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Sabres Hockey or “Why I Typically Don’t Write Sports Entries”

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment

The best thing about football season is that it means there are only four more weeks until hockey season starts. This week is that week, and today was the day for the Sabres to meet the hated Ottawa Senators in Ottawa for the season opener. It’s always a nerve wracking experience to watch the Sabres play the Senators. No matter how objectively bad Ottawa may be they always seem to bring their A game when playing Buffalo. This season would probably be no different as most sports writers outside of the city of Ottawa have pretty much written the Senators off. Would the Ottawa curse work again today?

For awhile it looked like there was no chance that they would even pull off a close game. Derek “Mother Fucking” Roy scoring midway through the first period giving the Sabres an early 1-0 lead only told a statistical analysis of the game for two periods. Those two periods were more of a massacre than what the XVIII legion experienced in the forests of Northern Germany. Simple bad luck prevented the score from being insurmountable.

Thomas Vanek, after a disappointing last couple of seasons looked like he did back in 04-05, and 05-06, charging the net and firmly staking out his place in front of the goal. A couple of shots going wide, a couple being inadvertently blocked by the Senator’s Goalie Pascal LeClaire, one shot off the pipe…you could tell that Vanek was frustrated at the Luck God’s seeming animosity toward him.

An odd goal scored by Ottawa early in the third looked like an indication that the curse would activated in order to rob the Sabres of an opening win against a division rival. Again it was Roy that stepped up in concert with Vanek (although not assisted by him) in knocking a shot off the skate of LeClaire and into the net. This would be the last goal of the game, but the Senators seemed to be invigorated by that final goal. Somehow their morale resurfaced and wherein the first two periods of the game seemed to be more about strategy the last ten minutes became gritty trench warfare. Penalties abounded for the Sabres who played most of the last eight minutes of the game short handed. At one point they fought off a 6-4 man advantage and were imprisoned in their own zone.

With 20 seconds left fan favorite Mike Grier took a slashing penalty and the game looked all but tied. It was only a matter of time before the Senators put one passed Ryan “He looks like Dave Hahn” Miller. The thing about time, is that it is pretty objective and even the all powerful gods of the Ancient World were still enslaved by time. The Ottawa Senators? Not so much…

In what is becoming a long string of conspiracy evidence something fishy was going on and it never was explained exactly what it was. After Grier was confined to the penalty box, a face off was played that Paul “Goose” Gaustad easily won, then the whistle blew. At the start of the faceoff 20.6 seconds were left, at the whistle 19.3. At the start of the second face off 20.9. The Senators were given a second and a half of extra time. Even though this is the time it takes to take a deep breath, hockey fans know that games are decided in this amount of time, and it almost was as a loose puck escaped both the notice of Ryan Miller and the defense, if the Senators had seen it in time I would probably be still watching the game or lamenting a loss.

In the end the Senators were unable to convert the puck into a goal, giving the Sabres a number of things. The first is that, at the very worst they can only tie last year’s 1-5 record against the Senators. The second is a win against a division rival which matters little now but can make a major influence come Spring. Thirdly, they snapped a dismal 20 period (at least) power play drought with Roy’s second goal. Finally, they are off on a win which matters mainly for morale which Napoleon always said was important than material.

New players, new jersey, no more dead weight, maybe we look for a cup this year. 

Categories: hockey, sports

Playoff Season

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Last night the NHL playoffs began, and the only sport worth caring about starts the inevitable march toward logging in its trivia fact for two decades from now. Hockey playoffs are fun because they take place in the Spring where people have more energy not suffering the downward slide into winter that plagues the two most boring of the professional sports in this country. To properly follow the NHL playoffs one must do a couple of things:

1) Pick a team to win each conference: this isn’t so hard if you come from city that has a team in the playoffs. Since the Sabres made the playoffs it means that I will be watching instead of checking the box scores like I did the last two years. The second team is tricky. The Buffalo Sabres are in the Eastern Conference so typically I would like to pick a team from Western conference that I would like to see make the Stanley Cup finals but would have no chance at actually winning it. It’s completely selfish of course, but it’s also self contradictory, if the team can make it to the finals they can win. Statistics, as I have said in the past, don’t determine the future they only illustrate the past. Commentator after commentator in all the years I have watched the sport all say the same thing, that the regular season no longer exists. Teams play different in the playoffs, they are more careful anyone can make it. So to pick the Western team I pick the team I would like to see in a match up. I settle on my usual Western conference pick: the Detroit Red Wings. This way it will be the Buffalo “City of Hockey” Sabres vs. the Detroit “Hockey Town” Red Wings.

2) Start that playoff beard: the rule I have always followed is that the last time one should shave is the day of the first game of the playoffs. Then that’s it until the team is eliminated. It isn’t bad the first round, which at most lasts two weeks. It’s mid way through the second round that the itching begins on the neck. This has led to a good deal of people wussing out and offering a weasel rule that allows them to shave at the beginning of each new round. It’s not really the same thing (The players who almost all do it, even laughably so like Crosby and Briere who can grow the beard of Orlando Bloom).

3) Make sure you have enough beer. I doubt this needs explanation.

Categories: hockey, sports

Silver

March 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, we can all sit down and wonder the what ifs. What if, Parise hadn’t snapped his stick in the first period on a shot toward the Canadian goal, or what if we had gotten what we really wanted in a Martin Brodeur-Ryan Miller show down, or what if the US Hockey team didn’t play so cautiously in the over time period? All legitimate questions in this, the post 2010 Gold medal game era but tomorrow the NHL begins again and these questions become part of hockey trivia to be trotted out before the audience in four years in the Russian City of Sochi.

The American team, winning the silver medal after a frustratingly difficult game against the Canadian team they had previously beaten a week ago, showed obvious disappointment as the game was over the crowd was in bedlam celebrating their home team’s win. The hockey tournament for the Winter Olympics is the crown jewel of the games, it’s the most attended, the most paid attention to, and the most exciting. Sure I could probably write a couple paragraphs on the elegance of the figure skating competition, the suicidal danger of the sled races, or mental focus of the curling matches; but none of those events really can hold a candle to the hockey struggle.

Did the Canadians have the superior team? Well at the end of today they did, but also at the beginning of the Olympics they were predicted to just what they did: win the Gold. The American team was the underdog from day one, they were poised to place but never to win. Which is a culturally American position to begin with, we do love our underdogs and as the rubber biscuit slid underneath goaltender Ryan Miller’s leg pad we came to the stunning realization that the love for an underdog is not unconditional. We love our underdogs when they win.

Isn’t silver still winning? It doesn’t mean you suck, it means that of every hockey team in the world (and this part is important): there is only ONE that is better than you. In this case it’s even better because that team had already been beaten by the Americans a week ago. They just lost this game (I think the two teams need a rubber match, the Canadians can keep their medal, but this 1-1 tie is bullshit).

The truly amazing thing about the games was how well put together the teams looked, even though they had very little practice time. The American offense looked like they all played on the same NHL team, the defense sacrificed themselves for shot blocks so many times I began to wonder if the goalie had dirt on them. These were things that I haven’t seen regularly in NHL games and things that amazed me when I did.

Yet none of that matters to some, because for them the entire series boils down to one play. A flubbed stick handling in the American defensive zone, after a face off that never should have happened, resulting in the puck going to (admittedly) the worst person for a goalie on the ice, and a shot skirts passed Ryan Miller for the over time with.

These people seem to forget that Miller hadn’t been scored on in the past two games in the Olympic playoffs. One against a defense so strong that even the Ottoman Empire would have had trouble beating it (The Swiss) and against the mighty Finns whose play belied their Viking ancestry. They also probably turned the game off in a string of expletives that begin with the letter “f” to have heard the virulently anti-American crowd cheer for him as he was presented the silver medal, and certainly before he was named MVP of the entire hockey event. Miller was undefeated in Olympic play, but there is an element out there right now that blames him for the loss.

I’m partial I know, because he’s the spine of the Buffalo Sabres and because he sort of resembles me (remember I’m older so it’s that way not the other way), but if a hockey game comes down to one goal the offense failed too.

The bright side for the Sabres is that every hockey medal is represented on the team. Toni Lydman with a Bronze for Finland, Ryan Miller with the Silver, and coach Lindy Ruff with the gold. In four years a brand new group of players will have to try again. This is going to be the new rivalry for Hockey Gold, even if the NHL doesn’t take a break for the Olympics it won’t matter in this border dispute. This type of energy had to be these two teams and at least for now it’s settled. But there’s always the world cup, the world juniors, and all of the other tournaments that the two countries will shuffle a team into just because the other is doing so. Great rivalries dictate that one team has to win once in awhile, it’s just that now the Canadians have two in a row. There’s always Russia.

And to prove that I’m not a sore loser like the Russkies: “Good job you syrup suckers, good job.”

Categories: hockey, sports

VS “covers” Hockey

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

One of my limitations in writing these posts has always been the sports post. For the most part I never cover sports. My only attempts have been about hockey but I just can’t find the tone that I need to enthusiastically write about them. Periodically, I do try and revisit the subject but it isn’t as inspiring to me as the many other topics that I do cover. So this post is going to be one of those trying posts that sometimes work, it has to its advantage that this really isn’t about a game and more about why this was the first Sabres game this season that I skipped watching entirely.

At this point in the season the Sabres are doing extremely well, especially compared to the last two seasons. The return of Mike Grier seems to have injected something into the team that had been missing, the games have been really exciting especially the game against Calgary a couple of weeks ago. The team’s record is very good as Goaltender (and your humble writer’s doppleganger) Ryan Miller has thus far been outstanding. So it may seem odd that with all the excitement that I feel about watching the hockey season this year that I purposely missed tonight’s game.

Why did I miss it? Because it was aired on the Versus Channel. Versus, owned by NBC, has the rights to air a several games a week in a rotating fashion that seems to me to be capricious at best. I think they are trying to score the games that are big rivalries or that feature an NHL allstar that draws the viewers. While the Sabres have some really good players, they don’t possess an Ovechkin or a Crosby nor do they have a legacy star so it’s not the latter. Tonight’s game was against the Toronto Maple Leafs which gives us the rivalry motive. It is a pretty big rivalry as the teams are within easy driving distance from each other and they do promise to be a bit more physical than usual. The problem for me is that Versus seems to not know how to do two things during a hockey game.

The first is actually covering the game. One thing about Hockey is that every team has their own duo for covering the action. One is the play by play and the other commentary, Buffalo has two of the best (this is a widely objective statement, even Don Cherry* likes Rick Jeanerette) but when Versus covers a game they usurp the position for their own commentators. Normally this would be an inconvenience, like when an NFL team gets the Monday Night game and a new group of people come in, but in this case it is much worse. The Versus commentators, seem to want to talk about everything but the game. In fact, it becomes so distracting that when the game is being talked about it’s almost jarring. Previous games I have heard discussions about skates, airplanes, and new rules while the game was being played. Granted, some of those things are relevant to Hockey in general, but the game needs to be covered during its play.

Hockey isn’t football, or baseball. There aren’t regular breaks in the play that allow for idle chatter. In fact, sometimes a period lasting of 20 minutes can take 25 minutes to complete. Where as football, what is supposed to be one hour of actual game time can occupy four hours because the clock stops so frequently. The game is constant, so if the commentator really wants to discuss new skates, or who is going to be on what team for the upcoming winter olympics there isn’t space to do it until the intermission. Every other announcer duo in the league understands this but not Versus. Which is odd since Brett Hull is on their staff.

Speaking of Brett Hull we come to the second part of the equation. The announcers are also completely biased against Buffalo. A bit of backstory is in order here: a little over ten years ago, Buffalo was playing in Dallas for the Stanley Cup, and the winning goal was scored by Hull against former Sabre, current Detroit Red Wing Dominik Hasek. The trouble was that the goal was against the rules, Hull’s foot was in the goal crease, it wasn’t one of those “oh from this angle I could see how you could say that” as there are some theories on the ill-fated kick of Scott Norwood that a New York Giant was offsides. The controversy in question here is interpretation of the rule governing puck possession, which coincidentally was changed the following season. So Hull knows that he is not well liked in the city of Buffalo, somehow this poisons all of Versus against the Sabres. I’m not saying that they should root for the team but that they shouldn’t root against them as much as they do.

Earlier this year against Montreal, you would have thought the announcer had money on the Habs to win. It’s such a complete bias that I often sympathize with some people I know who claim that announcers/refs hate their favorite teams. I get it now. (Although Ryan still gets nothing because John Madden had such a man crush on Brett Favre that it got a little uncomfortable to watch) My usual solution is to open the radio station that covers the Sabres and sync that up with my DVR, but since that was impossible today I just couldn’t watch the game at all. I’m told they won 3-0, which is awesome.

If I could recommend some solutions for Versus it would be this: go to CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada and hire their four best interns. They would understand how to cover the game better than anyone else they have working for them. Keep Hull, but tell him to tone down his rhetoric a bit. Or better yet go to Canada and yank five random people, this way you still get the objectivity but also you don’t need Hull to balance out the four other assholes who have never played the game. Everything else keep, especially the nice HD image that you broadcast. Do those things and I’ll watch when you cover the Sabres.

*And if you don’t know who he is you are not a hockey fan.

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Bandwagon

November 30, 2008 Leave a comment

During my first semester teaching the Sabres were doing well. In fact, they were doing better than they had in a long time. A new goalie by the name of Ryan Miller had shown his fortitude replacing an injured Martin Biron and offensively the team was really coming together. This would be the year when the Sabres were knocked out of the final round of the playoffs by the Carolina “What the hell is hockey?” Hurricanes. A student in my class called me a bandwagon jumper because I was excited about the team, he called everyone in the city bandwagon jumpers. He was just one of those people that had to hate something if everyone liked it.

He was/is a bandwagon jumper as well, just the wagon going in a different direction. When I last talked about hockey the Sabres had started the season with a lossless streak that ended from the hated Ottawa Senators. Two weeks ago we were in second place in the Northeast with 9 wins and only 3 losses. With Ovechkin pulling an Obama and visiting his dying mother in Russia, we (with myself and fiancee in attendance) mopped the floor with Capitals 5-0. Then things went bad.

For two weeks the Sabres lost every game. Some of them badly, some not so bad, nevertheless the games were losses. This caused the local hoopleheads to start clamoring for heads. New goalies, new players, maybe Ruff has been coaching for too long, etc. This attitude prompted my friend Alice to put as her away message this “GET OFF THE FUCKING BANDWAGON IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT. GO FUCKING SABRES!” (emphasis her’s)

Last Wednesday the losing streak was snapped by a win against division leader Boston, then a great win over the Pittsburgh Penguins (despite the fact that the Sabres had to play against both the Penguins and the Refs), last night a loss against Montreal. Now, they are good again. The hoopleheads while not calling for blood anymore, aren’t happy. Like a 13 year old playing Halo, they want a flawless record and playoff contention locked up by game three.

Well guess what assholes? This isn’t football, this is hockey, where a 20 minute period takes 30 minutes and the teams play more than 4 times a fucking month. This is a long season, and a five game losing streak isn’t the end of the fucking world. Especially when that streak ends at game 20, in the second month of the season. So to reiterate my friend’s position: “FUCK OFF.”

That year, when my student called me a bandwagon jumper, we had the playoffs and the President’s Cup locked twelve games before the season ended, it was boring. I’m not looking for a repeat of last season but come-the-fuck-on there are a billion games left before you can smugly talk about how you rooted for them the whole time.

Deadmoneywalking stalwartly posts his Notre Dame reviews every week–win or lose, because he’s a fan and while he doesn’t seem to have much hope for some of the games he isn’t talking about how they suck and need to scrap the whole team. Our goalies are not bad, our offense isn’t either, the defense needs some work but overall we are playing much better than last season. Look at the fucking records. When we won the first game of the season we did better this season than we did after game three of last season.

Statistically every team in the NHL is going to lose five games. Every team is going to have some sort of losing streak, it fucking happens. My wagon carries Sabres fans win or loss and Canadian Beer if you don’t like it get the fuck off.

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