Archive for April, 2012:

The Sabres/Leafs Scrum Goal: Its Many Layers of Crazy Will Keep You Coming Back for More

This has to be the play of the year for the Buffalo Sabres.

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Sabres fans aren't ever going to forget this incredible goal. Welcome to the Sabres' historical highlight reel, Jordan Leopold.

It’s like a really good movie: every time you watch it, you notice something new. Let’s watch this instant classic again:

 

Wow.

Here’s a quick list of what I’ve noticed so far:

  • Foligno and Komisarek’s foreshadowing chirps before the faceoff
  • Ennis’ quick singling-out/distraciton of Komisarek, just before the puck dropped
  • Komisarek then getting run over by Foligno right after the puck hit the ice
  • Foligno willfully forcing the puck to the net
  • Komisarek regaining his feet to willfully drive Foligno into the ice
  • Komisarek delivers about a dozen swipes to Foligno’s face, as he keeps him pinned
  • Referee Mike Hasenfratz in perfect position to watch the puck – still loose – under that mass of humanity in front of the net
  • Tyler Ennis lunging forward to give Komisarek a little cross check across the back
  • Stafford and Leopold lunging forward and stabbing, almost coordinated, at the puck together
  • Leafs’ captain, #3, Dion Phaneuf, falls back under Stafford’s stick, giving the Sabres #3, Jordan Leopold, the space for the shot
  • Arms in the air
  • Komisarek slowly rising, defeated
  • RJ going nuts
  • Fans going nuts
  • Hey look! Sulzer was on the ice!
  • Foligno raises his arms in the air, whooping it up, then slowly skates by Matt Lombardi while staring him down
  • Scrivens’ hapless complaint to the ref about the whistle never blowing (Sorry Scrivens, but for once, the ref got it. He saw the puck, you didn’t. Game over.)
  • In the replay: watch Scrivens’ head darting about – he never looks down, his hands aren’t even near the ice. He never shows possession, just desperation. The first time he looks down is when he is looking at the puck in the net.
  • Shoutout from Sudbury! (Marcus played Jr. hockey there from 2005-2001, his father Mike played there from 1975-1979)
  • Mike Foligno (Sabres and Leafs alumnus icon) and family in the stands, looking stunned
  • Foligno’s chirp from bench to bench

Wow.

After the game, Marcus Foligno would sum of the Sabres play of the year with the Sabres quote of the year:

“I think the ref was watching how many times I got punched in the face,” Foligno said, “and he was in awe.”

Good job, Sabres! 2 games left: keep that willpower surging, and get this done.

As for me, I’m going to watch this play again. In case I missed anything else.

Go Sabres.

 

 


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Three Games Left And No Negatives

I refuse to be negative about the Sabres.

Yes, it’s been a weird year and they haven’t lived up to the hype and expectations. But those expectations were put on them by an external source.

I’m not saying Terry Pegula was wrong to boldly declare we’d be going where no major Buffalo sports franchise has gone before and actually win a championship, but there was going to be some fallout from it and it wasn’t going to happen right away.

Especially after the miracle of last year’s run to the playoffs, then the offseason acquisitions and everyone pegging the Sabres as being a beast of the East and one of the top teams – on paper.

As Ryan Miller said in a recent interview, the Sabres were never that team. They were a young team with talent and tons of upside, but they’d have to gel into Cup contender.

Then they were smacked with the plague of injuries.

To come back from the unfortunate first half of the year like they did is nothing short of astonishing, and all the gems we’ve found along the way (like Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson, Ennis really coming into his own, etc.) has added to the run.

Maybe they’ll get lucky and make the playoffs yet, or maybe maybe not. Of course, I’d love to get to watch some bonus hockey and see how they do, but I’m not going to let it get me down about the future of this team.

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The Sabres were not going for broke and selling out just to win this year. Over the course of the next 5 years, the Sabres are going to be stacked and could easily dominate their division during that time. This isn’t 2005-2007 where we’re good for a couple of years and then lose our two best guys in Drury and Briere.

The problem is the public perception of the masses. Of course I’m not talking about our educated BSN readership or other hardcore Sabres fans, but the general sporting world is pretty binary: you’re either great or you suck.

The Sabres recently lost 2 close games, one to a stellar Penguins team and the other to an admittedly crappy Leafs squad. But the Sabres were on a tear before that, having won 5 in a row – you can’t win ’em all. And one could argue that the Leafs will play the Sabres tough whenever, plus they were in their home building.

They’re the same team as they were before they lost those 2 games. Quite frankly, I was surprised they hung in there with the Pens as well as they did.

The Sabres can easily turn this right back around and win their last three games. Maybe two will be all they need, or two and an OT point.

For this season at least, the Sabres have burned their boats behind them and there is no retreat. They can go forward and play their best hockey with their backs to the wall.

There are 3 games left and Washington has left the door open a crack by losing last night. The Sabres play hard and get in, or they don’t. I’m hoping they make it of course, but if they don’t I’m not going to let it affect the positive outlook of where this team is headed. We’ve got at least one more week of Sabres hockey left and I’m going to savor it.

If the Sabres lose tonight however, my tune may change a bit. Ask me how I’m feeling tomorrow…


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Rick Jeanneret: One More Year

The season seems to be cruelly winding down for the Sabres.

Unless by act of miracle by our hockey gods, Sabres fans are looking at three more games with the Blue and Gold this season. It’s been a heroic run at the playoffs, and that’s been fun, but now the playoffs are a longshot at best.

But the anxiety and hope over this team isn’t disappearing for me. Instead, it’s switching over from the ice to the broadcast booth – to Rick Jeanneret, and the hope that he signs on for another season.

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RJ has been calling Sabres games in his unique and thrilling way since the 1971-72 season.

Before I go on, I should add that this post is not to alarm anyone. Rather, I’m putting these thoughts to print so that we savor every call in these last three games. Don’t take these three games for granted, not with RJ in the booth. (I’m assuming that he’ll be calling the away games in Philly and Boston that wrap up the season.)

I don’t need to tell any Sabres fan about how much it means to have his talent and personality with us along the way. If you do need a refresher, watch his Sabres Hall of Fame induction from earlier this season. It points out a lot of fond memories.

 

 

One other thing was pointed out to me when I first saw that clip – that little shake in his left hand. I can’t and will not speculate on what that might possibly mean, but I’ve noticed it throughout the season, and it’s been a subtle reminder to me that RJ is simply no spring chicken. Of course, that’s no secret.

Jeanneret has been shortening his play-calling schedule since the 2006-07 season. Between then and the 2010-11 season, he elected to take vacation time when the Sabres went on those long, arduous west coast roadies. Before then, he had notably only ever missed two games due to illness.

Before this season started, he sat down with Terry Pegula and Ted Black and worked out a part time schedule. As RJ himself put it, the idea is to lengthen his career by giving himself the rest he needs every now and then. We all would like for him to lengthen it for one more year – heck, we’d like another 40+ years.

This season, we’ve gotten a taste of what life will be when RJ inevitably hangs up his mike. Kevin Sylvester has been calling the play on those nights when RJ takes a break. There’s been a mixed reaction to his performance throughout the fan base, but that’s to be expected. Slyvester recently spoke to the WNY Hockey Report about it:

“I feel a greater responsibility to the fans, there is pressure here, you’re filling in for Rick Jeanneret.”

“I think I went through that in the previous seasons when I filled in,” said Sylvester.   “I realize that not everybody is going to like my call, particularly when compared to Rick. But I think most people are respectful of it.”

“I don’t pay attention to it because I’m a positive person and I like to stick with the positive things in life. If someone doesn’t like the way I call a game, I can’t change that for that person. That’s their choice.”

“There are probably people who don’t like how I host a show, I’m OK with that, I get that.  It’s like going to a movie. Not everybody is going to like the movie they went to see, that is what it is.”

“I think the greater challenge for me is to be accurate, be entertaining and continue to build and improve in my call. That’s what my goal has been.”

Many fans watching and listening have a strong connection to the work and the sound of Rick Jeanneret; but for Sylvester, it remains about doing the best job that he can.

“I’m here to call the Buffalo Sabres game,” said Sylvester.  “I’m here to announce the hockey game the best way I know how. I inject some of my personality into it. I’m doing that more now than perhaps at the beginning of the season.”

“I’ve looked to establish a base and then build from there.  If I look at it as I’m filling in for Rick, I would feel like I had to be like him. I don’t look at it that way nor should I try to be like him.”

Like many people in Buffalo, Sylvester is a fan of Rick Jeanneret.

“Everybody likes Rick including me,” confirmed Sylvester.  “He’s one of a kind, he’s a gem and we’re lucky to have him and I hope he continues on for as long as he wants to and is able to.”

Some wonder why Sylvester would put himself in the position of substituting for Jeanneret, but clearly he enjoys calling a National Hockey League Game.

“There are plenty of people who have asked ‘Why would you want to do that’?  The comment is always, you never want to be the guy who replaces a legend.”

“My response is, A: I’m not replacing him, no one can replace him.  B:  someone has to do it,  and C: who knows I might just be good. I look at a guy like John Murphy and what he’s been able to do on Buffalo Bills radio stepping in for Van (Miller) when he retired and Murph does a great job.  There are plenty of people, who certainly can’t do it, but Rick is one of a kind and most people recognize that, understand and appreciate that.”

I’ve been lucky to have been raised on Rick Jeanneret hockey, but just how good he is never really hit me until I was living out of town, and catching Sabres games through other teams’ broadcasts. I lived long enough south of the Mason Dixon line to know all too well the frustration of missing out on his play by play. I was part of a rowdy bunch of displaced Sabres fans down there, a hearty group that was never shy to shout at the big screens at the local BW3’s, and always prouder than ever over our goal celebrations when the Trivia Night announcer sighed into his microphone and said “Looks like the Sabres scored again.”

Goodtimes.

Then, there were those rare nights at that sports bar when we actually got to listen to the Sabres feed – usually about three times a year – those nights were completely different. The conversation was kept low and brief, until the commercial breaks when all the jokes and conversational bits my buddies and I had been trying to say would all spill out at once. Then, as soon as the game came back on, hands would raise up, and the attention would shift back to RJ. And of course, there was always that sudden rush of self-control when the Sabres scored a goal – despite how much we wanted to yell and whoop, we had to hold it all in, hold our breath really, until RJ’s goal call was complete.

After his call, we let all those whoops out in gushing streams. Anyone who talked over the call was in trouble, and had to pony up for the next round of drinks and wings.

This season, all Sabres fans have been given a healthy dose of life without RJ. He’s taken more nights off than ever before, and listening to Sylvester has been quite an adjustment for many – and one that none of us are ready for. Just like the boys and I held our breath at that BW3’s down South, we’ve all now learned what it feels to be waiting on RJ’s call.

Again, none of this is to alarm you – heck, not one bit of this notion should carry the slightest surprise to any Sabres fan. Still, at least for now, what we are looking at is just three more games with Jeanneret in the booth. That’s it, until he announces his intentions for next season.

We all know he’d like nothing else to be there with us in 2012-13, and the feeling is mutual.

Still, when the final whistle blows on the 2011-12 campaign, resigning Jeanneret will quickly become one of the biggest offseason questions.

Will he retire, or won’t he?

RJ, as always: we’re waiting on your call.

Go Sabres.


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Hope Stings Eternal in the B-lo.

So much for having ants in the pants.

After the Sabres browned their overalls in Toronto, the ants have left us, and have been replaced with a far more tortured feeling. 3 games left to make the playoffs or bust. In sticking with the insect theme, our new feeling is akin to having a belly full of spiders.

It’s been a hell of a ride, though.

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Sometimes math sums up a season in perfect, graphic detail.

For those of you who were lucky enough to ride the Comet at Crystal Beach (before the grand old thing was retired and moved to Six Flags NY), you’ve felt this before, plenty of times. The slow, laborious climb to the peak, and the sudden free fall – heart and stomach (full of spiders) suddenly in your mouth. Oh yea, and for those of you who screamed on the way down, well, you also know what a mouthful of sand flies feels like.

Belly full of spiders.

Mouthfuls of sand flies.

That’s some real freakshow stuff, but it’s fitting. This Sabres season has been a hockey carnival.

 

 

 

But that’s not such a bad thing.

We could instead be treated to the woeful dose of loss and monotony that folks in Montreal have had to learn to swallow.

We could have an heroically emerging legend like Stamkos, only to slowly realize that the rest of the roster is just as equally and tragically flawed.

We could live not too far up the QEW, where Leafs fans are suffering yet another playoff blighted season. It’s been a long time for those fans, stuck on the hockey carousel. A ride with no beginning and no end. Just a cycle of the same failure, spring after spring after spring. You gotta’ feel for them. No one wants to get off this ride this early in spring.

Of course, it’s spring here too. Our results, at least this season, aren’t looking much better- but we still have hope.

That terrible taste in your mouth today? That’s hope. It’s not spiders, or ants, or sandflies. It’s hope – one of the most tormenting yet one of the most thrilling flavors that we are lucky enough to taste in this sports region.

We’re stuck with hope, but that’s OK. Be it the Bills or the Sabres, we have a shot at the Big Game every season, more or less. At least that is what we believe. And as fans, belief is everything.

In Buffalo, hope stings eternal.

I’m screaming as we plummet today, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Go Sabres.

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