On Ville Leino, and Exorcising #23: A Play, of Sorts


What’s in a number?

A Leino by any other number, is still the same. Right?


Abandoning the #22 that he wore for Philadelphia, Leino made the curious decision to don #23, and for that, I could not be happier. Whether he meant to go on this mission or not, he’s now out to finally rid this fan base of the greatness that once wore that number – our Hockey God, our Captain, our indefatigable leader, our Chris Drury.

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Get him out of my head!

Leino may find that #23 is a heavy load to carry on his back throughout this coming season, and I cannot help but speculate on the reasons why he chose to take it upon himself. There will be comparisons between him and Drury all season long – perhaps longer – by fans, bloggers, and media, should he falter or flourish.

Of course, #22 was already taken by Brad Boyes. Leino wore #21 in Detroit, #22 in Philly, so #23 just makes logical hockey sense. Right?


I can’t help but think there is something bigger going on behind this decision. Call it pure fiction or fantasy, but I’d at least like to think that Pegula and Co. are backing up their promise of doing everything it takes to build us a Champion. It’s unfair to say that the specter of Drury and Briere has hung over the Sabres locker room since that fateful July day in 2007, but the names, or the phrase “Drury and Briere” had become the renowned and repeated  “clarion call” of Buffalo Hockey Hell: this is a place that players wanted to depart.

Ted Black issued a new call, in the press conference that confirmed Pegula’s ownership of the Buffalo Sabres:

“A clarion call should go out to the league and to hockey players everywhere, that Buffalo is hockey heaven.”

That’s a loud proclamation, and I am sure that a lot of hard days and long nights have followed since Pegula and Black have done everything in their power to back up that call. Sometimes I wonder how those days go, behind the closed doors. Leino taking up #23’s sweater had my mind wondering about that, again.

So, follow along with my imagination now, if you please, as I try to recreate the the scene:

It’s July 1st, 2011, and at the Sabres’ War Room Table Darcy Regier, Terry Pegula, Ted Black, and Lindy Ruff have quickly learned that they aren’t going to sign Brad Richards. Pegula sits with hands clasped over the table, spinning his thumbs. Regier is on the phone, next to his owner. Lindy sits across from them, leaning back, hands clasped behind his head, concentrating his sneer at some invisible idea in the distance. Ted Black stands in the corner, holding a Labatt Light. He hasn’t sipped it yet. He’s just holding the bottle, standing over the scene from the corner of the room.

Darcy hangs up. “We got Leino, guys.”

“Hell yes!” Pegula squeals, “did you pay him that extra mil, just so we could put an extra brick into Burke’s pants?”

“Damn straight,” Regier says, his brow glistening in a new, bank-rolled fever.

“Outstanding.” says Ruff. He takes his eyes off the distance for a moment, reaching down for his water bottle. He takes a sip, puts this water down, and then leans back again, with his hands behind his head. “I think I’ll put him with Boyes. Or Pommers. Or maybe Vanek, or…” and his voice trails off with his eyes, as they return to that far away place out there that coaches look into for Victory.

Black finally emerges from the corner, and softly sets down his still untouched Labatt. “Give him #23.”

“What’s that?” asks Darcy.

“Give him #23.”

Pegula looks at Ruff and says “Hey, wasn’t that Drury’s number?” Ruff’s ‘stache twitches, ever so slightly.

“Listen up, fellas,” Black continues, leaning over the table with both palms firmly planted on the table, at either sides of the Labatt. Even the beer is sweating. “Ever since I came into this town I’ve been hearing Drury this, Briere that. All this non-stop Captain Clutch whining. Our little Hockey God that left us.”

“Chris had a damn good ride here,” says Lindy, smiling.

“Chris isn’t here, anymore!” yells Black. He pulls his hands off the table and stands up straight. “His ride in Buffalo is over. His ticket is punched. His time ended, in 2007… You want to keep remembering him? You want the fans to miss him, this ‘Hockey God?’ Darcy, what did you ever win before ‘Captain Clutch’ bolted for the Rangers?”

“Well, we did win the President’s -”

“You didn’t win SQUAT! Drury is done in this town. 2007 is done. It’s buried to me, guys, and so is Drury. But to the fans – to that locker room? How many times do Bucky and Sully have to remind everyone about Drury, and Briere, and Golisano? This Drury and Briere thing happened four years ago. Four years ago. It’s dead. It’s over. We gotta’ get folks to stop trying to relish the past. We need to clean the locker room of the stink of that corpse, of that “Hockey God” of ours. Then our boys can breathe. Then, we can win.”

There’s a brief silence.

“That new locker room is going to be amazing,” says Pegula, softly.

“Yes. It is,” concedes Black. “Give him #23.”

Black leaves the room, closing the door behind him with nary a click. A droplet of condensation slides from his abandoned bottle to the table.

“Ok,” says Regier. “So we give Leino #23. Safe to say we should scratch Drury from our list. What’s next on the board?”

“VICTORY!” comes a yell from behind the door.


Go Sabres.

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