Archive for May, 2011:

Jagr to the Habs? (Update)

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NHL ’94 enthusiasts, get ready.

Jagr employs \”the move\” on the Habs back in \’94.

It looks like Jaromir Jagr is thinking more seriously about a come back to the NHL, after earning a bronze medal with his Czech team in the World Championships.  I originally reported on this possibility back on May 8th, but the idea was mostly thrown aside by readers as barely plausible.

Still, the talk continues to perculate – and now, it’s Jagr himself who is starting to choose potential teams.

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What if: Sabres Vs. Bruins

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The Sabres came oh, so close to the second round.

Unfortunately, most of the guys in Blue and Gold got closer to the infirmary throughout the opening series against Philadelphia. Wounded, battered, and thoroughly broken, the Sabres exited the playoffs in Game Seven like only a bunch of warmed over cadavers can do – by taking it lying down.

Before the grisly death of the 2010-11 Buffalo Sabres, I had a conversation with the guys over at “Days of Y’Orr,” a popular Bruins blog, on what a potential Sabres/Bruins match-up would look like.

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A Sabres “Sam’s Army?”

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The HSBC can be a pretty quiet place sometimes.

Sure, a lot of the quieter sections of the arena were made that way by some rather dull personalities and uninspired play on the ice, and the fan base did get jacked up for the stretch to the playoffs and for Round One.

But on regular season nights, the crowd needs to be loud.  Maybe we need a “Sam’s Army.”

samsarmylogo A Sabres Sams Army?

The official logo.

From Ryan Miller, after the Sabres clinched the playoffs in the last game of the regular season:

“We can feel it, we can tell on the ice that we need the crowd behind us, even when we’re not playing our best we appreciate some support. You can’t always go into the locker room feeling boos, we need some help, we need some support, we need everybody in this city behind us to do this the right way, that’s just how it goes.”

“You go into these other buildings and it’s energy for the other team, going into Philly we’re going to have to be a close bunch because they’re going to be charged up there and it’s the same here I think we need that energy, we need to feed off it, even the smallest plays.”

“I think that’s the difference this year – I think people are ready to start buzzing and last year they were waiting for something to happen, we kind of backed our way in so there is a little bit of a difference there. I think that’s what people around here are waiting for, they don’t want to be let down and we’re going to need their help to do it the right way so, come along for the ride!”

Miller got his wish – well, sort of – naturally, fans are going to be three-arena-beers-in-crazy during the playoffs. It’s the part where he notes how fans were sorta waiting around for something good to happen before they decided to start making some noise.

Lots of folks say, “Well, if they stink I am gonna’ boo them. I bought tickets. When they play well I cheer. So what?”  Well, because that sounds an awful lot like bandwagoning, that’s what.

Bandwagon A Sabres Sams Army?

"All aboard for the playoffs!"

I am not doubting the passion of Sabres fans – who are of the most ardent, passionate, and hockey-savvy fans in the world. But turning that passion into a little noise sure would be a nice change.

Sometimes it’s hard to be that guy who starts the “Let’s go, Buffalo!” chant in the stands when the boys on the ice are faltering.  Maybe, because of that, we need our own hockey version of soccer’s “Sam’s Army.”

I know, I know – I know what you are thinking: “What is soccer?” “What is Sam’s Army?”  Their mission statement:

“Our mission is clear; SAM’S ARMY® wants enthusiastic soccer fans who will PARTICIPATE at games! We want people who will STAND and SING for the DURATION of the game, show their colors, bring original flags, give our team the home field advantage, and ENERGIZE the rest of the crowd! We want to make these events as fun as possible for everyone! If you feel up to this challenge, then SAM’S ARMY® is for you! The goal of SAM’S ARMY® is to make soccer games a more enjoyable experience for everyone. We will not tolerate hooligan, racist, or violent behavior.”

Sounds good to me. Where do I sign up?

Well, I can’t – right now it’s just an idea, but one that I hope catches on.

I say we call it “Stanley’s Army.”

Who’s with me?

Go Sabres.

*Tip-o-the-sunglasses to reader Derek Fettes for alerting me to “Sam’s Army.” Derek: you’ve been promoted to corporal. Congratulations!

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Player Profile: Nathan Gerbe

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 Player Profile: Nathan Gerbe

Nathan Gerbe

Position: Center
Shoots: Left
Number: 42
Type of player: Unique mix of mostly Grinder & Sniper
Height: 5′ 5″
Weight: 178 lb.
Facial hair: Pork chops and mustache (possibly since shaved)
Hometown: Oxford, Michigan
Birth date: July 24, 1987
Drafted: By the Buffalo Sabres, 2005 NHL entry draft, 5th round

Nathan Gerbe is a feisty, quick, hard-working forward. He’s listed as a center but as of late for the Sabres has played wing. Towards the end of the 2011-2012 season he played on a line with Paul Gaustad and Mark Mancari. It was a line that embodied hard work and ended up starting most games by the playoffs.

Gerbe’s small size has likened him by The Willful Caboose as a Honey Badger. Despite his diminutive stature, like the honey badger, Nathan Gerbe does not give a *%$! and will do whatever it takes, including going into corners to fight for pucks or taking on players a foot taller than him, including the towering Zdeno Chara.

98639934 263x300 Player Profile: Nathan Gerbe

Watch out, or the little guy will light you up.

Nathan Gerbe’s rapid growth in the second half of the 2010-2011 season endeared him to many fans. Gerbe has a knack for making things happen and putting shots on goal. He has a surprisingly fast wrist shot. His timely ascension was crucial to the Sabres making the playoffs.

This clutch spin-o-rama goal came against the Flyers in the 2nd to last game of the regular season. It was the  last home game (the alumni game) with much at stake and the win clinched a playoff spot.

Quick Hits:

  • He is known as the Tasmanian Devil, Mighty Mouse, Nate “The Great” (or is it the grate, as in he grates on you?), as well as “The Answer”. (This due to his wearing #42 which is said to be the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything. Of course I might be the only one to ever call him that. I like typing a lot in parenthesis.)
  • Gerbe’s hockey role models include Danny Briere and Martin St. Louis.
  • Won the rookie of the year award in the AHL in 2008 (aka the Dudley “Red” Garret Memorial Award. (Which the Sabres apparently own now that they’ve won it 3 years in a row.)
  • Nathan Gerbe is such a popular player that he even has romantic fan fiction being written about him. (Or *is it* fiction? Other players are written about as well if you’re so inclined.)
  • Gerbe likes to spin.
  • As Dan Carcillo found out in round one of the  playoffs, patting Gerbe on the head serves to further incite him and increase his power meter.

Defining Moment

In a crucial game during the stretch run of the 2010-2011 season, the Sabres were doggedly trying to hold onto a slim 1-0 lead against the Montreal Canadiens. With under thirty seconds left, the Canadiens had an extra attacker and were applying massive pressure in the Sabres zone. A scrappy Gerbe was badgering (see what we did there?) opponents and finally knocked the puck loose whereupon he recovered it and scored an empty net goal.

Future:

He’s a restricted free agent this year but it’s expected that the Sabres won’t let him run off. Of course, some other team could conceivably  come in with a big offer based on his 2nd half performance.

Gerbe is the type of do-it-all player that every team would love to have. He could be given an alternate captain tag, or a couple years down the road possibly a “C”.  You never know since he has the ability to inspire other players with his all-out mentality.

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Grier: it can’t End this Way

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We’re re-visiting this post on the heels of today’s announcement that Mike Grier has, in fact, done the retirement thing. Best of luck Griersie. We’ll really, really miss you.

One more year.

Call me sentimental if you must, but Mike Grier’s hard-nosed career simply cannot be remembered for ending in this way.

Oops.

Yes, the Sabres were decimated by injuries.  Yes, they imploded as a team in Game Seven.  But they were about to survive that first period with a 0-0 score, despite being out-shot 16-2.  Anything could have happened in the 2nd period, but after that puck deflected off of Grier’s hand and into the net with 18.5 seconds left, it was over.

grier flyers 242x300 Grier: it cant End this Way

Get out of my way.

Instead of stopping that damned puck, he was faced with the gutty gutting task of describing what happened to reporters after the game, the series, and the season, was over.

“You know, the guys battled hard all year. I gotta block that shot on the first goal. I tried to catch it. It went off my glove and went in. It gave them some momentum. It’s just disappointing. I don’t know how much longer I have to play.”

But he didn’t stop there.

“Tough one to swallow. I don’t know if I’ve played on a team that I’ve been more proud of. It would have been easy for the group to go the other way and get selfish. The guys stuck together and dug in. The coaching staff did a good job keeping us together. As a group, I’m proud. They played as hard as they could all year.”

“If I play again, it’ll be here. If not, that’ll probably be it.”

“It’s a great group. I’ve been on teams that probably had more talent, more skill, but I’m probably most proud of this team here with what they’ve been through. There was a lot of adversity this year. It would’ve been easy for a team to just kind of self-destruct and fall apart, but the guys held in there and stuck together, came to the rink every day ready to work and have fun. It was great to see.”

How can you not love a guy like Mike Grier, who comes to the rink every day, puts in his 110%, plays the boards, both zones, is one of the strongest penalty killers in the game – and continually credits his teammates?  Heck, he wasn’t even supposed to be in the NHL, but his herculean work ethic earned him a long stay.

Grier was originally drafted by the Blues in the 9th round (219th overall) of the ’93 draft, and was considered a long-shotto make an NHL team.

He took those odds, and crushed them with sheer willpower.

In his early playing days, he skated with Saint Sebastian’s School and later with Boston University, culminating in his best amateur season in 1994–95, where he was named a first team all-star. During his time at BU, Grier’s NHL rights were dealt to the Edmonton Oilers (along with Curtis Joseph) in exchange for a pair of first round picks.

He left college in 1996, and immediately cracked the Oilers lineup as a checking-line right-winger, scoring 32 points and bearing a respectable +7 plus-minus rating.  He did it as the first African-American player – (aside from Val James, who briefly cracked the Sabres lineup in 1981) – in the NHL.

15 years later, Grier has been through 1060 NHL games.  He’s netted 162 goals, added 221 helpers, and earned the reputation for for being one of the league’s better penalty killers and playoff performers.

And 15 years later, there’s a scuff on his glove from a puck that may have ended his career – a puck that he tried to get in the way of, like he had so many times before in his career, only this time, he directed it in the net.

“It’s just disappointing. I don’t know how much longer I have to play.”

Disappointing is an understatement. Everyone in the Sabres organization knew that the Sabres were already reeling in that Game Seven, but terribly, it all seemed to be lost after that moment that Grier failed to knock down that puck.

Sure, they could have won in Game Six, as Ryan Miller was quick to point out after the game:

“There’s a lot of disappointment right now. That’s what happens when you don’t step on a team’s throat when you have a chance. We had our opportunity to end this series and didn’t do it.”

Lindy Ruff agreed:

“For four months we asked them to go above and beyond, and they have done everything we have asked. They haven’t used an excuse in the book. We lost a lot of good players and we lost our goalie, and we found a way to get to this point. The disappointment was that we didn’t find a way of getting by Game Six.”

Still, in the end, even Miller had to admit what happened in Game Seven was series-changing:

“We almost got away with that first period and maybe it would have been a different game. I thought we were going to get away with it and it was a tough bounce. It changed direction on me a bit. I was reaching to play it to the corner and it ended up diving down off Mike.”

Team Goat.

That can’t be the way Grier goes out of this game. What he has done for the league, for African-Americans, and for the Sabres, means so much, and means that he deserves so much more.

Unfortunately in the NHL, deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.

Grier already has a lot going against him, with younger studs like Mark Mancari, Zack Kassian, Marcus Foligno et al already barricking for next year’s spots in the bottom six.  Besides the competition, he also has to recover from knee and wrist injuries.  He’s 36 years old, and his time to skate in the NHL is coming to a close, fight as me may.

And he will fight it.  Hard.

If Grier’s story tells us anything – a story that began with his fight and drive to make this league, the grit to be be successful, and the wisdom to remain a critical component for a team in the postseason at age 36 –  it tells us that he has plenty of fight left.  I have a strong feeling that Grier will be back with the Blue and Gold next season.  Kassian and Foligno need their pro seasoning in the AHL. Grier, a bit slower now than he was when he was 26, is dependable.  He’s a leader.  He can maintain himself and help the team, and serve as a mentor in the locker room for the guys waiting to take his place.

“He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever played with, one of the best leaders I’ve ever played with,” said Tyler Ennis, on locker clean-out day. “I hope he keeps playing. I hope he comes back.”

If his health allows it, Grier will be back.  He’ll have his shot at checking the Team Goat into the boards.  He’ll do it heavily, with passion, responsibility, and all the verve of a rookie. And when he skates back to the bench, he’ll give a nod to the youngsters – “This is how it’s done.

One more year.

Go Sabres.

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