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.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ding-Dong the Slug is Dead

You can't see me, but I'm currently dancing on the grave of the slug.  I don't know if the leaked jersey photos are real or not, but I do know that there's not a slug anywhere in sight.  I know, I know.  Most people got over the slug by the middle of the 2006-2007 season.  I didn't.  I hated that thing on sight, I hate it still.  I am very proud to say - in a way that totally acknowledges that this is a RIDICULOUS thing to be proud of, of course - that I never purchased anything with the slug on it for myself.  Oh, sure, I bought Mark a few things with the slug.  There's no accounting for taste after all.  (Just kidding, dear.)  (Kind of.)  I have, however, have two jerseys: a red and black Connolly and a vintage blue Tallinder.  All my t-shirts are vintage.  All my random Sabres crap is vintage.  So suck it, Larry Quinn.  I didn't fall for your money grab.

That said, I'm not completely happy.  For those of you who don't spend as much time as I do on Twitter, here's what the new road jersey is alleged to look like:

I hate, hate, hate the silver arm pits.  No one's arm pits ever need to be accentuated.  That's just the way the world works. And I hate, hate, hate the silver piping along the sides of the chest.  The silver doesn't go well with the blue and gold and the curved lines don't match the rest of the striping on the jersey.  Those things seem to exist solely because the Sabres, for whatever reason, don't want to use a straight-up vintage jersey.  But instead of just modernizing the whole thing, they just changed the shade of blue (boooooo!) and added some random lines and spots of color.  It just... doesn't quite mesh for me.

My other complaint, and this one is more nitpicky, is that I'd flip the coloring of the striping on the arms and waist.  I think the larger stripe needs to be blue with the thinner, outer strips yellow.  I don't know, something about that looks off to me.

Bottom line is, I'll buy one of these eventually (though probably in blue on account of how much ice-cream and pop I manage to drip on myself over the course of a season) but I'll buy it mostly because it's what the team's wearing and it's not dog-ass ugly.  A Winter Classic-like jersey?  I'd buy one of them because they're straight up awesome.  (Seriously, how beautiful is this?)  Still, an improvement in my book.  Big time.

Now if I could just say the same about the team.... But more on that later.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Testing, Testing 1-2-3

Hi.  Remember me?

I really had no intention of completely disappearing from the face of the earth this summer, but well, a number of things happened.  Here's a run-down:

1. I decided to go back to school full-time.  As some of you will remember, I took some classes last semester.  After really sitting down and looking at how much I had to do yet, I decided to just take the plunge.  That led directly to...

2. I quit my job.  That's where a lot of my focus ended up this summer.  For all the ups and downs, I loved,  loved, loved my job and I especially loved the little group of boys I had this past year.  They were sweet, funny, smart, lovable little guys so it was really important to me that we have a full, fun summer session together.  On one hand, ending with such a great group was awesome.  On the nights when I feel overwhelmed by how much studying or writing or planning I have to do, I know memories of those guys will remind me why I'm doing all this.  By on the other hand, ending with such a great group was tough and emotional.  Right now I feel like I'm just on vacation but next week when they all go back to school and I don't, it's going to be very, very weird.

3. Hank depression sank in.  Henrik Tallinder signed with the Devils, I put up my funny little "I'm heart-broken" post, I put Jochen in the header and I thought well, that's that.  And then I got really sad.  Honestly, I feel a little silly even writing this because hello, I'm 32-years-old but hey, why quit being honest now, you know?  I completely underestimated how much being the Tallinder fan had become a part of my identity not so much for you guys but for me.  And I loved him.  Irrationally and unconditionally and the truth is, the Sabres aren't exactly loaded with those kinds of guys, at least for me.  I'm really, really hoping to fall in love with some of the youngsters this season.

4. I went on a couple of vacations.  I spent a week in Boston - I have a half-written post about my trip to Fenway Park that I might finish and post one of these days - and then went home to Birmingham for a week.  Both trips were awesome.  You know what, I'm definitely going to throw up a post about the Boston trip at some point.

5. And finally, I just got kind of sick of hockey.  I got sick of the Sabres, I got sick of fans, I got sick of examining every little thing.  I was in Boston when the Tim Kennedy buy-out story broke so I didn't get the full effect, but even what I got was annoying.  Kennedy and his agent did what they thought was in their best interest, the Sabres did what they thought was in their best interest and as so often happens in professional sports, those interests didn't work together.  Was anyone surprised that the Sabres are running on a budget?  Or that that budget is below the cap?  And if so, where have those people been?  The outrage over a guy who will have a perfectly fine NHL career, the outrage every time any player signed anywhere but in Buffalo, the outrage over anything that could possibly be raged about just did me in.  I have a number of friends who don't pay one iota of attention to anything that doesn't happen on the ice.  When the season starts, they turn on the TV or show up in the arena, they cheer for whatever players show up in Sabres jerseys, and then they go home.  I always thought they were missing all of the fun stuff, but there was a point this summer where I really started to wonder if maybe they didn't have it all figured out.

Now, that will never, ever be me.  For better or for worse, I love the behind-the-scenes stuff.  I'm fascinated by things like scouting and drafting and salary caps and budgets.  But I think I needed a break from it.  I love Twitter, and Facebook, and blogging, but those things mean there's no off-season anymore, not really.  Hockey is always there somewhere, ready to be examined or picked apart.  I needed to step back and miss it for a while.

So now I think I'm ready to talk about things again.  I want to be honest up front though, I'm not sure how well blogging is going to fit into my schedule of class, work (eventually), and babysitting.  I'm going to be seeing a lot of partial hockey games for one thing.  There may be stretches where I don't have a lot to say or I don't have a lot in-depth to say.  I don't feel at all ready to give up on blogging though so I hope you'll hang with me.

Let's go Buff-a-lo!