Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hockey Is Officially In the Air

Over the past year or so, I've developed a genuine fondness for Jerry Sullivan. I find him endlessly entertaining on the radio and I really enjoy his chats. I occasionally get teary-eyed listening to him talk about his daughters, both of whom he obviously adores, and as far as I can tell, he has excellent taste in books which is a trait I rate very highly in a person. I've even had a few interesting email exchanges with him. I like the guy.

And then I read a column like today's column and I remember why I once called him my least favorite person in the TBN sports department. For those of you who haven't read it yet, here's what it says:

-- Fans are stupid. (Unless they're cheering for a venerable franchise like the St. Louis Cardinals in which case they're loyal and admirable fans not just of their team but of their sport.)

-- If I were GM of the Buffalo Sabres, I wouldn't have to worry about things like salary caps, budgets, trading partners, and overpriced and/or slow markets. Finances would never matter and I would never have to think like an accountant.

-- Mike Grier? Who cares if he's tough and capable of keeping the spoiled kids in line? He wasn't that expensive! You barely spent any money so this can't POSSIBLY be a good move!

-- You know Drew Stafford, that big kid who never uses his size and disappears for long stretches at a time even though he's been given pretty much every opportunity to succeed? He really plays with an edge, that one!

-- Why play hardball with Stafford? You like him, give him what he wants! But he might not be THAT good so don't give him TOO much because it's bad when you do that. But don't play hardball!

-- Also, fans are stupid. Even though they don't evaluate talent, negotiate contracts, handle payroll, or make any kind of decision regarding personnel, this glaring mediocrity is their fault.

TBN, this song was overplayed a year ago. Seriously.

(The good news is, hating on a TBN column makes me feel like hockey really is right around the corner. Woooooooooooooooo, hoceky!)

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Tiny Little Bit of Hockey

I don't know if the problem is with me or Drew Stafford, but I just cannot be inspired to care one way or the other about him right now. I'm a little surprised at how completely neutral I feel about the whole issue.

Okay, there was your hockey talk for the week.

Let me leave you with this, the movie trailer I'm currently obsessed with. I'd never even heard of this movie until this morning, but I've watched it at least ten times since then and I'm now counting down the days until it's released. Ewan McGregor? Jeff Bridges? Silly George Clooney? Aaron from 24? It's like this thing was cast just for me.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Top Shelf Does City Hall

Mark and I were both on vacation this week so we decided to get out and do a couple of things on my list of things to do this summer. One thing we both really wanted to do was get a closer look at City Hall.



Too close! Too close! (Or alternately: I am the viper, I've come to vipe your vindows.)

Buffalo's City Hall is, according to our very nice tour guide, Cindy, one of the most famous examples of art deco architecture in the United States. The cost for building it, including architect fees, was just under 7 million dollars which made it, at that time, one of the most expensive municipal buildings in the country. The design was the work of John J. Wade. Ground was broken in 1929 and building was completed in 1931.

Look, I'm just going to tell you here that this is probably going to be a very wordy, photo-filled post. If that's not your thing, you might want to move along now and save yourself the trouble.

At the time of City Hall's construction, it was typical for buildings like it to memorialize victories in war in some way. The architects and builders of City Hall, however, wanted to commemorate day-to-day life more. The first sign of that is the frieze right above the entrance of the building.

Click on this image (or any others) to get a closer look.

This isn't the world's greatest picture but I'll give you a breakdown anyway. The figure right in the middle is a historian, pen in hand, writing the history of Buffalo, what's already happened and what's to come. Figures surrounding the historian include ironworkers, linesmen, stevedores (CANS!) and lake crews, and other tributes to education and industry in Buffalo.

There are also carvings like this, featured above all the doors leading into City Hall.

I spent a lot of time wandering around the portico because some of the details there were amazing. Cindy, the tour guide, didn't really mention this but a history I read online pointed out that the building is actually a mixture of art deco and classical which come to think of it, she did kind of inadvertently tell us when she pointed out that the very traditional columns had more modern detail at the base.

Cindy kept referring to these things with some kind of technical term but I forget what it was. I prefer to call them "those cool metal things between the windows."

I love all the intricate detail.

Until yesterday I had never set foot in City Hall so it was pretty breath-taking. This photo is taken from the back of the building showing the entrance. One of the coolest things we learned was how the entrance was purposely designed to move from one height to another and then finally, to full height. Once that was explained, you really could almost feel yourself being pushed forward by the initial cramped space. Don't quote me on this but I believe Cindy called that design factor a release.

All the hallways on the first floor had this really beautiful Native American inspired pattern throughout. The pattern goes from one side of the hall, up the ceiling, and over to the other side.

Here's a better look.

Each room on the first floor had little wood carvings of animals (birds, squirrels, frogs, and fish) on either side. Cindy told us they were symbolic but didn't go into any detail and unfortunately, I forgot to ask her about them later. But they were super adorable.

I'm going to carve St. Bernards outside my classroom door.

From there we went upstairs to the mayor's office. As Cindy was explaining some of the stuff we'd see inside - evidently we couldn't be in there too long - the door swung open and out came Mayor Byron Brown himself.

He stopped and said hello, wished us all a good day and went on his way as we moved on to the Council Chambers. Council president, David Franczyk, was in there giving a tour to a group of German exchange students and he welcomed us all right in, sat us down, and completely took over the tour. He was great - loud, friendly, and interesting - but clearly a politician. Heh.

This room had my absolute, very favorite feature in the whole building and that is the gorgeous stained glass sunburst on the ceiling. That and the really cool dealios on the windows make this room a beauty.

They don't show up well here but the carvings on that inside lip are really cool.

Most of the lighting in the room is concealed - they turned off the interior lights for a few seconds and the natural light was wonderful even on an overcast day - and the glass is laid so that no shadows are thrown anywhere in the room. I would love to work in that room every day. Okay, I hate politics so I definitely wouldn't want to work there. But I'd love to sit and read in that room every day. Surely someone somewhere would be willing to pay me to do that.

One last little detail about this room that I thought was pretty cool: Because most men wore hats at the time City Hall was built, every seat in the chamber was built with a hat holder under it.

From there we made our way to the observation deck. It's on the 28th floor of the building although you have to get off at the 25th and walk the last 3 stories because that part of the tower is too thin for an elevator. (The building has 32 stories but only 26 are usable office space.) It's just as well because judging by the weird noises and groanings, I'm not convinced we weren't riding the original 1929 elevator.

Those squeamish about heights could stand inside the building and look out windows situated around the floor. Every window had a photograph of that window's view that marked all the prominent buildings, streets, and bodies of water so you knew what you were looking at. Definitely a nice touch.

Braver folks could walk out on the deck-like structure that wrapped around the interior room. There are planes of glass of some kind and unfortunately it had started raining during the tour so most of my pictures looked like this one.

Uh... Pretty?

Too bad because you might be surprised at how beautiful Buffalo and the surrounding area look from above. I'm not at all an architecture aficionado so when people talking about the architecture of Buffalo it goes in one ear and right out the other, but wow, some of the buildings in view really are intricate and interesting and of course, the lakes and rivers are extremely scenic.

Here are a few of the best I got from the observation deck.

One really neat thing about City Hall: It was built with the future in mind. Buffalo was, in the 20's at least, a growing city and the architects knew that City Hall might eventually need to expand. Most of the interior walls were designed to be moved and the exterior is capable of having more floors added. During an interview in 1927, architect John Wade drew an image of what City Hall might look like in 2427 AD, based on the original design.

If you've never taken a good look at City Hall, I'd encourage you to do so. The tour was free so I wasn't expecting that much but it was interesting and there's plenty to look at pretty much everywhere you turn. Definitely a neat day in Buffalo.

One last note. I made the "I am the viper" joke to amuse myself since I doubt no one but Lee will get it (if you do, kudos to you sir or madam!) and I'm not really sure Lee will read this. But for the record, all the windows in City Hall open inward so they can be washed from the inside. I think those guys are probably power washing the building itself.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Living and Learning

Found this interview with Ryan Miller (via @VanekAtTheDisco) today. It's just a short little piece but there's some interesting stuff in it about the Olympic team and Buffalo. Here's Ryan on the Sabres:

I just think that as a group, we had to go through some down time and really learn that it sucks to lose.

Wow, slow learners. Are you done with this particular lesson yet? Because I really learned two years ago that it sucks to watch you lose and I'm getting bored waiting for you guys to catch up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mad Max

We moved to Buffalo in the summer of 2000. At that point, I'd seen a few Sabres games in person and had watched the 1999 Cup run. I was somewhat familiar with the players. But my very first up-close glance came at the preseason carnival in the fall of 2000. It was very similar to last season's Puck Drop with all the players spread across the arena signing autographs although there were also a few games and little rinks set up for kids of all ages to enjoy.

Because I was relatively new to the Sabres scene, some of the players are blurred in my memory. Despite how much I came to love him in the years after that, I wouldn't remember meeting Jay McKee if I didn't have the autograph to prove it. I remember thinking Doug Gilmour was nice though I can't remember why I thought that. I didn't remember Mike Peca not being there until Mark reminded me of it.

I do remember, toward the very end of the day, sneaking into Miroslav Satan's line which had been really long throughout the afternoon. When we got toward the front and Satan was in sight, I realized there was someone else - someone I didn't recognize at all - sitting at the table with him. I remember asking Mark who it was and I remember him saying, "Oh, that's Maxim Afinogenov. He's Russian. He's supposed to be really good." For some reason, I was really fascinated by Max. He looked extremely uncomfortable and it was obvious that he spoke very, very little English, if any. I don't remember hearing him talk at all. He mostly nodded and looked scared. I decided then that I liked him.

It's kind of hard to define my feelings about Max though. I never fell in love with him the way I did Jay McKee. I don't get nervous or sad at the thought of him playing for another team like I do Henrik Tallinder. (We'll get into that more in another post.) But I always liked him and sympathized with him in a way that I don't sympathize with very many players. When Derek Roy is struggling I usually get cranky with him, assume he's spending too many late nights on Chippewa, and threaten to punch him in the teeth if he doesn't turn it around. I don't feel bad for him ever. But when I think back on Max's struggles during the last couple of seasons, I do feel bad for him.

I feel bad that a lot of fans and media never gave his injuries the same weight that they gave other players'. Yes, he was hurt a lot and yes, he missed a lot of time and that gets annoying after a while. But the injuries he had - a broken hand and numerous groin problems - are tough injuries for a guy whose entire game is stick-handling and skating. There was a lot of criticism floating around but very little of it even mentioned him recovering from injuries.

I feel bad that Lindy Ruff turned so sharply on Max. I definitely understand why he would be a frustrating player to coach but as much as I love Lindy, I think he did a horrible job handling Max over the last couple of seasons. If you take a guy with speed, vision, and some skill and you put him on a line with guys like Adam Mair and Paul Gaustad, you're probably not going to get much out of him. God bless Mair and Goose but they have no business playing on a line with Max. On a regular basis, Lindy put Max in a situation where he was sure to fail and again, it bothers me that the criticism of Max rarely questioned that. When Lindy gives up on a player, he gives up hard and I think he ends up making the situation with that player even worse than it already is. (See Kalinin, Dmitri and possibly Tallinder, Henrik.) While I understand why teams would shy away from taking a chance on him, a little part of me feels like Max could succeed again with another coach and another system.

Mostly I feel bad that his exit from Buffalo has been so dismissive. Yeah, Max has been a headache for the last two years. But that's two years out of ten in a Sabres uniform. It's not like the guy never did anything of worth here. A huge part of the success of the 2005-2006 team was the strength of the Afinogenov-Roy-Vanek line. Until he started running into injuries, he played just as well the following season. The further we get from those two seasons, the more special they seem and Max was right in the middle of both of them.

And beyond his play, despite what a lot of people might say now, he meant something to Buffalo. Kate recently wrote a really nice post about Max and the way he captivated a live crowd. When he suddenly broke out of the pack and came careening down the ice, we really did scoot to the edges of our seats and we really did hold our breath because even if he'd missed the previous twelve breakaways, we knew that there was enough skill in that body to make something really special happen if he could just pull it all together. Looking around at games, practices, and Sabres events over the last 10 years it's clear that a lot of Buffalo kids - and more than a few adults - are going to look back some day and say, "Yeah, Maxim Afinogenov. He was my first favorite Sabre." It's not a Stanley Cup but I think there's a lot of value in that. Every sport and every team needs fans to fall in love that first time.

In 20 years, I'm pretty sure one of the Sabres moments I'll recall the easiest is Max's belly flop across center ice after scoring the overtime goal against the Rangers in the 2007 playoffs. It was one of those moments you watch sports to witness and his reaction was pure joy. I remember being so happy for him. While it's past time for Max to move on from Buffalo, I'll definitely remember him with a lot of fondness. I wish him good luck and happiness wherever he ends up.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

100 (More) Things, Part 2

26. I don't drink with a straw unless I have to. If I'm drinking in the car I'll use a straw but just until the pop level is down enough that I can have the drink in the cup holder without it tipping over. I like to crunch the ice along with the pop so straws don't work for me.

27. We got Chicago's WGN when I was a kid so I watched a lot of Cubs games. For those of you who don't watch baseball, it's Wrigley tradition to throw a home run hit by the visiting team back onto the field. I dreamed of going to Wrigley, catching an Andy Van Slyke home run, and then refusing to throw it back. (A few people have told me that this might have resulted in my death, regardless of my age.)

28. Speaking of WGN, I also dreamed of playing Bozo's Grand Prize Game. The game was pretty straight-forward - you had to throw a ping-pong ball into 6 buckets, each a little bit farther than the one before it, the prizes getting a little bigger with each bucket - and I could not for the life of me understand how anyone could miss.

29. I'm a huge fan of movie trailers. I hate if we're running late to the movies and we miss the trailers. (Fun fact: They're called trailers because they used to run at the end of movies.) When we finally got high speed internet and a decent computer, I clearly remember saying, "Now we can watch trailers without them skipping and blinking out." I think there's an art to making a great trailer - one that makes the movie look interesting without giving away the entire plot and/or ending - and if it's good, I'll watch it over and over, sometimes long after the movie has played. My favorite trailer out there right now is Where the Wild Things Are. It just feels perfect. I've watched it at least once day since it was first leaked. (I have some reservations about turning a 20 page book into a full-length movie - I don't think anyone's done that well yet - but I'm encouraged that Maurice Sendak seems to really love the adaptation.)

30. My favorite summer TV show has been Top Chef Masters. I think my favorite moment was world famous chef Hubert Keller trying desperately to figure out the microwave oven he had to use in a challenge. I hate to cook but I love to watch other people cook.

31. In addition to movie trailers, I love movie soundtracks. I'm fascinated by how music can work (or not work) with the images of a film, how some soundtracks are beautiful even without the images, and how some soundtracks really need the images to support them. I love how certain pieces bring to mind exactly what happened on screen at that point in the movie. My favorite right now is So Was Red from The Shawshank Redemption. I think it falls into both categories: I can hear it and see the movie ("I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.") but it also doesn't need the images to have power. Even if I'd never seen the move the piece is a slow build of hope and joy.

32. I don't care if the NHL is ever on ESPN again or not. I understand why people want it to be and I wouldn't protest it or anything. But it's not a make or break thing for me.

33. I once had a My View column printed in the Buffalo News. I'd link it but I'm sure it's buried deep in the archives at this point. It was about my best friend growing up, Shabana, written in the aftermath of 9/11.

34. I pretty much always have a book with me. I read in the regular places - doctor's waiting rooms etc. - but I also read, among other places, in traffic, at stop lights, and in fast food lines (inside and in the drive-thru). I also, despite attempts from my mother to be more polite, often read at the table.

35. Favorite Pixar movies in order: Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Monsters Inc., Cars, Ratatouille, A Bug's Life. I haven't seen Up yet.

36. Favorite non-Pixar animated movies: Beauty and the Beast, The Iron Giant, Peter Pan, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

How about you guys? Any favorite movie music? Favorite Pixar movies? Read any good books lately? Watching anything good this summer?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hockey! This Post is About Hockey!

So my first reaction to hearing Mike Grier had signed a one-year contract with the Sabres was something along these lines:

AHAHAHAHAHAAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Pretty funny how things like "commitment to winning" fall by the wayside when you need a contract, isn't it?

My next response was gosh, while Mike Grier has his strengths, he's not super good at hockey. He's certainly not going to fix the problem of consistent scoring. But once I got over the hilarity of the situation I came around to the signing some. Grier's strengths - playing hard every shift and not hesitating to call out those who don't - are desperately needed on the Sabres roster. I have no doubt that he'll kick Derek Roy's ass and he won't stop just because Roy-Z doesn't like it. In fact, if we listen very closely, I think we can probably hear Roy-Z bitching and whining about having to play with Grier again from wherever he happens to be right now.

As for Patrick Kane... Seriously, he gave the guy $15 for a $13.80 bill. Forget the 20 cents. With or without the 20 cents, that tip makes him kind of a dick anyway. The "Don't you know who I am?" act (my LEAST favorite thing for a famous person to pull) and any assault of a 62-year-old cab driver are bonus. I don't care how drunk he was (as a non-drinker I admit I don't have much sympathy there) and I don't care how young he is (at 20, plenty old enough to know how to treat other people). Complete and total putz.

And that was your Top Shelf HOCKEY NEWS!

Have I Mentioned That I'm Bored?

If I put my iPod on shuffle, here are the first 15 songs that play:

Buick City Complex - Old 97's
My Love - Paul McCartney and Wings
We Can Work it Out - Stevie Wonder
To Be With You - Mr. Big
Wake Up Dead Man - U2
Jack and Diane - John Cougar Mellencamp
Jem and the Holograms Theme - Jem and the Holograms
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard - Paul Simon
Wonderwall - Oasis
I Want You to Want Me - Cheap Trick
Take Me Home Country Roads - John Denver
Ain't Too Proud to Beg - The Temptations
This Time Around - Hanson
Thirteen - Big Star
Drive - The Cars

(Throw in a little more country and this is fairly representative of my iPod. No, I really don't listen to much music from the last decade or two.)

Here's my current top fifteen most listened to songs:

You Belong With Me - Taylor Swift
I Want You Back - The Jackson 5
New York State of Mind - Billy Joel
Concerning Hobbits - Howard Shore (The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack)
Rainbow Connection - Kermit the Frog
American Girl - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Field of Dreams Theme - James Horner (Field of Dreams soundtrack)
I Want You (She's So Heavy) - The Beatles
Let It Be - The Beatles
So Was Red - Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption soundtrack)
The Wings - Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain soundtrack)
If Only - Hanson
Forrest Gump Suite - Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump soundtrack)
This Woman's Work - Kate Bush
Square One - Tom Petty

(I usually listen to instrumental music when I read which is why all the soundtrack music is so high right now.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

So. Bored.

I'm bored. Are you? If so, vote for Marlowe. If she wins a million dollars, pizza on me. (This thing is 12 weeks long so you might see more of these, especially if the Sabres stay ridiculously boring.)
Vote for my DogSponsored by All American Pet Brands makers of premium dog food.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On Teppo Numminen

The last game of the 2007-2008 season didn't mean jack to the Buffalo Sabres. But it clearly meant everything to Teppo Numminen and for that reason, I think I'll always remember it. Looking over his career stats today, that season's line stands out, the 1 under GAMES PLAYED in stark contrast to pretty much every other season. But coming after open heart surgery and an intense recovery period, I'd say that's a pretty special 1 and I'd say it could only come from a pretty special person.

During his time here, I really became attached to Teppo, moreso than I think I even realized until today. I think he was better than a lot of people gave him credit for, especially in his first two years. Nothing flashy just good, dependable defense. Gather up the puck, skate away from the hit, get the puck out of the zone. Over and over and over. And while I've already written this many, many times here, I'll write it once more, just for old time's sake. In the shadow of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, Teppo's loss to that 2007-2008 team was desperately underrated by fans and media. Maybe that team could have salvaged something with his steadying presence on the ice and in the dressing room. Losing him was the fatal blow to that season.

The Finnish article everyone is linking to (I first saw it at From the Rink) contains a really wonderful quote:

If somebody had told me [in the beginning] that I would be playing in the NHL at the age of 40 and have a total of 1,454 games in my pocket, I wouldn't have believed it. What can you do but just wonder and be grateful of it?

That about sums it up. Good luck to you and yours, Teppo. I'm glad we got to be a part of your career and I have to admit, I'm glad ours is the last jersey you wore. I'd say you've earned that retirement.
(Photo by Bill Wippert/Getty Images)