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.