Saturday, March 28, 2009

Goose Gets a Gordie (or Alliteration is Awesome)

Great things about tonight's 5-3 win over Toronto:

* Goose picking up the Gordie Howe Hat Trick. One assist, one very timely goal, and two fights made me a very happy girl tonight. That goal was the definition of clutch, coming exactly when the Sabres needed some life. Both of those fights proved exactly why Goose has grown into a leader on this team - he sets the tone for how the game will be handled, and tonight he showed that it would be handled with hard work and pride in their ability to defend Ryan Miller.

* The whole team finding its collective "man parts" to make sure nobody so much as looked at Miller the wrong way without being dealt with. Everyone was stepping up physically tonight, from Butler and Lydman to Moore and Hecht. I, personally, was extremely worried about how this aspect of Miller's return would shake out tonight, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the passion and grit displayed on the ice tonight.

* The heat slowly creeping back into the games of Tim Connolly, Jochen Hecht, and Jason Pominville. This had to happen for the team to pick things up in these final weeks, and I can only hope that tonight is a springboard rather than a fluke (though Pommer does have a nice point-streak going now).

* Patrick Kaleta. I love everything about his game, and tonight he was exceptional at what he does. He was hitting everything that moved, aggressively killing penalties, and working hard on the forecheck. I especially loved when the camera went to him during the third period after an especially hard body check - even by Kaleta's standards. There he was, laughing and smiling like he has the best job in the world. That's what I love about him; he's just a Buffalo boy getting to live the dream.

Oh, and I love this gem of a quote by Kaleta, courtesy of, about tomorrow's game in Montreal:

"I guess call Fuccillo Chevrolet... It’s huge! "

There is no better way to describe it. Tonight was big, but tomorrow is..."HUGE, Buffalo...HUGE!"

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bracket Busted

Associated Press

It's done.

Another season over; another "favorite team" walking off in defeat.

Although, this loss is different. Duke isn't a Buffalo team. They're not a team that everyone I know roots for. In fact, outside of my family and about four friends, no one I know bleeds "Duke Blue" (as opposed to Tar Heel Blue) during college basketball season.

It's tough to be in the minority when cheering for a sports team. When they win, you have only a few people to share the joy with. When they lose, you have only a few people to wipe your tears with.

I know most of you could care less about this loss. Maybe some of you picked them in your bracket and you're mad that they got beat 77-54 by lower-seeded Villanova. Maybe some of you called the upset (which was really a bad draw for Duke from the start) and are celebrating their offensive failure. Maybe some of you just genuinely hate the Blue Devils and love to see Coach K. and his team eliminated.

For me, though, this is the third hardest elimination from the postseason to watch (with the Sabres and Bills before it).

Associated Press

It's hard to write about this because I know that a lot of you who read this are happy to see this team go down once again. For some reason, Duke is a perennial "Evil Empire" in college basketball (even if the last time they won the whole thing was in 2001).

That's the thing, though; the more people tell me that they hate this team, the stronger my passion for Duke becomes. I love my small contingent of Duke fans because we share something that very few people understand. We're Cameron Crazies. We can spell Krzyzewski without Google and may have even been to "Krzyzewskiville" itself. We dream of going to Cameron Indoor Arena. We cried when Redick and Williams left without a championship. We rejoice when we see another Facebook status exclaiming "Let's Go Duke!" on game night.

So this is for the people who love Gerald Henderson more than Tyler Hansbrough, who know and appreciate the tragic backstory of Nolan Smith. If I can make one Duke fan who feels alienated from their sports community for liking Greg Paulus feel like they belong, then this post was a success.

To all you Duke haters, go ahead and trash them in the comments like I know you want to. It's only going to fuel my passion for Jon Scheyer and his teammates. Debating makes being a sports fan great, and I am more than ready to defend my Devils.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Winning - Remember what it Feels Like?

Two out of three. That's how I look at tonight, so I suppose I can't really complain.

I went into tonight with three games I really cared about:
1.) Sabres - Rangers
2.) Bandits - Lumberjax
3.) Duke - Texas

Mathematically, I'm going to sleep (in a few hours) about 67% satisfied.

My beloved Blue Devils snuck by the Longhorns 74-69. There was much rejoicing in my house; as my sister, mother, best friend, and myself all picked them as our champions. More important than even my bracket, my basketball boys proved that they will be a team to reckon with this year.

Also, we got to see an ever-elusive smile by the stoic Mike Krzyzewski (no, I did not need to look that up - it's a Polish thing...). Coach K smiles are as rare as Lindy Ruff ones, so it was nice to see this look on his face as final seconds ticked away:

Also, many thanks to the Bandits for reminding me that a Buffalo team could, in fact, win a sporting event. After a two-game losing streak drained some of the fun out of lacrosse for me, the excitement came back in full force tonight at the Arena with a 14-4 win over the Portland Lumberjax.

Four goals may seem like a lot to those of us used to hockey, but that is, in fact, a Bandits record for fewest goals allowed in a game.

Not only did the Bandits play smart, they played tough - two things we haven't seen enough of from that other Buffalo team lately. Brandon Francis proved once again that he is a true heavyweight, pounding superstar Brodie Merrill into submission, stirring the crowd into a frenzy. My new favorite Bandit, Billy Dee Smith earned "Mucker and Grinder of the Night" for taking on David Morgan, who had a clear size advantage over the Bandit defenseman. Smith landed some huge punches before getting a game misconduct.

I know that it's dumb to say that the Sabres would be winning more if they fought more, but part of me wants to say that. Hey, I've heard some crazier theories on WGR this week alone. All I know is that the passion shown through physical play was on full display tonight, both in the stands and on the bench. Those fights gave the team a clear jump, establishing who had control of the momentum. I guess all I wanted to say about that is that it was nice to see that kind of fire from more than just a few people for more than just a few seconds.

Now, I did not watch tonight's hockey game. I've been told that we put a good effort together, so maybe I'll play it back before I go to bed. However, I don't know if I can watch another loss, no matter how well they played. My best friend likes to tell me "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades." Cliched as it may be; it's true at this point. Saying they worked hard is fine, but we need points, not building blocks - too late for those.

Two out of three should be enough to make me happy for tonight - mathematically.

Emotionally, it's the one that got away which will have me tossing and turning for another night.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This is Getting Ridiculous

The title of this post can refer to any number of things about tonight's game:

1.) The fact that the only thing this team is consistent with is their ability to choke away leads to bad hockey teams

2.) The seven shots on goal in the second and third periods combined

3.) The twelve minutes of penalties taken consecutively in the second period alone

4.) Jason Pominville's inability to look like a functioning hockey player - even when he scores a goal.

5.) The amount of faceoffs lost by the Sabres - did we even win one tonight?

6.) The fact that, statistically, we lost no ground. Thanks for keeping our stupid hopes alive longer, Florida. By losing 3-0 to Washington, you prolonged the crushing blow that I know is coming - making it all the more painful when it comes.

7.) Our record against the Sens in the years since the lockout. The Sens have a record of 20-6-4 against the Sabres since 2005. I have a shirt for another team (brownie points if you can guess which one) that says: "Doesn't a rivalry usually include two teams with a chance of winning?" If this is the case, we really can't call the Sens our rivals because they own us.

Still, even though I knew that this was the likely outcome for tonight; why does it sting so bad?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bracketology Lessons with M&G

I don't know about you, but I need a break from hockey right now. Between watching teams around us win and watching the Sabres find every new way to let us down, it doesn't feel as fun watching hockey right now as it should.

This is why I am so glad that it's finally March.

I've been a college basketball follower my whole life - my father is a huge Syracuse fan and my mother has always liked Duke. We've been filling out brackets as long as I can remember.

It was only during the NHL lockout that I became an avid lover of March Madness. Without hockey's home-stretch to keep me occupied, I needed another outlet for my sports passion. I found that and so much more in the NCAA Tournament.

I love the whole aura of college basketball, the sense that this is how the game should be played. Yes, there are those players looking for their big NBA payoff, but most of the kids in the tournament are just that - kids who are holding onto their passion for as long as they can. There's an innocence about the fact that there are no big contracts, no endorsement deals, nothing to cloud the fact that these players have true skill and the effort to make that skill even better. That's why, though my favorite team is in a "power conference," I love watching teams from small, mid-major schools succeed. I can't wait for the next George Mason or Davidson to emerge in the coming weeks.

For those of you who come here for Sabres news only, I encourage you to follow the Madness for the next few weeks. I know that the brackets look daunting, but, even if you know nothing about college basketball, fill one out; it'll help you feel invested in every game.

To help you out on that front, I present:

The Muckers and Grinders Guide to Bracketology*

Rule 1: If you're stuck on a match-up, always pick the school with the cooler name.

I try to follow this rule at least once every year. There's always at least one school that sticks out as having a name so cool that it's hard to ignore. Sometimes, it's a school like Austin Peay. Other times, I go with standards like Gonzaga, Xavier, or Marquette. This year, I'm going with Butler because it shares a name with a certain Sabres defenseman and I'm terrible at picking 8-9 games. This rule also applies to cool mascots (ie. Syracuse Orange, Xavier Muskateers).

Rule 2: You can't pick all higher seeds to win.

This rule has four of corollaries: 1.) You cannot choose all of the higher-ranking teams to beat lower ones in the first round. There's going to be an upset (or a few) somewhere, and you'll want the pride of having picked it. 2.) You cannot pick all four of the one seeds to make the Final Four (even though that did happen last year). That's just too easy, and you want people to think that you really thought this through. 3.) Though the first two points may be true, don't overload on the upsets. There's a reason teams like Pitt, UNC, Duke, and Memphis have high seeds; they're good. Selectively go through the match-ups to find the one or two games that you have a gut instinct will go other than predicted. 4.) Picking a nine over an eight doesn't count as an upset in my book.

Two of my first-round upsets: VCU (11) over UCLA (6) and Minnesota (10) over Texas (7)

Rule 3: Alma Maters Matter.

If the school you attended is in the tournament, you have to pick them - no matter the match-up. If (like me), your school never makes it to the Big Dance, pick the team representing its conference if possible. UB didn't make it, but Akron did, so give the Zips a win. If you're a Canisius student or alum (like yours truly), the MAAC's representative is Siena, and I like their match-up against Ohio State (sorry to my cousin Jon who is currently a Buckeye).

Rule 4: Follow Your Heart.

If you follow college basketball with the passion that I do, you surely have "your team." For some, it's the Orange; others like UNC or UConn. Don't be afraid to pick them to go all the way. Sure, somebody in the office is going to call you a homer and you may forfeit your chance to win the pool, but sports are about rooting for the team you love. What's the point in picking Louisville to win the whole thing if you really love Kansas?

Every year my sister and I pick the same team to go all the way. We fill out our brackets knowing that the chances of them winning are slim to none, but that doesn't matter to us. What matters is that we get to root for the Duke Blue Devils in every round until they're eliminated. I know that they'll most likely have to get through Pitt to get to the Final Four, so maybe picking them is not the smartest idea for anyone looking to get it right. Still, someday my sister and I will be the ones celebrating when Coach K cuts down the nets, and the fact that we won on our brackets will be the last thing on our minds.

*Said guide does not guarantee a successful bracket. In fact, if past performance by the creator is any idicator, it will guarantee nothing but funny looks and comments of "seriously?" when others look at your bracket.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ode to a Sabres Penalty Kill

A good penalty kill can make a bad game better and a good game great. That's certainly what happened last night during the 5-3 the Sabres had to survive in the third period against Florida.

I love the feeling of anticipation when a player lines up to clear the puck out of the zone and the roar of the crowd when the puck goes over the blueline.

I love the sight of guys sacrificing their bodies to block shots, leading by desperate example the way Jaro Spacek did last night.

I love looking at the opposing team's goalie as he bangs his stick on the ice to signal the dying moments of their powerplay.

I love the feeling of total relief that comes when the penalty clock hits zero and the puck is calmly in the hands of a Buffalo Sabre.

I guess my experience watching a penalty being killed is a microcosm of my experience watching an entire game. It has moments of total fear when a point shot gets near a screened Patty or Ryan; anger when we have a chance to clear and can't do it; and joy when that puck reaches the other end of the ice.

It should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of the PK unit. It doesn't score many goals, it's not "pretty" or "cute," and it's all about effort. Muckers and grinders can thrive on the PK, giving up their body but proving their toughness and heart.

Penalty killing is a great way to see who wants it more, to see which team has the desire to take them past the other. Last night, the Sabres killed off a lengthy two-man advantage for Florida that could have changed the game and - not to get overly dramatic - the whole season.

The Sabres won that battle and, eventually, the game. They'll need to play with that same "killer" intensity if they are to continue the push for the playoffs.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Busy Day

I love trade deadline day. It's the day I really get to embrace my inner hockey geek and sit down with 5 different websites up and the free preview of the NHL Network (thank God) on my TV, and no one in my house judges me for it.

This year didn't really disappoint for me, with the action beginning in the morning and lasting after 3 p.m. came and went.

I'm sure most of you reading this were just as crazy as I was about getting as much information as possible today, so I'll just offer my quick two-cents on the deals involving the Sabres:

- First things first: The Sabres re-signed Tim Connolly for 2 years and a reported $9 million. Yes, the money is a lot, but I really like this deal. I like that Timmy showed loyalty to the team that has taken risk after risk on him and his glass body. I like that Darcy is still proving that he wants to keep the core of this team together because I feel that Timmy is a valuable part of this core. He makes this team so much better, and I firmly believe that we have a much better chance of making the playoffs with him than had we traded him today.

Timmy is happy because he gets to stay in a place where he knows he's loved (especially by a select female "fanbase")

- The team acquired a more experienced backup goaltender for Patty Lalime with a trade for Mikael Tellqvist from Phoenix in exchange for a 4th round pick in 2010. His stats look good, and Rob Ray said on the radio that he seems like a good, team-first guy. We needed insurance at that position, and that's exactly what we got.

Tellqvist (in the foreground, back in his Toronto days) showing on of the reasons why I will love him

- Bye-bye Big Al: Ales Kotalik was traded to Edmonton in a four-team deal that was more complicated than my Calculus class (in short, we got a 2nd round pick from Carolina, which was later used). I did love watching him in shootouts, but I'm not too depressed to see him leave. I always felt like he had more to give, and I was frustrated watching him only use his body when he felt like it. I couldn't preach more about how much I like gritty, tough guys, and Al never really fit the bill there. Trades always make me sad when they involve guys I've come to know, so this does feel strange to say that he's an Oiler now. I wish him the best, and I feel fine saying that because we won't be seeing him anytime soon.

He was such a cute baby Sabre back in the day

- Finally, I would like to offer a big Muckers and Grinders welcome to the newest Sabres center, Dominic Moore from Toronto, who we acquired for a second-round pick (which we got for Kotalik).

Anyone who hits Chris Neil in the face is a good pick-up for me

From all that I've heard, Moore is a true heart-and-soul type of player. That kind of effort is something that we really need on this team, especially in the push to the playoffs. It seems like he's never one to back away from a scrum, and I love that in a player. He is having a career season in terms of points, but I'm happier to see the effort he'll bring to the ice.

I'll be at the game against Phoenix on Friday, and I'm so excited to see his first game as a Sabre.

All in all, I think this was a good day for the Sabres. We picked up insurance in goal as well as a strong all-around center. We signed a player who I firmly believe we need on the ice in order to be successful.

Do you agree that today was a positive day for the Sabres? I do know that it will be much better if we win against Montreal tonight.