Sunday, February 28, 2010

U-S-A! U-S-A!

Listen, Team USA.  Even though you all looked like you wanted to collectively kill yourselves as you were being awarded your silver medals, you done good.  Before the tournament started, most people weren't even predicting you to medal and you came within one shot of winning the whole shebang.  That's pretty good.  I understand it's impossible for you to think that way right now, but hopefully you'll come around.

 Seriously.  So sad.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I have no idea how many casual fans were really watching the previous U.S.-Canada game or the gold medal game and I have no idea how many of them will become real hockey fans, but you guys absolutely delivered on your end.  Back when the U.S. roster was selected I wasn't that excited about the team - honestly, I still look at it and wonder where all that affection came from - but for two weeks I was more than happy to watch and cheer for you.

Ryan Miller, come on home, and kick some ass.  Because lord knows, I never want to watch another postgame interview like the one today.  He was standing there talking and his face was all big, wet brown eyes and he was all wobbly voiced.  :::sniff, sniff:::  I hope Darcy Regier saw that because if he did he'll do WHATEVER IT TAKES to keep it from happening again.

Seriously though, the Olympic break did exactly what I needed it to do and made me miss the Sabres.  Except for Derek Roy.  I found myself hating him more and more with every U.S. game.  But you'll have to read about that tomorrow because unfortunately there's sociology homework calling my name...

(Grrr... I had an AWESOME screen cap of Ryan and Lindy planned for this post my DVR screwed me because Time-Warner's DVR SUCKS.  Just close your eyes and pretend, please.)

Andrej and Toni

So at the beginning of the night I thought I was cheering for Finland to win bronze but for Andrej Sekera to play well enough for Slovakia to either get out of the Sabres pressbox or be tradeable.  But it turns out that was all wrong which is one of the most fun things about the Olympics (and the non-Sabres playoffs).  I watched the first period of the game at a babysitting gig.  By the time I got paid, chatted with the parents for a few minutes, picked up something to snack on, deposited my money in the drive-thru ATM, and got home, Slovakia had taken a 2-1 lead.  And I was REALLY happy about that.  I didn't know until that moment that I was cheering for them.

Poor Andrej Sekera.  Look at this kid.  He knows he's going to go back to Buffalo and ask to play only to have Lindy sneer at him and ask him where HIS medal is.

Awwwwww. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Only slightly related but I was really glad to catch this moment on the TV broadcast of the US-Finland game the other day.

"I hope Canada kicks your scrawny ass."
"Suck it, Eurotrash."

Let's go USA!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rambling Thoughts on AMERICA! and TBN

I just tweeted this without really thinking about it: I love Ryan Miller, I love the United States, but I admit, part of me really wants Toni Lydman to come home with the gold medal.  I did clarify in a later tweet that I'm not really cheering AGAINST the United States - I'm surprised actually at how much I've enjoyed watching them play considering I was not the least bit excited about them coming into the Olympics - but I would be perfectly fine with Finland winning the whole thing.  

I'm sure a lot of people don't understand that but here's the simple truth at the center of the issue: I love Ryan Miller.  I'm really glad he's a Sabre, I hope he's a Sabre for a long time to come.  As I've said before, I'm really proud of what he's done in the Olympics so far.  He deserves every bit of attention he's getting.  But I love Toni Lydman.  If you asked me who was more valuable to the Sabres, of course I'd say Ryan Miller.  But if you asked me who I favored more, I'd say Toni Lydman.

I was resigned to the fact going into the Olympics that the Sabres playing on European teams weren't going to get much attention from The Buffalo News, but as far as I can tell, they haven't gotten any at all.  I totally understand why Ryan Miller is THE local story.  He plays for the United States.  He's the face of the Sabres franchise.  He's a goalie, and his contributions to the U.S. team have been crystal clear.  But I cheer for Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman, Jochen Hecht, and Andrej Sekera from October to April or May every year.  I don't suddenly not care about them at all because they're not American.  Tallinder's had an awesome season - completely rejuvenated and an important part of the Sabres success so far - and he was representing his country for the first time in the Olympics.  You're telling me there's no story there?  Really?  Come on.

I've been pretty disappointed with TBN's coverage all the way around.  Internet coverage has grown by leaps and bounds just since the last Olympics.  It's nearly impossible to make it to the prime-time broadcasts without knowing what's going to happen.  By the time the local newspaper hits doorsteps the next morning, readers have read or watched countless interviews with the medalists.  It's definitely a different challenge for a newspaper today than it was four years ago.

TBN seemed to have the right idea, setting up an Olympics specific blog and Twitter feed but then they plugged in... Bucky Gleason.  Really?  Their solution to coverage was to ramp up the online material - a fabulous idea - but they went with the one guy on staff who seems to hate the Internet and the interaction with readers that the Internet brings.  Okay then.  I mean, listen, I have my issues with Bucky, but I think I'm being pretty objective when I say that he's shown no skill for or interest in blogging and that his Twitter is obviously something he's been forced into doing.  I just do not understand that decision at all.  Mike Harrington spent 10 or so days covering the World Series (admittedly a smaller event than the Olympics) and cranked out a huge amount of material for the Inside Pitch blog, his Twitter feed, and the newspaper, all of it at a high quality.  He's usually entertaining, he throws out information that a lot of journalists might overlook, he includes little photos and videos, and crazily enough, he actually responds to readers.  And he works on the hockey beat so it's not like Bucky has a huge advantage over him in regards to relationships with the hockey players involved in the Olympics.  So you look at those two guys and you go with Bucky?

I'm sure there's probably some politics involved.  Columnists always seem to get gigs like this, and TBN seems to hold Bucky in very high regard.  (I don't understand either of those things, by the way.  It seems like if you need someone to write a lot of material in a short time you'd go with a beat writer, and I think TBN is highly overvaluing Bucky.)  But as someone who reads the paper, it doesn't make any sense at all.  From my point-of-view, it seems like a huge mishandling of talent, and I think it's hurt their coverage.  Harrington would be blogging and tweeting the heck out of everything as opposed to Bucky who's only personal insight into Ryan Miller's Olympic debut was, "Ryan Miller pitching a shutout through two periods vs switzerland."  Thanks, Bucky.  That's earth-shattering news considering a large number of us were actually watching the game at the time.  He wrote one really good column about how hard it was to describe how beautiful Vancouver is, but even that's a sign of how much he doesn't get - or doesn't care to get - new media.  He could have been posting photos of the views and mountains to his blog or Twitter feed for the last week and a half.  

I can't imagine that Bucky is too dumb to figure this stuff out so I'm going to assume he just doesn't care.  And if that's the case, he should stop getting plum assignments like this, at least when the majority of the coverage is going to be online.  I don't know if TBN genuinely doesn't understand the difference between what someone like Harrington (or Keith McShea of the terrific Prep Talk blog) does and what Bucky does or if they just think Bucky's going to magically come around on the whole internet thing if they keep pushing it on him, but either option makes me question how on top of things they are and how dedicated they are to providing me with the best possible coverage.

This is not at all where I intended to go with this when I started, but the bottom line is this: If Harrington were in Vancouver, I'll bet I would have gotten my Henrik Tallinder story.  In the end, I think we can all agree that that's really the most important thing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unofficial Poll

Who would you rather see go home without medaling?  Canada or Russia?  I'm going with Russia.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Illogical and Heart-Felt Pride

We've been talking about Ryan Miller playing in the Olympics for so long that for me, it had started to lose all meaning.  It was just another talking point this season.  Tyler Myers is really tall, Lindy Ruff has been here through 1,150 NHL coaching changes, and Ryan Miller will probably start in goal for the United States. 

He's ours, Buffalo. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

But now I'm sitting on my couch, a little teary-eyed, remembering exactly what it means.  Ryan looked amazing tonight, holding down the fort while his team got out-shot 45-22.  He looked cool and calm and as excited as you know he was about winning that game, he was humble and down-to-earth in his postgame interviews.  What a long way he's come from that kid who got pummeled in Detroit and cried in the postgame all those years ago.  You guys, he's the best United States goalie and arguably the best goalie in the league right now and he's ours.  He just stopped a team consisting of some of the most talented hockey players in the world and he's ours.  He didn't do it by himself - among other things, Ryan Kesler's empty netter was the most well-deserved empty net goal I've ever seen - but he held his teammates in it when they were struggling to get their feet under them.  And he's ours.  He's OURS.  Every time someone on the broadcast said "Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres" I got little chills.  I've written before about how crazy it is to feel genuine attachment to athletes, people who wouldn't recognize us on the street, and while it makes no logical sense, I'm absolutely bursting with pride right now.  I'm so proud of him.  I'm so proud of how hard he's worked and how far he's come.  I'm so proud that lots more people are suddenly appreciating how good he is.  I'm so proud of how smart and articulate and seemingly good-hearted he is.  I'm so proud he's representing us.  I know it's just the preliminary rounds and the United States could still go down, but for tonight wow, what a terrific moment for him, for the Sabres, and for us.

Let's go Buff-a-lo!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Small Complaint I've Been Meaning to Make Forever

I've been meaning to mention this in the last couple of blogs after attending live games and I've forgotten and it's really probably not worth posting by itself, but now that I've remembered I'd forgotten, I can't stop thinking about it...

The Sabres have started doing this thing during the games where they recognize someone in the crowd from the military, usually someone who's just gotten back from overseas, which is a very nice thing.  Those guys and girls certainly deserve the spotlight and appreciative applause.  But while they're doing that they play the chorus from Martina McBride's Independence Day.  While those specific lyrics ("Let freedom ring/Let the white dove sing/Let the whole world know that today is the day of reckoning") fit the situation, I guess, it really bothers me that they use it because the song is about domestic abuse!  It's about an abused woman who burns down her house, with her in it, while her poor kids watches!  To loosely paraphrase a wise old man, this is not the independence we're looking for!  The Bisons always use it in their Fourth of July fireworks accompaniment too - along with Creedence Clearwater Revival's Fortunate Son - and that bothers me too.  Sports people of the world, these are not, I repeat, NOT "Yay, America!" songs.

Friday, February 19, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

One of the things I did not anticipate about going back to school is how curious my students are about it.  I usually bring a textbook and notebook with me in case I have a few free minutes (a hilarious thought), and they're always flipping through the book and marveling over all the notes I take and asking if I have to write reports and take tests.  It's very cute.

A few days ago, one of them asked me why I was going to school.  "Are you going to be a counselor?"  I told him that I had thought about being a counselor but for now, I wanted to be a teacher instead of an aide. 

He got a panicked look on his face.  "Which room are you going to be in?" 

"Oh, I don't know," I said, deciding to skip explaining that I might not even work at our school.  "We'll have to see."


"What, you don't think I'd be a good teacher?"

"No, I just don't want you to be someone else's teacher before you're done being my aide."

And that's my story.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Derek Roy, Take Your Penalty Lap

I'll admit, I'm not a huge Olympics person.  Left to my own devices I probably wouldn't watch much beyond hockey, but friends Schnookie and Pookie were in town this past weekend and we all more or less crashed at Kate's house.  We spent roughly 48 hours in front of the TV, breaking only twice and then only for food.  That's how I came to spend much of my weekend watching the biathlon which is, quite simply, one of the greatest things I've ever seen.

The combination of skiing and shooting is hilarious to begin with.  It sounds like something a guy would make up in order to create something he'd personally be really good at.  It's amazing how hot it is to watch really handsome men swing guns on and off their backs.  I feel actual physical pain watching biathletes chug-a-lug uphill.  I appreciate how utterly exhausted they are when they cross the finish line unlike say a skier who cruised down one hill and then called it a day.  I love watching the pile-up of prone bodies getting larger and larger as more and more guys finish.  But there's one thing about the biathlon that makes it the best Winter Olympics sport.  Nay, one of the best sports anywhere ever.

Penalty laps.

PENALTY LAPS.  A quick primer for those of you who've never devoted any of your time to watching the biathlon.  (It dawns on me right at this very second that what we were watching might not have been the biathlon because there was also ski jumping involved, but one of the good things about these sports is that I won't see them again for four years so I don't really need to bother to learn the specifics.)  Anyway, these guys start out cross-country skiing and they ski and ski for what seems like forever.  And then at various points during the race, they suddenly have to stop, whip the rifle off their backs, and shoot at five very small targets.  Right next to the shooting station there's an extra loop in the track and for every target they miss they have to do a lap around the loop.  Forget what I said about some guy randomly throwing together the two activities he happens to be good at, this sport was clearly invented by a P.E. instructor.  These guys are literally running laps when they screw up!


Every sport needs to add this immediately.  Can you imagine how much fun we could have with this?  Jason Pominville misses the net?  Take a lap around the rink.  Thomas Vanek fails to shoot on a breakaway?  Take a lap.  Derek Roy gives the puck away trying to carry it through four people?  Take four laps, one for each defender.  Ryan Miller gives up a softie?  Take a lap.  In your gear.  How entertaining would it be to watch Ryan waddle around the rink as fast he can while the Sabres scramble to defend the net until he gets back?  I would be fine and dandy with the Sabres raising season ticket prices if we could get the penalty lap system up and running across the NHL.

On a side note, we had an extra long weekend at work.  For our winter break we were off Friday, Monday, and Tuesday.  (I use winter break loosely because we used to get an entire week off.)  Thursday we talked to the kids a lot about the Olympics and one of the events that came up a lot was the luge.  For days now I've been picturing my kids sitting down in front of the TV to watch luge highlights because Miss Heather said it was SO AWESOME and being traumatized for life.  We'll just chalk that up as an educational experience, I guess.  (I don't know what I was thinking anyway because the luge is horribly, horribly boring.)

ETA: I have no idea what time the stuff in the day's newspaper goes live on The Buffalo News website,  but as of right now, the only story about the first U.S. hockey game is from the AP.  I know it's early rounds, and the games might not be that exciting, but the entire season has been building up to Ryan Miller starting in net for the United States.  Seems like maybe the TBN reporter on-site should have gone to the game especially since that's where local interest lies.

ETA: D'oh!  I just realized I broke my promise to not blog about the Sabres on the FIRST DAY.  Stupid Sabres.

Monday, February 15, 2010

About the Sabres

Hi, there.  Remember me?  Yeah, I barely do too.

So here's the deal.  There are a million things to talk about regarding the Sabres.  What's to blame for the long skid?  Was the San Jose game them getting back on-track or just a blip?  Was their streak really any different or any more concerning than the losing streak teams like the Capitals and the Senators have already gone through?  Are the real Sabres the team that played the first few months of the season or the last month of the season?  Should the Sabres make a move now?  What kind of move?  Is this the season they should go all in and make a big move or should they be cautious and keep an eye on next season or the season after that? 

Here's the problem.  I don't care.

I don't.  I hit the hockey wall weeks ago and then the Sabres started playing like garbage and now I just need a break from them.  I'm glad they went away on a positive note, but I'm glad they're going away so I can miss them.  For the next two weeks I'm not going to think about the Sabres at all.  Even the Sabres Olympians will be thought of as "that slightly crazy US goalie" and "that really handsome Swedish d-man."  I'm planning on blogging in the next two weeks, but it won't be about them.  It'll be about work or school or TV or the Olympics.  (Why do the moguls have those little couches at the bottom?  Why don't ALL the events have them?  How is it possible that a cross-country skier toting a guy can be so amazingly hot?  Forget Apolo, how adorable was the other American speed skater?) 

In two weeks, I'll be refreshed and ready to talk about all the Sabres-related minutiae you could possibly want to hear about, I promise.  Those douchebags better be refreshed too.

My Olympic hockey predictions:

Gold - Sweden
Silver - Canada
Bronze - Russia

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

Click to get the full dose of adorableness.

Those little headphones kill me.  (I apologize for not crediting this photo to its photographer, but I came across it via Twitter with no name attached. )

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Some Thoughts on Kovalchuk and the Sabres vs. the Devils

This post is dedicated to everyone who thinks I'm the biggest Sabres apologist in the world. Enjoy! :P

I think passing on Ilya Kovalchuk was the right thing for the Sabres to do. The one thing I haven't seen anyone mention in the whole "THE DEVILS DID IT WHY CAN'T WE?!?!" argument is that the Sabres and Devils are in very different places as organizations right now. With all due respect to Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, both of whom I would gladly steal, the heart of the Devils right now is still Martin Brodeur. When he plays well, the Devils win. When his play dips, the Devils lose. (See his numbers in the first round of the playoffs the last few years for proof of that.) By the time this year's Stanley Cup is awarded, Brodeur will be 38-years-old. If the Devils play it cautious and give any prospects in their system two or three years to develop, Brodeur is now 40 or older. While it certainly seems sometimes that the Devils could roll him into net in a wheelchair well into his 80s, the window for the Brodeur-led Devils is probably closing.

The Sabres are in a completely different place. Putting the top six aside for now (I'll get to those d-bags in a few minutes, I promise), the Sabres have a lot of young talent on the roster or just about ready to make the roster AND they have a goalie who's arguably just entering the best years of his career. Tim Kennedy, Chris Butler, Tyler Myers, and Andrej Sekera* are already up and should continue to improve and Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, and Mike Weber are all close with Luke Adam and Zack Kassian making some noise. Even if it takes those guys let's say three years to all get to the Sabres and make an impact (and I realize the odds of all of them staying in the system and making an impact are slim but I think a number of them will), Ryan is still in his early 30s. The window for the Miller-led Sabres is still open and should be open for a while yet.

So I think the Devils were probably right to make a play for Kovalchuk. But I think the Sabres were also probably right not to. The right move for one team is not automatically the right thing for another team.

Here's the thing. I understand wanting to feel like the Sabres are in it to win it. I wouldn't mind a little less caution at all. There are players on the team who I would definitely be okay moving out. But the bottom line is not every team has a real chance to win every season and sometimes an organization is smart to look at the lay of the land for the next couple of years. I'm not convinced this year's Sabres team is good enough to win it all even with the addition of a big rental, and I'd be uncomfortable with them giving up too much of the near future for something that probably won't work. If the Sabres brass is looking at the current roster and coming to the same conclusion, well, they're being realistic. It sucks but there it is. I get the feeling they think the Sabres are still a couple years away from putting together their best team.

So I'm fine with passing on Kovalchuk. And I'm fine on passing on any other rental out there. And I'm excited about some of the young talent in the Sabres organization. But the one thing I will scrap with the Sabres about is the top six. When Darcy Regier talks about improvements coming from within maybe he's talking about Gerbe and/or Ennis pushing some bodies out, but anyone who thinks the top six as it is right now is going to magically improve is crazy. That was a fine attitude three years ago when they were in their early-to-mid twenties and hadn't been in the NHL for very long, but now I think they are what they are. This is them for better or for worse. I'm pretty disappointed in that because I thought they'd be better, but I think that's the only conclusion you can come to at this point. They are what they are right now. And that's not good enough.

* I missed a lot of the game last night but Sekera's defensive play was getting criticized pretty hard in some places. He needs to be playing and playing regularly. No young d-man ever got better sitting in the press box and it's driving me crazy that he's spending so much time there.

Okay, back the history essay I told Mark I was writing. Heh.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Don't Worry...

I'm not ignoring you, I'm ignoring the Sabres. I promise.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thinking About Tim Connolly

I enjoyed the game tonight (and by enjoyed, I mean "enjoyed") at Casa di Pizza with some blogging buddies. The company was fabulous. The Sabres were not. The good news is, since I wasn't paying full attention to the game, it barely counts. Seriously, it was good meeting a lot of new people and finally putting some faces to names I've been talking to for quite a while. If I didn't get around to introducing myself (I partly wore the Tallinder jersey so I wouldn't have to introduce myself as people tend to walk up and say, "You must be Heather"), I apologize. Truthfully, as much of a blowhard as I am here, I'm a little shy in real life when it comes to new people. Next time I won't be so self-conscious and I'll be braver, I promise.

A week or so ago, I wrote a quick blurb about Mirtle's defensive defensemen rankings. A few days later Mirtle posted his defensive forward rankings. He used the same stats - quality of competition, goals against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 and goals against per 60 minutes of shorthanded time - and came up with thirty names. There's a Sabre in the top ten and two additional Sabres in the top twenty. Before you look at the link (if you haven't already), think about who you'd say the top three defensive forwards on the team are and then think about who you'd say is in the top ten. Okay, now look at the link.

Surprised? I admit, I was. I probably would have gotten the top three correct if I'd tried to guess beforehand, but I would have put Jochen Hecht number one. I never would have put Tim Connolly in the top ten league-wide and if I'd missed someone, it would have been him. Again, the stats here aren't perfect but it's a pretty good system and I think there probably is a lot of truth in the rankings.

It really got me thinking about Tim Connolly. When he was re-signed last season, there was a fair amount of outrage from fans, understandably so considering how much money he got after missing so much time to injuries over the course of his previous contract. And while it's leveled off some since his recent hot streak, earlier in the season there was a fair amount of complaining (especially if your name is Jerry Sullivan) about Timmy not living up to his contract because he wasn't scoring goals and racking up assists. But evidently he was contributing elsewhere. If the Sabres have done as well as they have because of improved team defense, and Tim Connolly is arguably the best defensive forward on the team (and arguably one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL) has he been worth that contract after all?

I don't know. 4.5 million is still a lot of money (though 2 years is a great term these days), but I do think maybe this is another example of defense being underrated. That's partly the player involved, I know. If you signed someone like Henrik Tallinder, you'd do it with the attitude that any offense he chips in is a bonus whereas you're signing someone like Tim Connolly primarily for offense. But it's an interesting question. If nothing else, this whole revelation did make me like Tim Connolly a little better.