Friday, April 30, 2010

Five Reasons I Love Hockey

Inspired by:

1). Hockey Brought My Family Together

Now my family really doesn't get along any better than any other dysfunctional family, but the Buffalo Sabres have really brought us together and given us at least some common ground with each other.

Every single one of us has been to a game in the last year, and we watch pretty much every game on TV. Not necessarily together, but at least we have the talking points after games. My Mom and the older of my two younger sisters both understand the game on more than a rudimentary basis.

I was able to show each and every single one of them the joys of going to HSBC arena and being among the wonderful people of Buffalo. I gave my dad a little bit of his youth back, and my youngest sister has graduated to die-hard fandom.

2). The Relationships I have Forged

I don't even know where I would be now without the Buffalo Sabres. In mid 2007 I joined the Sabres message boards, and from there made probably a half dozen or more of the best friends I have ever had. And I think I can say that with sincerity even if I only get to see them once a month or less.

People like Phil and Carl and Caroline and others I talk to more than anyone. There is more than that common bond of Sabre fandom. I would absolutely go to bat for any one of these people if necessary. There is no doubt that these past few years have been the best of my short life both in terms of the relationships I have formed and the experiences I have shared. This may well be the shortest section, but only because words cannot do it justice.

3). The Plaza, The Arena, and Everywhere in Between. In Short, Home.

Life has a tendency to make fools of us all. Frequently we don't know who we are, what we're doing, or where we're going. I am no different, but somewhere along the way, whether it be the area itself, or the people that reside there, I became clear of one thing. I belong in Buffalo.

We all have dreams, and I think it is rare that we find that some of them aren't that difficult to accomplish. Me? I want to live in Buffalo. I feel at home there, I feel connected to the people, friends, acquaintances and strangers. I feel like I belong there. I want to be part of the solution, part of the resurgence, one of the precious few that goes back. I was born there, I spent my first years there, and I intend to spend my last ones there too, whenever they may come.

4). Man, Myth, Legend, Rick Jeanneret

I am fortunate as a Buffalo fan in that I grew up listening to the best in the business, Van Miller, and Rick Jeanneret. Other hockey fans cannot explain and cannot approach the connection we Sabres fans feel to Rick Jeanneret. When his voice raises an octave, it resonates within the heart of all of us, and when he lets loose that yell and some bit of hilarity, well I can't think of a time when I'm honestly happier.

The worst night mare I have had and have is that he will retire and pass on without seeing the Sabres win the Stanley Cup.

5). Playoff Hockey

There was a time when I thought playoff football was the pinnacle of sports excitement. Then I realized that I was standing in Death Valley, looking up at Mt. Everest. From Sabres - Flyers in 06 to Nucks - Stars in 07 to Flames - Sharks in 08. Some of my fondest college memories are staying in on a Saturday night and firing up Hockey Night in Canada on CBC.

There is a certain pleasure in settling down to watch Coach's Corner and Don Cherry knowing you have no responsibilities for the night. There is little better than a game that is climbing into its third overtime and showing no signs of stopping, and then finally seeing the adulation when someone finally puts one in.

Raising a Legion of Sabres Fans

If you talked to me five years ago at this time, my hockey fandom was just in its infancy. Four days ago Brian Campbell had laid down R.J. Umberger, and Danny Briere finally found paydirt with shot number fourteen. After sporadic views throughout the season, I immediately started watching the NHL playoffs. I had kind of been a Sabres fan in waiting, relegated at home to the checking of newspaper box scores and the all too rare network television game.

My first year of college was unfortunately the first year of the lockout. So going to hockey-heavy Clarkson University had yet to have an impact. Sophomore year started off similarly. I had access to cable television for the first time and hadn’t yet become tech savvy enough to peruse team websites for schedules, not that I’d have remembered anyways. But the 05-06 playoff run happened, and my fandom was on its first steps towards becoming legendary.

Fast forward two years. Briere and Drury had gone, and the Sabres were out of the playoffs. I was graduating, and hell bent on getting Cable TV to ensure access to Sabres hockey for years to come. Three weeks after graduation I started my first job, earning nearly double what I had anywhere else. I wanted to try and get a mini-pack, but the waiting list seemed impregnable. Still, sometime in September, I was rewarded and informed that I’d be able to select tickets for the 2008-2009 season. Shortly thereafter, I picked out the fourth through thirteenth games that I would attend.

Coupled with this newfound fandom was an increasing involvement in the Buffalo Sabres message boards. I registered in mid-2007 in the throes of a boring internship for something to do. I began as a “lurker” mostly reading, rarely adding commentary. Somewhere along the way in the 07-08 season, I began to post more often. Game-day chats in AIM chatrooms started to grow in popularity and I became friends with several of the message board members. During that season, the boards had its first meet and greet for members. Sequestered over three hundred miles away at Clarkson University, I could not attend, though I continued to keep in touch with my newfound friends.

On November 12th, 2008 I struck. I took my dad to his first Sabres game in over twelve years, a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues, his first at the “new” HSBC Arena. I reintroduced him to a sport he had grown up with, yet lost due to a lack of cable television. My sister Stephanie then went to her first Sabres game nine days later. A disappointing 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, but no matter, the seed was planted. On January 17th, 2009 Stephanie and I went to our first Meet and Greet at Tully's on Transit road in Buffalo and for the first time I was introduced face to face with people I had been friends with for nearly two years. There was an instant click with the people I’d shared many an AIM conversation with over the past two seasons, and consider them to be among my best and most real friends to this day.

Not content to stop there, I continued the onslaught. On March 14th, 2009, I took my other sister, Sara, to her first Sabres game, a 4-3 shootout loss against the Atlanta Thrashers. Finally, on February 13th, 2010 the takeover was complete, My Mom attended her first Sabres game, a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks. At that point, every member of my family had merchandise, every member began watching the games on television, and we all even went to playoff game in 2010.

Both of my sisters, and even my Dad have been to Meet and Greets for the boards. (Take that those who debase meeting people via the internet). I probably make 15-20 trips to Buffalo a year with my sister accompanying me a majority of the time. Every season I’m always pestered for who I’m taking to which games. The fever has arrived. Even in their fandom infancy, my family is proving why the Sabres have the best fanbase in the NHL.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Softball 2010

The 2010 LGSL slow pitch softball season is almost underway. The first team practice is at 6pm this Thursday at Electronics Park in Liverpool.

A little background about the league: This is the second season I’ve coached in the league, with my dad assuming head coaching duties. My youngest sister, Stephanie plays on the team. The division is slow pitch, ages 15 to 19, although junior (12 to 15) players do play as needed (they can be called up to fill roster spots).

I would say last year we were probably the odds on favorite to finish in last place. We were the newest team, and as such featured many of the cast-offs and newer players that the other teams did not want. Those are the kinds of players I want though, it’s much better motivation to try and prove someone wrong about you than to have to maintain a certain level to prove them right. We had at least three girls that had never played softball in any capacity until that year. I have to commend those girls, speaking from experience having just started hockey myself, it is difficult to throw yourself into a sport many have grown up with and possess instincts you simply do not have.

There was a learning curve for sure. One girl, Hao Nhi, came onto the team almost completely unable to throw a ball more than twenty feet or in the direction she desired. By the end of the season she had evolved into a dependable right fielder and second baseman and emergency pitcher.

(A little aside here: I know there are certain positions that are the typical places teams will try to “hide” a player. I do not believe this is the case, especially in a slow pitch league where suspect defense cannot be covered by dominant pitching. There is no dominant pitching. If a player is getting the majority of innings at a given position, it is because I believe that player is best suited towards the position.)

Speaking of dominant pitching, our pitcher, a younger girl Chelsea, was about as close as you can get. Taking around 70% of the innings, she did an excellent job of mixing things up while still throwing a high percentage of strikes. One of the things I generally despise about softball pitchers is that they are oftentimes completely unwilling to cover their responsibilities as a fielder. This is not the case with Chelsea as she was more willing than everyone to try and knock down ground balls and get easy outs. When late in the year, we played the (then) undefeated first place team to a 7-6 loss, it was due in large part to Chelsea’s efforts.

All in all the team did well and definitely improved over the course of the season, the afore mentioned tight game showing proof. We finished in third to last place winning 4-5 games in the process with every player contributing and confident both in the field and at the plate by the end of the year. With many returning players, I hope we can continue to build on that success and make our way into the middle of the pack.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How Could I Not?

Hockey and reality television come together oddly enough. Shortly after the Sabres loss and subsequent elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last night at the hands of the Boston Bruins, I find my mind drifting to the words of Survivor contestant Boston Rob Mariano justifying competing in Survivor with an infant daughter. And to be perfectly fair, Rob was only echoing the words of former fellow contestant and gorgeous wife Amber Brkich. According to Rob, when he was asking himself if he should compete for a third time, she said “think of all Survivor has given us. How could you not?”

Somehow the mystifyingly pleasing accent of Boston Rob echoes within me now. I know that there will be heartbreak, anger and reactionary cries to blow up the team for next season. I understand that there are guys that didn’t play up to their contracts or their expectations. Still, I cannot help but enjoy a sense of optimism and appreciation for the team and the season.

I have to think of all that the Sabres have given me since my fandom began in the all too late year of 2005. Since then I’ve become entrenched in a wonderful online community on the sabres message boards and made dozens of friends. I have awakened my father’s long dormant fandom and brought my mother and two sisters into the fold, the youngest of which could probably explain the game better than a large portion of the afore mentioned negative fans. I have enjoyed the glow and hum of 18,690 voices a total of twenty-four times (and counting), gone to my first, and certainly not last Party in the Plaza and attended half a dozen meet and greets for the message boards. An enormous portion of who I am today, and who I strive to be is because of these, and past Buffalo Sabres.

So some will ask me why I stand up and applaud the efforts of a team that yet again failed to bring home the Stanley Cup. And I answer, “how could I not?”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Parvati Shallow Enters the Conversation

Not that I want to become yet another asshole with a reality TV blog, but I feel compelled to discuss tonight's events.

It has recently been questioned by many viewers whether Russell Hantz or Rob Mariano is the greatest to ever play the game of Survivor. Both have impressive resumes. Rob finished 10th in Marquesas, then made a mockery of the All Stars field finishing second to future wife Amber Brkich before bowing out in 11th in Heroes vs. Villains. Russell on the other hand cut through the Samoan contestants on his way to a second place finish.

And then there's the flirtatious Parvati shallow, trailing only Amanda Kimmel as having played for the longest amount of time. Parvati pulled off the greatest move in history tonight.

With the tribes merging at five a piece, the Heroes were looking for any way they could to put a chink in the Villains' armor. JT had previously come up with the brilliant idea of sneaking a Russell an idol pre-merge to protect himself from a (nonexistent) all girl alliance on his tribe.

Russell, knowing the group had already targeted Parvati handed his idol to her for the second time in the game. Unbeknownst to him (or anyone else), she had already recovered an idol of her own. Working to flush the known idol out, Hero Amanda Kimmel tried to convince Parvati that she wasn't safe and that she should play her idol. The real plan all along was for the heroes to vote off unsuspecting Jerri or Sandra.

Parvati, not fooled, not only played one, but both idols, handing them to Jerri and Sandra. The heroes votes for Jerri were nullified and hero JT went home looking like a complete moron in the process. One of the biggest gambles and best reads of anyone I've seen in Survivor. Parvati hosed Amanda so bad it wasn't even funny.

The downside. Russell, egomaniac that he is is pissed Parvati had an idol he didn't know about since he so desperately enjoys being in control of the game. The group made a HUGE mistake in voting out unassuming Courtney last week instead of major manipulator Sandra. Sandra will play a way more strategic and conniving game than Courtney. Courtney would have been along for the ride. Sandra will blow with the wind.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Sabrepocalypse

Well the Sabres go down two games to one, Boston looks like the more physical team, and no timetable on the return of Hecht or Vanek. Can things really look any worse?

There have been several fans stating with absolute certainty that "the series is over." I can understand the frustration, but I never got into that mentality. I just don't understand the point. There's a reason the games are played and things can swing in one direction just as easily as they can in another, no matter how bad things look on one side. How many Boston fans were saying the same thing about ten minutes into the first period in game two?

I'll say it, I think the physicality is overrated. I think the Sabres are making a mistake in trying to match the Bruins hitting. That's our game, why should we want to or try to play it? Ours is skating and puck possession. We should be playing that game, not gooning it up. Yes, the Bruins are more physical than us, this is a fact. We're a better skating and passing team. We should use it. This series takes on a whole different tune if we start to skate rings around the Bruin defense and they look as they are old, injured, and slow.

The bottom line is yes, it doesn't look good. But 2-1 does not a series make and there is plenty of time to turn things around. Hell, we watch these things because we enjoy them, let's try to smile along the way a little bit.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Peters You Deserved a Better Farewell

I know it's been over a full season since Andrew Peters and the Buffalo Sabres parted ways. And truth be told, most of us (including this fan) weren't terribly sorry to see him go.

Part of it stems from the fact that he was drafted way too high (34th overall in 1998), and that by the time he left he was logging virtually no minutes, if he was even suited up at all.

I don't think Peters deserved much of the hate that was thrown his way when he left Buffalo. I maintain that he was never, not even in his later years, never as bad a fighter as many fans would have you believe. He had perhaps the misfortune of coming after one of the best fighters ever to play the game in Rob Ray. Peters was a different fighter than Ray. Whereas Ray preferred to go in swinging, Peters was a strategist, a boxer. He knew how to pick his spots, knew when to throw punches.

A lot of fans don't like the Peters style of fighting, to be patient, to wait for the opponent to give you an opening and then kill them with a massive right hook, but it was no doubt effective. Just ask Brian McGratten, Kip Brennan and George Parros.

Peters, you were badass, you had the best mullet in the game, and you were good for at least five moments of hilarity a year. I don't miss you on the ice, but man do I miss you.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The '72 Dolphins

I love traditions in sports, and admittedly, there are some pretty sweet ones.Playoff beards in hockey, or cutting down the nets in basketball. But now I want to pick apart one that is inherently stupid. Enter: The 1972 Miami Dolphins. As many of you know, the surviving members of the NFL’s only undefeated team drink Champagne every season when the last undefeated team has fallen. That is a sweet tradition. No, the one under fire is the tradition of every idiot columnist and sports “personality,” routinely blasting the dolphins for this, calling them crotchety and bitter old men. Personally, I have no issue with them celebrating every year that they have made an achievement that has never been equaled. They're celebrating theirachievement, not others failure, and I think it’s a nice way for them to remember and reminisce in their hard work that season, to revel in their place in history.