstrom hasn't done is win a Stanley Cup while wearing a Sabres jersey. He should look into doing that. I really think that would clinch him a spot in the Hall of Fame when he retires (in twenty years).

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

On a completely different note, Vogl also had a nice post over at Sabres Edge about Michel Therrien's latest press conference. Therrien responded to a question about how his team is affected by the Pittsburgh crowd with yet another screed about obstruction in this series. He's ridiculous. I hate obstruction as much as the next fan and I hate the idea of putting away the whistle and "letting them play." I don't think that's letting them play. I think it's letting the guys who can't play as well prevent the players who can play at another level from doing so and I hate that. I also hate that there's one set of rules for the regular season and another set of rules for the postseason. But I'm just not seeing what Therrien is evidently seeing. Where he's seeing obstruction, I'm seeing good, smothering defense. I think the chintziest big call in the series actually went in their favor (Lidstrom's no goal due to goalie interference in Game One). I know there's a lot of gamesmanship involved in press conferences and that a lot of coaches say the things they say with very specific intentions but I'm not sure it's a good idea for Therrien to set the officiating up as an excuse for his young, overmatched team to fall back on. Maybe he's saying something else behind closed doors but his public posturing is getting on my nerves. And if I were an official it would really be getting on my nerves.

Any Bills season ticket holders out there want to pick up a couple tickets to the Monday Night Football game for me?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mike Weber: Not a Total Goober

I'm intrigued by Mike Weber and I'm looking forward to what he does next year whether he's in Portland or Buffalo but I did kind of rag on him for always looking like a doofus in pictures. So here is proof that he can photograph well in the right circumstance.

Taken from the Webshots album of sabres48. I'm guessing she's the girl I cropped out of the photo. No offense, sabres48!

I think this is also proof that I have nothing to talk about. I'm about to start complaining about Tim Kennedy being unsigned even though I'm not the least bit concerned yet just to fill up space.

(I noticed today that I'm now on the first page of results for a Henrik Tallinder Google search. I love it when a plan comes together.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pittsburgh Penguins: Only Mostly Dead

Okay, now that was a hockey game. I didn't really think the first two games were as boring as some people seem to feel they were - I think there's something really fun and beautiful about watching a team as skilled as the Wings come out and perfectly execute - but it was definitely nice to have at least a little back and forth. When this series is over, hockey is over and then I have nothing to write about.

- I'm cheering for the Wings but their crowd is a dud compared to Pittsburgh's. Crowds like tonight's really make me miss the Sabres, especially the Sabres in the postseason. A few rounds ago I kind of made fun of Pittsburgh's outdoor crowds - they're sitting down for crying out loud! - but I am impressed that they got 13,000 people out to Mellon Arena for an away game. And I do think it's very cool that they donated the ticket sales to Mario Lemieux's foundation.

- All that said, I'm not a fan of the white-out. When you look at the crowd against the ice, it all blurs together. I like the Calgary red better. I think a color pops better on camera.

- It cracks me up that there's no alcohol allowed in the crowd outside Mellon. I'm a teetotaler so if you tell me there's no alcohol I'm just going to shrug and move on, but I love that when HSBC tried to tell Sabres fans there would be no alcohol at the Party in the Plaza, Buffalo nearly revolted. What kind of blue collar city are you, Pittsburgh that you would just let The Man come in and steal your beer?

- My favorite playoff beard this round is easily Jordan Staal. There are other beards that are thicker and fuller but I love his because when you see him from far away the blonde scruff above his upper lip disappears so all you can see is the scruff along his jaw, making him look Amish. If he wore a black hat instead of a helmet I'd ask him if he could come over and make me some new bookshelves.

What you take into your hands, you take into your heart.

- I think the Pens are done now. They pretty much outplayed Detroit tonight and they were still barely hanging on to the victory at the end. Detroit got their scare, they'll refocus for the next game and go back to their casually dominating selves.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Penguins, Bloodied and Battered

Well, geez. I expected the Red Wings to win. I even expected them to win fairly easily. But I did also expect the Penguins to score at least once or twice. Man.

Random thoughts:

- Chris Osgood is a dirty diver. A terrible dirty diver. I can't believe he hasn't been called for this yet. Next time he collapses to the ice like he's been shot after barely being touched (or throwing his arm out in front of an opponent) he should be dragged off the ice by his ear and forced to sit in the box for two minutes. Sadly, the Penguins would probably still fail to score. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if buried somewhere on Nicklas Lidstrom's list of talents is goaltending. I understand that Penguins fans are unhappy and if I were in their shoes I'd probably be complaining about Osgood too. But it hasn't even really affected the series because the one part of Detroit's game that isn't really working is their power play.

- On the other side, Gary Roberts is a punk. I don't care how some people try to justify it, he punched a guy in the head from behind. The fact that Johan Franzen is just back from what was allegedly a concussion makes it worse. It bothers me because Gary Roberts is exactly the kind of player who has probably paid lip service to the idea that players need to respect each other on the ice and make sure head shots aren't a part of the game.

- The Red Wings are amazing because not only are they playing well, they're making it look really easy. Clearly they're working hard and I'm not trying to suggest otherwise but they look so calm and organized. Maybe it's having watched the Sabres flail for much of the year but it's really breath-taking to watch a team that seems to have its act together.

- Chris Osgood should not win the Conn Smythe. I realize the Penguins are yet to score a goal in the series but he's really had very little to do with that. He's faced very few shots in comparison to other goalies throughout the postseason. I don't know who should be picked out from Detroit's very good defensive system which means Osgood may end up getting it anyway but it should be someone else.

- Hockey is almost over. What the heck am I going to write about all summer? Anyone?

ETA: I just saw this video on Off Wing Opinion (thanks to a tip from Kate). I love this kid. I really wish I'd grown up somewhere where kids played hockey.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Weekend Musings

It's a beautiful holiday weekend here in Buffalo. I spent most of the day yesterday outside and after months of hiding indoors on crutches it was amazing. It was a perfect afternoon to toss a quilt on the ground and relax with a book while mindlessly running my toes over the comfortably prickly, too long grass. One of my favorite things about Buffalo is the four distinct seasons. Between the humidity and the total lack of any kind of breeze, days like Sunday are few and far between in Alabama.

I also spent the weekend watching Tivo'd episodes of MTV's The Paper. I didn't watch much MTV even when I was in their target age group - I was busy listening to Ricky Nelson, the Beach Boys, and the Monkees, none of whom are big MTV staples (go figure) - but I'm addicted to this show. It follows a high school newspaper staff in Florida. I was a newspaper kid in high school so all the drama over editorial positions and assignments and little cliques of friends is very familiar. (I wanted to be the sports editor but ended up being the photography editor. I was told the guy who got the sports position was more qualified but I'm pretty sure it had more to do with the other guy being a guy. I was the one who was actually on sports teams, knew all the coaches and advisers in the sports department, and oh, yeah, could write a complete sentence. I hadn't thought about this is in years but The Paper made it all come rushing back. I have often wondered if professional papers are any more functional than high school papers though. Do the City and Regions writers really want to be in sports? Do the beat writers really want to be columnists? Do the columnists wish they were out in the thick of things?) Anyway... it's a good little show. Trevor and Gianna are straight from Satan and Amanda is adorable. I can see why she has some problems with the other kids - she is kind of bossy and oblivious to the effect some of her actions and comments have on people - but her worst sin is really just being different which is the only sin that matters in most high schools.

We also saw the new Indiana Jones movie on Saturday. Pretty good. I'd put it on the same level as Temple of Doom which is admittedly damning with faint praise since ToD is easily my least favorite in the series. I do wish the plot and script had been a little bit better. After years of "We want to make another Indy movie but we haven't found a story we all like" this one was... not that good. But it had some entertaining aspects to it and it was fun to see the old gang together again even though Marian - one of my all-time favorite movie heroines - was kind of wasted in my opinion. People who are complaining about it not being as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark need to get a grip. Not many movies are Raiders, one of the most perfect movies ever made.

Just so this post has something hockey related in it, here's my favorite link of the day, courtesy of Mirtle. He examines the Penguins payroll over the next couple of years and shows how difficult it's going to be to keep the current Penguins squad together. After all the harping about Buffalo blowing up the Stanley Cup team they had (the one that won zero Stanley Cups), it was nice to see that this is probably going to be a struggle for everyone in the current NHL. We got to go through the experience of trying to retain a young, successful team first, that's all.

Okay, I'm off to the waterfront!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

One Game Down...

So it appears that I'm cheering for the Red Wings. I've found that when I'm undecided the best thing is to wait for the first goal and see if I'm excited or disappointed. I was stoked when Nicklas Lidstrom scored and irate when they called it back which is saying something because I'm not a huge fan of Tomas Holmstrom's style of play and would usually be fine with him getting called for goalie interference. I'm all for screening the goalie but when you're so tight on him that he couldn't lift his glove if he needed to, you're interfering. But calling that little stick poke interference was lame and CBC attempting to argue that it was a good call was even lamer.

Photo By Silvia Pecota/Getty Images. Except for the hearts. I added those because I love Nick Lidstrom.

Random thoughts:

- In Detroit we have a market that's had a tough time filling the building despite having a great team, two of the best all-around forwards in the league, and one of the best defensemen of all-time. So what does the NHL do? It schedules the Cup Finals so that three of the games take place at almost exactly the same time as the Pistons series with the Wings and the Pistons both at home for two of those games. Well played, NHL. There are days when I'm genuinely surprised the league is still in business. I understand they wanted to start on Saturday for television reasons but would it have really killed them to go on Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday instead?

- I was watching the Detroit players charging out of the tunnel for the pregame skate and I wondered if anyone ever trips. And then Marc-Andre Fleury answered that question by taking a huge face plant.

- I'm not a huge fan of the patches that all the pro sports leagues slap on jerseys for special events - I know I'm watching the Stanley Cup Finals, thanks - but those things really should be on the other shoulder so they don't interfere with the letters. The patch right on top of the C's and A's looks atrocious.

- Someone please give Detroit's P.A. guy a shot of adrenaline. He sounded like he was working a funeral. A Penguins fan could not have sounded less excited about the Wings scoring.

- I like to think I'm all smart about hockey now but tonight I went through the whole game thinking Mikael Samuelsson was Ulf Samuelsson. To the point where I said, "Did they just call Ulf 'Mikael'?" Which is when Mark gently pointed out that Ulf retired. I wasn't sure he was right so I did an internet search and sure enough, Ulf did retire. In 2000. I even have Mikael in my fantasy line-up this week so I really should know his name.

- I think one of the small pleasures of living in Buffalo is getting CBC but I'd much rather have Jim Hughson calling the games than Bob Cole and I'd much rather hear Kelly Hrudey than Don Cherry. I don't get Don Cherry's appeal. His appearances on Sportscenter were just one more reason for me to not watch Sportscenter.

On a totally unrelated note, I've been trying to be better about including credits with any photos I use, but I realized after Patty complimented the photo in the last post that I forgot to include that information there. I went back and added it but since most of you had probably already read the post by then, I'd like to state for the record that the photo was by Mike Lynaugh. Mike has a Sabres gallery at this link and it's full of beautiful action shots like the one I used of Dmitri Kalinin. Any time I'm looking for a photo of a player who doesn't come up a lot in a Google image search, I hit up his page and I almost always find something.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I Like Dmitri Kalinin

Since the Finals are still refusing to start, I would like to talk about Dmitri Kalinin. I was planning on saving all the posts about individual players until the off-season since I have no idea what I'm going to write about all summer but chances are good that Tri will no longer be here. Don't worry, haters, I'm not about to argue that the Sabres re-sign him although I certainly don't think it would be a huge mistake. No, I just want to go on the record as saying that I think Dmitri Kalinin has repeatedly gotten the shaft in Buffalo.

Listen, I understand why people find him frustrating. He's inconsistent and he never quite seemed to get his confidence together. One mistake, even a small one, totally sent him spinning and it sometimes took him weeks to get himself back together. But I've never understood why the criticism of him is so intense compared to other players. I'll use last year's playoffs as an example. Dmitri Kalinin was one of the best Sabres in the first two rounds. Some nights he and Ryan Miller were the only guys who looked awake. One of the best plays made in the postseason - the only one I still remember now - was Dmitri Kalinin. Ryan Smyth was making a break toward the goal and Tri made a picture perfect diving defensive play. He lifted Smyth's stick, knocked the puck away, and did it without taking a penalty. It was gorgeous. But I'd bet I'm one of a handful of people who remember it because most of Buffalo stopped seeing Tri do anything good long before that. In the Conference Finals he made a turnover that led to a goal and then everyone started taking notice even though again, he'd been one of the few good players up to that point. It wasn't the first turnover in that playoffs to lead to a goal and it certainly wasn't the worst play that year. Derek Roy and Jason Pominville were garbage from the word go. Danny Briere disappeared in the Conference Finals. (Kind of like this year.) And the great Chris Drury got his butt kicked in the faceoff circle (one of his most cited strengths) especially in the Conference Finals. But none of those guys got the crap that Tri did. The second he messed up all hell broke loose on message boards across the internet.

Photo by Mike Lynaugh (See for more of his excellent Sabres photos)

Same thing with the end of this past season. Post-Campbell trade the entire defensive corp was shaky. (In some ways because of Campbell's absence, in some ways that were simply created by the loss of a starter.) Tallinder and Lydman were crap (sorry, Hank) and they didn't really have an excuse. They were playing with the same partner in the same role against the same competition they've had for the last couple of years. Tri went from playing on the third pairing to playing on the second pairing and more importantly, I think, went from playing with Nolan Pratt, who he'd developed a very nice chemistry with - something very important to his success - to playing with Jaroslav Spacek, someone he'd never played with and someone who plays a very different kind of game than Pratt. I was shocked that he had a hard time adjusting.

If I can psychoanalyze the city for a few minutes, I think Buffalo as a whole has had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that Dmitri Kalinin has not turned into the top pairing defensemen they expected him to be. He was a first round draft pick and he had a very good season the year before the lockout. And then he just never got better. And instead of accepting him for what he was - a solid third pairing d-man who showed flashes of being even better - everyone just got all tied up in what he wasn't. My one major criticism of Lindy Ruff would be that I think he fell into that same trap. Let me make it clear that this is my interpretation. Obviously I have no idea what Dmitri Kalinin is really like and obviously I have no idea what's gone on between him and Lindy Ruff but from an outsider's point-of-view, I'm not sure Lindy ever got a handle on how to coach Tri. When word broke late this past season that Lindy had publicly berated Tri at a practice I said to a couple of different people, "That is so not going to work." And guess what, it didn't. Some players respond to that kind of thing but some don't. I've never seen anything to suggest that Tri would handle a public calling out well and Lindy has clearly become frustrated with him.

I don't want to suggest that Lindy Ruff is a pussycat because lord knows he can blow a gasket and he's not afraid to come down on players. But he also knows when to gather them up under his wings and protect them and I don't feel like Tri ever got the protection from him that others have received. Lindy isn't above making excuses for players at times and he's never made excuses for Tri. I can't cite quotes because I have to pay to access the local newspaper's archives and I'm not making enough money off this gig to do that but his remarks about Tri and Tri's play always seemed harder, more impatient, and sometimes even a little bit mean. At one point last season Lindy complimented Nolan Pratt's play, saying he was successful because he always stayed within himself. He understood Pratt's strengths and weaknesses and never put Pratt in situations he couldn't handle. I'm not sure he did the same for Tri.

So as much as I like Dmitri Kalinin, I think it probably is best for him to move on and get a fresh start somewhere else. But unlike those of you out there who will say, "Good riddance," I'll wish Tri a genuinely fond farewell. I hope he finds a good place to land. I hope he finds teammates who love him, a coach who handles him well, and a fanbase that accepts him for who he is instead of hating him for who he isn't. I may be the only one, but I'll miss you, Tri.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Still No Sabres, Eh?

(NOTE TO THOSE WHO READ THIS POST ALREADY: I added a video and a couple of notes at the end. I didn't feel like making another entry just for them so check it out if they weren't there when you were here.)

So the final match-up is set. The Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Detroit Red Wings. I can't believe it but after a postseason that seemed to be brimming with teams I wanted to lose miserably, we've ended up with two teams I'm actually okay with. I like the spunky, youthful Penguins and if my life had gone as I'd planned it at age twelve, I'd be living in Pittsburgh and probably rooting for them. (Of course, I'd also be catching for the Pirates and raising five kids. Clearly fate had its own ideas.) But I like the experienced, professional Red Wings too although I didn't really watch much of them until this past round against Dallas and I turned a couple of those games off early. Patty, my token Western Conference friend, claims I would hate the Wings if I had to play/watch them all the time and that might be true. But for now, the Wings are really Nicklas Lidstrom in my mind. And I love him. I want him to teach me to play hockey.

Oddly enough however now that we're down to two teams I like, I'm just not feeling much interest in who comes out on top. I don't know if I've watched all the non-Sabres hockey I can in one year - after all, they were only out of the last round in the last two seasons and I've now watched three rounds - or if I really need to have a team to cheer against but I'm feeling very blah. But come Saturday I'll sit down in front of the TV and see where my heart takes me. Maybe that Red Wings hate will finally kick in and maybe I'll decide they've had their chance already. Maybe I'll decide I'm sick of seeing shots of Mario Lemieux in the owner's box and maybe I'll decide I don't want the Penguins to succeed so soon or with a big rental player. Who knows? We'll see.

(And by the way, Saturday? These guys need four days off? I thought they were hockey players!)

As far as predictions go, I'm taking the Red Wings. The Penguins have been very impressive but none of the teams they've played played particularly well. Some of that can be attributed to them but I think some of it was just teams playing crap hockey. I don't think they've faced anything like the challenge Detroit is going to give them. Detroit played an overmatched Nashville team and a beat up Colorado team but they also played a very good Dallas team. Dallas was probably the best non-finalist team over the course of the playoffs. Pittsburgh may take a couple of games but I think that's all they'll get this season. DETROIT IN SIX.

ETA: I just saw this commercial on Yahoo's Hockey Blog (I can't quite say "Puck Daddy" yet because it's totally ridiculous). It's so beautiful. The images, the music, the tag line at the end... all perfect. It makes me want the Finals to start immediately.

I also remembered that one reason I wouldn't mind the Red Wings winning is because it would make Nicklas Lidstrom the first European captain of a Cup winning team. I'd love for that to happen and I'd love for it to be him.

(Despite the fact that "Puck Daddy" is a goofy name, you should check it out if you haven't already. Greg W. is doing really good work over there and the title actually does fit the smart but fun, occasionally silly, tone. When I get around to updating my blogroll, it's going up there.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

How We Got to Hank (Or How Many Post Titles Can I Squeeze Henrik Tallinder Into This Month?)

I've been thinking a lot the last few weeks about favorite players. I love knowing who other fans love and why. I think it's really cool how different things about different players call out to different people. I think it's really interesting how different fans appreciate different skills and abilities. Since my hockey fandom is still relatively young, it's pretty easy to trace my favorite hockey players through the years.

My first favorite hockey player was Ron Francis. I was born in Pittsburgh and still have family there so before I even knew the Buffalo Sabres existed, I had a soft spot for the Penguins. I partly liked Francis because he was handsome - even as a kid I was more drawn to more mature looking men than baby-faced pretty boys so that salt and pepper hair was a killer. I also liked him because he seemed like the low-key, slightly overlooked guy on a very good team. Mario Lemeiux was on one side, Jaromir Jagr on the other, Francis in the middle. My brother once said he was kind of the Penguins' version of Andy Van Slyke who, while popular, was often overlooked in favor of Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. I also very clearly remember reading this Sports Illustrated article and falling in love with the story of him and his younger brother Ricky and how he asked the Penguins if he could take time off during the season to go see Ricky run in the Special Olympics. As I've become more knowledgeable about hockey, I've been pretty delighted to discover that everything I thought about Ronnie all those years ago is apparently true. I could probably count on one hand the number of games I actually watched him play but I was definitely aware of him and he was the first guy who really brought hockey to the forefront for me even if it was in a kind of a superficial way. I think I've mentioned this before but the first hockey jersey I ever bought was a Francis #10. Even though I'd never wear it now it's still in a box somewhere because I've never been able to throw it out.

The first two Buffalo Sabres I really liked were Matthew Barnaby and Michael Peca. I have to admit that looking back, I'm not sure how this worked. I was thinking that the Sabres weren't on my radar at all until the '99 Cup run but Barnaby wasn't on that team, at least not by that point. Mark said he was pretty integral in the previous season's success and talking over dates and trips to Buffalo with him, I must have gotten attached to Matt during that season. I remember a big interview with him in ESPN Magazine that probably ran around that time even though I was sure it was after we'd actually moved to Buffalo. So it turns out the Sabres were working their way into my blood before I even remember. I liked Barnaby because he was small and scrappy. Looking back I also think maybe his role on the team was easy for a new hockey fan to get a handle on. He was there to bug the heck out of the other team and try to sucker them into doing something stupid. I didn't need to understand a lot of strategy and intricacies to recognize when he was doing his job well. I also thought that little rat-faced grin - you know the one - was totally charming.

Mike Peca is also kind of a surprise looking back because I would swear that I saw him play a fair amount in person while he was with Buffalo but I didn't. The year that Mark and I moved to Buffalo we went to the preseason carnival the Sabres used to do (they should really bring that back, by the way) and Peca wasn't there because he was holding out. And then he never played for the Sabres again. I saw him once on a pre-move trip we made to Buffalo and once on our honeymoon. (We spent our honeymoon in the mountains of Tennesse - absolutely beautiful - and our trip home just happened to coincide with a Sabres visit to Atlanta so we stopped for the game on the way back to Birmingham. I hadn't thought about it until just now but seeing the Sabres on our honeymoon seems pretty fitting in retrospect.) So I mostly saw him via TV, but I think Peca was my first stepping stone towards really becoming a hockey fan even though it still took a few years for the bug to really bite me. There was probably a little bit of "hey, I know what that guy is supposed to be doing!" involved because of his propensity for big hits but he was the first guy that really made me ask a lot of questions about the sport. What's the Selke? How exactly is a forward defensive? Is there an award for offensive defensemen? Why not? But if offensive defensive win the Norris what about defensive defensemen? How come some guys are good penalty killers and some aren't? Even then I was kind of fascinated by penalty killing. My pea hockey brain figured it was easy to be good on the power play - I mean, you have more players on the ice than the other team! - but penalty killing was totally different. It seemed hard and challenging and I automatically liked a guy a little more if he was a penalty killer, something I still feel today.

Barnaby and Peca led to Jay McKee who was probably my first genuine, real-thing favorite Sabre. I saw him play a lot on TV, I saw him play a fair amount in person, he was here while I was in Buffalo, I read all those daily game interviews and quotes from him, I saw him on the news... all those little ordinary things that you take for granted that somehow add up. I'm not going to lie. At first I liked him for two reasons. One, I thought he was handsome in a slightly off-beat kind of way. Two, he's the same age as me which was pretty young at the time. I thought it was cool that someone my age was in the NHL full-time. Eventually I did come to like the way he played and my fondness for defense fully bloomed. I was especially taken with Jay in the 2005-2006 season. The New NHL favored speedy skaters and puck carriers and that wasn't his game. He did a great job of finding a way to make his skills work in a changing game by becoming one of the best shotblockers in the league. I think shotblocking can be overrated sometimes but I admired his fearlessness and how he he would just show up and play with some pretty gnarly bruises and cuts. I know he's hardly the only hockey player to play through pain but he was a toughie. Since I was actually in Buffalo for a chunk of his time here he was also the first hockey player I loved who I really connected with the community. He was fully embedded in Buffalo by that point - we loved him and he loved us - and I thought that was very cool. Remember I didn't grow up with professional sports teams so I'd never really seen that firsthand before. The only reason I never bought a McKee jersey is because by the time I decided I wanted one it was his last season here and Mark suggested I wait to see if he re-signed. Even though he didn't and I wouldn't have gotten much use out of it, I'm a little sorry that I didn't buy that jersey anyway. It would've been right for Jay to be my first Sabres jersey.

Instead it was Tim Connolly. I know, weird, right? Mark said one day a few months ago, "I always thought Timmy was just a fling for you," and I guess that's what he was. Sometimes you have to date the bad boy to know the bad boy isn't your thing. I had to cheer for the flashy offensive player to realize that flashy offense isn't my thing. Don't get me wrong, I definitely enjoy seeing Sabres score - kind of hard to win games when that doesn't happen - and I do think Timmy is amazingly gifted (when not hurt) but I really am more thrilled by an awesome defensive play or a nerve-wracking penalty kill. When the 2006 playoffs started I, like most of the city, was totally swept up and decided I had to have a jersey and I had to have it stat. Mark had scared me off the McKee so I had kind of decided a Connolly would do and one day while walking through the mall I saw one hanging in the window of Laux. I think sometimes an impulse buy like that is pretty indicative of how you really feel but sometimes an impulse buy is just an impulse buy. If I'd waited until a few months into the next season I wouldn't have made that purchase but now I'll always have a memento of my short but intense love affair with Timmy.

When the 2006 season started, Jay was gone (::sniff:::) and Timmy was still sidelined with his concussion. While I missed Timmy and worried about him at first, eventually I... kind of forgot about him. That was my first hint that I was probably not as attached to him as I thought. And before I knew it, bam! I was in love with the unassuming Swedish d-man who was coming off a great postseason. I've written many a post, including one mini-opus, about why I love Henrik Tallinder but the short story is this: beautiful skater, often unnoticed and underrated, smart, and super pleasant. I think Hank is partly a reflection on my growth as a hockey fan - understanding and appreciating defense requires a little more knowledge, I think because it's not always obvious and easy to miss - but I also think part of me has always been drawn to guys like him. Barnaby to Tallinder seems like a bit of a leap but Barnaby to Peca to McKee to Tallinder makes some sense. And I suppose it comes as no surprise that Mike Weber is the youngster I'm most excited about. As Mark said, "Yep, you have a type."

How about you guys? Who's your favorite now? Whose jersey do you don at game time? Who's your all-time favorite? Who was your first favorite? Do your favorites have similarities? Or are you all over the map? Can you articulate why your guy is your guy or is it just a gut feeling that can't be explained? Please share if you're so inclined. Like I said, I love knowing who other people love.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

This Has Little to Do With Hockey and Nothing to Do With Henrik Tallinder

I stole this image from The Goose's Roost:

I'm going to skip the obvious answers to this question and just say that it really, really bothers me that "Why Not Us" does not end in a question mark. I suppose an exclamation point is acceptable in this case - although I am mostly anti-exclamation point because they're hardly ever really necessary, in my opinion - but it should be accompanied by a question mark. Because even if you're saying it with a lot of enthusiasm and energy, it's still a question. If I were a Flyers fan - and please shoot me in the head if that ever happens - I would flatly refuse to wear this shirt. I bought the Rick Jeanneret "Now Do You Believe" shirt and it has the same problem. Exclamation point, no question mark. If I'd noticed that before I bought it, I never would've paid for it because it bothers me so much that I have a hard time wearing it. I can't stop looking at it. And yes, I'm completely serious. I don't have a lot of hang-ups but weird grammatical things like that is one of them.

I got tired of messing with the background so I'm back to the blue and gold. I was totally in love with my snazzy graphics background - my little brother Lee, the best little brother I've ever had, spent pretty much all day Sunday coming up with one that would work for me - and if I could, I would visit all of you and adjust your monitors until it looked as beautiful for you as it did for me but alas, that's out of the question. So this will have to do because I don't plan on going near my layout settings again for a very long time.

Hockey post coming tomorrow night, I promise.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Conference Finals Stink

If there's one thing I've learned about blogging in the last year it's that you just never know. Sometimes I put a lot of thought and time into a post that I think is going to get a response and it doesn't get much reaction at all. And then sometimes I throw something up that I think is kind of goofy and sure to be ignored and people end up really liking it. The previous Henrik Tallinder post got more page views than anything I've written here (I'm sure partly because of the links on Mirtle and Deadspin) and that really surprised me because it was such a silly post with no real point. I think maybe loving a particular player is just something that every hockey fan can understand and relate to. Or you all enjoyed pointing and laughing at me. One of those. Whatever your motivations, thanks for all the great responses.

- Can we move on with this whole hockey thing? Now that all the teams I didn't want to win are either out (Rangers, Sharks) or just about out (Flyers) I can't work up any passion or interest in the playoffs. I think the Red Wings are going to beat the Pens pretty easily so let's pass out that big shiny trophy and call it a season. I'm sure I'll regret saying this in seven or eight weeks but I'm ready for free agency. I need something Sabres related to blog about stat even if it is chaos. (Again, I'll regret even thinking this before too long.)

- CBC was really banging the "Philly has lost TWO defensemen!" drum hard tonight. Wah wah wah! Injuries are never an excuse, everyone has to deal with them, that's hockey etc. That's what people told me when I complained back in 2006 atleast. Two more d-men to go before I feel the slightest bit of sympathy, Philly.

- Beautiful diving defensive play by Sergei Gonchar on Mike Richards in tonight's game. I know some fans would prefer to see a goal scorer like Richards score there but I'll take the sparkling defensive play every day of the week. Love it, love it, love it.

- I also love that Evgeni Malkin sucks on his necklace during the anthems and some stoppages in play. I don't wear a ton of jewelry but when I do wear a chain of some kind, I do the same thing. I also chew on the inside seam of the collars of my t-shirts. I'm doing it right now actually. Geno and I are kindred spirits.

- There's been some discussion around the Buffalo blogosphere about the goal that went in the side of the net against Philly back in 2000. I was still in Birmingham at the time (though planning the move) so I missed it completely. I've seen the goal but what I really want to see is the video of Darcy Regier flipping out in the replay booth because I can't even imagine that scene. He's always such an even keeled fella in public as far as I've seen.

- Quick poll. You can email or comment if you like. I'm just wondering how many of you are seeing the background photos overlap the text. And is it all of them or just the bottom two?

- Blogger has decided that Top Shelf is a spam blog. This means that before I do anything - post, comment, change the layout, edit something - I have to prove I'm a real person by filling in one of those little word verification boxes. I remember now why I turned that feature off for commenters. I hate those stupid little boxes. I never ever ever get one right on the first try and sometimes have to do them three times or four. Is there a reason that they can't be actual words instead of gibberish? Do they really need to be all smushed together and swoopy? Must each letter be various sizes and thicknesses? Am I the only one who has problems with these? Hopefully Blogger clears me soon because it's really annoying.

(I've already failed once and the one I'm looking at right now is completely unreadable. I'm not even trying it.)

- Seriously, is the season over yet?

ETA: Mark mentioned that he saw Darcy's flip out in a You Tube video a couple of weeks ago and lo and behold, here it is. You can watch the whole clip - Mike Robitaille absolutely marvels over how smart the lady callers are - but if you just want to see Darcy it's at the 5:47 mark. Dude, he's UP ON A CHAIR and POINTING. It's pretty awesome.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Henrik Tallinder, Henrik Tallinder, Henrik Tallinder

My brother recently pointed out that a Google search for Henrik Tallinder directs searchers to The Willful Caboose before Top Shelf. Now I love Kate but I cannot abide this. She doesn't love Henrik Tallinder! She wrote that Henrik Tallinder post because she couldn't think of anything else! Henrik Tallinder and Henrik Tallinder fans deserve better! I love Henrik Tallinder. I paid ten dollars to sponsor Henrik Tallinder. I wrote a post called Why I Love Hockey: Henrik Tallinder. I have a banner featuring Henrik Tallinder. I have 31 posts labeled Henrik Tallinder. Soon I'll have 32 posts about Henrik Tallinder labeled Henrik Tallinder.

Sensing my devastation, Lee looked into how Google searches work. Turns out it's based on keyword density - the number of times the search words show up on a page in relation to how many total words there are. So basically I'm getting screwed because I love Henrik Tallinder enough that I use a lot of words to talk about Henrik Tallinder and call Henrik Tallinder "Hank" instead of his given name, Henrik Tallinder. Well, that's about to change. This post is going to be clunky but dang it, it will get me ahead of Kate in a Google search for Henrik Tallinder. Because I love Henrik Tallinder. Kate? Does not love Henrik Tallinder. Remember that Henrik Tallinder! She came to you, Henrik Tallinder, out of boredom, not love!

I love Henrik Tallinder. Henrik Tallinder is a beautiful skater and I love watching Henrik Tallinder move gracefully up the ice. Henrik Tallinder is also an underrated defensemen. He had a rough season ("he" being Henrik Tallinder) but when Henrik Tallinder's on, Henrik Tallinder's good. He's not flashy, Henrik Tallinder. Henrik Tallinder will not overpower anyone because Henrik Tallinder is tall but lanky (and often suffering from broken Henrik Tallinder bones). Henrik Tallinder's game is more about being smart and in position. I love how Henrik Tallinder uses Henrik Tallinder's long reach to stretch out at just the right moment and poke the puck away from the man Henrik Tallinder is defending. Henrik Tallinder gets the tough assignments. Henrik Tallinder skates against the stars of the league and usually Henrik Tallinder does a pretty good job. If you don't notice Henrik Tallinder it's because Henrik Tallinder is doing what he, Henrik Tallinder, is supposed to be doing. Henrik Tallinder is a defenseman and Henrik Tallinder plays defense first and foremost. None of this sissy goalscoring and playmaking for Henrik Tallinder. Henrik Tallinder doesn't need your glory.

I also love Henrik Tallinder because Henrik Tallinder seems pleasant. Henrik Tallinder is very smiley and I think Henrik Tallinder is adorable when he's flashing his Henrik Tallinder grin. Henrik Tallinder also laughs a lot and I find that aspect of Henrik Tallinder to be very endearing. I think Henrik Tallinder is one of the best interviews on the team and I don't understand why he, Henrik Tallinder, is not interviewed more often. Media of Buffalo, please interview Henrik Tallinder more. More Henrik Tallinder on the radio, more Henrik Tallinder on television, more Henrik Tallinder in TBN. Henrik Tallinder for everyone! Henrik Tallinder is joy!

Remember, when it comes to Henrik Tallinder, no one is a bigger fan of Henrik Tallinder than I'm a fan of Henrik Tallinder. Henrik Tallinder, Henrik Tallinder, Henrik Tallinder. Oh, and Henrik Tallinder.

(Henrik Tallinder!)

Pictured: Henrik Tallinder

For the record...

I'm totally screwing around with my blog template right now (and already regretting it) so if things happen to look off while you're wandering through, come back later.

ETA: I'm done for now. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the size of the (very handsome) banner or the white background but a couple of people have said they thought it was easier to read than the blue background so I'm going to try to live with it for a few days and see if it grows on me. Feel free to leave feedback below because I'm kind of freaking out about it being different.

Hockey Love

Top Shelf's second sponsorship. A couple of you guessed it but here is is anyway. What can I say? I'm very predictable and you guys are clearly paying attention. Well done.

If you don't know how I feel about this particular guy, check out this entry. It doesn't go into a ton of detail but it does touch on it some.

More later, I think.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Henrik Tallinder is Mine, All Mine!

Most of the Buffalo blogging community seems to know about the sponsorships - I got two emails, a comment here, and a comment on another blog encouraging me to sponsor Henrik Tallinder - but in case you're not in the know, here's a quick explanation. In order to raise the funds necessary to run the website, is allowing people to sponsor pages of that person's choosing. For your fee you get a little ad space where you can put a link to a blog or website and a little message of some sort. The fee varies depending on the page with the more popular pages carrying a higher price tag. Anyway, since you were all demanding it, I am now sponsoring Hank. I love saying that because it makes it sound like he's either starving on the streets of Sweden or a little guy trying to raise money to help pay for his hockey equipment and ice time. I can't wait until he comes over for dinner when he's back in Buffalo. I'm pretty sure that's part of the deal.

Hank was cheap enough that I decided to sponsor someone else but the two I really wanted were already taken. The Willful Caboose stole Lindy Ruff and Bfloblog swiped Rob Ray. Booooooo! All the other current Sabres I like enough to drop cash on had also been scooped up so I went with sentiment and picked an old favorite. My link and message aren't up for him yet though so I'll save the link for another day. I doubt either guy will bring a lot of traffic my way - that's part of the price of loving defensive defensemen - but hey, it's fun and it's a pretty neat way to get people to contribute to the site. Well played,

Quick thoughts on the Conference Finals:

I haven't really watched much of the Red Wings this season, even in the playoffs. I watched a couple of games in the Nashville series and not one second of the Colorado series. But I understand they're pretty good. The one area where I would give the Stars a definite edge is in goal but when I was looking up stats to help me decide what goalie to play in my playoff pool this week I was shocked at how few shots Chris Osgood is seeing in comparison to other goalies. Detroit's defense and puck control would appear to take a load off of Osgood. Stars fans, if the question was who do I want to win, I'd say Dallas. But who do I think will win? DETROIT IN SIX.

I fully expect the Pittsburgh-Philly series to be a bloodbath. They don't like each other, their fans don't like each other... It should be awesome. I'm not going to disregard the Flyers as easily as I did in the first two rounds but I still think the Penguins are ultimately going to triumph. I do think it's going to go all the way though with a lot of close games. PITTSBURGH IN SEVEN.

Honestly, I could see any of the four teams left advancing though. I'm not at all secure in these picks.


So I was going to write about the whole Jim Balsillie wanting to buy the Sabres story but Kevin pretty much said it all.

And then I was going to laugh at how Kevin Sylvester - who has never appeared to be particularly big - dwarfs Nathan Gerbe in their interview on the Sabres site but Kate covered that.

So I got nothing. Instead I'm just going to post my current YouTube favorite. The geek factor on this one is fairly high but it totally cracked me up, partly because Mark spent all day and night Saturday shooting ducks on the internet in an effort to unlock the new trailer for The Dark Knight.

And here's said trailer which looks totally freaking sweet. Two-Face is my favorite comic book villain and I'm pretty stoked that Christopher Nolan seems to be taking the time to really develop Harvey Dent's back story rather than suddenly dropping Two-Face into a movie. There are a few movies I want to see this summer but this is definitely the one I'm the most excited about.

If you're the type to laugh at other people's pain - and aren't we all - check this out. It's much funnier than it has the right to be.

While I'm glad they lost, I do really like this photo of Joe Thornton and Evgeni Nabokov (I recommend clicking on it for the enlarged version so you can see their sadly sweet expressions):

And the flip side:

Monday, May 5, 2008

You May All Bow Now

From an entry dated 4/24:

I am bumfoozled by how many people are picking San Jose in this series. I guess on paper maybe they look better but based on first round performance I think it's awfully hard to get behind them. The Stars dismantled a good Anaheim team. They came in with a clear game plan and for the most part, stuck to it. I think they were the best team in the first round. The Sharks needed seven games to beat a team that really didn't play very well. They struggled to gain momentum, they struggled to keep momentum, and at times they didn't even look that interested. If Evgeni Nabokov gets hot he could carry them but otherwise I think they're done. DALLAS IN SIX. And I wouldn't be shocked if it's Dallas in five.

I didn't get all the details correct. The Sharks did look better in this round and even the three losses at the beginning of the series were mostly close. But as far as I saw, I was the only non-Stars fan to go on the record picking them to beat the Sharks. I really should be getting paid for this.

I made it through three overtimes last night - about 2 a.m. - before I bailed. If I'd known we were going to get the game-winner halfway through the following period I might have stuck it out but thinking the game was going to be over soon I popped a pain pill around 11 and I was getting pretty dang woozy. I also hated to start my work week that tired since Mondays tend to be tough days with the kids already. Sucks to be a responsible adult sometimes.

The three overtimes I watched were awesome though. Evgeni Nabokov's goal line glove save on Brad Richards was amazing but I think I favored Marty Turco's crossbar high kick save. If you can't fall in love with hockey while watching a game like that, you're probably just not cut out to be a hockey fan. I don't think there's anything else in sports like it. Last summer I said playoff overtimes were one of the things I loved most about hockey. The 1999 playoff run was my first dose of the NHL and even though I didn't know anything about the game and even though I barely knew the players and even though I had, up to that point, zero emotional investment in the Sabres, I remember every single detail about watching Game Six. Even though it was still a few years before I got really involved in following the team, I think it was partly the memories of that night - the excitement, the tension, the back and forth action, the passion and grit of tiring players, the sudden ending, the stunned losers and the celebratory victors - that helped eventually bring me back to the game. Every year it seems like there's a little rumbling about whether or not marathon overtime games are good or not. Mark me down for, "YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES." If changes must be made, it would be nice to have penalties called consistently throughout, perhaps allowing the skilled players to end things earlier. But the day someone decides a playoff game will end in a shootout is the day I bail on the NHL.

So a super exciting game and Brian Campbell was in the box for the game winner? And complaining about the guy flopping afterwards? And really kind of a bust in the playoffs? Sweet. Hope you get that seven million, Red. Have fun in Columbus.

(Yesterday morning I wasn't feeling nearly so triumphant. I was a little scared that the Rangers and the Sharks were both going to live to annoy and frustrate for another day. Check out the new post at ModFan to see how I started to turn myself around with a little help from my friends.)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Buzz Bissinger is an Angry, Close-Minded Jackass

Who knew?

I generally try to avoid blogging about blogging because I'm just not sure that most people find it that interesting but I'm going to make an exception here. The blogging world is all atwitter over a panel discussion - and I use the word discussion loosely - that recently took place on Costas Now, hosted by Bob Costas. It would be helpful if you watched the video found here but I'm going to try not respond too specifically to it so it's not necessary. I think it's pretty interesting and entertaining though and if you read or write blogs you might think so too.

I have a lot of problems with Buzz Bissinger's take on blogs. For one, I think it's really deceiving to center a conversation about an entire medium on the worst of that medium which both Bissinger and Costas repeatedly admitted they were doing. Of course there are poorly written, shrill blogs out there. There are poorly, written shrill newspapers writers too but you don't see me tearing down the entire institution because of those guys. If I'm going to have an intelligent discussion about newspapers today, I'm not going to focus on the guy in Ottawa who suggested the Senators test out just how healed Sidney Crosby's ankle was. It would be stupid for me to ignore all the quality writing going on in newspapers to focus on that.

I also think it's stupid that Costas and Bissinger were reading comments on Deadspin and passing judgement on Deadspin because of them. Obviously, the people commenting on a blog are not the same people writing the blog and it's not fair to hold stupid comments against the blogger. That would be like reading the letters to the editor or emails inspired by a certain column and holding them against the column or columnist. (I do think that some old-school journalists are just not sure what to make of comments at all though. Watching the Buffalo News blogs develop has been interesting because I think there are some writers who understand comments and how they ideally lead to some interaction between writer and reader and I think there are some writers who seem a little taken aback at how strongly people sometimes respond to their writing and seem unsure how to respond to that or if they should respond at all.)

But my main problem with the panel is that Bissinger and Costas both seem determined that everything be reduced to a competition between writers with access and writers without access, journalists vs. bloggers. Costas says there is something to a fan's point of view but then says, "There are some things that couldn't possibly be done except by someone with some talent and powers of observation who has that access." That's completely valid and I don't know a single blogger who wouldn't agree. I don't think bloggers want people with press passes and special access to go away. I want to know about those moments between athletes and between athletes and coaches and athletes and fans that I'm not going to see from my seat at HSBC or my couch at home. I read lots of blogs but I also read the sports section in the newspaper and not just the local one. I read lots of blogs but I've also read most of Bissinger's sports books. It's not an either/or. I like reading people in the know but I also enjoy talking to other fans about our opinions and takes on what's going on.

Bissinger also seems very hung up on how the writing is presented. He seems to think that because writing appears online, it automatically has less worth. He brings up W.C. Heinz, ignores that Will Leitch of Deadspin is familiar with Heinz because it doesn't fit in with his idea that these darn kids today don't have any appreciation for good writing and asks who can better capture the feelings and emotions of a game or sporting event, Heinz or some blogger? First of all, way to stack the deck by comparing one of the best sports writers of all-time to an imaginary and symbolic writer who doesn't actually exist. Second of all, good writers are good writers are good writers. There are good writers writing for newspapers, there are good writers writing for magazines, and there are good writers writing on the internet. (There are also bad writers writing for newspapers, bad writers writing for magazines, and bad writers writing on the internet.) If Heinz had been born 33 years ago instead of 93 years ago, guess what? His writing would be online. He'd be typing his column on a laptop and emailing it to an editor and even if it's going to be printed in an ink and paper newspaper, that column is also going to show up on his newspaper's website. (Because in this day and age his paper better have a website of some kind.) Is that column suddenly lesser quality because people are reading it on their computers instead of on paper?

I think what Bissinger and a lot of other journalists don't understand is that many, many bloggers are not interested in being journalists. There seems to be a misconception that we're all aspiring to higher things and falling short, and while some of us probably are professional writers in training, some of us aren't. I don't pretend to be an expert, I don't pretend to be working in the trenches with the guys getting paid. I think it's pretty clear that what I'm writing is what I think and feel, nothing more and nothing less. Most fan bloggers want to converse with other fans while maybe attempting to capture what it's like to watch and care about a team in a way that the guy in the press box can't. The guy sitting in the press box can certainly write great pieces and he's going to write things that I can't. But I can write things he can't because he's not going to see the same things and experience the same emotions as the 30-year-old female in the cheap seats or the 22-year-old male banging on the glass or the 63-year-old life-long fan who is finally seeing his team win a championship. One point-of-view isn't more valid or right or important than the other. They're just different.

Bissinger's assertion that "blogs are dedicated to cruelty" is especially offensive. Maybe some blogs are and fans can definitely get cranky when they feel let down but the sports blogs I read are clearly written out of love and affection for a sport or a team. I know he's an older guy who's freaking out about a changing world but I feel sad for Bissinger that someone as talented as he is can't see or understand that.

(Bissinger might be an angry, close-minded jackass but he's not wrong about W.C. Heinz. I highly recommend What a Time it Was: The Best of W.C. Heinz on Sports. He made me briefly care about things I have no interest in like boxing and horse racing. Really good stuff.)