Monday, November 8, 2010

Moving Day!

Read the post below and then check out my new digs at  That's where all new material will go from now on.  Come on, WHAT are you WAITING for?

Is That... Hope?

I'm not sure that a lot of questions about the Sabres were really answered Saturday night with their win against the Leafs, but I can now firmly answer something about myself:  I do not have it in me to cheer for a bad season.  It was probably silly how clearly excited the Sabres were about that win, but honestly, I was every bit as excited.  Part of it was Jochen Hecht finally scoring his first goal and doing it in dramatic fashion, part of it was Jhonas Enroth looking better than he did in his previous start, part of it was itty bitty Tyler Ennis' very pretty move in the shootout, and part of it was beating the Leafs which is always a joy.  But there's no doubt about it, I was really and truly excited.

I immediately started wondering if this was it, the game that was finally going to get everything turned around.  I thought, "Lindy is right!  Every team has bad streaks!  Our is just at the beginning of the season!  This team is not THAT bad!  It's all going to be okay!"

In other words, I'm a sucker.

I have settled a little bit from my "Should they or shouldn't they get better?" post however.  I don't know if Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier are going to be here next season or not, but regardless of who's in charge, there will be a fairly large roster turnover.  Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford will not be back.  Craig Rivet won't be back.  I'd say Mike Grier is probably on the bubble of not being back.  I'm guessing Rob Niedermayer and Patrick Lalime won't be back.  Some of those guys might not make a huge difference but that does automatically mean at least some changes in the top six.  It also creates a fair amount of money and space, both something that the Sabres often lack.

Which is not to say that I want to toss off this season for next one.  I mean, jeez, how many seasons now have we said, "Well, NEXT year we'll have space/money/opportunity."  But it does make me wonder if management wasn't thinking that we'd make the playoffs this year and that they'd then really make some changes next year.  I'm not saying that was the right way to approach things especially with Connolly.  I'm just speculating.  But I am sure they did not expect things to be this bad right now.  It also makes me feel like we probably don't need to completely bottom out this season in order to see some improvement down the road.

I don't know.  I do know that when it comes to either wallowing in the despair of a long, losing season or grasping at any sign of hope, I'm a grasper.  So for now, right this second, I'm hoping.  I'm not hoping that we'll win the Stanley Cup - I'm a dreamer, I'm not insane - but hoping that the entire season isn't going to be like October?  That seems fairly reasonable.  I hate the idea of either just missing or just making the playoffs again, but I hate the idea of being way, way out of it early even more.  Sorry, people who want a number one pick.  I like to win hockey games.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Coming Up on Top Shelf

This doesn't have anything to do with the Sabres, but it does have to do with this blog and some upcoming changes so if you're at all interested, keep reading.

A few weeks back, I was asked if I would like to join up with Bloguin.  Bloguin is a network of blogs, mostly but not all sport- related.  I won't go into all the boring details, but I will say that I was pretty familiar with them and some of the blogs on their network.  (I'm a particularly devoted reader of Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke?)  It seemed like a good gig for me - a new banner, a more personalized blog, a solid network of people, and a chance at some revenue - so after talking it over with some people whom I trust, I decided to go for it.  Not a lot will change as far as you're concerned, but I did want to give you a heads-up about a few things.

-- The URL will be changing, probably as of Monday.  As far as I know, if you continue to come here, you will be re-directed to the new site, at least for a time.  If you have me on your blogroll or if you keep up with me through a reader, you might want to update that because once the new site goes live, new material will not be posted here.  I will put a note up here when I'm completely moved over there.

-- There will be ads.  The standard format used across Bloguin seems to be one ad at the very top of the page and a couple in the sidebar, one "above the fold."  I know that ads can be super annoying, but I don't think you'll really notice these.  I promise they're not the kind of ads that expand when you accidentally scroll over them (again and again) and they won't follow you around the screen until you acknowledge them.  They also won't play music or video.  They'll just sit there quietly, minding their own business.

Advertising is something I've thought about off and on over the years, and I've seriously talked to people about it a few times.  I've never taken the plunge though because it's just me here, and I felt a little out of my element trying to make decisions and negotiate prices.  At Bloguin, other people take care of arranging and placing the advertising, and I won't lie, the chance to make a little money doing this is one of the biggest reasons I jumped in.  I love writing Top Shelf, but it does take a lot of time out of my schedule.  A few extra nickels to rub together would be swell particularly now that I'm in school full-time and only working part-time.

-- At the top of the blog you'll see a Bloguin log-in box.  If you open a Bloguin account you're all set up to comment across the Bloguin network, however, you do NOT have to have a Bloguin account to comment here.  You can ignore that box completely and go on commenting as always if you so choose.  You will have to submit an email address when you comment, but it will NOT be published with your comment and the only person anywhere IN THE WHOLE WORLD who has access to the email addresses used at Top Shelf is me.  And I promise, I won't spam you.

-- For really long posts, I might start using a READ MORE cut.  I've been told that it looks cleaner to have a lot of short posts on the front page as far as advertisers are concerned, and let's be real, if you click on READ MORE, that's another page view which is how my cut of ad revenue is determined.  (So if you're ever really bored at work or in class, come load my blog over and over.)  I am personally not a fan of breaking up a post like that so I promise I'll only use cuts for longer posts and if I use one, there will be at least a couple of paragraphs behind the cut.  I hate when I click on READ MORE and there's only three more sentences.

I'm pretty excited about giving this a whirl, and really like I said, things are not going to change that much from your point-of-view.  I'm still the only one writing here, I have full control over what I write so the style isn't going to change at all.  If anything, things are going to be much prettier.  I think you'll like it.  I hope so.

Back to the Sabres in a day or so.

Friday, November 5, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Sabres?

I just want to say that I have NO idea what is with the spacing issues lately. I know it looks terrible, but I really don't know how to fix it, and I'm going to be changing blogging platforms soon so I'm honestly not that concerned about figuring it out. Also, it's 2:11 in the morning. For now, just know that I realize it looks really ugly. I'm sorry. It won't be an issue much longer.

I’ve been pondering the Sabres and their current dilemma and here’s where I keep getting stuck: this is not an issue of talent, not entirely at least.  Don’t get me wrong, this team is not talented enough to win the Stanley Cup at least not without Ryan Miller playing completely out of his mind. But there is no way the Sabres are the least talented team in the NHL. I said before the season started that they should be a playoff team, and I'd still say that now. They should be a playoff team.  I could sit here and list all the things that the Sabres need to fix on the ice - the power play is awful (again), their defense is sloppy, they're not working hard enough - but I'm not sure any of that matters. The problem is clearly much, much deeper than what's on the ice.

I love the little girl on the glass, literally waving goodbye to all her Sabres-related hopes and dreams.

Which means I don't what the problem is. And that is VERY annoying Is it the attitude of certain players? Is it a total lack of leadership in the dressing room? Are the players rebelling against The System? Are they sick of listening to Lindy Ruff? Is Lindy Ruff sick of talking to them? Is upper management's emphasis on the bottom line trickling down and annoying the players? 

Maybe more accurately, I know what the problem is - these are not new problems really - but I don't know what the best fix is. I don't know because I'm not privy to that side of the team and that makes things really frustrating. I want to be able to say that putting Player X with Player Y or trying Player Z on the power play point will fix everything, and it's just not as simple as that.

I don't listen to WGR a whole lot, but I do follow Schopp on Twitter and a few days ago he tweeted, "Can the Sabres season be saved?" A few minutes later he changed it to, "SHOULD the Sabres season be saved?" In retrospect, I kind of wish I'd turned on the radio and listened to what he had to say because I think that's a really interesting question. Lindy said in his presser after the Boston game that he thinks he and the team will get through this bad period together. He said at his Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame induction tonight that the Sabres will make the playoffs. But do we want that? Do we want another season of the Sabres making the playoffs and going out as soon as they run up against a team with more desire? (i.e. all of them) Or worse, another season where they finish just outside the playoffs but close enough that the team isn't unhappy with itself? Do we want any more reason for management to think, "Maybe these guys will be okay," when they so clearly aren't? Or to say "Obviously Lindy isn't the problem" when love him or not, he probably is at least part of the problem?

Should the Sabres season be saved? I don't really have a good answer for that question either. As a fan, of course I would prefer that the Sabres make the playoffs. The playoffs are fun and yes, the irrational fan in me says and, more importantly, believes that anything can happen once the playoffs start. But maybe it is best to burn it down and start from scratch. Maybe the only thing that will get management's attention is a complete and total, inarguable failure of a season. If we could just magically jump from right now to the end of the season, I'd be fine with no playoffs, last place, and a lottery pick in the draft. But do I really want to watch and blog about six more months like this last one? No freaking way. I've also seen firsthand, in other parts of my sports fandom, how it's sometimes not that easy to rebuild a team that's been completely blown up, particularly when there are question marks about how serious management is about making changes and how effective the people in charge of making those changes will be. Maybe it's better to put up with another season of squeaking in and going out.

I don't know. I don't know anything. What do you know? What do you think? What do you want?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Are We SURE Baseball is Over?

Whoa.  So remember how I said yesterday that Tim Connolly shouldn't really be that high on the list of Players to be Executed?  Yeah.  Timmy might want to not leave the house for a few weeks.  

A scheduling conflict spared me from most of the first period, but based on the opinions of my husband and the raging on Twitter, I could tell it was a bad one.  And even with that preparation, I was shocked when I watched the first period highlights.  The Sabres looked like they had literally never played hockey before the puck dropped tonight.  I've run power plays in P.E. with a bunch of emotionally disturbed second graders that were more effective than anything the Sabres put together tonight.  I found myself wishing there was a Pittsburgh Pirates game on tonight and that is just not a good place to be.  Just gross, gross, gross.

I don't even know what to say about what should happen to who.  I'm going to have to process this.  Probably everyone should be fired including Sabretooth and the person who picks the music played at HSBC.  

I mean... gross.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Expectations and Frustrations

I've been thinking a lot about Tim Connolly.  It seems like I'm reading more and more frantic "I WANT THAT GUY OFF MY TEAM RIGHT NOW!" comments this season, and while I do kind of get it, I kind of don't get it too.  I know the buzz phrases right now are things like PASSION and FIRE and Connolly certainly comes up short in those areas.  He always has.  I would not be the least bit hesitant to throw him in the pile of players who haven't lived up to their talent although some of that, in fairness, has been due to the ridiculous string of injuries during what probably should have been the prime of his career.  But as far as the team we're watching right now, in the last 12 games, I don't know, it seems to me Connolly is fairly low down on the list of problems.  He's on pace for 27(.3) goals which isn't terrible.  I don't want him to re-sign in Buffalo but I don't want him dropped into a fiery pit tomorrow either.  While this team is really low in intangibles like leadership and desire, it's also low on production.  I'm not sure Connolly should be quite so high on the list of players to be executed at dawn.

In fact, as frustrating as Connolly, Vanek, and Roy can be, they're more or less being Connolly, Vanek, and Roy right now.  As much as we want to talk about all the missing intangibles - and again, I think that is a completely valid discussion - I also think this team is probably fine if Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers are just playing better even a little better than have so far.  (For the record, I'm defining "fine" as "in a playoff spot rather than the basement" not as "Stanley Cup contender!")  I don't think it's any secret that the current team is constructed in a way that relies extremely heavily on those two guys.

We could probably argue about whether that's fair or not.  I think it's more fair to Ryan who I'm definitely frustrated with right now.  Honestly, I'm probably more frustrated with him than anyone else.  He should certainly be entitled to an off night here and there and his teammates should be able to pick him up on those nights.  But a Vezina-winning, franchise goalie should also be held to pretty high standards and he has not met those standards at all.  Yes, he's been hung out to dry at times.  He hasn't saved this team yet this season though and he's played a lot of average games with a couple of bad ones thrown in.  Our once awesome penalty kill - currently 27th which makes me want to weep - really misses Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman (and this is where I say, "I told you so") but it also misses the Ryan Miller of last season.  If I'm panicking about anything at this point, it's Ryan.  Despite everything I know about how Ryan has gotten better every season and how goalies often mature into their 30s, I secretly worry that last season was Ryan's career year, the one that'll make us look back and think, "Damn, if only we'd had a slightly better team that season."

The expectations are a little more unfair to Tyler Myers.  This time last season, I think even Sabres management was considering him a very pleasant surprise.  Coming into this season he was suddenly the cornerstone of the defensive corp and a future all-time great Sabre which seemed a little excessive.  Ryan's been around long enough that he should be able to carry a lot of weight on his shoulders.  He was brought along much more slowly by the Sabres, and I think that worked to his advantage.  Myers is, at the end of the day, still just a 20-year-old kid in his second year in the NHL.  That's tough.  I definitely wonder if some of his struggles, especially on the mental side, are being caused by the weight of expectation.

(And not having Hank around.  I feel you there, kid.)

How about you?  Who are you the most frustrated by or annoyed with right now?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Captain, Captain, Who's Got the Captain?

Some of you out there may have heard of National Novel Writing Month, known in short-hand as NaNoWriMo.  The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November.  I, however, do not write novels.  I write this here blog.  Which is why I'll be participating in NaBloWriMo instead.  Every day for the entire month, I'll write something here.  That's right!  For the next thirty days, my thoughts on the Buffalo Sabres will be at your fingertips seven days a week.  Sometimes the posts may be long and in-depth, sometimes they might be a few short sentences.  But they will be here.

Now that I've gotten the emotional aspect of the scratching of Craig Rivet out of the way, I figured I'd give you my opinion about who should wear the "C" from here on out: Craig Rivet.

I've gone up and down the line-up, I've carefully studied The Goose's Roost's Power Rankings, and I just don't see that there are any good alternatives right now.  I think Derek Roy has it in him, but I need to see him  act like a grown-up for a while longer.  (For what it's worth, if you'd asked me in 2006 who the eventual captain would be, I would have said Roy.)  Mike Grier isn't playing as well on the ice.  Jochen Hecht seems to be well-liked but also seems very subdued and mild-mannered.  I don't want Thomas Vanek anywhere near a letter for a myriad of reasons, the biggest being that I think focusing on his own game is enough for his poor little psyche.  And all the babies are too far away to carry that weight right now.  Maybe some day but not yet.

My only reluctance in keeping the captaincy with Rivet is that I don't think his play is really going to improve.  He's not a 30-year-old Henrik Tallinder who was scratched because he needed to play harder and focus more.  I don't have any complaints about Rivet's work ethic or desire.  I don't think that's his problem.  I think his problem is that he went and got old, and once a professional athlete starts to get old, I'm not sure you can correct that.  I don't see him suddenly becoming one of the six best d-men on the team (though I wouldn't be opposed to Myers sitting for a night or two and getting his head straight).  So if the goal is to find a captain who's both mature, fit to lead, and really good at hockey, well, I'm not sure that guy is on the roster right now.  Kind of a sad state of affairs

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sometimes Getting Your Way Kinda Sucks

I've been saying since about halfway through last season that Craig Rivet needed to be scratched from the line-up.  I'd never been super high on him, but he was looking particularly old and slow, just completely out of sorts.  Eventually it came out that he'd been trying to play through a shoulder injury that probably should have been surgically repaired months earlier, and everyone thought he'd come back at 100% this season.  I wasn't convinced and I admit, I've taken a little delight in being right.  I wanted him to be scratched so badly.  

And then Lindy Ruff actually did scratch Rivet.  He kind of put himself in the position where he had to.  He couldn't go on and on about playing the best players and ignore the elephant in the room with 52 on his back.  And I think Lindy is pretty desperate to find something that will wake someone up.  But I was pretty surprised.  Every time I've ever publicly rallied for Rivet to be benched, someone has come along and told me the story about how Lindy was scratched while wearing the C for the Sabres and how much that wounded his pride and ended his career in Buffalo.  And I got that.  As much as fans, me included, insist that management set aside feelings and do the right thing for the team, I understand that everyone carries the weight of their own experiences with them and those experiences affect us and how we deal with others.  I know a lot of people will insist that Lindy shouldn't get any credit for finally doing something that should have been done a long time ago, something any good coach would do, but I disagree.  I give Lindy a lot of credit for making this move because it does hit so close to home for him. I think it's obvious from his comments - "No player understands. He won’t understand" - that this was a tough one for him.  

And then I watched this interview with Rivet.  (If you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to take a few minutes to check it out.)  I'm not going to lie, I was completely fascinated by this interview.  I've gotten so used to seeing professional athletes give plastic interviews where they break out all the familiar catchphrases: we're not getting the breaks, we're not playing within the system, we're trying to do too much, we just need to keep working hard and putting pucks on the net.  This interview was not like that at all.  Rivet doesn't break down in tears or punch Kevin Sylvester in the mouth (alas) or anything like that.  He's completely in control of his emotions.  And yet, he's not in control of his emotions at all.  He's clearly feeling a myriad of things: anger, disappointment, frustration, guilt, pride.  I think in that interview, you really see a guy who knows he's watching the end of his career come up fast and also seeing the possibility that it might not end on his own terms.  

There's a really wonderful book called "The Boys of Summer" by Roger Kahn. (I promise this is going somewhere so please hang with me.)  At a very young age, early 20's, I believe, Kahn suddenly found himself working as a beat writer for the New York Herald Tribune.  His assignment was to follow the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team he grew up rooting for and still unashamedly loved.  The first part of the book follows those years spent covering the Dodgers, the seasons that end in heart-breaking losses to the Yankees and the season, 1955, where they finally become Word Series Champions.  The second part of the book is Kahn visiting various members of the Dodgers in the late 60's and early 70's, catching up with them and seeing where life took them after their playing careers were over.  

I was, I don't know, maybe 11 or 12 when I first read "The Boys of Summer."  I adored the first part of the book.  I ate up all the descriptions of Ebbets Field, the stories about Jackie Robinson, the travails of the loyal fans who almost always watched their team come up just short.  I loved the stories about traveling with the team, and the hustle and bustle of an old-school newsroom, the reporters calling in scores and guys in the office fishing the correct numbers out of a pile and placing them carefully on the press.  I think "The Boys of Summer" is probably responsible for instilling the dream to be a sportswriter, a dream I carried through my freshman year of college before finally abandoning it.  I know it was responsible for my childhood crush on Pee-Wee Reese and for me probably being the only person in my age group to send him fan mail.  I didn't really care for the second part of the book, however.  I mean, jeez, who cared about a bunch of old geezers, you know?  

I re-read "The Boys of Summer" a couple of years ago, and this time the second part was much more interesting because I realized that those old geezers weren't really that old at all.  Most of them were in their mid-to-early forties.  Some of them had started new lives that were happy and successful and some of them had struggled more with leaving their playing careers behind, but it made me think a lot about what it would be like to suddenly have to start all over at such a young age.  It's not that they decided, "Hey, I think I'll start a new career."  They had to.  No one wanted them to play baseball anymore.  The thing they had dreamed of, the one thing they'd wanted to do with their lives was over.  As often as I've sarcastically said, "Oh, yeah I'd love to get paid all that money to play a freaking game," I know these guys have given up a lot to get where they are.  Hockey players especially start at such a young age, too young probably.  They leave home, they sacrifice family, friendships, schooling, and let's be honest, childhood. And then at 35, they're done.  They're starting over at an age where most of us are really getting into a groove.  

I don't mean to be overly dramatic.  Craig Rivet has made enough money over the course of his career that he should be just fine financially.  He has the means to pursue whatever he wants to pursue.  He also has the means to not pursue anything and spend a few years at home watching his kids grow up if that's what he prefers.  That's a privilege that very, very few people can choose.  The Sabres organization alone is full of guys who have found careers in hockey after their playing days were over: Lindy Ruff, James Patrick, Rob Ray, Mike Robitaille, Jim Lorentz just to name a few.  But still.  He's 36.  Emotionally, that's a huge change to make at such a young age.  How weird must it be to be just about done and still have so much of life in front of you?  How weird must it be to realize that your skill set is completely useless in the real world?  How weird is it to know that you're living a dream and that the dream is almost over and that it really wasn't that long?  In ten years, when you're only 45, 50, it'll be far enough away that it might feel like it really was a dream.  And how weird is it that the people around you are ultimately the ones who decide whether you can continue or not?  That as much as you may want to go on, they have the power to decide it's over?  I wonder, do professional athletes face retirement with the secret fear that the best years of their lives are behind them, that nothing that comes after will top what they've already experienced?

I'm rambling now, I know, and honestly, I'm not sure what I'm really trying to say.  I was just genuinely taken aback at how much that Rivet interview affected me.  It was one of those rare moments where I saw the facade of professional athlete slip and got a good, long look at the human being behind the jersey, a human being living a life and grappling with a thousand conflicting emotions and big, potentially life-changing moments, just like we do.  

I'm glad Rivet was scratched, but I'm also glad I'm not the one who had to sit down and break the news to him.  I'm glad I got what I wanted, but I'm really sad about it too.  I wish that it had ended a different way.  I hope it still does.  I guess I'm just a softie.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Steve Montador Makes Me Happy

The Sabres are not very good at hockey lately and there are a million things we could probably debate. Should Lindy Ruff be fired? Should Darcy Regier be run out of town? Should Tim Connolly be executed at center ice? Should Craig Rivet be benched? Should someone be traded? Why in the world is it so hard to get the sound on the HD broadcast to work correctly? But you know what? I said I was going to have fun this season and gosh darn it, I'm going to do it. And firing Lindy and executing players is not fun, not really. Instead of tackling any of the above, I'm going to write about something that makes me happy. Here it is:

Buffalo Sabres' Steve Montador, Left, Works
Hi, Steve!

First there's the obvious: Steve Montador, unlike many of his teammates, has been pretty excellent at playing hockey so far this season.  Our defense is currently running amok and he's been one of the few steady Freddys.  He's never going to win any awards, he's never going to draw a lot of attention to himself, but for the most part, he goes out and does his job well.  That's my kind of defenseman right there.

But here's the thing that really makes me happy: Steve Montador is wearing a visor even though he doesn't really have to anymore.  There are a few things I don't understand about hockey players: I don't understand why they sometimes put elbows or shoulders into another player's head or back.  I don't understand why they wear their helmets so loose that they pop off if someone looks at them funny.  I don't understand why someone with a concussion history TIMCONNOLLY wouldn't wear a mouthguard even though research has shown that good ones can offer serious protection.  And I don't understand why any hockey player in the NHL would refuse to wear a visor.  Hello, have you seen how hard those guys can shoot a puck?  One player losing or severely damaging an eye would be enough for me.  Perhaps I'm not macho enough for hockey, but I feel like this is one area where macho kind of bumps into stupidity.  (As it often does really.)

We'll have to see if it sticks - I remember a few years ago when Paul Gaustad took a puck to the eye and wore a visor for a total of seventeen or so minutes - but hearing a guy say, "Hey, it turns out that protecting my oddly handsome face isn't so uncomfortable after all!" is music to the ears of this soft-hearted hockey fan.  So thank you, Steve Montador for giving me something to feel good about.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

That's Like, Totally Awesome

If this doesn't pump you up for tonight's game, I don't know what will because you have no soul.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Apology to the Sabres: Sorry, It's All Me

Dear Sabres,

I've been watching you so far this season and I can't help but notice that you play really, really differently on the road than you do at home.  I've been trying to reason this out and find a logical explanation, and I think I might have hit on the answer.  It can't be you.  I mean, it just makes no sense for the same group of players to play so poorly in one place and so well everywhere else, right?  You have the same coaching staff everywhere.  You have the same teammates everywhere.  When I really thought about it, the only thing different was us, the fans.  Clearly, the home/road divide is all our fault.

I'm really sorry, guys but, well, the truth is, I'm just trying to be way too fancy with my support.  I love you guys! I want to put on the best show that I can!  Sometimes when I'm high-fiving at the arena, especially when I'm trying to high-five the guy too far away and behind me, I miss.  Or sometimes I try to squeeze in one high-five too many and the puck has already dropped again before I get the last one in.  I totally missed my chance to applaud and cheer!  I'm trying to do too much.  But it's hard!  I want to do so well for the home team!  You guys deserve my best.

I really wish you could see me cheer when you're on the road.  There's a lot less pressure then, and I'm freaking awesome.  I never miss a high-five, I perfectly time the leap from the couch with the goal - never too soon, never too late.  I stay within myself.  I don't try to do too much.  I play The Cheering System perfectly.  When you're home that all goes out the window and The Cheering System is left in poor, pathetic shambles.

This is clearly affecting all of you, and I'm sorry.  I'm going to try really hard to be better.  I know if I'm making the appropriate noises at the appropriate volume level at the appropriate times that will somehow make you better at hockey.  I'm aware of the problem, and I'm going to work on it.  That's my promise to you as a Sabres fan.

Let's go Buff-a-lo!

Heather B.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Three Choices

I'm curious to know how many of Daniel Alfredsson's 1,000 career points came against the Buffalo Sabres.  I remember at least 987, but I'm not sure about the rest

It appears that we have three options if we want to see a winning Sabres season:

1. Blow up HSBC Arena and then pretend we're all upset when Gary Bettman informs us that we'll have to play all the rest of our games on the road.

2. Have the Sabres stay in a hotel even while in Buffalo and assume they're dumb enough to think that means they're on the road.


3. Fire everyone and start from scratch.

Should we put it to a vote?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tradition, Tradition! Tradition!

There is a part of me that has always felt very defensive about the non-traditional hockey markets, especially those in the south.  I imagine it's probably because I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama.  While the reality is that I probably never would have fallen in love with hockey had I stayed there - in Birmingham there's zero hockey coverage in the newspaper and no TV broadcasts beyond whatever is on Versus and NBC - I know that if I had found hockey, it would have probably been through the Thrashers or the Hurricanes.

I love, love, love living in a traditional hockey market.  I love that most of Buffalo could identify any Sabre player they saw walking down the street in regular clothes.  I love that there are so many Sabres blogs out there.  Despite my complaints about aspects of their coverage, I love that when I pick up the Buffalo News or load their website, I'm bombarded with Sabres stories and commentary.  But because I didn't grow up in a traditional hockey market, I remember what it's like to be a new fan.  I remember what it's like to look at the ice and just see a swirl of activity, not being able to pick out defensemen from forwards, not understanding what anyone's role was, not knowing the difference between blue lines and red lines (other than, of course, the color).  Some of you probably don't realize this because you've been watching hockey from the womb, but it takes some getting used to if you want to watch it in more than a casual way.

But, and I say this with love, traditional markets can be total assholes.  Really, we can.  Just because you don't need diagrams of the ice and the various positions on your team's website and announcements about offside calls and icing doesn't mean some of the rest of us don't.  While I picked up a ton about hockey and how things work on the ice just by paying attention to Jim Lorentz during TV broadcasts - even now I really miss his simple, articulate analysis and break-downs of plays - I also read Hockey for Dummies from cover to cover.  I've always thought that traditional markets indulge in a lot of double talk when it comes to non-traditional markets.  If the fan base is unknowledgeable, they get lambasted.  If they do things to educate themselves about the game, they also get lambasted.  It's stupid.  Every fan has to start somewhere and some of us start a lot later than others.

I've also always felt a little bad for fans in markets where attendance is poor and have been hesitant to be too critical.  Come on, how much would it suck to be one of those fans?  The fact that there are only 11,000 fans in the building doesn't make those 11,000 any less passionate than the fans in the sold out buildings in Toronto or Montreal.  Heck, in some ways it might make them more passionate because they're swimming against the stream in a way that fans in traditional markets will never have to.

That said, this is ridiculous:

Click for larger image.  It's worth it.

This is during the second period of the most recent Coyotes game.  This is halfway through the game! Announced attendance was 6,706 according to Twitter but many people seem to think that was a generous number.  That's TERRIBLE.  Somewhere in that crowd there's probably a little girl in a Coyotes jersey and my heart really and truly breaks for that little girl potentially losing her team, but good grief, how in the world can the NHL justify keeping a franchise there?  Why would they want to keep a franchise there?  How awful would it be to grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL and then end up playing in front of crowds like that?  My high school football team plays in front of bigger crowds than that many weeks.  (Not an exaggeration.)  Is it that bad to admit that hockey in Phoenix (and Atlanta) just isn't working?  I don't see why it is.  Does it matter how bad the arenas in Quebec and Winnipeg are if the arenas are going to be full of people?  How is that not better than this?

Am I crazy?  I wasn't a hockey fan when Winnipeg and Quebec lost their teams and when most of the sun belt expansion took place so maybe I'm missing something but man.  That photo makes me sad.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

All Is Right With the World Again

The Sabres had me worried there for a few games, but Tyler Myers finally looked good and scored a goal, Tyler Ennis scored a goal, AND Thomas Vanek scored a goal.  I can only draw one conclusion from this: The Sabres ARE going to win the Stanley Cup after all.  (As long as they play all of their remaining games on the road.)

I know that Thomas Vanek drives some people crazy - even Mark finally said a couple of nights ago that he was starting to lose patience with him - but I don't know, I just never quite get to that point with him.  Logically speaking, I know that we need him to be better than he often is, that really, the offense goes as he goes, but he's such a sweet little headcase that I never work up much anger toward him.  I just feel badly for him.  One of my favorite little things about hockey is that relieved "Hallelujah, I scored a goal!" expression that every player has after a drought-breaking goal, and Vanek has one of the very best in the business.  If you look closely, you can see the weight lifting off him.  His posture actually improves a little bit.  It's cute.  Now just keeping shooting the heck out of the puck, Thomas.  Please.

For the record, my second favorite expression of last night was Jochen Hecht's tiny little "You can say that wasn't a goal if you want, REFS" grin and shake of the head.   Jochen has the best tiny grins in the league.  If you're not looking for them, you can easily miss them, but if you catch them, they're pretty darn cute.

A few weeks ago I mentioned a sketch card auction that my big brother Chris was taking part in as part of Goalies Against Cancer.  All the cards, some his, some from others, are now available for bidding.  You can check them out on eBay.  All proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  There are a couple of Ryan Miller cards available and you know how Ryan feels about cancer research so feel free to go out there and spend some money!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I’m beginning to wonder if TBN’s columnists are getting a bonus every time they write the words “Tim Kennedy.” I’m trying very hard to ignore Bucky Gleason these days - TBN is obviously enamored with him so I’m not getting rid of him anytime soon - but now Jerry Sullivan is in on the act? Good lord.

You can read Sully’s column here but the main gist is that the Sabres aren’t playing with any passion or fire because they’ve been beaten down by how management treats the players. He cites them refusing to pay Teppo Numminen a few years ago after he failed his preseason physical, not calling Henrik Tallinder back after making their initial two year offer, and buying out Tim Kennedy.

Look, I’m not going to say that the Sabres front office is overflowing with people skills. Sometimes it’s like these guys have never interacted with other human beings. They bungled the Tim Kennedy thing. Darcy Regier saying, “Yeah, we can work with that,” one day and then waiving him the next day makes them look petty or at the very least, not that bright. But that’s what’s responsible for the lack of passion from the team? Come on. That’s stupid.

Here are a few responses to specific passages.

Try this: Give your all for the team, but don't dare challenge us at the bargaining table. God forbid a Sabre should be overpaid. If being paid beyond your achievements was cause for dismissal, they wouldn't be able to field a team.

Actually, now that I’ve put this passage in here, I think I misunderstood it the first time I read it. But I’ll leave it in just because it’s the perfect example of the double talk from TBN columnists that drives me batty. For months, Sully has talked incessantly about how overpaid guys like Connolly and Pominville and Gaustad are, but now that the Sabres have said, you know, we don’t want to pay that much for that guy, he’s having a sarcastic fit. Because hey, if you’re going to overpay everyone else why not overpay another guy?

While we’re on the subject of double talk, a huge part of the reason Bucky’s babbling about the Kennedy buyout has made me so crazy is because he’s been writing forever that the Sabres should buyout Connolly and Stafford. But as soon as they bought out Kennedy, he was indignant. “They’ve always said that they’d NEVER buy a player out and now they did! Harrumph!"

Clearly the issue here is that the Sabres overpaid the players Bucky and Sully didn’t want overpaid and put their foot down with one they didn’t care about. And when the Sabres did finally cut someone loose, they didn’t cut loose the players that Bucky and Sully wanted cut loose. If they’d bought out Stafford rather than Kennedy, Bucky would be applauding the change in M.O. Instead he’s being completely self-righteous about it. I’m sick of all this petty bullshit from the media AND the team. Sometimes I feel like the two sides are in a giant pissing match and I’m stuck in the middle.

Wait, where was I?

Of course, it's a lot easier to make an example of Kennedy than one of their soft, overpriced forwards. There was a clamor to shake up their top six forwards after last year's playoff failure. I advocated cutting ties with Tim Connolly. Instead, they kept the precious core intact. 

All of the soft, overpriced forwards - the core, more or less - have been coddled and overpaid by management. They have long-term contracts that involve big money regardless of offensive output, injury history or effort. But they’re underachieving because they don’t like how management is treating players? I’m not following the logic. Honestly, some of these guys should be on their knees thanking the lord for the Sabres. Is there a franchise anywhere as in love with its players as the Sabres have been with Pominville, Gaustand, Roy, Miller, Stafford, and Vanek?  I mean, I would be totally offended by that if I were Jason Pominville!

Has anyone considered that Myers' struggles might be a result of the Sabres not bringing back Henrik Tallinder, his defense partner last season?

Well, yes, Sully. I think most of us have. I, in fact, wondered if that would be a problem before it actually happened. But I doubt Tyler Myers is moping around the ice because Darcy didn’t call Hank back and say, “Hey, thanks for the years. Good luck.” He might miss Hank on the ice. He might be struggling because he's playing without his only NHL defensive partner. His play is not being affected by the Sabres lack of courtesy toward Hank, it’s being affected by having to learn to play with a new guy.  

I know I just wrote a blog a few days ago about hockey players being human beings with feelings, but I just find this idea that the Sabres are playing lackluster hockey because TIM FREAKING KENNEDY was cut to be ridiculous and nonsensical. Don’t get me wrong, the Sabres are playing pretty passionless hockey.  But this group of players kind of always has. It’s them, it’s what they are. End of story. Most of them are not self-starters, they don’t burn to play hockey the way truly great players do. They don’t seem to at least. It’s not because of phone call or contracts or buyouts, it’s just something missing inside of them. I don’t know how you fix that. But I’m pretty sure it’s not by sending Hank a thank-you note.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Derek Roy is Playing Really Hard (Also, a Pig Just Flew By My Window

Well, the Sabres are certainly challenging the whole notion of having fun with hockey, aren't they?  The little rat bastards.

I can reason away last night's loss to Chicago.  The Sabres played much, much better.  They looked like they have, in fact, played hockey before at some point in their lives which is a much appreciated change from the preceding home games.  And the bottom line is, the Blackhawks are a superior team.  They're the defending Stanley Cup champions for a good reason, you know?  I love the Sabres, but I will reluctantly admit that there are teams in the NHL who are better than them at hockey.  That said, there are certainly things to be concerned about.  I have a ton of school work to do today so I'm too lazy to arrange these thoughts in a nice organized way. Here they are as the pop into my brain:

-- Let's start with the good.  Derek Roy.  I know!  I had no idea that giving him a second chance would revitalize him so.  Maybe I should write to many, many other Sabres and tell them the same thing.  I know it's six games so I don't want to get carried away, but Derek actually looks like he cares this season.  And honestly, I can't remember the last time he looked like that, particularly when everyone around him is struggling so much.  You can legitimately say that little Roy-Z is carrying the team right now.  I have to admit, I think that's awesome.  Mark and I are getting a kick out of saying things like, "If only the whole team was skating as hard as Derek Roy right now.  OH MY GOD IT'S A SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE!"  (Hey, we have to entertain ourselves somehow.)

-- And straight to the big bad.  Tyler Myers.  I know!  I was hoping he was just getting caught in some bad moments, but I went to the Montreal game with Kate, and I could not believe how bad, bad, bad he looked.  I figured there would be a bit of a post-Henrik Tallinder adjustment, but this seemed so far beyond that.  In fairness, the Montreal game was the first game post-Shaone Morrisonn injury so Myers was playing with a NEW new partner, but it didn't seem like miscommunication with Jordan Leopold so much as it looked like a 20-year-old kid being completely overwhelmed by the NHL.  He was playing the way I was afraid he would last season.  I don't think it's any secret that the Sabres organization was banking on Myers being even better than he was last year.  Better in the defensive end and more productive offensively.  This is a pretty obvious observation, but if he continues to play like this things are going to get very bad very quickly.

The only potentially good thing here is that maybe Myers' struggles will slow down the whole "He's going to be the best defenseman in the history of the Buffalo Sabres!" conversation.   He may well be - six bad games doesn't mean he isn't going to be - but let's not forget he's a 20-year-old in his second NHL season.

-- Quite frankly, I hate our entire defense.  Right now watching this team is like nails on a chalkboard to a defense-loving fan like myself.  I just curl up in a ball and cover my ears and eyes, occasionally weeping.  Obviously, I miss Hank, but jeez, I really miss Toni Lydman back there too.  Some of that could easily be new pairings not having enough time to gel yet, but man, thank goodness for Steve Montador.  His play hasn't been perfect, but it hasn't been godawful dreadful either.  And for crying out loud, does Mike Weber have to kill someone to get in the line-up?  Regardless of how he played in the preseason or how he's playing in practice, I think it's time to throw him into real NHL action and just see how he responds.  We've been hearing for years that he's the future.  Lord knows our current defensive corp is not so stellar that it can't be touched.

-- Along those lines, I told you guys that Craig Rivet at 100% wasn't going to be that great.  I TOLD YOU!

-- What is up with the sharp difference between the way the Sabres play at home and the way they play on the road?  I don't have the stats to back this up - proof is for journalists - but I feel like this group of players has never played very well at HSBC.  Are they too distracted by things like wives/girlfriends, kids, and Chippewa Street when at home?  Is the atmosphere that bad here now?  (And if so, guys, give us something to be happy about.)  Do they really press that much more at home than on the road in a desperate effort to impress us?  (You know what does not impress me?  Trying to make a fancy pass when you should be shooting the puck. You know what does impress me?  Wins.)  I don't get it at all.

-- All the above said, I'm not panicked yet.  I'm not sure panicked is the correct word anyway since it suggests high expectations, and I think my expectations coming into the season were pretty reasonable.  That said, the Sabres are currently below even those expectations.  I recently read somewhere - and I'd link it but I don't remember where I saw it - that conference standings generally don't change much after Thanksgiving.  The number of three point games makes it hard for a team to rise or fall a lot.  So I'm holding off any official panic until Thanksgiving.  After that, well, we'll see.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Odds and Ends

I don't really have a lot to add to the whole suspension thing, but there is one thing that really bothers me. I've seen numerous hockey writers and talking heads write and tweet that the suspension would have been greater if Jason Pominville had been injured. That absolutely sickens me because he WAS injured. He suffered a freaking brain injury.  With all the studies and reports showing how serious concussions are to a person's long-term health and with all the talk the NHL has done about taking concussions more seriously, I find this attitude galling. The NHL can say whatever it wants, its actions show that it's still ruled by the "Awww, he just got his bell rung!" culture. I fully believe that had Pominville ended up with his arm or leg in a cast, the suspension would have been greater. I also fully believe that, in the long-run, Pominville probably would have been better off with a broken bone than a concussion.  The league has to get past this whole "I can't see it so it can't be that bad" mentality.

I babysat through the first part of the Devils game but before I left I gave Mark very strict instructions to DVR any interviews with Henrik Tallinder. I was really excited when I got home during the first intermission and discovered I had just missed it. I plopped down on the couch, rewound the recording, and well...

It was really, really weird.  One of the advantages of kind of ignoring hockey in the off-season was that I didn't think that much about Hank not being a Sabre anymore.  Even the beginning of the season was fine.  But actually seeing him on the ice wearing a Devils jersey was weird.  Watching him play against Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy was weird.  Watching that interview with Rob Ray was weird.  I'm not going to lie, I was pretty sad.  I'd told myself that all the "Oh, I'm devastated, let me ease some pain with ABBA" stuff was a put-on but while it was exaggerated, no, I really am pretty sad.  Hank is as twinkly and smiley as ever but he's twinkly and smiley in a Devils jersey.  The DEVILS.  The Devils are the least twinkly and smiley team in the NHL.  I do love Jochen Hecht, but it's going to take some time to get used to this.  (For Tyler Myers too it appears.  I'm not going to say I told you so but...)

(Sidenote: I love Rob Ray's expression in the above phot.  He must have the worst poker face in the world.)

I'm making my first trip to HSBC tonight for the Montreal game so I'll have some more thoughts after that.  I think it'll be the first full game I've seen this season so I'm pretty excited.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Human Touch

I babysat this evening and when I got in the car and turned on the radio, the first thing I heard was, "Pominville has been taken off the ice by medical staff, I imagine straight to an ambulance." My heart dropped. They didn't do a great job of explaining what happened for the radio audience, but they referred to a major penalty so I knew it must have been severe. I don't LOVE Jason Pominville the way a fan loves her favorite player. I find him pretty frustrating actually. For all the complaints about Tim Connolly's contract, I think Pominville has been the most glaringly overpaid player on the roster since his extension. I can't even stand to listen to his postgame interviews anymore. Jerry Sullivan referred to him the other day as robot. You wind him up, he says what he's programmed to say, and then he stops talking. That's a perfect description.

That said, I do have a lot of affection for Jason Pominville the person. He's been with the Sabres for a number of years, a lot of my years as a real fan. Most of them, really. He's settled into the community and seems to really like it here. That goes a long way with me. I drove home as fast as I could and before I had even closed the door behind me, I was asking Mark for an update. I was worried and scared. Seeing the footage of Pominville strapped to a stretcher, being wheeled off the ice, made me want to cry and at that point, I knew he was okay.

Like I said, I didn't see the beginning of the game, but the general consensus seems to be that everyone got rattled when Pominville hit the ice and that it took them a long time to get themselves back together. But I don't know, can you blame them? I was freaking out, and at the end of the day, Jason Pominville is a stranger to me. His teammates know him. I know we've all heard the word "core" so many times that it's become easy to dismiss, but the fact is, a number of these guys have been together for a long time. They've grown up together, they've played on multiple teams together, they've gotten married and started families together. These guys know Pominville's wife, and they've played with his son. They love each other. Whatever you want to say about them as hockey players, that much seems to be true. And it seems to me that every time a player in the NHL watches someone lying on the ice, unmoving, he has to know that it could have just as easily been him.

Was their reaction the most professional? No, probably not. I know everyone would like their team to be able to keep its collective head and rise above things like this. But was it human? Absolutely it was. And that's fine with me. It's a long season. I'll give them this one.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'm Having Fun! I Swear!

I promise, this is how it happened. I signed into my email account and found an email from friends and Devils fans, Pookie and Schnookie, saying that Henrik Tallinder had scored a short-handed goal. I looked up at the TV, trying to make sense of the words "Henrik," "Tallinder," "short-handed," and "goal," and at that exact moment, Tyler Myers fell over, for no discernible reason, handing over the puck for a Rangers goal. A message from the Hockey Gods? You be the judge.

I told someone in an email last week that I just wasn't sure what to make of this season's Sabres, that I couldn't get a handle on them. The first two games of the season really didn't do much to clear things up. Perhaps I should be willing to chalk game two up as a clunker - every team has them over the course of 82 games - and if I were really generous, I might acknowledge that it was game two of a back-to-back. But come on, it was the SECOND GAME OF THE SEASON and the FIRST GAME AT HOME. That's really all the Sabres could find within themselves? That is freakin' brutal. We have twenty-two back-to-backs this season. I will crawl over the glass, leap onto the ice, and shiv someone if I have to watch twenty-one more Saturday games like that one.

The bottom line is this: It's really hard to reconcile the team that swore they had something to prove this season with the team that was - deservedly - booed off the ice on Saturday. Really hard. This was not a case of a team playing well and losing to a team that played better. It was not a case of a team playing well and not having any luck or getting any breaks. It was not an exhausted, injured team that's already battled through most of a season. It was a team that didn't show up. Period. In the second game of the season. In front of their own crowd. Ugh.

Okay, on a totally different note, I noticed a lot of complaining that the Sabres didn't do anything special for the 40th anniversary on Saturday. I thought that was pretty weird too, especially in light of the huge pregame celebration Vancouver had. When I was perusing Twitter this afternoon (avoiding many, many school assignments), I noticed a reply that Mike Harrington had sent someone about the Sabres having a big celebration on Friday before the Montreal game. It's the 40th anniversary to the day of the Sabres first game which was, funnily enough, also against Montreal.

I bring this up to say this: The Sabres are idiots. I can't believe the first I've heard of this was in some random Twitter reply one of the local beat writers sent out. I would assume I'd missed something except that no one seemed to know anything about it. I have no problem with them waiting until Friday - I think their reasons for doing so are pretty awesome actually - but why aren't they publicizing the heck out of it? Now they have a bunch of grouchy fans complaining that they didn't do anything and that it's embarrassing compared to Vancouver. If I'd had any money, I would have bought a ticket for the opener, expecting all the fanfare to be then. I'd be pretty annoyed if I got home and then realized the fanfare was actually a couple of games later. I don't get how a franchise that's so good at marketing and merchandising can be so dumb when it comes to pretty much everything else PR-wise. And while I'm ranting at the Sabres, why don't you guys get over yourselves regarding bloggers and online writers? You're crazy if you think there's any competition between blogs and other sites and your site. You know why? Because your website sucks and the only reason I ever go there is to see what time the game starts.

Ah, hockey season. It's so good to have you back. When I said I wanted to have fun this year, I was not issuing a challenge.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Starting With a Clean Slate

Okay, I had this whole thing about how I wasn't really into the preseason and how seeing this ad over on Shots Off the Crossbar really got me pumped up, but I was catching up on school work all week and didn't get around to finishing this post and now the preseason is over, the real season is here, and everyone and their dog has tweeted this ad. But watch it anyway. More thoughts after the video.

I freaking LOVE this ad.  I have a thing about seeing players out of their uniforms and I love watching them do weirdly precise little training drills so both of those things appeal to me.  But really what I love is that glaring, screw you toss at the camera at the end.  It's such a simple thing but it really delivers an emotional punch.  I've watched this ad at least fifteen times since I first saw it at SOtC, and I'm now officially pumped.  Bring on the real hockey!

In other news...

In an effort to have fun this season, I've decided that Derek Roy and I are starting with a clean slate. For those who haven't been reading Top Shelf since its inception, here's a brief history of my relationship with Derek: First I loved him. Then I loved him but felt a little bad about it. Then I hated him but felt a little bad about it. Then I hated him.

My anger with Derek is not based on the fact that I think he's untalented. It's based on the fact that I think he's far more talented than we've seen. Somewhere along the way that little pest who buzzed around the ice like he was attached to a motor turned into a lazy, disinterested veteran. He's a player who could be great - or at the very least, very good - but who seems content to be pretty good. He was a big fish in a little pond and that was good enough for him. That drove me freaking CRAZY.

But I've been reminded that he is good at hockey. And he does produce every season. And well, if we traded him for a bag of pucks like I've sometimes suggested, it would be quite a hit to the team since bags of pucks are, as far as I know, not very good at playing center. Once upon a time, I loved Derek Roy. And you know what? I kind of miss loving Derek Roy. So I'm going to try again. Maybe this experiment will be futile. Maybe Derek and I have just outgrown each other. But maybe we've both grown up in the last year. Maybe we're both ready to try again. I'm beginning the season with my heart open to the possibility of being at peace with Derek again.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Goalies Against Cancer 2010

Some thoughts (very few, really) about the preseason are coming up later but first a small public service announcement of sorts. I just wanted to draw everyone's attention to Goalies Against Cancer 2010. Goalies Against Cancer is a program organized by a couple of goalie-playing brothers whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. They've put together a number of events for the month of October to raise money for breast cancer research. All the proceeds from everything they're doing will be donated to Passionately Pink for the Cure, which goes to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation.

The reason I know about this is because my older brother Chris is involved in one of the events. From October 21st to October 31st, there will be original sketch cards of some well-known goalies up for auction on eBay. You can see all the ones that have been submitted so far here (more will be added), but here's a closer look at Chris's.

Chris lives in Alabama so he doesn't know much about hockey.  When he
volunteered to be a part of this, we had the following conversation:
"Is Ryan Miller popular?"
"Uh.  Yeah."

Many of us - too many of us - have been affected by breast cancer.  One of my very favorite families in the world struggled through a fierce battle with it over the course of the last year.  If you're at all interested in finding out more information, hit the link above and check out the many ways you can make a donation.  One hundred percent of all proceeds earned are going directly to the cause.  No one involved is pocketing anything.  Expect another reminder as October gets closer.  I'm pretty sure Ryan Miller would be okay with one of you bidding tons and tons of money for his sketch card since it's all going to cancer research.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hockey is Back? Yay, Hockey!

As you might be able to tell from the last couple of posts, it's been a weird off-season for me and hockey.  I was weary of the whole scene and annoyed by a lot of what people were obsessing over.  So I was really pleased at how happy being in the arena Saturday and Monday made me.  I wasn't even the door before that happiness started to wash over me.  Kids running down the street in jerseys, teenagers playing impromptu games of ball hockey in parking lots, the cold air in the building, hearing coaches barking and sticks slapping pucks, Lindy standing at center ice, players grinning and swirling around in undecipherable drills, fans trickling in, everyone laughing and excited.  That's the good stuff.

A few observations:

I met up with Kate for practice on Monday morning and honestly, there are very few things I can think of that are as relaxing and entertaining as watching the Sabres practice.  I don't know if it comes of not ever playing hockey or not, but I can rarely make sense of the drills they do.  We watched one that seemed to involve three defensemen and about fifteen forwards.  I have no idea.  But after a few minutes I quit trying to guess because it's just fun to watch.  Without the crowd noise, you can really hear the sounds of hockey which are awesome - all those skates cutting across the ice, the pucks rattling around the boards, the players tapping their sticks and calling for passes, the coaches barking out orders.  And minus the game action, I seem to really notice how skilled these guys are.  The eway even the worst skaters on the team skate blows my mind.  The swooping circles, the sharp starts and stops, the defensemen doing their backward zig-zags.  It's all so amazing.  I highly recommend practice if you can get there at some point this week.  (I started this on Monday.  If you haven't been to practice yet, you're probably screwed.  Sorry.)

I don't think of Ryan Miller as one of my favorite players - I'm not sure why because he's awesome, he's interesting, and he's sincere, all things that I like.  But when he skated on the ice for the team introductions at Puck Drop, I was filled with a genuine, warmness and affection.  He's a Vezina winning goalie.  He's a franchise player who seems to have really embraced the franchise he plays for.  All the arguments and complaints that the Sabres would suck without Ryan Miller are pointless because Ryan Miller is a Sabre.  When he pulls on his jersey every day, it has a Sabres logo on it.  I've been watching him for so long now that it's easy to forget that he is legitimately one of the best players in the NHL, the kind of player some fans would kill for.  He's also a really nifty guy.  And he's ours.  I'm going to try not to take him for granted so much this season.

I've blogged a number of times now about how, for me, certain players work into a corner of my irrational heart.  They're not necessarily the best players on the team - I'm not sure they ever have been really - but there's something about them that makes me really root for them to do well.  I realized during Puck Drop and again during scrimmage, that I really, really want Chris Butler to have a strong bounce back season.  I suppose that's partly because it would be nice for the team's performance if he didn't suck eggs, but it's mostly because I just like him.  He seems like such a nice kid.  I don't follow a lot of celebrities or athletes on Twitter - they're either so annoying that I realize I probably wouldn't like them in real life or they're so bland that there's kind of no point - but I make an exception for Chris Butler*.  His Twitter feed is SUPER bland, but I don't know, sweet and non-controversial seem to work for him.  And okay, there's the totally adorable picture he's currently using as his avatar.  I mean... The hat.  Those waders.  How can you not want that kid doing great things on your blue line?  Come on, Butts, I know you can do it!

 Cuteness personified.

Kate, Pookie, Schnookie, Patty, and I have often discussed REFUSING things.  (I'm pretty sure the Ookies brought up this concept first.)  Sometimes there are things - TV shows, movies, teams, players - that you just REFUSE with no real good reason.  It doesn't matter what other people say about how awesome they are.  In fact, sometimes heaps of praise just make you REFUSE something even more.  I've been refusing Shaone Morrisonn.  Now, I do have a few very good reasons for this: He spells his first name funny and funny in a way that makes me want to pronounce it "Shane."  (My spell check agrees.)  I remember there are two doubled letters in his last name but I always want to make them the "r" and the "s," not the "n."  He's a former Cap.  He's also a former Cap who's LOADED with Mike Green cooties.

The real reason I've been REFUSING Shaone Morrisonn, however, is because everyone kept referring to him as "the new Tallinder" or "the Tallinder replacement" or "another Tallinder."  Logically speaking, I know all that really means is that Morrisonn plays a similar style of hockey as Hank.  But emotionally?  No, I do not cotton to that.**  THERE IS NO SUITABLE TALLINDER REPLACEMENT ON THE PLANET EARTH.

However, at the scrimmage on Monday, I noticed him like crazy.  At least three times I thought, "Who is that again," peeked at Kate's roster and realized it was Shaone Morrisonn.  And I've found myself softening on him ever since.  His first name is Gaelic?  Hey, I wanted to name my kid Ewan for a while even though most people wouldn't know how to say it.  That's kind of sweet.  What's that?  He kind of sort of dissed the Caps for not playing much defense while very specifically calling Green the best offensive d-man in the league and not just the best d-man, no qualifier?  Awesome.

So while Shaone Morrisonn is NOT Henrik Tallinder, I'm keeping an eye on him.

And finally, this Mike Harrington story about Jochen Hecht (yay, Yo-Yo!) mentions that Jochen is still doing rehab on his finger.  For some reason that TOTALLY cracked me up.  How do you rehab a pinky?  Little tiny pinky-sized weights?  Push-ups with only your pinkies?  Lots of pinky promises with his kids?  Leave it to Jochen to be adorable.

* Other famous Tweeters I make an exception for: Steve Martin, Nathan Fillion, Shawn Michaels (he tweets like a 15-year-old girl, but I don't know, I'm entertained), Chris Jericho, Roger Ebert, and Carrie Fisher (she rarely tweets though).

** It's been brought to my attention that "I don't cotton to that" is a holdover from my Southern days.  If you don't know what it means, go here or here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I Just Wanna Have Fun

This is one of those times when I know exactly how I feel and what I'm trying to say but I also know I didn't really capture it very clearly.  I'm posting this anyway though because I'm trying to get back in the habit of blogging somewhat regularly.

My name is Heather B. and I'm excited about Puck Drop and new jerseys.

I've seen a lot of grumbling from both fans and professionals the last week or so about how some fans are so gullible and easily distracted from the quality of the team.  Throw them new jerseys, take their money, and laugh in their faces.  It's an outrage - an OUTRAGE - that Sabres ownership would play that way and it's an outrage - AN OUTRAGE! - that fans would fall for it.

Look, get over yourselves.  Seriously.

Let's be honest.  You and me, the ones who are reading and writing blogs and obssessing over every little breath the Sabres take, we're the freaks.  For each one of us, there are at least 100 fans who couldn't name the general manager, an assistant coach, or a single prospect.  They buy a jersey or a shirt, they turn on the TV or show up at the arena, they watch the players who skate onto the ice, and then they go home.  All they want from the Sabres, maybe even more than winning, is a fun experience, and it makes sense for the Sabres to market themselves to those fans.  I would guess that of the 18,000 people who go to every game there are more casual fans than hardcore fans.  You don't have to like it, I guess, but thems the breaks.  Do you really want to see what the Sabres' budget would be without an influx of money from jersey sales?  I don't think you do.

That criticism is also just annoying.  I'm really excited about the new jerseys.  I can't wait to see them on the players on Saturday.  As soon as I save enough pennies, I'll be buying one.  But I haven't forgotten about the team.  I'm not thrilled with our top six forwards.  I'm a little worried about our defense coming together.  I remain a firm Craig Rivet skeptic despite all the talk about him being 100% healthy.  I wish the line-up had gotten more of a shake-up in the off-season.  I'm perfectly capable of being an excited fan AND an informed fan.  They're not mutually exclusive.

I don't know if things really have gotten more shrill this off-season or if it's always been like this and I just hadn't noticed or been bothered by it before, but it seems like a lot of people are suddenly taking professional sports very, very seriously.  Fans are offended and insulted by the local teams and they're being told they should feel that way by certain media outlets and personalities and well, I don't get it.

By all means, if you're not happy with the product you're getting, stop spending your money.  I got no problem with that.  If I were a football fan, I would have quit watching the Bills years ago, and I understand that some people are there with the Sabres.  But I don't get the drama about it.  I don't love the current Sabres roster but I'm not offended that Tom Golisano wants to make a profit on his investment.  I'm not insulted that Darcy Regier either couldn't get or didn't want any big headline-inducing names here.  The Sabres didn't spit in my face when they bought out Tim Kennedy.  It's just all too serious.  It's sports.  It's entertainment.  I would love, love, love to see the Sabres hoist a Stanley Cup.  Buffalo would have a blast with that.  But it's not going to change my life if they do.  I'm not going to get through college any faster, I'm not going to find a better job, I'm not going to suddenly have a house full of children.  And on the flip side, it's not going to ruin my life if they don't win a championship.  Buffalo is the only pro sports town I've ever lived in (that I remember - those 8 months in Pittsburgh are pretty fuzzy, being an infant and all) so I don't know if it's a sports thing or if it's specifically a Buffalo thing, but Buffalo sometimes wraps way too much of its collective self-worth up in how the sports teams perform.  I don't roll that way.  Golisano not caring about winning doesn't reflect on or hurt me.  Derek Roy and Drew Stafford being satisfied with playing at 60% effort most nights doesn't reflect on or hurt me.  If it does, I'm giving them and hockey too much power.

So yeah, I'm going to Puck Drop on Saturday, and I'm pretty dang excited about it.  I'm not going to analyze the players or how they play in a freaking scrimmage.  I'm not going to pay attention to lines and pairings.  I'm going to have fun.  I'm going to meet up with some folks I only know from the internet.  I'm going to see some friends I haven't seen since last season ended.  I'm going to enjoy being in the arena again.  I'm going to delight in how something about seeing Lindy Ruff on the ice makes it feel like it's officially hockey season.  I'm going to send Jochen Hecht happy, new favorite player thoughts.  I'm going to ooh and aah over the jerseys.  I'm going to revel in the sound of skates cutting across the ice and pucks rattling around the boards because I suddenly really miss those sounds.

Fun.  Hockey is fun.  That's it.  That's all I want.  If you don't like it, well, too bad.