Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade's Best

The new decade is upon us, and what better time than New Year's Eve to recap the best Buffalo sports moments of the last decade. It's been an up-and-down kind of decade for us as fans - no playoff football, no hockey at all for a year, Stanley Cup playoff runs, and some miracles on and off the playing field. Being a Buffalo sports fan this decade was interesting to say the least, and there was always something to talk about. So for today, I am choosing to focus on the 10 most positive things that happened in the Buffalo sports world over the last 10 years.

As a disclaimer, these are my personal top moments, and they were compiled after much internal deliberation and much discussion with noted experts (ie. my dad). Without further ado, let the happy trip down memory lane begin!

10.) A trio of memorable games: Bills beat Pats 31-0, the Ottawa Brawl and Game 5 of the 2007 EC Semifinals. All three of these games provided something that seemed to be missing a lot in Buffalo sports over the last decade: excitement. When the Bills shutout the Pats to open their season, it was the most excited I've been during a football game this decade. The Ottawa Brawl added even more spark to a rivalry that has defined the decade in a lot of ways for the Sabres, and it proved that we have a coach in Lindy Ruff who is a man with a tough, Buffalo mentality through and through. And I had to include that game against the Rangers because I was there. I saw the Plaza teeming with screaming fans, I heard the car horns in the streets, I felt the energy radiating from every corner of the arena. Here's hoping that the excitement provided in these three games is reflected in the next decade in far more contests and with even more chills, hugs, and cheers.

9.) The Bisons Win the Governor's Cup. In 2004, the Buffalo Bisons took home the Governor's Cup, the championship of the International League. Being there during their postseason run was extremely memorable because I love baseball, and I love when it feels like an important sport in the WNY community. Though the team has struggled lately, for that year they were the best, and isn't that what we always dream of for our sports teams in Buffalo?

8.) March Madness Comes to Buffalo. I was lucky enough to get to see the first round NCAA Tournament action at HSBC Arena in 2007. To see so many people from so many places enjoying what our city had to offer was fantastic, and it was even cooler to see some of the most amazing talents in college basketball right in front of me. As a devout Duke Blue Devils fan, seeing them at their open practice and in a game was an experience I will remember forever. And for the many out there who don't like Duke, I'm sure you will always remember the upset they were handed, one of the most shocking of the past few first rounds, and it happened right in Buffalo.

7.) Bills Hall of Fame Inductees. Though the Bills didn't see the postseason these past 10 years, we were all able to relive a little bit of the Glory Years with the inductions of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Ralph Wilson Jr. and Mary Levy into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I give Thurman the honor of having the best speech - it was funny, moving, and eloquent. While the present looked dim this decade for the Bills, during those days at Canton fans got a reminder of just how proud we should be to be Bills fans.

6.) Bandits Win the NLL Championship. I'm still a little bitter that this came in 2008, the season before I got my season tickets. But when it happened doesn't matter, what matters is that it did happen. In a decade of futility for most of the Buffalo sports scene, the Bandits brought a championship to the city. Lacrosse fans are some the most passionate fans I've ever seen, and it makes me happy to know that they were rewarded with such a great team and a great outcome. I only wish I could have been in the arena to see it happen.

5.) The 2008 NHL Winter Classic.

Need I say more? For one day, the world took notice of our city and liked what it saw. We were passionate, beautiful, and perfect. Even though the game didn't turn out right, the atmosphere of the day was amazing, and it's something we'll all be telling our kids about someday.

4.) Kevin Everett Walks Again. It was a miracle - plain and simple. He should have been paralyzed - or even worse. But there he was, Kevin Everett, walking on the sidelines of the 2008 season opener.

There was no better moment for the Bills this decade, and I don't even know if a trip to the postseaon could have topped it in my eyes.

3.) UB Wins MAAC Championship. The entire 2008 season of UB Bulls football was an incredible journey to behold. From losers to winners, from embarrassed to respected, one season changed the face of college sports in Buffalo like no other. It made Turner Gill a hero and a Buffalo legend, and even though he has deservedly moved on, he will always be remembered for what he did for that program, that season, and the hopes of college football fans in this city.

2.) The Sabres President's Trophy Season. Think about it - what other season this decade had this city so excited from start to finish? We knew from the first 10 games that it was going to be special, and that team didn't let us down until the very end. Did it end poorly? Yes. Does it sometimes hurt to think back on it? Yes. But it was still the happiest I remember this city during the 2000s for such an extended period of time. From the opening win streak to the Ottawa Brawl and Drury's goal with 7.7 seconds left, they took the city for a ride that season - one that brought crowds to the Plaza and brought people together like I never remember seeing for a hockey team before. It was truly something special - something magical.

1.) Pominville's Shorthanded Goal Sends the Sabres to the 2006 Conference Finals. I know this wasn't the best moment of the decade, or maybe even the most memorable. But I think it was the most positive, the happiest. That goal symbolized that entire season - a player no one had heard of, one who everyone else had written off, scored a goal that never really should have happened. But it happened - just like that whole postseason run never really should have happened if you asked people coming out of the lockout about the "new" Sabres. From the looks on the players faces to the cheers coming from living rooms all over WNY, the joy in that moment was the purest joy of the decade in terms of sports. There was nothing to lose in that moment, no downside or doubts. There was only that "scary good" team that changed the perception of hockey in Buffalo - made it important again. Watch the video of it again, and think if there was any other moment this decade, in terms of Buffalo sports, that made you that ridiculously happy. For me, I know that this was it; the hope I felt after that goal was greater than any other time - I thought they could take on the world, and they did their best to put up one heck of a fight to the end.

What were your top moments of the decade? Think I'm crazy for my picks? I'd love to hear your choices!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Finding a Common Ground

I hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas and that you are continuing to enjoy the holiday season. This time of year always makes me think about those that I am closest to, and it gives me time to reflect on those things that are central to our relationships.

Of course there are the usual things like trust, affection, and, in some cases, genetic ties. But there's also something to be said for common interests. And in a city like Buffalo, one of the most common of interests is sports.

Think about it - How many of you spent time at family holiday parties talking to a cousin or an in-law about Ryan Miller or who the Bills next coach should be? How many of you spent time watching a game with your friends over these last few days or are planning to this week? How many of you knew that someone really knew you because of the sports-themed gift you found under the Christmas tree? Please tell me it's not just me.

Sports bring us together. One of my favorite parts of Christmas day was the few minutes I spent with my cousin and my dad talking about the Sabres this season. It may have just been a discussion about Tyler Myers and the play of a certain #28, but, to me, it's what living in this city - or at least living in my family and with my friends - is all about. I never played sports, but I learned about them quickly because that's the language we speak. Conversations always come back to quarterbacks and powerplays; some game or another is always on TV wherever you are.

I've had so many amazing moments with my family and friends because of sports, whether it was listening to WGR on the radio every morning in my dad's car when I was in high school or cheering on the Bandits with my two best friends every home game last season. My sister and I bonded over trips to Duke University to see the basketball court and autograph signings with Jason Pominville. I love teaching my little cousin about hockey and taking her to open practices because it's something that brings us closer than anything else could.

In Buffalo, family time is often time spent watching the Bills on Sundays, no matter how horrible they are, because it's what we've always done. A night out is often a trip to HSBC Arena, and "big gifts" for Buffalo kids are often hockey jerseys or sticks in addition to iPods and video games.

Over and over again I am floored by the unifying power of sports. At a time of year when family and friendships are focused on more than any other, I am awed by just how much better those relationships are because of the common ground that the Bills and Sabres have provided over the years. They've given us shared enemies, shared heroes and shared dreams.

We need sports - if only to have something to talk about at all of those holiday parties.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Christmas List this Year

Dear Santa,

I'd like to think I've been a good girl this year. I even sacrificed blogging to do big-girl things like get an internship and write a thesis. I try to be nice (except when it comes to Chris Neil), and I try not to overreact (except when properly labeled "Overreaction Central"). I've even stopped throwing things at the TV during Bills games (which may have more to do with apathy than actually being good, but that's beside the point).

With those things in mind, I hope you have it in your heart to deliver at least one of the things that I, as a Buffalo sports fan, am dreaming of this Christmas.

I would like a Sabres win against the Senators on Saturday. Any variety of win would do - I'm not picky. I would just like to see Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu, who are always naughty boys, lose to nice ones like Paul Gaustad and Ryan Miller for once.

I would like a young, passionate new coach for the Bills next year. Again, I'm not picky, but someone outside of the current organization would be nice.

I want Paul Gaustad to make Team USA like I haven't wanted anything since that Barbie Dream House when I was seven years old.

I want this year's Bandits season to be even better than last year's, and I want those passionate lacrosse fans to get rewarded with many big wins by their team.

I'm wishing like crazy for Ryan Miller to stay healthy for the rest of this season and for Patrick Lalime to continue to play well so Miller can get some rest.

I want more intermission features like last night's Festivus one with Drew Stafford. I love when the team and Lindy show how much fun they can be because you know that they are in a good place.

And Santa, I would like to send a wish from all of the long-suffering Buffalo sports fans out there. We've been very good and very patient for a very long time. We believe in our teams with the blind faith that kids have in you. I can only hope that, someday, we are rewarded for that undying faith with a championship. Please, Santa, all we're asking is for a reason to believe again.

Finally, I really want nothing more than a happy, safe, and healthy holiday season for all of the fans, bloggers, and readers out there. They and their families deserve the merriest of Christmases.


Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday season!

Friday, December 18, 2009

He's Back!

I know I'm not the only one who has missed Paul Gaustad in the Sabres lineup. He brings to the ice things that I think the team has been sorely missing in his absence (besides good bone structure and nice eyes).

He should help the team dramatically on faceoffs, even if he won't be 100 percent yet. Also, he should help the power play from his position in front of the net. He may not score a ton of power play goals, but his ability to screen goalies should help some more shots to get through (hopefully).

There's something else, too, something that is hard to define about Goose's influence on the team. He's become a definite leader on the ice and in the locker room, and his play this season is really backing that up. He's having a career year, and it makes me so proud to see him having that kind of success. Before this season, Lindy used to say in interviews that Goose had to work on his own game before he could wear a letter. Now that he has his "A," I think it's only made him a better player. He plays with heart and grit every game, but now it's nice to see tangible things like faceoff percentages and goal totals to go along with what I always loved about his play.

This excitement over Goose coming back and the season he's been having was the lead Sabres story in The Buffalo News today. They also mentioned that he's still a possible candidate for the U.S. Olympic team. The idea of my favorite hockey player, my all-guts-no-glory grinder, getting chosen to represent American hockey on the biggest international stage is incredible. To imagine what that would be like for him, someone who never even saw himself in the NHL, makes me so happy. His toughness, faceoff ability, and leadership would really be an asset for Team USA. Plus, it would be great for me personally to just get to look at him on TV for a few extra weeks!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quick Hits

Some random thoughts as I steel my nerves for the Sabres-Sens game tomorrow night:

*In my last post, I said that Paul Gaustad was challenging Pat Kaleta for his spot in my father's heart. Apparently, Patty took that personally and then went on to have two amazing games with two shorthanded goals. Both were impressive, but I especially liked the one on Lundqvist. It was a shot with a lot of confidence, and it was so unexpected. I always love seeing grinders get recognition, so I am very happy to see him in the spotlight. Plus, I like when other people get to see their underappreciated favorite get some love from people other than them, so I'm happy for my dad!

*Speaking of underappreciated favorites, I am really missing Goose out on the ice. I never noticed how important his face-off skills were until we were without them. At least he's improving, though, so hopefully he'll be back soon. I really wish he was playing tomorrow - he's the only one I trust to give Chris Neil a beating.

*In NFL news, J.P. Losman is reportedly heading to Oakland. I finally get to use my "I don't think you're a failure, J.P." tag again! That's pretty much the extent of how much I care about that news. It's nice to see him back in the NFL, but the Bills this season have drained a lot of my energy in terms of the effort I put into my football fandom. It's hard for me to care about a sport when my team is so irrelevant in it.

*I forgot to say this in my last post, but my thoughts and prayers go out to Mike Grier and his family after the passing of his mother. As someone who lost someone close to her around Christmas, I know that's not easy. Kudos to him for coming back as soon as he did, and I'm sure he's getting all the support he needs from his teammates and coaches. They really are a family, and I hope that comforts him.

*Tomorrow the Sabres play in Ottawa. Just saying that makes me start to shake involuntarily. I have come to dread Ottawa games like I dreaded Calculus class - the feeling of failure just hangs around it. I'm hoping that they prove my exceedingly low expectations ("just don't get embarrassed") wrong, but I'm not planning on a win. You may call that being negative, but I call that being a Sabres fan for the last four years. Again, let's just hope they prove my pessimism wrong.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What I've Learned

I can't believe it's been almost a month since I've posted. I've been a terrible blogger this semester, but it's finally over now. I think I learned some valuable lessons in the past month, too:

* I learned that I cannot balance a senior honors thesis, an internship, being a regular college kid, and having a blog. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I've been over-my-head in literary analysis for the past few months, but I'm so glad that it's done. It seemed like every time a game was on, I had to use that free time to work on things for school. I've missed so much - especially in the last month, so thank you to all the amazing bloggers that I read who keep me caught up on what's been going on in Sabre-land.

*I learned that my fantasy hockey scouting is unparalleled when it comes to goalies. Who knew Ryan Miller would have this kind of season? Oh yeah...I did. Thanks (almost single-handedly) to Millsie, "Kane's Taxi Co." is going strong. In actuality, I always pick Sabres over most any other player of equal (or sometimes greater) talent, so I can't claim any psychic powers. I really just learned that my admiration of Ryan Miller knows no bounds, and that there are no more words to describe how much he means to this team.

*I learned that I still love Goose as much as ever. My dad got a hat autographed by him for me yesterday, and now my father won't stop gushing over how genuine he was and how personable he seemed. I think Goose is now challenging Pat Kaleta for a spot in my father's heart!

*I learned that I hate missing games, even parts of them. I teach at the dance studio until 8 every Friday, and it kills me to come in after the game has already started. I miss the anticipation, the excitement, and the fact that I could actually go to Friday games when I had the money.

Hopefully I'll be able to find my stride again over this break. I plan on going to at least one morning skate and one game (not sure which yet) before classes start again. I am also making this known on here so you all can help me stick to it: I plan to blog at least five times a week - I have lots of catching up to do and thoughts to share!

Speaking of thoughts - Did anyone else have trouble wiping the smile off of their faces after seeing Lalime get the win in net tonight? He was so happy, the team was so happy, and I am still so happy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Making a Statement

I'll admit it - I was nervous about this game. Very nervous.

This game was a true test for the Sabres. Calgary is a physically and mentally tough team that has the ability to pound its opponents into submission. Not to mention the fact that they have one of the greatest leaders in sports, Jarome Iginla, on their team.

The Sabres had faced what I saw as two tests last week and failed both miserably. Against two of the better teams in the NHL, they crumbled, and I was afraid that the same thing was going to happen tonight. In short, I was losing faith already, and I thought this game had the potential to be the nail in the coffin.

Was I excited to see Calgary, one of my favorite Western Conference teams? Was I excited to watch Iginla lead his team into HSBC arena?

Yes, I was excited, but I was also nervous.

Then, the puck dropped.

Though the team fell in a hole early (which I did not see because I was at work), they dominated the first period. Throughout the game, the team was physical with the Flames, proving that they would not be bullied. I especially enjoyed Goose taking on Phaneuf - not only because it was Goose but because it once again proved that this team (or at least definite players on it) is dedicated to standing up for one another.

Shootout wins are always especially exhilarating, but this was more than just a win. It was a true statement - to the other teams in the NHL, to the fans, and to me personally (the last of which I'm sure they care so much about).

This team is not going away quietly into the night, and I, for one, could not be happier.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The First One

This was the first one this season.

You all know what I'm talking about - the first game that looked like a loss but, miraculously, became a great win. This was the first great comeback this season, the first shootout win, the first game that really had my heart pounding and my hands shaking long after it was over.

It was even more than that, though. It was the first time this season that I've seen the Sabres this happy. I loved their enthusiasm after Tyler Myers poked the puck into the Lightning net. I loved how fast Miller got to their end to celebrate, how Hank practically leaped onto the pile, and how adorable Goose and Myers looked as they fell to the ice in the middle of it all. It was pure emotion out there, pure happiness - and that kind of thing only comes out after wins like that.

It was the first time this season that I was reminded why I love this team for reasons other than the goals they score and the ones they keep from getting scored on them. They looked like a family out there tonight - complete with a new little brother to love. They are so close as a group, and I love moments like that when it is visible - in all their adorably dorky glory.

I love wins like that for so many reasons, but, mainly, I love them because the team loves them. It's nice to sense passion in a team - for the game and each other. What I've liked about this season so far is that this team has not seemed to waver in either category.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Never Fails

I knew it was coming.

It seems like every time I go to the arena and see an ex-Sabre play, the find some way to rip my heart out. The last time it was Marty Biron shutting them out with the Flyers nearly a year ago.

Tonight, it was Max Afinogenov who responded to those harsh boos with a goal that left everyone around me saying the same thing: "Did that really just happen?"

Did Max really just successfully complete a rush without losing the puck?

Where was that the last couple of years when he was playing for us?

I honestly didn't expect it to happen. After Stafford scored, I was so busy hoping for the chance to pull the goalie that I forgot about that guy wearing #61 who is still fast and actually pretty decent at hockey. What's bad isn't that I didn't see it coming - it's that the Sabres didn't see it either.

I am officially 0-4 in first games I attend for the Sabres. I should have known this was coming. And I should have known it was Max who would keep my streak of bad luck alive. For all the frustration and pained shock that he put us all through the last few seasons, it was almost like poetic justice to feel those things again - only with him wearing another team's jersey instead.

Love him now, Atlanta fans - it's only a matter of time before those rushes become nothing to get worked up about...Until he goes to play for another team...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It Took Them Long Enough

The title of this post can refer to a number of things:
  • The fact that it seemed to take the Sabres forever to really put the Islanders away tonight - I was honestly feeling scared until there was about a minute left in the third period. It's going to take sometime to get used to the idea that they can actually hold a lead this season.
  • The feeling of relief that came from beating a team they were supposed to beat. It took a season, but I hope they're getting the hang of not playing down to their competition. Good teams win on nights when they aren't their best because they still find some way to compensate - and tonight the Sabres played like a good team in that regard.
  • The notion that maybe the team is finally understanding that Ryan Miller needs to be defended when people try to push him around. It's nice to know that the lesson learned last season after the Gomez incident has gotten through to them - even if it did seem to take about 82 games too long to get the point last year.

Really, though, this post is talking about how long it took for Lindy and whoever else decides these things to give Paul Gaustad a letter. If there was any doubt about his ability to lead and step up when called upon, it should have disappeared tonight after he demolished Tim Jackman for bowling over Miller:

That was passion, pride, and a sense of responsibility to one's teammate on perfect display. It was everything I want in a leader, and everything this team needs on the ice that it lacked most games last season.

Yes, he's my favorite player, and I am so biased it's ridiculous when it comes to Goose. Still, I think it's obvious that what he did tonight is what a good leader does when his goalie - the heart and soul of his team - is interfered with.

I know most people want to talk about Tyler Myers or Jochen Hecht tonight, but, as it usually is, my attention has been on Goose. He may not have scored a goal, but he did something even more important to exorcise last season's demons from our minds. He saw a chance to stand up for his goalie and didn't back down. He showed character and heart - two things that are becoming more and more present in this group that had seemed to be missing them.

Tonight, he was a leader. He may have earned his "A" earlier, but tonight, he reminded us why it belongs on his chest.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What We Needed (and One Thing We Didn't Need)

After the torture that was Sunday's life-draining Bills game, Buffalo fans needed a lot of things to keep morale up for what was looking to be a long fall and winter for sports lovers in WNY.

Even if tonight was just one game, at least we have the Sabres to thank for giving us some of those things that our fan experience had been lacking recently:

  • Offensive production
  • Solid coaching and a good game plan
  • Team tenacity
  • The ability to beat a proven winner (or even a team that maybe wins some games every once in a while)
  • Rookies who are actually used effectively and productively on the team
  • A leader who makes a big play (or save) when it's called for
  • Excitement - Buffalo fans just want to believe in something and feel passionate about something. That's hard to do with the passionless football being played right now, but it was a different story inside HSBC Arena tonight.

Tonight was an important night in my house - as Goose (my favorite) and Pat Kaleta (my dad's favorite) scored their first goals of the season. It's always a good feeling to watch the guy you cheer the hardest for put it in the back of the net, and I honestly thought I was going to have to wait a lot longer for Goose's first goal. Those post-goal high fives always feel the best when it's the guy on your jersey who just put your team up by another goal.

The only negative aspect of tonight's game was the loss of Thomas Vanek. Just as the team was finding its offensive stride, its star scorer goes down. I guess I'm just happy it's now instead of down the home stretch.

I know that this game could have been a fluke, but I was highly impressed with the product put on the ice tonight. It gave Buffalo fans something to really cheer about and thoroughly enjoy watching - which is something we could all use a little more of lately.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What I Want

Yes, I want Dick Jauron fired.

Yes, I want Trent Edwards to never see an NFL start again.

Yes, I want my fantasy football team to give points for penalty yards like hockey does for penalty minutes - because I'm taking the Bills offensive line with the first pick next year.

Yes, I want Poz back on the field if only to keep from seeing Jon Corto at starting linebacker.

Yes, I want another Sabres game as soon as possible to push this afternoon from my memory.

But more than any of these things - I want those three hours of my life back. Never have I ever felt so helpless, bored and apathetic during a Buffalo sporting event. I want to care so badly - they are my team after all - but I can't. Part of me hates myself for not caring, but a bigger part of me hates the organization that has me running from a team that I am genetically predisposed to love despite everything.

Apparently pathetic losses game after game trump genetics.

Thanks, Trent, Dick, and everybody else over at One Bills Drive - I guess you saved me a lot of heartbreak this season. Because of you, I no longer care enough to get upset.

And that has me more upset than anything.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

No Words


That's exactly how Trent Edwards should feel. How Dick Jauron should feel. How the entire Bills team should feel about the debacle that was today's sham of a football game.

I don't have anything else to say about this - except at least the Sabres lost in exciting fashion. I'm so glad it's hockey season so this team isn't the only one I have to watch.

Anyone else feel like they wasted so much time today watching and then fuming about such a pitiful performance? I can't expend anymore energy on the Bills - it hurts too much to be let down so often.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Of Freak Goals and Favorites

I'll have more to say tomorrow, but I'm not as disappointed with that loss as I thought I'd be.

It may be because the team played my kind of hockey - tough, strong penalty killing, gritty and chippy.

It may because both goals against were flukes rather than bad plays or softies by Miller.

It may be because Tyler Myers and Tim Kennedy looked great. Myers especially looked a lot smoother and stronger than I thought he would. I really like his game.

It may be because we still ended up with a point.

I think, though, that it's because of one little letter:

Paul Gaustad finally has a "A" on his jersey. He is finally being recognized for the true leader that he is for this team. To see it in a regular season game was so special because it proves that others see him as the gift to this team that I have always seen him as.

To watch Goose and Pommer as assistant captains tonight was special. Two close friends, two roommates, my two favorite players - they are the next generation of Sabre leaders, and I am so proud to own their jerseys. Now I have to get an "A" put on my #28 jersey, and I couldn't be happier.

Maybe tomorrow I'll be more upset, but now I'm too excited to have hockey back in my life to wallow in post-loss depression.


Opening night of hockey season is one of my favorite nights of the year. It's like Christmas morning - you could get disappointed with the outcome because you ended up with crappy sweaters instead of the iPhone you wanted, but, in the end, the outcome is almost secondary to the feeling the day brings.

Opening days for sports teams bring out a sense of community like no other day (except the days of playoff games, but those days haven't happened in a while around these parts). At work today, I wore my Pominville shirt, and I had at least 10 people - from grandfathers to moms to little boys - tell me how excited they were for the season to start. It's a day when hope still reigns, and the idea that this year could be the year is still more than just delusion.

We might win tonight, but we might lose, too. What I love about this very moment - an hour before the puck drops - is that wins and losses have no real place yet. This moment belongs to the hope that this game is the start of a journey that will lead to a place that no Buffalo team has ever reached. This moment belongs to the excitement, the nerves, the thrill of being a fan.

Tonight, a new season begins. There are a lot of things we will never expect that will happen, but there are some things that we know will, and I can't wait to see them:

Paul Gaustad jumping to the defense of a teammate

Mike Grier - my favorite Sabre before I found Goose - scoring a hard-working goal and reminding all of Buffalo why we loved his heart

Pat Kaleta rattling the board's and an opponent's body to the thunderous delight of the HSBC Arena crowd

Thomas Vanek scoring a goal that makes the netminder look like a toddler pouting in a corner afterwards

The population of Pominville getting its first resident

Craig Rivet pounding some poor soul into submission for looking at one of our guys the wrong way

Ryan Miller breaking his usual stoicism after a big win with that huge smile that makes him look like a little kid

The list goes on and on, but you get the gist. Some may say hockey season doesn't start in Buffalo until the Bills are done, but I say they're wrong. Hockey season starts now, and I couldn't be more ready.

Let's Go Buffalo.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Coming Home

I'm the kind of person who doesn't ever like to back down from a commitment. If I say I'm going to do something, I do it. If I say I'm going to keep up a blog about the Buffalo Sabres, then - gosh darn it - I'm going to do my best to write regularly and keep it interesting.

Needless to say, I am disappointed with my lack of posting since the hockey season ended. However, when I look at this summer and how I feel right now, on the verge of another season starting, I honestly think taking time off was the best thing for both myself and this blog.

I can't wait for hockey season to start.

I know, I know - neither can anyone else, and those people actually kept up with their posting while I went on hiatus this summer. But for me, this is the most excited I've felt about a sports season starting in at least two years. Last summer, I wrote about free agency, training camp, the World Championships and anything Sabre-related I could get my hands on. By the time October rolled around, I felt like I hadn't really missed the team because I had spent all summer keeping tabs on them.

This summer, I let my disillusionment take hold of me, and I pretty much avoided hockey news except for major signings and training camp updates. I needed a break - I needed to take some time away from the team that broke my heart last season to see if absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

I can honestly say, as my pulse picks up at the mere mention of Saturday's game, that taking a break from both the team and blogging about them has made me re-energized as a fan. Seeing Ryan Miller's face on TV has me gushing like an idiot, reading about Jason Pominville in the Buffalo News today had me grinning from ear to ear (by the way, belated congrats for your top-secret marriage, Pommer!), hearing Pat Kaleta's voice on the radio was like returning to a place that I'd really missed.

I'll have more on my thoughts about the coming season in the next few days, but I just wanted to say that I am officially back in business around these parts. Last year, fall meant pumpkin lattes at Starbucks, picking out Halloween costumes and writing papers. This year, I feel like all of those things have just served to remind me that hockey is coming back.

I worried that taking the summer off would make me apathetic towards blogging and the Sabres in general. The fact that my Goose jersey is already hanging on my door in anticipation of Saturday night says that my fears were unfounded. I can't wait to see the boys take to the ice again, and I can't wait to share it with all of my fellow bloggers and readers.

It was good to get away, but it's even better to be back.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Looking for a Reason

It's that time again. Football season is upon us, exactly 11 hours away. I should be feeling ecstatic right now - one of my favorite sports is back for another season.

In truth, I'm not ready.

Last year, I wrote a post about hope. I wrote about the Bills making me want to believe again because I'm a fan, and that's what fans do.

This year, though, I'm not feeling very hopeful. The preseason was a disaster, and the game tonight against the Patriots looks to be no better. Sometimes I wonder if we weren't picked for this game just to show off Tom Brady's return to absolute dominance over teams on national television.

However, I don't want to be that person. I don't want to be the pessimist, the one who's week gets ruined by a bad game. I don't want to see my team struggle and sit back with nothing to do but yell at the screen and sink dejectedly into bed tonight after it's all over. I don't want to feel like the entire season is done if we have a poor showing tonight.

That's why I wish I could stop time right now, before kickoff - before Brady's first touchdown and Trent's 2,000th check-down.

I want to have hope. I want to believe. I want to think that maybe, with a little help from the divine intervention that always seems to go against us , the Bills can pull off one of the biggest upsets I would have ever seen.

I'm afraid that the start of the game will be the end of my hope for the season. So I'll cling to these last few hours of totally delusional optimism because they may be all I have left.

However, there's always that chance that some miracle could happen and totally delusional optimism could reign again in Buffalo after tonight. If there's one thing being a fan has taught me, it's to never let your faith disappear totally.

I'll still be there, watching and cheering, every game this season. I just want this team to give me a reason to keep coming back each week.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wish I Was Blogging About Nice Things

There were plenty of nice things I could have blogged about this past month:

*My trip to the Football Hall of Fame (a week before the induction, though)
*My trip to training camp
*What I wish the Sabres were doing with this offseason
*Catwalk for Charity being moved up to November (thank God - less time to wait!)

But instead, I'm up in my room blogging on my 21st birthday instead of partying hard (or hardly partying, knowing me) because of something not so nice.

Something pretty embarrassing and kind of sad.

It's one thing for an athlete you like to get arrested - it's another thing if that athlete gets arrested for beating up a cab driver because he won't give him 20 cents.

I suppose you expect athletes to get into trouble with the law. I also suppose you expect for it to sometimes be highly publicized with every gory detail analyzed by the media and people typing on family PCs just like me.

I just never expected it to happen to Buffalo's brightest young talent, especially not over such a stupid thing.

When I heard the news about Pat Kane's arrest yesterday, I was honestly shocked. I thought of him as this great ambassador for our city - someone who was proud of his roots and seemed to love this city as much as we loved him. Now, I'm just going to think of him as that kid who beat up a cab driver.

I know that we shouldn't put athletes up on pedestals because they have their faults and issues like all people do. I also know, though, that most people don't assault someone for not having proper change. This isn't just a kid being a stupid kid - this is a kid doing something no one in their right mind should do.

I guess this ranting is just coming from a place of disappointment. I saw how much the little boys I know look up to Pat Kane and all he has accomplished. Yesterday, I had to explain to my cousin what was going on, and I hate having to tell a kid that someone that they look up to acted in a way that they should never emulate.

The thing is, athletes know that people look up to them. I'm sure Pat Kane just wants to be a regular kid when he comes home for the summer, and I understand that. But the thing is, he's not a regular kid. He has a lot of things regular kids will never get to have, and there is a price to pay for that. The price is actually not that difficult from my perspective - just act responsible; be someone that your fans can be proud of.

Hopefully, I'll blog about something more pleasant tomorrow. I just wish it took something happier than this to get me out of my writer's block.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Of Pigeons and Punches

I knew the Sabres were going to lose Jaro Spacek. Any time a player gets close to free agency, fans of this team have to know by now that the player will more than likely be gone. It's a sad fact, but one I think we've all come to live with.

Did the Canadiens overpay for Jaro? Time will tell, but, sometimes I get sick of Darcy saying we got someone for "a bargain." To me, that doesn't imply great management as much as it does a low league interest in a player that we picked up.

Jaro Spacek was one of my favorite Sabres, but it took him a long time to get there. I absolutely hated him after the 2006-2007 season (as many fans seemed to). But things changed, and Spacho grew into a leader for our boys - both by example with his hitting and in the locker room. At every open skate I've gone to, he was teaching things to the younger defensemen and joking around with all the guys to get them loose. I'll miss being entertained by his antics on those mornings at HSBC.

Anyone who knows me, though, knows what I will miss most about Jaroslav Spacek. I will miss that garbled, booming, broken English coming through my speakers during hockey season. Whether we won or lost, an interview with Spacek always made me smile because it was like hearing the Cookie Monster tell me about how to "shoot puck, score goals."

I'll miss the texts from my friends letting me know that he was on TV, and I'm sad that I never got to hear him in person. I hope Canadiens fans appreciate his voice for the gift that it is.

I guess I shouldn't be so sad about losing a player if the best thing about him was his vocal resemblance to a character on Sesame Street...

In appreciation for his years as a Sabre, I present my favorite Spacho interview. Get ready, pigeons!

Now that my "Farewell Spacho Time" is over, I suppose I should welcome the newest Sabre, Steve Montador. He may not be as offensively gifted as Spacho (I hope Darcy addresses this), but he does add some more toughness to a pretty soft blueline.
Anyone who punches Chris Neil in the face is ok with me!

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Version of Draft Analysis

If you have ever read this blog before (or even glanced at its name), you know what kind of hockey players I like - big, tough, gritty players who win by physical punishment and force of will rather than fancy feats of skating prowess. It's been that way ever since I can remember watching hockey; I've always gravitated towards the worker bees and tough guys.

Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that all who know me and my hockey preferences have been coming up to me in the last couple of days saying the same thing:

"You must be really happy with the draft this year."

Let's see: The Sabres used their first-round pick on Zack Kassian, labelled the toughest player in the draft. They drafted no player under 6'1, 187 lbs. They took the son of a former captain, a young player that has been compared to my favorite player.

Yeah, I'd say "happy" pretty much covers it.

I know that there's a chance that some of these kids will never see the NHL. Even the best probably won't be on the team right away. Still, though, the team at least acted like they know what they are sorely lacking right now. They addressed their needs, which is all you can really evaluate in the NHL draft.

With all that being said, I now present "Katie's Completely Unnecessary Guide to the Sabres 2009 Draft Picks":

1. Zack Kassian
  • States that his shootout move is a "shot" - I love a guy who doesn't over-think things.
  • Favorite restaurant is Applebee's - This boy needs to be introduced to the Buffalo culinary scene. Now.
  • Calls himself "the guy that just sits at home and plays video games" - Is there any way we can keep him away from Tim Connolly at training camp every year? He needs to stay this innocent boy and not be introduced to the debauchery of Chippewa.
3. Brayden McNabb
  • Hails from the beautiful town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. You know who else calls Saskatoon home?

Colby Armstrong. This automatically makes him fantastic just by proximity to my favorite non-Sabre NHL player.

  • Likes Harry Potter books - he would have earned even more points with me if he would have specifically said Prisoner of Azkaban.
  • Patterns his game after Calgary's Robin Regehr. I love Regehr's ability to stay relatively unnoticed, which is a good thing for a defensive defenseman. I became a big fan of his two years ago, so it's nice to see him mentioned by one of our prospects.

4. Marcus Foligno

  • Was born August 10, 1991 - We share a birthday! But he's three years younger than I am and getting more press than I will ever receive. Oh well, I'll look past the bitterness and enjoy the fact that I now actually know someone with my birthday.
  • Was compared to Paul Gaustad, which automatically makes him my new favorite prospect. However, this comparison was about how he needs to work on his skating just like Goose did. Still, though, if he has the work ethic of his dad, I think he'll succeed just like Goose did.

5. Mark Adams

  • Smallest Sabres draft pick this year
  • Still in high school - God, I feel so old!

6. Connor Knapp

  • Undecided major at Miami (Ohio) University
  • As a goalie at 6'5, 215 lbs., he makes Ryan Miller (6'2, 166 lbs.) seem like even more of a twig than we already thought he was.

7. Maxime Legault

  • Plays for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL, the same team Jason Pomiville played for.
  • Is only about a year younger than I am (5/28/89), which makes me feel somewhat better about myself.

Question for all of you Facebook users out there - now that these boys are so much younger than I am, is it creepy to request to be their friend? I'd appreciate any and all opinions on this very important matter (because I know how much this matters to all of my readers...or not...).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

And the winner is...

...those who watched the NHL Awards with low expectations.

Don't get me wrong; I love a good awards ceremony, but this was pretty predictable in every way. The only thing that really surprised me was Richard Zednik getting snubbed for the Masterton, and that was a disappointing surprise.

However, eternal optimist that I am (today), there were some things that I absolutely loved about the ceremony:

* Seeing Max Talbot and Evgeni Malkin as unofficial "Keepers of the Cup" never fails to make me smile. I love that a grinder like Talbot is getting his time in the spotlight.

I love that Geno has keep a hand on the Cup like it might run away.

* Patty La sighting! He was one of my first "favorites," so I still light up every time I see him.

* Timmy Thomas was phenomenal with both of his speeches. He got me choked up to hear him thank his wife for following him wherever he had to play. He also got me snickering with his comment to Manny Fernandez when they accepted the Jennings Trophy:

I think that wins the title of "Best Unintentionally Comedic Moment at a Boring Awards Show"

* Jarome Iginla and his pearly whites made an appearance to accept the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

When I heard him talk about their "core" of players and how long they've waited to win the Cup; it actually made me kind of sad. Not that I don't love Craig Rivet, but I wish our captain was part of our "core," grew up with the nucleus of our team. Who am I kidding, I just wish Goose was our captain, and I'm starting to get bitter about it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I know that there are reasons to be mad about last night if you're a Sabres fan:

* Miro Satan won a Stanley Cup...I'll give you all a second to swallow the bile back down.

* Sidney Crosby won a Stanley Cup - and proceeded to reenact his Winter Classic screech on an even more ear-piercing level.

*Pittsburgh changed their coach and won a Cup, and the Lindy Ruff more than I do (which is saying something...and not necessarily a good thing)

*A team won the Stanley Cup last night, and that team was not the Buffalo Sabres...again

But there are also reasons to be happy.

No matter how bitter and jaded I can get as a hockey fan, I still get goosebumps whenever I watch a Stanley Cup celebration. I'm a human-interest story nerd at heart, and those moments always know how to tug at the heartstrings. It's pure emotion on display - tears and laughter and blissful exhaustion - with no veneer of professionalism to separate the fans from their champions.

I know some may think that watching another team lift the Cup would make a hockey fan whose team didn't make the playoffs feel even more hopeless.

Not so for me.

Last night, I didn't go to my usual unhappy place filled with thoughts of how that will never be my team. Instead, I let myself think about what would happen if that ever was my team. I thought of how I would feel if Craig Rivetwas in Sidney Crosby's place or if it was Goose scoring those goals instead of Max Talbot. What would it feel like if Ryan Miller got to wrap his skinny arms around all that silver...if Lindy got doused in champagne?

Right now, I have no idea how that would feel. I've never watched a team I really cared about win a major championship. Yesterday may have been the closest I came just because my favorite non-Sabre's best friend got to be the first to lift the Cup (yes, I am pathetic). I can only hope that we here in Buffalo can someday soon feel what they're feeling in Pittsburgh today - the pride of knowing that it's our boys - the ones we yell at, laugh at, obsess over, wear the jersey of - that came out on top.

Until then, at least the Cup should be coming back to Buffalo again:

Congrats, Brooks Orpik - you did us proud!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

As Easy as it Looks?

I was really starting to get bored with hockey.

Until tonight.

Don't get me wrong, the playoffs have been full of great hockey games, but in all honesty these Finals were nothing short of a snooze-fest for me during the first two games.

I'm sick of the Red Wings.

I know that dominance like theirs comes along rarely, but it's really getting on my nerves. They make winning look easy, and this is a double-edged sword. It's nice to hear that you make things so difficult look so effortless. However, there is the chance that your ability to do this makes things boring. That's how the Wings often look when I watch them - like a well-oiled machine that just does its job to perfection (and what's exciting about that?).

They'll probably still win this series (I think in 7 games this time), but it's nice to see them deal with adversity in doing so.

That's what makes tonight's win by the Penguins so great - it really did make this a series. It proved that Pittsburgh can hang with Detroit (at least for a little while). Mainly, though, it made the Wings look human. It reminded me that winning isn't really all that easy - no matter what the Wings usually look like. Winning is hard - and exhilarating, and suspenseful, and full of desperation, and it's nice to see that with the hardest trophy in sports to win on the line.

I, for one, can't wait until Thursday.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Long Time No Blog

I'm back!

Not that I really went anywhere...I've just had the busiest non-college-related week of my life. Dance competitions, rehearsals...and my sister's softball team made it to the state championships which start tomorrow in NYC - Congrats Lady Lancers of St. Mary's!

With all that's been going on, I really haven't had much time to even watch the conference finals. It's not too hard to guess who I'm rooting for (if it is...Chicago and Pittsburgh), so I'm happy with one series and sad (but not unexpectedly so) about the other.

As a way of summing up the great amount of hockey that I've missed out on, I present the "Top 5 Revelations I've Had (So Far) During the Conference Finals ":

5.) I really don't hate Sidney Crosby as much as I let on this year. I spent the whole regular season telling myself that Sid was a whiner that I must have been crazy to follow like I did during the 2008 playoffs. Well, absence must make the heart grow fonder because my love for Sid is back in full force. I just like how he has really stepped up in these playoffs, proving that this really is his team. For all the crap he gets about being immature, I think he truly does handle himself well for being put on a pedestal as a role model so young.

Colby would be so happy to read this!

4.) I hate the Carolina Hurricanes more than I let on this year. Really. I hate them. I have such a visceral reaction every time they show footage of Brind'Amour lifting the Stanley Cup that should have been ours - it's like I want to cry and throw up at the same time. Or maybe that's just from his face...Whatever it is, I don't think it's a reaction that's going away any time soon. I'm Polish; I hold grudges like it's my job.

3.) The Chicago Blackhawks have the best mixture of playoff beards ever. From Toews's mutton chops and Kane's peach fuzz to Sharp's mountain man look and Soupy's bright red beard, the Hawks run the gamut in terms of ritual facial hair. Whether it's ruggedly handsome that you're going for or boyishly pathetic, they have something for every taste. In addition, they also have this hilarious video playing up the beard-growing prowess (or lack thereof) of their two biggest stars:

2.) I am still not really over losing Brian Campbell. I say this not because I sit there and wish he was still playing for us with the nostalgia that I save for Briere, Biron and McKee but because I like to pick on him a little too much. It's like that significant other who dumps you and then you try to pick out everything they do wrong and get a kick out doing so...Until it's over a year later and you look more than a little pathetic in your inability to move on. He's playing for the team I want in the West, but I'll be damned if a little part of me doesn't smile inside when he makes some major mistake. I don't want him back, but I don't want him to be a star for anyone else, either. I sound way more than "a little pathetic" now...

1.) I miss Sabres hockey more than last year. Last year, it seemed easier for some reason. Maybe it's because we knew from early on in the season that it wasn't going to be a good year. Maybe it's because we thought missing the postseason was a one-time deal. Whatever the case may be, I was able to transition into playoff hockey a lot easier last year than this year. This year, I find it really hard to keep up a rooting interest in a team or even in the game itself without some level of bitterness towards the Sabres. It's hard to watch other teams progress when I felt for the longest time this season that my team would be in the mix right along with these others. They're not, through no one's fault but their own, and it's difficult to feel no resentment to cities that get to experience the beauty that is hockey in May.

That doesn't mean, though, that I'll stop watching. I have my teams, and I'm starting to get out of my "playoff funk." Expect more posts in the coming days; I really do feel bad for how I've been neglecting my writing and my readers.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Birthday Recap Part II

Three posts in less than 24 hours - I must say that I am very proud of myself!

To conclude the Muckers and Grinders birthday festivities, I bring you a collection of some of the "bests" of the past year of blogging:

Most Hopeful Post: "The Bills Make Me Wanna..." (Nothing like the start of a season to remind you of what it means to be a Buffalo fan)

Best Title: "Paul Gaustad has Given Me Unrealistic Expectations About Men" (Need I say more?)

Most Emotional Posts: "At a Loss" and "Everything We Needed" (The swing in emotions from despair after the crash of Flight 3407 to that euphoric Sabres statement game against the Sharks still gives me goosebumps to think about)

The Best of "Overreaction Central": "In Denial" (Ryan Miller's injury and the team's response to it still gives me this same reaction)

The Best of "Emo Blogging Time": "Waking Up" (Langston Hughes gets Buffalo sports fans like no other poet)

And now, the moment I know you've all been waiting for:

The Best of Google Analytics:
People have found this blog searching for some pretty amusing things. Sure there's the obligatory "jason pominville paul gaustad," "pat kaleta girlfriend," and "paul gaustad shirtless" searches, but there have been some downright fantastic ones as well:

"sports writing locker naked"
"alex ovechkin cannibal bit ear"
"craig rivet's dad"
"jarome iginla good deed"
"jason pominville's favorite color"
"stupid birthday comments"
"their just really good at hockey" (great grammar here as well!)
"when can jason pominville leave the sabres?" (NEVER!!)
"cheap muckers"

Hope you enjoyed those as much as I did!

As a final birthday treat for myself, I started a Twitter: Feel free to follow even more of my random thoughts!

Birthday Recap Part I

Today, Muckers and Grinders is officially one year old. As I said last night, I still can't believe that people actually have been reading my overly emotional take on the Buffalo sports world for so long.

To celebrate, what goes better with a birthday party than stats! Before you start making a list of all the things that are (which better include Paul Gaustad), I promise, most of these are pretty interesting.

*I've had 10,926 separate visits to my blog this year, with 14,896 pageviews. I know that, to some, this is not the greatest number, but for someone who is often slow to update and has very little creative impulse to make my work stand out among the other awesome blogs out there, this is a lot. So thanks for reading everyone, and I hope you keep reading my rididculous thoughts for another year!

*People from 42 countries have visited this blog. The majority come from the U.S., with Canada coming in second. There are some other cool international visitors, though, like readers from Germany, Finland, India, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Latvia.

*In America, my highest percentage of readers are obviously from this area, but Virginia ranks second.

*Call me obsessed, but I love when I see returning readers from East Lansing or Portland. I like to pretend that people in contact with Ryan Miller and Paul Guastad like reading about how much I love them.

*Out of all the blogs out there, the most readers come to my site from The Goose's Roost. Thanks for bringing some of your readers my way, guys!

*My most popular post in terms of readers was the Class of 1970 Reunion post I wrote about the Canucks-Sabres game back in October. It had 151 pageviews, which leads me to believe that I have some readers from Vancouver that I should cater to more often!

* Most popular search label: Ryan Miller with Paul Gaustad and Jason Pominville rounding out the top three. It's good to see that I'm not the only one out there who wants more info on The Trio.

Later today I'll recap the best of Google Analytics because nothing says Happy Birthday like hilarious searches!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tomorrow's a Pretty Big Day

One year ago today I decided that I would start my own hockey blog. It took me another day to actually write something for it, but I consider May 13 to be almost as big of an anniversary around here as tomorrow will be.

I know that sometimes I don't keep this blog updated as much as I should, and it kills me when I have something really important to write about but I can't because school or work or some other ridiculously boring thing takes me away from what I really want to be doing.

A year ago, blogging looked so easy. I credit all of my fellow Sabres bloggers out there that I read religiously (you know who you are) with making it appear that way. I've learned a lot in a year, though:

I've learned that it takes a lot of skill to recap a game that everyone has already seen in a way that makes people want to read

I've learned that it's really hard to give an interesting opinion on a topic that's been beaten to death. I've also learned that it's even harder to put a new opinion out there for everyone to pick apart.

I've learned that blogging isn't as easy as it appeared 365 days ago, and I give all of you bloggers credit for keeping your sites updated and interesting far more often than I do.

Most importantly, though, I've learned that I really love blogging. I love having a place to celebrate when my teams do well and a place to vent when they let me down. I love being part of the Buffalo sports blogging community. To those of you out there whose blogs I've come to love, thanks for bringing me into the fold. I honestly love reading your work, and it always brings a smile to my face to see a comment from you guys on things I write.

I still can't believe that people out there actually read this thing. I started this blog with really no expectations, so to think that there are actually people interested in what a college girl from West Seneca says about sports still blows my mind. I always try to be honest, and I know that sometimes it may make me seem like a gushing teenybopper or a whiny kid. However, my goal a year ago was to start a blog that was really in my voice, and if I accomplished nothing else, I know that I never try to sound like anyone but me (no matter how annoying I can be at times).

I suppose I should have saved this for tomorrow, but I have a couple of posts planned already. I know - more than one post in a day - that's got to be a record for me!

A lot has changed in my life since the night of May 13, 2008, but I'm glad that I have this to remind me that some things don't change. I still love my teams. I still love to write. I still wish I was as good a writer as many of my fellow bloggers.

One year ago, I was just a fan sitting in her house ranting about sports. The only thing that's changed is, for some crazy reason, I have people reading my ranting now. I couldn't be more thankful for those of you that do. You're the reason I'm so glad that I got myself into this world and the reason I'm not leaving any time soon.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Becoming a Fan

On Saturday night, the Buffalo Bandits were defeated by the New York Titans 9-3, eliminating them from the NLL playoffs and a chance at a repeat championship.

It took me a couple of days to really sort through how I felt about this loss. After most of the Bandits losses this season, I've stayed relatively unaffected. Sure, I'm usually sad that they lost, but I'm usually more upset that my two best friends, two dedicated Bandits fans, are going to be so miserable for the next week. I was almost glad that I was able to keep myself from falling head-over-heels for this team because I knew that I could at least save myself some heartbreak.

Saturday night's loss ended all hopes of objective lacrosse viewing for me.

I'll admit it now...I am a Bandits fan.

I know that this sounds strange. I live in Buffalo, I'm even a season ticket holder. Naturally, I should be a fan. It should not have taken me an entire season to become one. I guess it all boils sown to how I define being a fan.

Liking the games, enjoying the atmosphere, feeling a high when a team wins - that's enough to be considered a fan of a team for most people. For me, though, that's not nearly enough.

Being a fan for me is like being in a relationship. There are the teams you flirt with but know that they'll never amount to anything, and you'll probably forget about them in a few hours (Pittsburgh Penguins of last year's playoffs). There's the ones that you hang out with every once in a while but you know they're not "the one" (Vancouver Canucks, Indianapolis Colts).

Then there's the team that you hang out with for a whole season with the feeling that this could turn into something special. They could be something exclusive, something very few will ever be...your team. It's just that you've had your heart broken very recently by a few teasing teams that made you believe they were something that they weren't.

Saturday night, this new team broke my heart again the same way the others did - by not showing up in a game that mattered immensely. I got mad at them, and that, to me, is the key to being a true fan of a team. You get upset, you fight with them, but, in your heart you know that, like any good relationship, you can get through it. You still love them anyway.

The Bandits may have lost the game, but they won a fan on Saturday. I know that this doesn't matter at all to them, but it's something special for me. When I give my heart to one of "my teams," I give it totally, and the Bandits join the Sabres, Bills, and Duke Blue Devils on a very short list in my heart.

Even though the loss hurt, even though I'm still mad that my first season as a season ticket holder ended in an offensive failure, I'll be back. Because I'm a fan, and that's what we do.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Let's See if I'm Better this Round

Second round prediction time!

Eastern Conference

Boston vs. Carolina
Carolina may be riding the momentum of their Game Seven victory and a couple of epic comebacks, but Boston is the top seed for a reason. Really, though, Boston is my pick because I can't ever bring myself to pick the Hurricanes to win anything (except ugliest NHL captain). If you're looking for real analysis, I hate to say this, but this series looks ripe for the upset.
Bruins in 7 (unbiased opinion: Hurricanes in 6 - I have to wash my hands for typing that)

Washington vs. Pittsburgh
Gary Bettman is still pinching himself right now over this series. I'm already bracing myself for the onslaught of Ovechkin vs. Crosby publicity that will be shoved down our throats in the coming weeks. Give me a break. No offense, Sid, but you are no Ovie, and I hope that will finally come out in this series. Anyone who really watches hockey can see that Ovechkin brings a palpable intensity and physicality to the game that Crosby just doesn't seem to have. In the "Battle of Bettman's Dreams," I'll take No. 8 over No. 87.
Washington in 6

Western Conference

Detroit vs. Anaheim
I think this will be a lot closer than people may think. Detroit may have the pure skill to dominate anyone, but the Ducks just proved that grit can dominate skill in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Though this may be true, Detroit has what the Sharks did not - mental toughness and Stanley Cup experience from top to bottom on their roster. It'll be a battle, but I like the reigning champs.
Red Wings in 7

Vancouver vs. Chicago
Again, the NHL is trying to torture me by pitting teams I like against one another. Unlike Calgary, Vancouver has the speed and scoring depth to go toe-to-toe with Chicago. They also have the edge in goal, as I think Luongo will outplay Khabibulin. Plus, the Canucks will be getting an emotional boost with the return of Taylor Pyatt after the tragic death of his fiancee.
Canucks in 6

Agree? Think I'm nuts? Leave me a comment and let me know who you like!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First Round Wrap-Up

Time flies when you're watching other teams play in the postseason.

It's hard to believe that the first round of the NHL playoffs is already over, but it's time to look back on my predictions and see just how terribly woring I was.

Eastern Conference

* Boston over Montreal (4 games): I predicted a sweep by the Bruins, and that's exactly what we got. I didn't watch much of this series; there were too many thoughts of "what if" the Sabres could have snuck in and faced a team that they had a winning record against.

*Washington over NY Rangers (7 games): I picked the Caps, but I thought it would only take them 5 games to overtake the Rags. I really didn't care how long it took them; it was actually a lot sweeter to see the "best leader in sports" Chris Drury watch his team lose a 3-1 series lead.

*Carolina over NJ (7 games): I was proud of myself for calling the seven-game series, but I was so unhappy by the way it ended:

I HATE seeing the Hurricanes happy over anything. This should never have happened. Never. I'm still to shocked and appalled to write anything else about it right now.

* Pittsburgh over Philadelphia (6 games): Just as with the last series, I predicted the right number of games, but was disappointed with the winner. I really liked the Flyers this season, but now we have to deal with endless Crosby vs. Ovechkin talk for the next round. Ugh...

Western Conference

* Anaheim over San Jose (6 games): Just further proof that any team I pick to win anything will lose in shocking fashion. Not only did I think the Sharks would win the series, I picked them to finally win the Cup. I should have known better; there just wasn't enough fierce competitiveness needed to drive those players to the greater toughness needed for the postseason. At least when the Sabres won the President's Trophy they made it to the Conference Finals...

*Detroit over Columbus (4 games): Just like Boston in the East, a sweep here was not too hard to predict. I really hoped Columbus would make it a series, but Detroit is a proven winner for a reason.

*Vancouver over St. Louis (4 games): I was pleasantly surprised to see this sweep. Vancouver is a dangerous team right now, and I really hope they can ride that far into this postseason. They have to do their damage this year; there are too many free agents on this team for success like this to be guaranteed again.

* Chicago over Calgary (6 games): Again, I picked the right length but the wrong winner. Chicago was just too offensively potent for a Flames team that took too many penalties in games when it mattered the most. As much as I love Patty Kane, Jarome Iginla has a lot fewer years left to win a Cup. I really hope someday he gets rewarded for all his leadership.

This round cemented my love for Jarome Iginla. No offense, Craig Rivet, but he is, without a doubt, the best captain in the NHL today. See Game Four of the series if you need proof. He took the team on his back - he wanted to win and he played in a way that ensured that he would get what he wanted.

Ok, now that my "Iggy love-fest" is over, it's time to turn my attention to the next round. Predictions should be up sometime tonight or tomorrow afternoon.

Until then, how did you do on your first round picks?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Alex Burrows Appreciation Post

I have a not-so secret confession to make...

I am in love with Alex Burrows and have been for quite some time.

Burrows has been my favorite Vancouver Canuck since I really started following them last season, but now he is challenging Colby Armstrong and Jarome Iginla for my favorite non-Sabre NHL player.

There are so many things to love about this 28-year old from Pincourt, Quebec. Because I am bored and tired of doing final projects, I will proceed to list them all:

  • He went undrafted, went to the ECHL, and then proceeded to work his way to the NHL. He now spends time on the top line of the Canucks and scored a career-best 28 goals this season.
  • The work ethic that got him to the NHL has never stopped and always shows itself on the ice, where he has become a never-quit force to be reckoned with...Much like a certain Sabre we all know and love (HONK!)...
  • He is the epitome of the kind of player I adore - all heart, penalty-killer extraordinaire, not afraid to stand up for himself or his teammates, and a good person on top of it all.
  • He has a dreamy French-Canadian accent...Who doesn't love that?
  • Like Goose, I loved him before I actually saw his face, but that face is certainly an added bonus:
You can imagine my excitement, then, when Burrows scored the game-winning OT to sweep the Blues last night. It was yet another example of his playing style that I have come to love - he may have been tired, the period may have been 19 seconds from ending, but he never quit.That goal gave me yet another reason to love Alex Burrows - he is incredibly thoughtful. In what may have been the biggest moment of his hockey life, when his emotions were surely clouding all thought, he took the time to remember his friend and teammate Luc Bourdon who died in a motorcycle accident last year.

Bourdon's goal celebration was a bow-and-arrow move, and Burrows added this to his own celebration last night, just as he did in the Canucks opener, which was dedicated to the memory of Bourdon:

Anyone else out there share my love for Vancouver's stalwart #14? If not, which players are you rooting for this postseaosn?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The one where I disagree with a lot of people

I've been relatively quiet throughout this whole discussion on the job security of Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier. That does not mean that I do not have an opinion.

It means that I understood that I would be seen as the voice of the supposedly mindless masses, and my point was already being stated by bloggers and radio hosts and journalists alike...only my point was the one that they were saying had no validity anymore.

I suppose I should just come out and say it...I like Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff and think that both of them have done the best that they can with what they have been given.

You can start cursing me for drinking the Kool-Aid now, but I am happy that both men are staying with the team through next season.

I feel like I am probably in the minority today with this statement. I know I shouldn't have been reading the message boards today, but I think I almost had a coronary at 20 reading some of the things that people are saying about this. One person went so far as to say that today is worse than the day we lost Briere and Drury; another stated that this move will have Thomas Vanek on the phone with his agent demanding a trade.

So today I feel like I need to make my case for Lindy and Darcy; it's time for me to come out of the woodwork on this issue.

I'll begin with Darcy. Has he made mistakes as a G.M.? Yes. I hate to bring up the "D and B words" again, but any conversation about Darcy nowadays has to deal with his handling of the Drury and Briere situations. In all honesty, my only complaint with Darcy there has been that he went after the wrong guy. He chose to court Drury, who was looking for the first plane to NYC, over Briere. I can't fault him on his choice (who wouldn't have taken Chris over Danny that summer?), but I do wish he could have seen that Drury was no longer interested in playing here.

The Campbell trade? No problems with that one: I didn't want to overpay the human spin-o-rama machine. Signing all the players who underperformed this year to long-term contracts? Over the summer we were all cheering about how solid our "core" was looking for years to come. It's not Darcy's fault that these guys chose this year to have slumps or ignore their coach.

This brings me to Lindy. Let me preface these comments by saying that I have an extreme bias towards Lindy Ruff. He was one of my parents' favorite Sabres, so I grew up with them talking about how much heart he had as a player and how happythey were that he was coaching here. In my opinion, Lindy is the only coach I want behind the bench for the Sabres. He gets the city, the people and the way we want to see hockey played.

That has become the problem the last two seasons. It seems as if many of the Sabres, and some of the best ones at that, have tuned out what Lindy is trying to teach them about hard-working hockey, the kind of hockey that Buffalo fans wany to see. Is that really his fault? Some of these players are so stubborn that they would do whatever they wanted on the ice, regardless of who is coaching them.

As for Lindy's supposed failure as the "great motivator"? These are big boys; if they can't motivate themselves, then there is a much deeper problem than coaching on this team. As Ryan Miller said in his last interview, if they can't kick themselves in the butt to compete every night, they should not even bother coming onto the ice.

This is where I think the problem lies - in certain players on this team who either slack off or "go rogue" (as Paul Hamilton likes to put it) in games when they are needed the most. I know that it's unrealistic to say that we should trade many guys on this team and expect to get comparable assets in return, but it's what I hope Darcy can do to some extent this summer.

If October rolls around and I'm still looking at the same underachieving roster, then I'll be in the unhappy place that some of you are in today.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Obligatory Playoff Prediction Post

The Stanley Cup Playoffs start tonight, so I suppose it's time to make my picks for the first round. I have approximately a half hour before class starts, so I'm afraid this won't be as detailed as I would like, but feel free to comment on them and add your own picks in the comments section.

Eastern Conference:

(1) Boston vs. (8) Montreal
The Bruins may have looked terrible in the season finale for the Sabres, but I really like what this team has to offer. Solid goaltending, team toughness, and a year's worth of stewing over last year's loss to Montreal will put them over the top.
Bruins in 4

(2) Washington vs. (7) NY
Lundqviust is no match for the firepower of Semin, Green, and a certain Number 8.
Caps in 5

(3) New Jersey vs . (6) Carolina
Toughest match-up in the East. Carolina's been hot, but the Devils have been consistently good all season. Plus, I never pick against Brodeur in the playoffs.
Devils in 7

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Philadelphia
I've become enamored with Philly's forwards this season -they're fast, chippy and everything I wanted the Sabres to be this year. Goaltending is the big question, but I think the Flyers are so much deeper offensively this year.
Flyers in 6

Western Conference

(1) San Jose vs. (8) Anaheim

It's time for this Sharks team to make a serious run, and they have the right mixture of talent, goaltending, and grit to do it. They're my Cup pick so far.
Sharks in 5

(2) Detroit vs. (7) Columbus
The Red Wings play beautiful hockey, and it's almost impossible for me to envision a scenario where they lose a game let alone a series...They're scary good.
Red Wings in 4

(3) Vancouver vs. (6) St. Louis
As much as I love Jay McKee, Vancouver is my team in the West. They have a fantastic goalie, scoring depth, and hunger from missing the playoffs last season.
Canucks in 5

(4) Chicago vs. (5) Calgary
This is a hard one for me. These two teams constantly battle in my head for my second-favorite team in this conference. Chicago has all the flash needed to offensively put on a show, but the question becomes: do Kane and Co. have enough experience? Calgary has that in spades, and a captain in Jarome Iginla that always tries to carry his team through the postseason. He'll have to try even harder this year, as injuries have decimated their roster, but I can't pick against the heart that team shows night in and night out.
Flames in 6

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Closing Time

Mark Mulville/The Buffalo News

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end..."

This line from Semisonic's "Closing Time" perfectly captures the feeling in HSBC Arena during Buffalo's 6-1 win over Boston. Sure, the win was great, but there was a palpable feeling in the air that something was ending, something bigger than even the regular season.

Maybe it really was just the feeling that another season was ending, this time before my eyes. I've never been to the last game of the season before, so maybe this is how it feels when a playoff-less year concludes on home ice. However, there is no denying that big changes seem to be in store for this offseason, and the tension was evident all around the arena.

Last season, there were a myriad of excuses that both the team and fans gave for missing the playoffs - learning new roles, changes in how the game was being played, growing up...

This season, those excuses will fall on deaf ears if anyone is naive enough to even try and use them. There are simply no excuses for what happened this time around; if they aren't grown up by now, I have a feeling what we're facing is a case of terminal adolescence.

There's no doubt that some changes will be made this summer; nothing stays the same in professional sports from year to year. The pain of this season had me asking a lot of questions about what I was seeing:

Did I just watch Teppo Numminen play in his last NHL game? If so, there was a great sign across from our seats that said "Thank You Teppo," and it brought a sad smile to my face. That man deserved a Stanley Cup.

Did I just see Lindy Ruff's last game behind the Sabres' bench?

Will those people in the section over from me be right with their "We want Darcy fired" chants?

Did I just see the last game in a Sabres uniform by Jaro Spacek? Henrik Tallinder? Jochen Hecht? Who will be here when this ice is laid down once again in the Fall?

No matter the letdowns, I've come to love the guys on this team since 2005. In my mind, tonight is the end of an era. My gut feeling is that some part of this team that I've come to love will be gone by next year. There's going to be a shake-up, and I feel like this game was the last time all of the faces I've come to associate with the Buffalo Sabres will be in HSBC Arena together.

Make no mistake, I want changes to be made. I would not be satisfied to see this same team trotted out in late September. This team needs a "new beginning," but I know that it won't come without a cost.

When the team saluted the fans after the game, I'll admit to getting emotional. Did they make me furious at times this season? Yes. However, you can't tell me that this team doesn't know and appreciate the fans here.

In 2005, it seemed like we were just at the beginning of a great journey with this new "core" of young rookies. In 2009, that beginning has ended, but we have no idea what the next one will hold.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It Ends Tonight

It's over.

Tonight, despite a 5-1 win over the 'Canes, the Sabres were eliminated from the playoffs with New York's 2-1 win over Philly.

That has to be one of the most helpless feelings in all of sports - your team did its part to stay in the race, but its destiny was in the hands of someone else.

In the coming days, I'm sure we'll all have our theories and comments on the season that was. Too little too late, needing too much outside help - I know that I should have seen this coming. I knew that it would take a miracle for this team to reach the playoffs.

That doesn't mean that this still doesn't hurt.

It hurts for me to see Ryan Miller so sad, when he was one of the few players who really stepped up this season.

It hurts to think that Saturday could be Lindy's last game behind the bench as a Sabres coach.

It hurts to have to pick another team to root for in the playoffs; it never feels right when I do.

It hurts to say goodbye to this team until October.

But I don't have to do that just yet. I'll be at the game on Saturday, and I hope that they go out on a high note. I hope they play with the pride and fire that they showed tonight because I was really proud of them. Tonight, they did all that they could in a game I thought they would never win. I just sincerely hope that they will put it all out there again Saturday, give the fans something positive to take into the offseason.

Another year, another bittersweet night in Carolina. It's funny how the circumstances were reversed, though. In 2006, it was a loss that left us in tears but the memories of a beautiful season that took some of the sting away. In 2009, it's a win that should leave us jubilant but the memories of a turbulent season that have us depressed.

Saturday still matters - for the fans, for proving that there's still some fight left in this team. It may be over for us, but it should never be played like it's over for them. That game is going to show us a lot about how this team really sees itself, and I can only hope that it makes me go into the summer with some pride left in these boys.