Thursday, April 30, 2009

Okay, When's the GOOD Hockey Start?

I'm watching the Chicago-Vancouver game as I write this and I gotta tell ya, I don't care one whit for either of these teams. I don't really hate either of them but I don't really like either of them either. It's the Battle of Who Could Care Less. I was determined to come into this series with an open mind and heart because there are a couple of players I like on both sides and no one I really dislike - not even ol' Soupy although I do enjoy watching his defensive miscues replayed - but this game is not helping matters. I actually flipped over to the basketball game because it sounded more entertaining. And I do not really care for basketball. Before tonight I had already picked Vancouver in 7 and I'll stick with that.

More about the other match-ups later. I'm exhausted and want to get to bed. Before I call it a night, I just wanna say, how the everlovin' heck is Teppo Numminen not a Masterton finalist? He had OPEN HEART SURGERY! His rib cage was cracked open! His HEART! THE MOST MAJOR OF MAJOR ORGANS! He was playing in the freakin' NHL a year later! That's remarkable. He's also been around forever and is well-respected by pretty much everyone. He's the perfect storm of all the reasons people win this thing and yet nada. I don't get it. I figured Richard Zednik had a pretty good chance of winning but for Teppo to not even be a finalist is outrageous. I am outraged.

ETA: Well, it seems that game got at least somewhat entertaining after I turned off the TV. Darn. Still, hard to get a handle. I was neither happy or nervous when I heard that Chicago made it interesting. Bring on the Detroit and Boston!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dog Eat Dog

I will be getting around to the second round of the playoffs, probably after work tomorrow (Thursday). (Here's the short version: I'm pulling for Boston, Detroit and Chicago. And I'll take Crosby, Malkin and the Penguins over Ovechkin and the Caps every day of the week.) For now, enjoy some pictures of my pup, Marlowe, who is now six months old. Apologies to those of you who don't care. Some people have been asking. Click to enlarge any of the pictures.

Probably a month or so ago.

She loves playing in the bathtub for some reason.

Check out those paws. (Yes, that's underwear. A favorite of hers.)

If we had a liquor cabinet, I'd say she'd gotten into it.


One of my favorite Marlowe pictures.


Being a dog is hard work, yo.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Annoyances

I'm annoyed by the NFL Draft. We were out and about buying furniture yesterday during much of the draft so I had the pleasure (and by pleasure, I actually mean the opposite of pleasure) of listening to the proceedings on WGR. I'd be willing to bet a large amount of money that most of the people who were calling in to complain about the Bills not selecting Brian Orakpo or Everette Brown haven't seen either of those kids play a single, solitary second of football outside of highlights during draft previews. So shut it, WNY.

Other things that bother me:

- Jeremy White. I don't listen to WGR very much but is he capable of having a conversation with people? Or does he just shrilly talk over them all the time?

- Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury's intermission shtick. Who decided these guys were entertaining? I'm particularly annoyed by the bit where they pretend to be the coaches. NBC is making Versus look good.

- Danica Patrick. Whether the hockey is on Versus or NBC, she's there. That Versus commercial makes me want to punch her in the face. Yeah, yeah, you're real tough. Shut up.

- Not enough of Calgary-Chicago and Jersey-Carolina, two of the best series in the first round, being broadcast so that I can see them. Next year, Center Ice.

- The phrase "Goalie X pitched a shut-out." I get what it means, of course, but I don't know, it grates on me. Maybe I'm against the mixing of sports. I think it's because while a pitcher is being active and putting the ball in play, a goalie is reacting which is kind of the opposite of pitching. I might be thinking about this one too hard.

- First round sweeps. Booooooooooooo!

- People who hold up the line at Wilson Farms while buying a million different lottery tickets and games especially in the morning. Seriously, you can't do that at a time when everyone isn't stopping on their way to work? Enjoy that $2 you win, schmuck

- People who hold up the line forever while digging around in their purse or wallet or any number of pockets looking for the exact change. If you don't want the coins, dump 'em in the donation thing and move on.

- Writers, professional and amateur, who use resign and re-sign interchangeably. I know the hyphen is going out of style and I'm fine with that, but in this case, not only are you changing the meaning of the word, you're using a word that's kind of the opposite of what you're trying to say. Stop doing that.

- Drivers who don't wave when I let them pull out or over in front of me. Courtesy wave, people. Not that hard.

- People who use fake real names on message boards and in chats. Yeah, maybe once in a while that guy posting as Tom Golisano gets a real zinger in. Usually not so much.

- "Coming up on this episode of The Amazing Race..." Why, pray tell, Amazing Race, would I want to know what's going to happen during the episode that I'm about to watch? And while we're here, why aren't you in HD? You are crying out to be shown in HD.

- Twitter. No, I do not want to follow you on Twitter. That goes for all of you.

Totally unrelated, the Pirates beat the Padres today, putting them in sole possession of the NL wild card. I'm petitioning the league to start the playoffs tomorrow as soon as I finish here. Not only are the Pirates playing .500 ball, they're playing .600 ball. (Note to Lee: Little Joe LaRoche has a ten game hitting streak so you know, he's doing okay. The final judgement on the Jason Bay trade will be whether or not Bryan Morris pans out, I think.)

We Interrupt This Hockey Postseason...

No, not for football. The NFL draft is stupid, yo. But how about a little baseball? Let's take a quick look at the current National League wild card standings:

Click to enlarge.

That's right. If the playoffs started today, the Pittsburgh Pirates would be in. (Yes, I'm ignoring San Diego.) Glory days are here again!

(Just let me enjoy while I can, please.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Elaboration

I really wanted to find some way to address Bucky Gleason's latest column that was more organized than taking it on Fire Joe Morgan style. But the column was kind of all over the place so my responses to it are also kind of all over the place. This was the easiest way. Enjoy, because I'm serious about what I said at the end. I don't plan on going anywhere near the Buffalo News for quite a while.

When I was a kid, it was about the action more than the experience. Let's be honest, the Aud wasn't exactly a palace. You walked sideways down the steps of the oranges because it felt as if one misstep would send you down the stairs, over the railing and into the blues. The place was a dump. But it was our dump.

I think this is pretty clearly directed to fans who have said that the reason they keep going to games is because it's fun, because it's a night out, because they enjoy the experience. When Bucky was a kid, it wasn't about that, it was about the game, the ACTION. Except that everything he talks about in this paragraph - the oranges being so steep they gave you vertigo, loving a dump of a building because it was the dump where his team played - has everything to do with the experience of going to a game and nothing to do with what was going on on the ice.

Twenty years ago, when the economy was weak but stronger than today, when the population had decreased but was higher than today, Buffalo fans were tougher and more judicious with their money.

Their voice was stronger. Their backbone was thicker. Their collars were bluer, and they demanded the same from their teams. They wouldn't have tolerated, let alone contributed to, what they're getting these days from their teams. Back in the day, when it was more affordable and absent fears of relocation, it was more charming.


Back when I was emailing Mike Harrington about the interview he did here, one of the things I kept stressing to him was that my problem with the Buffalo News is sometimes not the message but the way in which the message is delivered. I don't know how anyone is supposed to read the two paragraphs above and take anything else Bucky says seriously. He just insulted everyone! He pointed out that the economy today is weaker and the population is smaller but those of us who are still here, probably by choice, we're not as tough or as hard working (blue collar) as the people who were here twenty years ago because we continue to go to sporting events. In addition to being insulting, I don't think it even makes sense. And again, let me stress, Bucky just told his entire audience that fans twenty years ago were way, way better than fans now.

Funny, but usually when I hear fans talk about their undying loyalty, I think they're actually being held hostage. In the good ol' days, when owners complained about money, fans barked back about the product. These days, fans pump more money into weak franchises and thank ownership for staying.

Two things:

One, the reality is that franchises do move willy nilly in today's pro sports market. How do you blame fans for worrying about that? That is in no way, shape or form something you can blame fans for. I don't think wanting your team to stay is a sin and I don't think enjoying it while it's here is a sin either. Yes, it was more charming when it was cheap and teams were eternally tied to cities but it's not like that anymore and that's sure not my fault.

Two, many fans who talk about undying loyalty actually really do just have undying loyalty. And there's nothing wrong with that. Fans are allowed to cheer for whomever and whatever they want and to somehow turn that around and make it a bad thing is ridiculous. John Vogl and Mike Harrington go to places like Atlanta and Florida and they blog about how sparse the crowd is and suggest that those cities shouldn't have hockey teams, completely ignoring that those markets have teams that are either far worse than the Sabres (Atlanta, Tampa Bay) or about the same (Florida). On one hand TBN is berating those markets for not supporting terrible teams. On the other hand they're berating Buffalo for supporting an average team.

The passion for the Bills and Sabres is no weaker, but the landscape has changed. Buffalo fans have lowered their standards and settled for mediocrity.

Oh, jeez, again with this? I'm not going to address the Bills - I hate football and anything I say would be uninformed - but the Sabres have been average for two consecutive years. Two. Before that they were in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals. Exactly how long are we supposed to give a team before we bail out? A year?

On top of that, Bucky himself has said repeatedly throughout the season that he thinks the team has the potential to be really good in the next couple of years as some of the Portland kids move up. He's shown real excitement about some of the prospects. As recently as last week's chat he said he didn't think the Sabres were that far away from being a much better team. He said the same in the chat before that. So he thinks the team will be fine in a couple of years with some tweaking but fans are soft and undemanding for continuing to watch them? It's okay for him to be at least somewhat optimistic about the team's future but we should be storming out of HSBC by the thousands?

The Bills will likely sell out every game this season. The Sabres' renewals for season tickets were around 80 percent, remarkable given what has happened to the former Stanley Cup contender. Both teams keep failing, and fans keep falling for them.

Falling for them? Yes, that's what fans do. We fall in love with a team sometimes even when they don't deserve it. Seriously, I've never ever heard a sportswriter complain so much about readers loving sports and going to games. What the hell?

But attendance also remains strong because enabling fans feed the beast. There was no real urgency to keep Jason Peters last week. Why would the Bills spend $10 million a year on a left tackle when they've proven they don't need him to fill the stadium? Why make any real changes to the Sabres when it's obvious that fans will keep coming?

And here's the thing about this column. This paragraph here, it contains a valid point. I think Jason Peters is a terrible example of a team being cheap because there's so much other stuff involved in his situation but you could certainly make the argument that Sabres ownership just wants to make a profit and as long as they're doing that, nothing else matters. I don't really agree that I'm accountable for the team's performance but it is my money lining Tom Golisano's pockets. Too bad I was way too offended to even think about whether this was a good point by the time I got to it. Again, it is possible to make a point without insulting the audience. In fact, if Bucky was actually paying attention to fans instead of just looking down his nose at them, he'd realize there is a ton of unrest among fans about the product on the ice this season. Almost everyone's complaining about the team being too soft and too heartless. Almost everyone's complaining that they're too happy to coast on talent and not willing to work hard. Almost everyone's complaining that they no longer represent the proud, hard working city they represent. Almost no one is defending ownership. Almost everyone agrees that, in one way or the other, the Sabres have been badly mismanaged.

I'm not here to tell anyone how they should spend their money.

Seriously? Because this entire column was a lecture about how if I, a fan, am spending my money on anything related to the Buffalo Sabres, I'm throwing my money away. And it's just one more lecture on top of all the lectures we've been getting from the entire hockey beat (plus some others) all season about how we should be behaving. I do not understand this at all. I do not understand why you would be so rude to the people who are reading your work, your customers. I wonder what beat writers in places like Nashville and Dallas, where hockey coverage is being cut back more and more, would do with an audience that supports the hockey team so passionately. I doubt they'd be insulting them on a regular basis.

I don't remember a time quite like this, when fans simultaneously were as disgusted with both teams as they are now. But their dissatisfaction, their misery, doesn't show up at the gate.

Has my hometown grown soft?


I find a lot of TBN's Sabres coverage to be insulting and repetitive and yet I keep reading it, getting upset by it, and blogging about it. So yeah, I guess I am soft. Fortunately Bucky Gleason is here to remind me how stupid that is so I guess I just won't read TBN anymore.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Place Holder

So. I came home from work today, opened my email and found six messages, five of which included some variation of, "You HAVE to read Bucky Gleason's column today and then please blog about it!" The sixth was from Mark and said, "Don't read Bucky's column today." I should have gone with him but I didn't and I've been sitting here for quite a while now, trying to pull together my thoughts. I'm having a very difficult time doing so.

Here's the bottom line: I think this is one of the most insulting things I've ever read. It really and truly makes me want to never, ever pick up the Buffalo News sports section again.

If I can, I'll elaborate later.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Odds and Ends

So. No one got fired. Interesting. I thought I was pretty firmly on the side of keeping Lindy Ruff AND Darcy Regier but I found myself a little disappointed when I first read the news that they were both staying on. This team needs some changes somewhere for sure. I'm hoping that this means there are going to be some serious changes to the roster. There has to be, right? Lindy clearly isn't getting through to everyone and I don't why anyone would expect that to change just because it's a new season. I've debated this with a few people but I think almost every contract is tradeable if the Sabres are willing to really put guys out there on the block. Clear the dead weight. And get rid of Derek Roy while you're at it. I've become completely convinced that Lindy and Derek cannot function together and the Sabres chose to stick with Lindy so again, something has to change with the roster and I don't think changing out the side pieces is going to cut it.

"Hey, Darcy, can we trade Roy-Z?"

Some random thoughts:

-- Judging by my email and a couple of comments, the change in banner has not gone unnoticed. I do forever love Jay McKee - more on him in a second - but yes, I am kind of thinking ahead to what I'm going to do if and when Hank gets traded. And sadly I think "when" is the more likely option. I wanted to play around with different shaped photos and using multiples photos in one banner and since I'm not ready to commit to another Sabre yet - for crying out loud, Hank is still here! - a playoff oriented banner seemed the way to go. When the Blues are done - and it's not looking like that'll be too much longer - Hank will be back and there he'll remain until he's wearing another jersey.

-- There are some former Sabres who I'd have very mixed feelings about as Stanley Cup champions, some I'd be okay with and some I'd really hate to see win. But Jay McKee is the one I'd absolutely love, love, love to see hoist the Cup. I can guarantee you I'd be a big, blubbering mess. But I watched the first Blues game (I admit, I slept through last night's game two) and Jay looked really old and really slow. It was a little bit heart-breaking. Watching that game made me realize how long I've been watching hockey now, at least in a casual sense. I clearly remember the first time I saw Jay. He was 19. It made an impression because I was also 19. And now he's pretty much done. I know that's not so much his age (31) so much as it is his style of play and his injury history but it makes a girl feel old, you know?

-- I admit there was part of me that felt like if the Sabres just squeaked into the playoffs something miraculous could happen. I think that's the best thing about the NHL playoffs. Anything can happen. But after watching the first couple groups of games I'm absolutely sure that the Sabres would've been dead meat. Maybe Ryan Miller could have stolen a close game or two but if not, we would've been swept. Even the teams that limped into the playoffs have taken things up a notch and everyone is playing in a gear that I, quite frankly, don't think this year's Sabres are capable of playing in. We didn't see it from them all season, I don't know why it would start now. I don't know where you even begin in addressing that in the off-season.

-- If you haven't read John Vogl's article about Chris Butler, please do so immediately. Like a few other bloggers out there, I slowly fell a little in love with Chris this season. Not only did he play really well which was a total surprise to me, he comes across in interviews as very thoughtful and smart. I felt for the poor guy when he couldn't really celebrate his first goal due to the circumstances but I love him for not celebrating his second goal which came in the last game of the season even though it was a game the Sabres were winning. Adam Mair came barreling into him and Butler refused to crack a smile or look the least bit satisfied with himself. He knew winning that game didn't mean jack. I thought his postgame interview that day was one of the best, showing real maturity and understanding of the situation. All that AND he stands up when a woman is leaving the room? A-mazing. On behalf of a fanbase that needed all the bright spots it could get this season, thank you a million times over, Chris. I'd like to see Mike Weber up in Buffalo for a season before I commit to a new favorite player but Chris is definitely in the running.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Sabres in Microcosm

If Chris Drury personified everything right about the post-lockout Sabres, who personifies everything wrong about them this season?
-- Bucky Gleason


This question was buried in the middle of one of Bucky's columns last week and I thought it was a really interesting one. Bucky made some good suggestions with Jochen Hecht and Maxim Afinogenov. (Although I do completely disagree with his nomination of Tim Connolly who had 47 points in 48 games, never shied away from contact, and was consistently one of the few Sabres to defend his teammates on the ice. Yeah, he seems like kind of prick, he has not a lick of leadership in him, he's overpaid and he probably hates talking to media. Whatever. Not everyone is leadership material and half the NHL is overpaid. Doesn't make him a bad hockey player. I'm already weary of Bucky's never-ending Tim Connolly watch. Believe it or not, Bucky, I really don't need you to point out every four game stretch where Connolly has no points. No, really. But I digress...) What I really thought was the most interesting thing though was that when I read that question, one person came to mind immediately, no thought at all.

"Who me?"

When Derek Roy first came up permanently, I loved him. Loved him. I understood people complaining about the diving and the whining and the temper tantrums but underneath all that he was a talented, scrappy little spark plug. Even when he wasn't necessarily playing smart, he was playing hard and a guy with that much talent who plays hard will most likely be just fine. When he signed his extension I knew right away that it would be a bargain (you can check the archives if you don't believe me). Great move by the Sabres.

That all went off the rails this season. The diving and whining have lessened considerably but other things popped up. I can't even count how many times I watched Derek Roy coast into the zone when he should have been backchecking. We could add up the fingers and toes of everyone who reads this blog and we still wouldn't have enough digits to count the number of passes Derek made this season that were stupid, too cute or some combination of both or how many times he tried to carry the puck through five opposing players. He rarely, if ever, accepts responsibility for his play and he never seems overly concerned about how the team is performing. I don't know if it's his size or his style of play but Derek's success relies almost entirely on how hard he's working. He can motor up and down the ice all night. He can battle for pucks even against guys much larger than him. He can play with passion and fire. But it seems like he spent an awful lot of the season not doing those things and when he doesn't, it's so obvious. His game drops off completely. He goes from a player who can energize an entire team to a guy who's barely noticeable. I don't understand it at all. I don't understand why a player who could be so much better is seemingly satisfied with just being pretty good. I don't know much about coach-killing - if anyone's ever tried to kill Lindy Ruff in the past, they've failed - and I hate to speculate on the relationship between Derek and Lindy (actually, I totally think he hates Lindy but I won't get into why right now because that's a much larger digression) but there were times when Derek looked an awful lot like a player who really wanted to get his coach fired. He's absolutely capable of playing the way Lindy tried to get them to play all season. So why refuse to do it?

I don't know but I do think most of what I said above could apply to the Sabres as a group this season. Maybe they're not built to win a Cup right now but they are capable of being better than they showed. They seemed content most nights to coast on talent even after it should have been clear that talent without work wasn't going to get them very far. With the exception of a few, they didn't give an honest effort on most nights and they chafed when someone tried to hold them accountable for poor play. They seemed to disregard what their very good coach was telling them even though when they did play his way, they were usually more successful. It's maddening.

So there you go, Buckster. Derek Roy = Buffalo Sabres. And not in a good way.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Prayer to the Hockey Gods

No one's been fired yet, huh? Okay, well I guess we'll talk about the playoffs. A few weeks ago I was kind of feeling like I just didn't have it in me to watch the playoffs this year but then the Sabres-induced depression cleared and I realized that was crazy. I love hockey. I love the playoffs. I love the following my whims and jumping on and off bandwagons as I see fit. I love getting attached to players I don't usually watch much. I love the first couple of rounds when there's hockey on all night. I love staying up all night watching that game you think is never, ever going to end and then draaaagging myself to work the next morning. I'm not going to be one of those people who tries to tell you that it might even be more fun to not have my team in the playoffs because I don't really care who wins and loses now because seriously, that's bogus. I'd much rather be having a heart attack about the Sabres than cheering for teams I don't really care about. But this is fun too.

I was going to give you a break-down of who I think will and won't win but you know what? Not even I find that very interesting. I will freely admit that I don't watch a lot of regular season hockey outside of the Sabres so my opinion, particularly in the Western Conference, would be almost entirely based on other people's opinions. Instead I'm going to tell you who I'm cheering for. Even that can change suddenly, again, especially in the WC. I often find my whims and affections coming and going at the drop of a puck in the postseason. I suppose that is the one luxury of not having your team in. Here's the list as it shakes out now.

TEAM I'M ROOTING FOR THE MOST (FOR NOW)

St. Louis Blues - Jay McKee. Bit of an underdog. Lots of excited young players in their first postseason. Also, Jay McKee. There are a number of former Sabres out there. The thought of most of them hoisting the Stanley Cup makes me a little nauseous. Not Jay. I love Jay. Go Jay, go!

OTHER TEAMS I'D BE HAPPY WITH AS STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS


Boston Bruins - At the beginning of the year I would've told you this would never, ever happen. I've gone on record many times as hating playing and watching the Bruins. My Bruins related tags are "Boston Bruins," "Boston Bruins are really really boring," and "I hate the Boston Bruins." But somewhere over the course of the season they really grew on me. They have some super talented players but mostly they play really well together and work hard, two things I, as a Sabres fan, didn't see too much of this year. I'd prefer that Phil Kessel not score any really important goals or win the Conn Smythe but other than him, I find them pretty likable.

Montreal Canadiens - I love those crazy, slightly disturbed Canadian fans and their stupid Ole Ole bit. I'm not holding my breath waiting for them to win the Cup but I'd be okay with it if they did. They have a number of players I really like and I generally find them fun to watch. When they're not sucking it up big time.

Detroit Red Wings - Yeah, yeah. They've won like, a billion times already. I love watching them play.

Columbus Blue Jackets - This is subject to change because it does seem like I end up hating the Blue Jackets every time I actually find myself watching them play. For now they can stay up here though because who doesn't love a good Cinderella story? Also, Rick Nash eats with a stuffed Oscar the Grouch. Awesome.

Calgary Flames - Jarome Iginla plus another crazy Canadian fan base.

TEAMS I'D BE OKAY WITH AS STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS (MAYBE. I THINK.)

New Jersey Devils - I don't hate the Devils with the passion that many hockey fans do. I actually find them a little enjoyable. I've yet to really warm up to them either though. I do like a number of Devils players however so I'd be okay with them winning, I think.

Pittsburgh Penguins - Not super enthusiastic about them. There's still something about them that really, really bothers me. But family sentiment wins out, making them an acceptable choice.

San Jose Sharks - I don't find them nearly as much fun to cheer for now that they're everyone's favorite but I could still definitely get behind them under the right circumstances. I find them to be a pretty likable group.

Vancouver Canucks - I find the Sedin twins a little creepy for some reason but for now, I'm really pretty neutral on the Canucks. For some reason I feel like I'll end up going strongly one way or the other with them, I'm just not sure which way it'll be yet.

Chicago Blackhawks - I feel like various entities - the NHL and TBN, just to name a couple - have been attempting to make me love the Blackhawks so I'm not super high on them. I've taken an obstinate, "I refuse!" stance thus far. But there's nothing really reprehensible about them either - even Brian Campbell seems okay from afar - so I can't really put them on the "Dear God NO!" list yet.

Philadelphia Flyers - You know what? I kinda like them. So sue me. I'm not rooting for them or anything primarily because of the Daniel Briere factor (no matter what his actual contribution, people in Buffalo will be acting like Briere single-handedly carried his very talented teammates to victory) but I wouldn't be completely devastated to see them win.

PLEASE GOD, DO NOT LET THESE TEAMS WIN THE STANLEY CUP


Anaheim Ducks - Does this need an explanation? They're of Satan.

Carolina Hurricanes - Them too.

Washington Capitals - I hate the Caps. I do. Don't ask me to explain how that works but I really, really hate them. I don't want them to win. I'm almost willing to cheer for the Rangers in the first round just because they're playing the Caps. (Not quite though. I'm pulling for spontaneous implosion.)

On a total side note, Mike Green as the Norris winner? Really? Once and for all, Mike Green is NOT the best defenseman in the NHL. The best offensive defenseman? Sure. Fine. Absolutely. But that's not what the Norris is. It says right there in the award description "to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position." ALL-ROUND. That means defensive ability should be included as well. Granted we only played the Caps four times this season but Green was a pretty legitimate defensive disaster in two of those games. TO BE THE BEST DEFENSEMAN IN THE LEAGUE A GUY SHOULD BE GOOD ON OFFENSE AND DEFENSE. I also think he should be one of his team's best penalty killers and he should play against the opposition's top line but that's my opinion. Award winning defensemen should be great on the defensive side of the puck. If I had a vote for the Norris it would go to Zdeno Chara. No contest. If Mike Green wins the Norris, it's a sure sign that the NHL needs an award specifically for defensive defensemen.

Where were we? Oh, right.

New York Rangers - Look, let's be honest. This is all about Chris Drury. Sean Avery is reprehensible. The Rangers are a gross and disgusting. But if Chris Drury wins a Cup this year, lots of people here are going to be irrational and insane and obnoxious and I will have no choice but to move out of Buffalo. This cannot happen.

Okay, here are my quick picks: Bruins in 5, Caps in 6, Canes in 6, Penguins in 7, Sharks in 6, Red Wings in 5, Blues in 7, Flames in 6.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lindy, Darcy and a Wrap Up of Sorts

This is not a happy man.

"Someone please fire me."

I've gone on many, many times about how much I love and adore Lindy Ruff. But that guy up there? That's not my Lindy. He hasn't been himself for weeks and yesterday was pretty much the culmination. He looked and sounded exhausted and frustrated and beat down. I was half expecting him to announce his resignation right there at the podium.

I'm still not sure I'd go as far as saying I think Lindy should be fired. My primary problem with firing the coach and/or the GM is that I think it absolves the players. Let's face it, these guys are a bunch of douchebags. As individuals some of them might be okay (Goose, I'm looking at you, buddy) but collectively? Douchebags. They don't play hard for the 15 or 20 minutes they're called on to play every night. They shrug off any responsibility for the outcome of games with lame excuses. They repeat the same things they've been saying for two years about needing to play harder, sticking with the system, getting pucks in deep, plugging away. They're young but they're not babies. They're professional athletes. It's their job to play hard all the time. They should not need an older man to inspire them and spur them on. That's bullhonkey.

But I suppose it's the way of sports. There's something rotten at the core of the Sabres and unless ownership is ready to deal one of the primary pieces - Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville or Paul Gaustad - it might be time to say goodbye to Lindy Ruff. You can change the pieces around those five and hope the dynamic changes but I don't think it will. How many times has Jason Pominville said the same thing over and over after a defeat? How often has Derek Roy refused to play the way Lindy has repeatedly told them to play even though we've seen that when they play that way, they win?

Say what you will about Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn's hockey knowledge - and I'm pretty sure it has all been said at some point - but they're good businessmen. They have to realize the natives are getting restless. I think it's interesting that, unlike in past years, we haven't had any triumphant announcements about the booming season ticket renewals. It's early yet and I'm sure there probably are some people who will renew who just haven't gotten around to it yet - it's not like anyone needed those playoff tickets - but you'd think shrinking numbers would give people like Golisano and Quinn pause.

A new coach is the easy fix. It's the worst fix because it involves getting rid of the one person on the team I actually still like but it is the easiest fix.

Bucky Gleason said in the Buffalo News today that the rumors going around HSBC were that Lindy would be getting the axe while Darcy Regier stayed on so it's not like I'm going out on a limb talking about Lindy leaving. I do find it curious that despite the rumor being that Darcy was keeping his job, the replacements Bucky pitched were all GMs. As scary as it is to think about being on the same wavelength as Bucky, I'm wondering if he's thinking the same thing I am: No way Darcy Regier stays with the Sabres if they fire Lindy Ruff. I don't know how it'll all shake out but Darcy has always been very public about the fact that as long as he's the GM of the Buffalo Sabres, Lindy Ruff will be the coach. Will he stick with that? I dunno. At some point you think they'd have to go their separate ways - what, are they gonna work in tandem forever? - but maybe they want that parting to be on their terms.

I'm very, very curious to see what happens over the next few weeks and months in Sabredom. I suppose it's very likely that nothing will happen - it wouldn't be the first time - but it doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize there are problems with this team's make-up. I believe they would've made the playoffs had Ryan Miller not gotten hurt but despite what I said earlier in the season, there's not a chance they'd make a deep run unless Ryan put them on his back and carried them. The Stanley Cup is so difficult to win because the NHL playoffs are a grueling grind, physically, emotionally and mentally. These guys, as a group, are too fragile for that. Someone from within the organization has to see that. I think there will be changes. I don't know if they'll be good or bad or major or minor, but I think there will be changes.

As for what's going to happen here at Top Shelf for the next few weeks and months, well, I'm not entirely sure. I do have a couple more Sabres wrap-up posts started. I'll be watching and probably blogging about the playoffs, adopting and discarding teams on a whim. If there are any goings-on with the Sabres I will, of course, give you my take. I'm definitely planning on continuing the series of posts I started last summer about exploring places and activities in and around Buffalo. I'll be watching a fair amount of baseball. And they'll probably be odds and ends of other things to pass the summer - TV, books, movies, work, trips. I don't know. I do know I'm planning on passing the off-season here somehow so hopefully some of you will stick around and see what's going on. If you're moving on from your hockey blogs for the year, thank you so much for reading. Believe me, every comment and email is read and appreciated. I'm sorry we couldn't have shared a better season.

Oh, that reminds me! I've been meaning to tell you this story. Mark and I went to the Detroit game last week. We went out to dinner beforehand and while we were standing at the front of the restaurant, waiting to be seated, a gentleman walks over and says to me, "Are you Heather?" I say yes and start to panic a little because I do not know this guy. But as I'm scrambling through various scenarios he adds, "My name's Doug. I'm a loyal reader. Your blog is excellent." You guys, I'm a celebrity! Poor Mark had to put up with me making cracks about how famous I was for the rest of the night ("Where's my food? Don't they know who I am?!") long after it had ceased to be funny. If you ever see me out and about, please don't hesitate to say hello. I can't promise I'll make the best impression in person but I won't bite. Doug, again, you made my night. And the kids loved your joke. (Why is the calendar so tired? Because it just completed a 31 day March.) One of them walked around the rest of the day telling it to everyone else in the building.

In honor of the closing of the Sabres season, I offer you a battered and bruised but nonetheless heartfelt, Let's go Buff-a-lo!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Seriously...

The next Sabre who says, "We really wanted to win this game for our fans," is getting a dislocated nose courtesy of me. Thanks for waiting until THE LAST GAME OF THE SEASON, douchebags.



(Happy Easter. More in-depth thoughts on Monday.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thursday Night Thoughts

So I had a great day today. It was the first day of vacation, I slept in, I spent hours reading, I played with the pup. I had a really good feeling about tonight's game as well. No idea why. When Jaroslav Spacek, Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville, my heart floated away because it was so beautiful.

And then they scored again. And again. And again. And just for good measure, they added a penalty shot. And with every goal, I got crankier and crankier and crankier. Seriously now. They're going to play like that in game 81 against the hottest team in the league but they're going to play like garbage in game 21 against freakin' Atlanta? Thanks for nothing, ya bunch of d-bags.

(More composed thoughts later.)

Harrington: The Final Act

So I'm sorry I kind of fell off the face of the Earth here in what is most likely the Sabres' last week of the season. The last few days before break are sometimes tough for the kids where I work and it was indeed a pretty busy week. All I wanted to do after getting home was curl up and call it a day. But now I'm on vaaaacaaaaation! Wooooooooooooooo!

I don't really have much to say about the last couple of games that hasn't been said already so for now, enjoy the shocking conclusion of my interview with Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. This part is much less organized than the other two because I just threw out random questions, pretty much as they popped into my head. We'll return to Sabres talk Thursday. I know, I can't wait either. Oh, actually I do have a good story about how I'm a total celebrity now but you'll have to come back later to hear it.

If you were appointed NHL Commissioner for a day, what's the first thing you would do?


Get rid of Phoenix, Florida and either Atlanta or Nashville. Move one to Winnipeg. Maybe try another in Kansas City or Seattle where they just lost the NBA. I'd love to go back to Quebec City but the arena is sub-standard. I think they should put a second team in Toronto but they would have to indemnify the Leafs for sure and maybe even the Sabres so that could be an issue. But the area could support it. I'm kind of against Las Vegas until they figure out the gambling issue. Too dicey for my tastes although I love going.

If you were appointed MLB Commissioner for a day, what's the first thing you would do?

Tell Fox they're getting some rebates cuz they're moving the World Series games back to 7:30 and playing at least one in the afternoon!!

I think the late starts for World Series games are a huge problem and that would've been my answer too. I'm struggling to stay awake for whole games and I'm not a 9-year-old who has to go to school the next morning. I'd push them back even further to 7. I'm completely fascinated when I read about World Series that all took place during the day. I can't even imagine.

Where are your 3 favorite cities to watch a baseball game?

Kind of a different approach....

Three favorite cities:

Boston - Cathedral I. If you've never been there, it's as good as you'd imagine
Chicago (Wrigley) - Cathedral II. But needs a lot of infrastructure work to catch up to Fenway's recent improvements. The neighborhood is just awesome.
St. Louis - Great fans. About the nicest people you'd meet.

Three favorite ballparks:

San Francisco - Beautiful for fans in every way, bad for the media (lousy press box and no service level for clubhouses - you have to wade through box seat fans)
Seattle - Safeco is just amazing. Great concourses, food, views.
Philadelphia - The Bank was a huge revelation for all of us during the World Series. Walked around and around the place over 5 days. What a 600 percent improvement over the Vet.

I've never been to any of the baseball stadiums you listed but I simply cannot fathom a park more beautiful than PNC (in Pittsburgh).

PNC has easily the best view/vista in MLB but I'm not sold on its functionality as a park. Concourses are tight, concession stands are tight, seats are tight in the upper deck and the press box is an open disgrace. Service level is relatively mediocre too. All strikes in my book, many of course not in the normal fan's.

But best view bar none. That we certainly agree on.

PNC i.e. Mike Harrington doesn't know what he's talking about. (Click to enlarge. Totally worth it.)

As long as you don't look too closely at the field, I guess. In your expert opinion, will the Pirates win a World Series in my lifetime? I'm 31 so let's say that gives them 55 years, give or take a few years.

History says they will at least be in it. Sooner rather than later. There's been 10 different NL teams in the series the last 11 years (only the Cardinals have gone twice since 1998). People who say teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City have no chance are wrong. Who won the AL East and went to the World Series last year? Not the Red Sox or Yankees. The [Don't-Call-Us-Devil] Rays. The Bucs haven't drafted or developed talent well enough. Hopefully, Neal Huntington can change that. I trust him from his days with the Indians in building the Bisons. We'll see.

I know there could be upwards of two other Pirates fans reading this. Any special prospects we should be looking for when Indianapolis is in town?

When Indy comes to town, look for OF Andrew McCutcheon. He’s a flashy type with great power. Saw him put one over the LF foul pole at Yankee Stadium during last year’s Futures Game. Jose Tabata, if he can get his lying 43-year-old wife under wraps, is another good one. And what to make of Tom Gorzelanny back in Triple-A? Tough division as always for Indy with Louisville and Toledo in it.

Where are your 3 favorite cities to watch a hockey game?

(NOTE: I have not been to any Western Conference places except Detroit and Dallas)
Montreal - It's almost a religious experience, like going to Yankee Stadium, Fenway or Wrigley.
New York - Anything at MSG is just amazing. Hockey, NBA, Big East hoops, NIT hoops. You spend a third of the night staring at the banners in the rafters and at the famous roof. Great press room too in the middle level of the arena.
Ottawa/Pittsburgh - Boston would be on this list if they were in the old Garden, not the soulless corporate place they have now. A game in Ottawa is almost the event it is in Montreal. And the Igloo is one of those neat old barns that's just plain fun even though the hallways are small, the locker rooms are small, the concession stands are small. Only place left in the league that reminds you of the Aud.

Three hockey cities you haven't been to yet that you most want to visit?

Calgary - Classic Canadian with that fan base.
Vancouver - I'm told one of the most beautiful cities in the world and it must be humming with the Olympics coming.
Minnesota - XCel Center is a great rink. Great hockey heritage.

Who are some of your favorite interviews?

How about three groups?

Sabres/NHL: Ryan Miller, Lindy Ruff, Martin Brodeur, Marty Biron

MLB: Tom Glavine, Johnny Damon, CC Sabathia, Ryan Garko, Lou Piniella, Terry Francona, Carl Willis (Indians pitching coach, former ex-Bisons pitching coach and noted Carolina Hurricanes fan)

Colleges: Michigan's John Beilein, former Canisius coach Mike MacDonald, former and current Niagara coaches Jack Armstrong and Joe Mihalich, UB's Reggie Witherspoon (we have had some really GREAT coaches with the media in this town in recent years). Nationally I love Pitt's Jamie Dixon and Michigan State's Tom Izzo.

And the worst interviews?

Tony LaRussa - Holier than thou

Jim Leyland - Too many f-bombs, too much cigarette smoke (Heather here. One of my favorite Andy Van Slyke quotes is on life with Jim Leyland. "Never dull and always smoky.")

Jim Baron - A wonderful guy who did so much for St. Bonaventure but said so little of note because he had the same catch phrases in every interview (e.g. "It's all part of the process", "we're just working hard to get better"). Reporters would often give each other his quotes for the night before he entered the interview room by predicting his answers. We were usually right.

(Feel bad for putting Baron anywhere near the two sanctimonious guys above him. Just gimme a good quote once in a while Jimmy!)

If you could sit down 1-on-1 with any athlete, dead or alive, who would it be and why? Mine would be Roberto Clemente, I think. I've heard stories about him pretty much from birth and he seems like a really interesting and complicated person.

Clemente would be a great one. I think talking hitting with Ted Williams or hockey with Bobby Orr would be awesome. I'd love to chat up Bob Feller about pitching and he's always in the press box in Cleveland with friends during games but I continue to be a coward. It's Bob Feller for God's sake!!!

Where are your 3 favorite places to eat in Buffalo?

Santasiero's on Niagara Street - Awesome chicken parmesan. Be sure to get some meatballs and/or sausage on the side.
Chef's - A tad overrated of late but still the best pasta fagioli in the free world
Ted's/Anderson's - Local, local, local. I'd miss 'em beyond belief if I ever moved. (Heather again. It's no coincidence that Casa Top Shelf is within easy walking distance of both Ted's and Anderson's. Yum.)
Also: A tip of the hat to Founding Fathers Pub for bar food, great burgers and chicken, free nachos & popcorn and Mike Driscoll's ever-present presidential trivia.

Favorite Buffalo pizza? Wings?

Tough-tough. La Nova, Casa Di Pizza on Elmwod, Just Pizza, Francos in the burbs. I’m flexible. I don’t have to settle on just one. Favorite wings? OK. Just one here – La Nova Bar-b-que

What's one of your favorite things about living in Buffalo?

A lot would say 4 a.m. closing time but I’m not a big bar or beer guy so that doesn’t count. To me it’s traffic. A jam in Buffalo is moving 35 mph. I don’t know how people live in places like Boston, DC, Atlanta, LA, Houston. The traffic is UNBELIEVABLE.

When you're 80-years-old and you're looking back at your career, what are the moments you'll remember the most? Hit me with a few of them.

Wow, I have been lucky. I know I'm forgetting something that should absolutely be here but these are the first things that hit me

1. 2001 World Series - Raw emotion in NYC
2. 2004 ALCS - Changed baseball history forever
3. George Mason's run to 2006 Final Four - Changed college hoops forever. A little guy CAN do it.
4. 2008 MLB All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium and hotel interview session with Hall of Famers earlier in the day
5. 2003 St. Bonaventure scandal - Two weeks of chaotic stories that went national.
6. Any champagne celebration after an ALCS or World Series. It's chaos. You can get soaked. You're under miserable deadline pressure. But, seriously, how cool is it to be in the middle of that? Only millions of other people would trade places with you at that moment.
7. Bisons' first championship in Iowa in 1997
8. Bisons 2nd title and trip to Triple-A World Series in Las Vegas in 1998
9 Canisius-Niagara trips to NCAA Tournament in '96, '05, '07
10 St. Bona 2-OT loss to Kentucky in 2000 NCAAs
11. Richard Zednik injury in 2008. A routine Sunday Sabres game turns into life and death. You hope it never happens but you're always ready if it does.
12 Syracuse win over Kansas in 2003 NCAA final, capping five days of debauchery in New Orleans
13. Canisius victory at No. 13 Cincinnati in 1994 (down by 20 in the 2nd half)
14 Canisius win over Washington State and subsequent trip to 1995 NIT Final Four
15 LaSalle High going 27-0 in 1987-88. Covered the last 10 games through two state tournaments as a first-year reporter. Amazing experience and stood as most wins for an unbeaten team in WNY history methinks until Niagara Falls got there a couple years ago (I could be wrong on that)

One final question. You're stranded at sea on a small wooden raft with Jerry Sullivan, John Vogl and Bucky Gleason. Who do you eat first?

No cannibalism. We go down on the raft as a team.

Hmm. If I email the other three that question, are they going to answer the same way?

They better! We have each other's backs.

Okay, this question was obviously geared toward the demise of Bucky but I think you know my dirty little secret. I can't imagine living and blogging in a world without Bucky Gleason. Don't tell him I said so.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Top Shelf Does Washington D.C.

As loyal readers know, my jaunt to DC this weekend was originally supposed to be much different. The goal was to sit in the press box, the intended travel partner was to be Kate from The Willful Caboose. Pretty much everything that could happen to change my plans - numerous incarnations of plans - happened. In the end however, I had the time off from work, I had some money stashed aside, and I said way back at the beginning of the season that I'd like to start seeing some of the other arenas in the NHL so I decided to take the trip myself. I've never been one of those people who feels uncomfortable flying solo in public.

I arrived in town Thursday evening and had just enough time to find my way around, check-in, have a great steak dinner and get a good night's sleep. The real fun started on Friday. I would've loved to have walked through a few museums but I was heading back to Buffalo Saturday morning so I was short on time. I was talking to a couple of my students about going to Washington DC where the White House was and they were really excited by that ("You're going to see the White House? The REAL White House? The White House BARACK OBAMA lives in?!") so I definitely wanted to get a picture of that for them. I haven't been to DC since the summer between 7th and 8th grades so I decided to do the typical touristy things. Plus it was exactly the right time for the famous cherry blossoms so I wanted to spend as much time outside as possible.

When I first woke up Friday morning it was raining pretty hard but fortunately by the time I showered and ate breakfast, it had cleared up. I headed out, a girl with a camera and a dream.

First a couple of random shots of the area around my hotel. (You can click on any of the photos in this post for a closer look at a larger version.)

The entry to Chinatown:


I have no idea what this building is but I thought it was really cool the way the clouds and blue sky reflected off the glass:


D.C., you'll be shocked to learn, I'm sure, is really, really busy. People and traffic everywhere. It was around this point that I stepped into the crosswalk in front of a car that was trying desperately to make its way through the pedestrian traffic even though, hello!, we totally had the right of way. "What kind of jackass pulls into pedestrians like that?" I thought to myself. When I looked up at the driver, I immediately knew the answer to that question:

Tony Kornheiser hates pedestrians.

That's right. I, Heather B., was almost killed by Tony Kornheiser.

I made my way to the subway where I spent a very long time staring at the subway map and the fare card machine. I've ridden a real subway exactly once in my life. Wanna ride a bus in Buffalo? I can tell you how that works. Subway? Over my head. Fortunately, it was at this point that I first seized on my key to getting through the day. Grab the nearest person wearing Sabres merchandise, say, "Go Sabres!" and then ask them for help. And it wasn't really that hard because there were Sabres fans all over the place.

Sabres fans!

Fortunately, the Sabres fan I happened along here knew what he was doing (he was also, just for the record, very handsome in his vintage white) and was able to help me figure out how much money I needed to put on my fare card and what direction to take on which route. Thanks, handsome guy! The subway station had a really interesting design and for a girl who has been in a real subway station once before, it was a pretty neat sight watching the trains zoom in and out.


Almost as soon as I got off the subway, boom! important things!


I did take a closer shot but I took this one for the kids. We watched the inauguration with them on TV and we tried repeatedly to impress upon them just how many people were there. I thought maybe if they could see a picture of the space when it was empty, they might realize how big of an area we're talking about. It didn't look nearly so big when it was jammed full of people.

It didn't take long to be overwhelmed with cherry blossoms. I walked down to the Tidal Basin and they pretty much circled the whole area. They were really lovely especially once I started down the path and was actually walking under and through them. By that point, it was really a perfect day for it too. The sky was sunny and blue, the temperature was warm and there was just enough breeze to keep it from getting too hot. I knew even while I was taking them that pictures would absolutely not do those trees justice but here are a few anyway:








Next stop was the World War II memorial which didn't exist during my last visit and which I'd completely forgotten about until I stumbled across it. The water flows to the fountain from the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial and there are 46 pillars surrounding the fountain. Each pillar is inscribed with the name of one of the 48 U.S. states in 1945, along with DC, the Alaska Territory, the Territory of Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I just kind of walked around it which is too bad because looking at pictures of it now online it looks like there's some really cool details on the inside that I missed.


From there I headed to the Lincoln Memorial. I know the image below makes many people immediately think of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech and that was my second thought. My first thought was this scene from Forrest Gump. Who can forget Jenny running across the Reflecting Pool to meet a just-arrived home from Vietnam Forrest? Have you no heart, people?

"Fooooooorreeeeest! Forrest!"

On the way to the Lincoln memorial, I noticed the direction sheet for federal taxes floating in the Reflecting Pool. I'm pretty sure it was thrown there in disgust as a form of protest.

Taxes suck!

Spot the blogger!

I am 100% sure one of my kids will see the picture above and ask, "Miss Heather, how many steps is that?!" so I counted. There's 88. I also figured there was no way to get across to them just how huge the Lincoln Memorial was without a little perspective which is why I took the pictures above and below.


I made a pit stop in the Lincoln Memorial Book Shop which, while sounding completely tacky, was a really cool little shop full of awesome books. I would've picked up a few but it was tough to decide which ones might be good and my duffel bag was already looking pretty full for the flight home. I did grab a few postcards and the new edition of the American Presidents Fandex to take back to school. The kids were pretty into President Obama, I think because it's the first election they've been aware of, and we have some other Fandexes and they enjoy them.

On the way back down the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, I was disappointed to learn that the U.S. government evidently hates fun:

The terrorists have won.

Round about this point, my ankle was really starting to bother me. I decided to make my way back to the subway so I'd have time to ice and elevate it before heading over to the Verizon Center for the game. On the way back I did walk by the Vietnam Memorial, a.k.a. Heather B.'s favorite memorial.

I enjoy the huge, ornate stylings of some of the other memorials around DC but there's something about the simplicity of the Vietnam Wall that is just so beautiful and breath-taking to me. The way it starts out so small and slowly tapers up makes those ten foot panels stuffed with names seem to dwarf you as much as the larger monuments do. The way the surroundings reflect so clearly in the granite, watching people search for and then photograph or take rubbings of specific names, the things people leave behind... the Vietnam War was before my time but it's the one memorial that absolutely makes me teary-eyed and thankful for what so many people have sacrificed for the United States over the years.




A classroom full of kids had evidently visited the Wall because there were little notes like this along the entire length. There were also 2 or 3 old, worn photos of very young men in military gear, big smiles on their faces, that had been left along the bottom of the wall. They probably got to me the most but it seemed like a weird invasion of privacy to photograph them so I didn't.




And then one more picture for the day. The promised picture of BARACK OBAMA'S WHITE HOUSE?!

The White House Barack Obama lives in.

With a day of sight-seeing under my belt, I took a quick snooze before heading out to the Verizon Center for some hockey. I've always heard that a lot of Sabres fans come out to games in DC but seriously, there were a LOT of Sabres fans. In no way did we overwhelm the Caps fans - there were plenty of them there - but there was definitely enough blue and gold around so as to not feel out of place.

One of my favorite little things about the Verizon Center was that the marquee also has Chinese characters since the building is right at the edge of Chinatown.


The Verizon Center is attached to a mall of some sort. I didn't really walk in and look around so I can't give you a ton of details about it but I can tell you this: It really is perfectly understandable why hockey players say they hate coming to Buffalo. Fifteen steps away from this building there was pretty much anything you could possibly want. Movie theaters, shopping, sports bars, restaurants. You name it, it was within easy walking distance. The area around the arena was absolutely jumping before, during and after the game and let's face it, downtown Buffalo isn't like that. I understand why it rankles Buffalonians to hear people rag on their beloved city - I hate it too - but guys who drop in for 24 hours are not going to see the best of what we offer until the downtown area gets some serious work done.

I was leaning on an entrance to the Verizon Center when I took this picture.

Some thoughts about the game and the experience:

- The atmosphere was electric. Criticize the Southeast Division all you want - lord knows I've done it - but DC is clearly a city in love with its hockey team. They were enthusiastic, they were loud and they cheered without being prompted by a scoreboard or a PA announcer. There were "Let's go Buff-a-lo!" chants throughout the game but the DC crowd always made sure they were quickly drowned out by a round of "Let's go Caps!"

- The game presentation was really good although I do think part of it was just seeing something different. They have two ribbon boards, both of which are used to nifty effect. I'm not a huge fan of their very red jerseys but the red did look pretty cool and dramatic when flashed in bright lights and other effects all around the arena. The only thing I'd criticize is the opening video that accompanies the "Rock the Red" theme which features some of the more prominent Caps players playing in a rock band. Totally cheesy.

The view from my seat.

Rocking the red.

- Three different times I saw an adult in a Caps jersey accompanied by a kid in a Sabres jersey. I'm not sure how to explain that. I could make sense of two mismatched adults - one of them grew up in DC, one of them was from Buffalo - but a kid who spurned the team in the area in favor of a team from elsewhere? Awesome. There was a family of four in front of me, two parents, two kids and all of them were in Caps gear except for one of the kids. He was cracking me up because every time the Sabres scored he stood up and applauded very hard and very defiantly. It was cute.




- The Verizon Center has great Coke. I know someone out there is laughing at me but I'm completely serious. Coke can taste very different from place to place and arena Coke can be especially bad. They also had Dippin' Dots which I was awfully glad to see since HSBC booted them this year. I treated myself to a bowl of banana split.

- Caps fans seem to complain more than any other fanbase about rowdy Sabres fans so I kept an eye open for obnoxious behavior. What I heard was the Caps fan behind me telling the Sabres fan a couple seats down from him, "I've been to Buffalo. It's a shit city. I don't know why anyone would live there." What I saw was a very large, very drunk Caps fan cut across the entirety of the concourse and, for no apparent reason, put his elbow in the chest of a Sabres fan who was talking with a group of friends. Am I saying all DC fans are obnoxious assholes? No. I'm just saying there are bad seeds in every fanbase and unless you've seen the beginning, it's sometimes hard to sort out who started what. There was a lot of back-and-forth between the fanbases after the game - "Let's go Buff-a-lo"s being replied to with "Hey, make the playoffs next season!" - but it all struck me as pretty good-natured. I know some Caps fans out there will be offended by this, but I'll stick by my previous opinion that they might need to not be quite so sensitive to things that are really pretty normal at a sporting event. Which is not to say there weren't some truly obnoxious Sabres fans in attendance. I'm sure there were. Just saying that there were some on both sides as is usually the case and that yeah, visiting fans are going to be excited when their team wins.

- Based completely on that game, I think the Caps are a very talented team that's unlikely to go all the way. Their offense is definitely scary and they're all big, mean dudes but they sometimes leaned towards being cutesy over being effective (sounds familiar, no?). Their defense was also not impressive at all and while I do enjoy the hitting, there were a few times where they hit in bad spots and took themselves out of the play. Again, this is by no means an expert opinion so if a Caps fan happens to stumble across this please remember that. I'm admitting right now that I don't know this team anywhere as well as you do.

- Enter Heather B. style rant about how scoring 30 goals makes Mike Green the best OFFENSIVE defenseman in the league but not necessarily the best DEFENSEMAN in the league here. I'm gonna need to see much more from him on the defensive side of the puck before I make a statement like that. I'm weird like that.

- DC's anthem singer was fine - he sang the thing so fast I could barely keep up which I very much prefer to those singers who drag the thing out forever - but the more anthem singers I hear, the more I realize how attached I am to Doug Allen. He's really fantastic and let's face it, he's been the most consistent Sabre of the last two seasons. It also doesn't seem quite like a hockey game without "O Canada."

- One thing HSBC has over every arena I've been to - all three of them! - is the atrium. It took forever to get out of the Verizon Center after the game because the flow of traffic was terrible. Having that atrium for the crowd to dump out into after the game is awesome. My understanding is that was the brainchild of Larry Quinn and I will absolutely praise him for that stroke of genius.

- Also a much better variety of jerseys at HSBC. Huge amounts of Ovechkin and Green jerseys with very few dissenters. I suppose if we had a super superstar like Alexander Ovechkin that player would probably overwhelm everyone else but in HSBC you'll see everyone from Miller on down to Peters.

- It was a really fun game to watch but the back and forth would've made it a tough one to view from the press box. I probably would've been okay during regulation - my goal celebrations were very subtle, being by myself and all - but I had to leap to my feet and let out a big WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! after the OT goal.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
(Note the Let's Go Buffalo signage in the crowd.)

Overall, DC treated me very well and it was a really fun place to see a game. I enjoyed it so much that I'm already planning on making one or two or three trips to other NHL arenas next season. One really cool thing about Buffalo is that it's an easy drive or flight to a lot of other pro sports cities. May as well take advantage of it!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Let's Go Buff-a-lo!

To all the Caps fans yelling some variation of "TOO BAD YOU'RE NOT IN THE PLAYOFFS!" after tonight's game, WE'RE STILL IN IT BITCHES! WE'RE ALIVE! WE'RE ALIIIIIIVE!!!!!!

(More tomorrow. Short version: The game was a blast and DC was a really fun place to watch a hockey game.)

It's Alive! IT'S ALIVE!

You guys! We're only 6 points behind the Rangers with 2 games in hand! And their schedule is pretty tough too! We're gonna make it! WE'RE GONNA MAKE IT!

Since I know the Sabres all read Top Shelf every morning, here's a little inspiration for them:



Cut out their living guts one inch at a time!

(I'm sick in the head. I know it.)

(It turns out I don't really feel like doing any intensive blogging while on vacation so the concluding act of the Mike Harrington interview probably won't go up until Monday.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Quick Note

I was going to comment in the thread on the previous post but it was getting a little lengthy and I wanted to make sure no one missed it so here's a quick post for today.

First of all, I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read the Mike Harrington interview so far. I want to especially thank you for some really honest and interesting comments on part two yesterday.

In the interest of fairness, our conversation about the relationship between the fans of Buffalo and the media of Buffalo was cut down quite a bit. Mike and I went back and forth on that for much longer than what was included in the final post. I took a lot of it out for various reasons - it was really long, it was very circular and we really kind of ended up in the same place. In retrospect I probably should have zeroed in on that part a little more because I shouldn't be at all surprised that so many of you responded to that part of the discussion the same way I did. With a lot of frustration and a little disappointment.

I want to make it very clear to you (and to Mike), that I like him and his work immensely. I think he's one of the best writers at the Buffalo News and I think he's a really good guy. He was, I think, very honest and candid with me. That said, I agree with almost all of your comments yesterday. The Buffalo News sports department is a joke. One thing I struggled in getting across to Mike is that when people say that, they're not criticizing the level of talent on staff or the fact that their job requires sometimes telling fans things they might not want to hear. They're criticizing the underlying attitude toward the fans i.e. the people buying and reading their product. Certain writers at TBN have regularly taken it upon themselves to tell us what we should be doing and how we should be behaving which is especially insulting considering Mike's "We don't need to be in touch with the audience" answer in yesterday's portion of our interview. Clearly, they've separated themselves from us and that's fine. They're not fans. But don't trumpet how objective and removed you are from fandom and how you can't risk being compromised by emotions and then try to hand down guidelines on how I should go about being a fan because fans are in the business of being emotional and irrational. You're a journalist. We're fans. You don't like us telling you how you should be writing, we don't like you telling us how we should and should not be supporting our teams. I really genuinely do not understand what's so hard about that concept. You can show me all the press awards you want and it's not going to change my opinion on this because again, the issue is not talent, it's attitude and it's a lack of respect.

Here's the truth as I see it. Most of the writers in the Buffalo News sports section thinks we're stupid. Oh, sure, they may think some fans here and there are intelligent or informed but they think most of us are stupid. And instead of taking the opportunity to challenge us with new ideas and angles and opinions, they write to the lowest common denominator which means their coverage is often lazy and repetitive and insulting to those of us who do have brains. Again, I don't think they need to behave like us and I don't think they even necessarily need to like us. But they need to respect us. Don't treat us like we're idiots please. That's all we're asking.

(This post is totally half-assed but I need to leave for the airport like, 10 minutes ago. Maybe I'll expound later.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Harrington: Part Two

The next installment of my chat with Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. Again, I'm in italics and Mike is in non-italics.

You mentioned the Flyers marring your childhood in 1975. A lot of people might not realize that you were born and raised in Buffalo, right?

Born in Buffalo, raised in Amherst, Sweet Home High, Canisius College, the whole nine yards. I played hockey in Amherst house leagues for seven years too. Went to Sabres hockey school at old Holiday Twin Rinks in the 70s. Fred Stanfield got on my case one day for being tired. Told me to "get tougher."

I take it you were a Sabres fan as a kid. How much were they a part of your childhood?

In the early-mid '70s, the Sabres were bigger than the Bills, who mostly stunk and were OJ and nobody else. At the Farewell to the Aud thing in November at the Convention Center, I bought a program to the first game I ever attended, 3-1 loss to Chicago on Dec. 9, 1971. We had half a season ticket and I started going regularly in the '73-'74 season.

I'm taking a lot of pictures of the Aud demolition and it's tugging at me because of all the things I saw there. High school and Canisius basketball games, Braves games (I was a Junior Brave -- if you're over 40, you remember those). And all those Sabres games in Section 25 of the Blues.

Any favorite players or memories?

I saw a ton of great Sabres games. All those old ones with the great Montreal teams, some of the playoff games (did not go to any in '75 unfortunately but got to several others in the '70s and the '80 semifinals), was at the '78 All-Star Game and the '82 game where Gretzky broke Espo's record and Perreault had a hat trick the same night.

A wild one people forget - 1976 game against the Kansas City Scouts, featuring a bench-clearing brawl and the Scouts getting just 8 shots (a record that still stands). Steve Durbano gets the tar beat out of him by Lee Fogolin and has to skate off the ice for repairs. Holding an ice pack by his head, he whips it about 30 feet at Fogolin in the penalty box. Danny Gare and all the Sabres pile off after him while a lineseman desperately tries to hold Fogolin back. Ah, old-time hockey. Folks, that '07 Ottawa brawl was a wuss brawl by comparison!

Players - Gotta like the French Connection of course. But I really liked Jim Schoenfeld and Jerry Korab too. Big, tough defensemen. Don Edwards is the best forgotten great goalie in Sabres history too.

When you were first offered the hockey beat, was there any kind of moment where you thought, "The Sabres! Sweet!" Did you think at all about covering the team of your childhood? Or were you far enough removed from that time that it was just another assignment?

Didn't think for a second about the whole covering the childhood team thing. It was all about internal journalism issues, e.g. different travel requirements and how they would affect the family, different job pressures, deciding whether to take the leap and lose 15 years of college hoop sources, who would I be working with etc.

You didn't think about covering the Sabres after watching them for all those years at ALL? I think that's weird.

Nope. Didn't think about covering the Sabres that way at all. Thought about it strictly from the journalism standpoint of how I would do the job. I can do the Sabres, the Bills, the Bisons, the Toronto Blue Jays (my favorite team) and be completely objective about it. That's a trained skill.

I didn't expect it to color your objectivity or anything like that. It just seems like you know, that kid who watched the Sabres would peek out enough to say, "Wow, I'm covering the Sabres! That's awesome!"

It helps that it's not the old players and it's not the Aud. They had me cover one game in 1991. I was only 26 and I was so flipped out I hardly remember the game. I had never been in the press box or the Sabres locker room. They had an emergency and needed a fill-in. I did a good job but I wasn't ready as a reporter or emotionally either.

When I started last year the Sabres fan was totally buried. I had done ECF games in '06 and '07 and it was buried then too. Then it was like covering a major event, not a Sabres game. No problems.

I find it interesting that you keep saying oh, it's no problem, it doesn't affect my objectivity because that's not what I'm getting at at all. To me it just seems like it would be totally normal for you to look down at the stands and think, "Wow, I can't believe I'm up here now." Since you've been on the Sabres beat have there been any moments when you've thought, "I can't believe this is really happening." Have you met any of the players you watched growing up? Had any interactions with people otherwise involved in the organization that kind of take you back to that time?

I have not had any real interactions with any of the former Sabres except for Rob Ray and Mike Robitaille, who are both fabulous guys and have just as much hockey insight in person as you see them offer on TV. The one perhaps "thrill" of taking on the Sabres beat has been talking to Rick Jeanneret and Harry Neale. They have oodles of hysterical stories from seasons gone by. And the best thing is they're just regular guys who love the game. It would be interesting how I'd be the first time I'd have to talk to, say, Gil Perreault or Rick Martin.

So if the Sabres win a Stanley Cup while you're on the beat, there's no part of you that would be jumping up and down, going crazy?

If the Sabres win the Stanley Cup while I'm on the beat, not one part of me would be jumping up and down celebrating the game. My entire thought would be, "Holy cow, what a great story this is, what a story for the ages for the city." And then my next thought will be to be aware of what time it is for deadline.

But still, I'm human. It's just that I think the reflection on how cool everything was might come in a day or a week once I would start to decompress. I've felt that way on many things I've seen. Things like the 2001 World Series, the 2004 ALCS, some Final Fours, couple MAAC tournaments, Bona-Kentucky game in 2000. When you're in the moment, you're thinking about the story you're working on and your mind can't wander to anything else.

So if the Sabres win the Cup, I'll be working on my stories and the folks tipping cars and setting bonfires on Chippewa Street can go about their business and not worry about me joining them.

Okay, logically I understand this. You're obviously serving a very different role at a game that I am. But I will confess that from my point-of-view that doesn't seem like a very fun way to watch sports AT ALL. Do you ever watch any kind of game with a clear rooting interest? Do you go to sporting events just to kick back and have fun? When you do, do you cheer and boo? Or is it difficult for you to get into that frame of mind now?

I no longer have any real rooting interests and I admit that's kind of sad. But at the same time, I actually enjoy sports more. If I'm at a game as a fan, I might cheer good play by either side. I might boo an official acting too blind for my liking. But that's about all. My mood isn't compromised by a team's loss or poor play because, even when I'm off, I'm still in analysis mode. What would I write? How interesting were the quotes? What were the key factors to the game? What time is it (always a key)? When Kansas hit that three to tie Memphis in last year's national championship and forced it to overtime, I sat in front of my TV thinking, "Wow, this is an amazing game we'll always remember and about 600 guys are screwed cuz they just hit massive amounts of delete keys."

Do you think always being in analysis mode sometimes puts you out of touch with your audience though? I wouldn't say this about you, but I think a lot of sportswriters have clearly forgotten what it's like to have your mood compromised by the success of a team and sometimes I think it affects their writing. A sportswriter shouldn't just be writing to make a fan happy, of course - it's your job to point out things like when the players we love are playing poorly or the coaches we adore aren't doing their jobs well - but one of my biggest complaints about TBN - and I won't name any names is that I sometimes feel like I'm being lectured for well, thinking and acting like a fan. There are writers who seem to have grown tired of the sports they're watching and the fans they're writing for. Do you think that's a fair criticism? How do you combat developing that attitude?

I don't have to be in touch with the audience's emotions because I have to report the event. Sometimes their emotions can color what you're writing. In the case of TBN and Buffalo, it's a very unique market. In any other city, the seats would be empty with the garbage the Bills and Sabres are selling that folks here shouldn't be buying.

In fact, they were empty in the 80s for the Bills (under 30,000 for some games) and earlier in this decade for the Sabres (under 10,000). Why do folks in this town show up regardless of the product at a time when their disposable income is less than ever? People gripe about the product but then they show up. If you're Ralph Wilson or Tom Golisano, why would you change anything if the money keeps rolling in? The fan base in general is pretty accepting of mediocrity here. Go a few other places and see how long these kind of charades would last.

There's not a writer here tired of the sport they're watching. Because we're not there to watch the sport. We're there to report on it, comment on it. Big difference.

I think there's a fine line between reporting to an audience and looking down on the audience you're speaking to though. I don't like being lectured by sportswriters. Make your point that our money is supporting ownership and that you think ownership is a joke and move on. Don't tell me what I should be doing and don't tell me that I shouldn't be enjoying the local sports teams if I want to continue to do so. I'm continuing to go to hockey games because I like going to hockey games. I went to some really terrible games this season and you know what? I still had a blast. That's why I still spend my disposable income on tickets. You don't have to agree. You don't have to like it. But don't talk to me like I'm an idiot for choosing to go regardless of what my money is supporting. "Tom Golisano has hesitated to spend money on his best players" is reporting. "I think Tom Golisano is a terrible owner who doesn't care about winning" is an opinion. "Fans who continue to go to games are sheep who don't get it" is passing judgment and it bothers me. I don't have to think like a journalist. Your answer here feels a little like you're talking down to me and that is absolutely not necessary for you to do your job and report your information. You don't have to think like a fan, that's fine. You have to respect us and our point-of-view. Why do people spend their money on sports? Because they love them and they have fun going to games.

And that's the difference in Buffalo. Fans CAN still have fun at the games even when the team is completely in the dumper. That's a unique feeling. No other city is like that. Remember, they boo Santa Claus in Philly! But here, we fill the building for the Sabres and eat our Sunday chili in Orchard Park.

That's a good thing. Where the media in Buffalo (TBN and others) fail is not realizing that enough. We act like the media would in any other city. The fan base is different here however.

Wait, wait. Did you... just admit that TBN isn't perfect? I think you did.

Yeah. LOL. It's called corrections on Page 2. There's some proof.

I will clarify that the question about sportswriters growing tired of sports wasn't directed at anyone at TBN. That was just a question about sportswriters in general. And seriously, you can tell me that all sportswriters still love sports but I will not believe you.

Many sportswriters do not like sports. Frankly, the most codger ones I've seen are baseball writers who have sat through too many rain delays and midnight games to still be happy about what they do. They should have retired long ago.

Ring Lardner once said there's nothing more depressing in the world than an old baseball writer. I just read that a few days ago.

Hockey writers seem to like the game and be into the game more than any others. Many struggle to get their papers to recognize the sport so they have to really love it to stay with it.

What do you do to battle becoming one of those sportswriters who hates sports? Or do you think it happens to everyone and you just hang it up when the time comes?

I will never hate sports. I’m not worried about that happening. I’ve followed MLB and the NHL for instance since I was 5. I have different views about things (salaries, etc) but the game is still the game. I’m never going to stop enjoying that no matter what path my job goes down. I think I hang it up when I can’t handle deadline pressure anymore or if travel gets too much, etc. It won’t be because I don’t like the game anyway. Won’t happen with me.

Do you have a favorite Sabre interview?

Ryan Miller. By far. He's insightful and can talk about the whole game, not just his own play. But he's interesting because he's such a challenge. He can be edgy, moody, confrontational, combative and you enjoy each side because he's thinking so deep.

Any players on other teams you particularly enjoy talking to?

Every NHL reporter I know has Marty Biron love for obvious reasons. The dude just never shuts up. But Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson have been terrific to deal with as well. In fact, I have never had an issue in the visiting locker room at all at HSBC. Most guys coming to town aren't even the least bit snippy. Non-Sean Avery division. He should be playing baseball.

I take it then that in your experience hockey players really are the most down-to-earth pro athletes? Any theory on why that is?

Totally more down to earth, yep. It used to be they didn't make as much money. Not so anymore. A lot of it is they struggled early in life. A lot of them leave home at 14 to play junior. They're not coddled and recruited as big-star college athletes and don't become national icons at age 18 like NBA and NFL players. I think hockey players have more of a sense of family too. They don't come from broken homes nearly as much. Their mothers and fathers drove them to the rink at 5 a.m. It helps.

I always wondered if it helped that the NHL just doesn't get the media attention of the other pro sports leagues. Even someone like Sidney Crosby could walk down the streets of many areas without anyone recognizing him. You'd think that would keep their lives a little more normal maybe.

I think hockey players at times like the big money with the degree of anonymity they can still have. Chris Drury, remember, pointed out that was a positive of going to NYC - that he wouldn't have people coming up to him all the time to discuss the power play like he did in Buffalo.

What's the best part of your job?

Seeing so many amazing events in the last 20 years and often being the only person from Buffalo who's there to chronicle it. That's an awesome responsibility that I always take seriously.

And the worst thing?

You're rarely asked what kind of stories you can get or how good they'll be because you're ALWAYS asked "How much will it cost?"

Cut-cut-cut. Give people less and less and less .... and then you wonder why readers turn away? Please.

Are you talking about cutting money or space? Or both? And what exactly do you mean by not being asked what kind of stories you can get?

Talking about cutting costs - mostly travel budgets- AND space. Not nearly the room there used to be for takeouts, investigations, etc. They don’t ask what kind of stories you can get on a trip ever, e.g. are there good local tie-ins at the World Series (there’s usually 1 or 2 every year). It’s always how much is it. I understand. It’s reality. Especially now. But still frustrating.

What's your favorite thing about working as a sportswriter in Buffalo?"

People can’t get enough Sabres and Bills. It’s awesome. Other cities are far more ambivalent. And the whole "We have to win a title someday!" thing gives it a Red Sox feel like they had in Boston. I seriously wonder how different things become here if the city ever wins a Super Bowl or a Stanley Cup. That quest will be over forever.

Ever thought about going somewhere else in the last 20 years?

Thought I might be somewhere else in the early 90s cuz I was stuck on high schools for five years. We finally had some movement in the department. I wasn’t a fan of covering high schools other than boys basketball. Memo to parents: Your child’s college scholarship is NOT dependent on getting a newspaper story done about them. If they’re good enough, the college will find them.

I hate to keep coming back to this but one last time... The Sabres win the Cup. Two weeks later, when all your stories are done but people are still tipping cars and setting bonfires on Chippewa Street, would you wander by there, take it all in and think, "The Sabres just won the Stanley Cup. Awesome." SOME part of you has to think that, doesn't it?

Yep. I'll say it for sure. But it will take about two weeks. I won't be doing it that night or that day. The impact of things often doesn't hit until you start getting with other people again. I got home from 2001 World Series and 2004 ALCS and realized when I couldn't walk more than 20 feet in the office without somebody stopping me to talk about how BIG they were.

But won't it be different from those examples because it's your city and your team? The team and city you work in and even more, have lived your entire life in? Or no?

Might be different if the Stanley Cup is won in Buffalo. If it's a Super Bowl (which can't be here) or a Cup won on the road, you'll really be focused on deadline stuff. You'd have to have ice in your veins to not feel something if they win a cup at HSBC.