0Posted by Scott Michalak on October 7, 2015 at 8:04 am
We’re just one sleep away, as they say, from the first game of the 2015-16 regular season new era of Sabres hockey.
How will the season shake out? Are the playoffs a possibility? I’m not sure it makes any sense to ask.
It will be a curious season, one not so much defined by the number of wins, but the incremental growth of the team and its young stars, headlined by Jack Eichel. Of course – and Jack will tell you this – we should see plenty of headlines from Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, and Tyler Ennis as well. Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons could generate some surprising production against lesser NHL talent on the third line. The offense is young, and remarkably talented.
The defense is an interesting mix of youth and veteran stop gaps. The continuing emergence of Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk will be a welcome sight as the season rolls along.
In goal, Robin Lehner will be proving to the NHL that he is the starting goaltender that Tim Murray is wagering on.
There’s a lot of youth and a lot to prove here in Buffalo.
So, I’m not going to try to sell you on wins. Those W’s will happen, but let’s allow this group time to learn to play together under Coach Dan and against the more inveterate and finely tuned squads of the National Hockey League.
I was going to pour over my posts from last year, and remind you all just how awful it was back then, and how much better it will be – or already is – in Buffalo this year. But who the hell wants to be dragged through any of that anymore? Let’s be adults, and just shoulder the burden of the past.
Let me tell you about my boy, instead. After all, he’s one of the generation that is inheriting this generational team.
This morning, my son woke up eager to vote for the Sabres’ goal song. His first words to me were “IT’S HOCKEY EVE!” He’s got the front page of The Buffalo News’ NHL preview tacked up on his wall, and will tell anyone listening that Evander Kane is going to be that Ovechkin we’ve always wanted (or “Ovech-chicken” as he prefers to say, since that’s how he mispronounced it on his first try a couple years ago, and the joke just stuck, as fun things tend to do). He’ll also mention O’Reilly and Reinhart at times, but he always goes back to Kane. Maybe because, pre-Eichel, that’s where the fun started for him. Mostly because he just wants to see more goals this year. Those are also fun, or so that’s what I think I remember. It’s been a while.
I’ve been showing him clips and highlights of Eichel since the draft. I’ve done my due diligence as a hockey fan parent to explain what a generational talent is, how rare they are, and how lucky he is to grow up watching one. Of course, by the time I get through with the lecture, he’s tuned out. He doesn’t want things explained to him. He just wants the season to get started, already.
He just wants to say things like this:
“Here we go now Here we go now Here we go now Here we go now Somebody make some lunch in this joint, maaaaan” The Boy, just now. #catchy
And what of that Eichel kid? Like my boy, there are so many fans out there who have no idea what it is like to watch a hockey team with this kind of talent. I’d like to describe it for you. After all, I’ve lived through and enjoyed the thrills of the Perreault and Hasek eras. But again, I won’t bore any of you with wordy memories of thrills long gone.
If you insist on a season prediction, we’ll go back to The Boy, who, even full of his own youthful exuberance, tells me that “The Sabres will win half and lose half.” He says it with a shrug, as if becoming instant winners doesn’t really matter. He gets it. He’s going to have a lot more to cheer for this year, be it through Eichel, or any of the other “Ovech-chickens” that will keep that goal song playing all season long. He’s going to have a lot more fun. And as his father reassures him, there are some great years coming our way.
The wins will come, but take The Boy’s advice, and be patient. Enjoy the ride.
As for me, I’m more than satisfied with my generational part in all of this. I’m ready to sit back in my E-Z chair, looking forward to watching this team and my boy grow up together into a couple of champs. Who on this sporting earth could ask for anything more than that?
0Posted by Scott Michalak on March 1, 2015 at 9:14 am
Hey there, Sabres.
Hi, Sabres fans.
You’ve endured a hell of a time the past two seasons on the ice. The fanbase has been there with you, suffering the ups and downs of the tumultuous rebuild. You’ve had to emerge out of that locker room every game, and put up an intense physical effort for a team that you knew was designed to implode. The fans knew that too, but they’ve still filled the stands.
Sticktaps all around.
You all deserve an award for sticking it out during all of this. For some of you Sabres players, that award may be in the form of a trade to a contending team. Good luck if that becomes the case – but don’t forget us if you become an UFA – Buffalo is going to be a ridiculously fun team to play on in the very near future.
Most fans reading this would assume I mean the fan award should be McEichel. I’d love the opportunity to cheer for a superstar, but pegging the award part of all of this on just one name is a bit myopic. The real reward for fans will be the return to good – even great – hockey. That will be a team thing, and it will happen with McEichel or without.
We’re nearing the end of the hard part, everyone, and isn’t it a wonderful feeling? Our team is beginning to come into focus, our dreams just beginning to be realized. Those who will help Buffalo contend, players like Ristolainen, Girgensons, and Kane, are signed up and ready to go. Sam Reinhart is on his way. Goodness, I hope it was as exciting for you to read those two sentences as it was for me to type them.
The rest of the team has yet to take shape, but the excitement is here, now, for what this team will be next season.
I do not know how big of a turnaround we’ll see in 2015-16, but the goal will be making the playoffs, or at least coming as close as possible.
That’s a pretty modest goal for most teams. In Buffalo, it’s a massive change of perspective. The rebuild, for most intents and purposes, will be dead. The long ago foretold suffering will be wiped away from our consciousness and experience, one more game, one more win at a time.
For those players who leave us tomorrow, and for those who stay, thanks for the being a part of this, and take comfort in the fact that your days playing as assets or commodities are coming to a close.
For the fans who have argued and cheered and who have argued about what to cheer for, thanks for showing your honesty and for showing up to these games. Your days spent entrenched on divisive sides of toxic arguments are coming to a close.
So once more: sticktaps all around.
Now, let’s go and get something shiny to put inside this place.
0Posted by Scott Michalak on February 11, 2015 at 9:10 am
As we sit and stew (silently, oh so silently) at the FNC over our rebuilding product on the ice, it’s a good time to revisit a time when our voices were loud, and our butts not so hopelessly stuck to our seats.
I bring to you then, in no particular order, the top 5 Aud chants from Memorial Auditorium. I may have missed some good ones. Feel free to add more in the comments below.
I’m not sure on how well this one translates to our modern era, as we retract more and more sports memes that are obviously offensive to Native Americans. But back in the day, this was one of the fondest beer chants in the oranges.
Anyway, here’s some fans from ’06 reliving the old days (they didn’t know it’s supposed to be sung, not just shouted):
3. Anything anyone ever yelled in the exit tunnels
Aside from the spectacular spectator views, one of the best elements the Aud had was leaving the game through those old tunnels. Fans weren’t just shuffling down stairwells or standing idle on an escalator. They were stampeding (and by some reports, sometimes fighting. Or urinating).
Some of my most vivid memories are of these tunnels, and joining the mob to out-shout the visiting fans. It was madness. It was glorious.
This video doesn’t do the experience justice, but it’s at least a decent look for old time’s sake (jump to 2:24):
4. “WE WANT RAY.”
I’m not one to try to sell fighting in the NHL as a necessary or even relevant part of the modern game, but as a guy who grew up in the chaos of the Memorial Auditorium, my brain is probably conditioned to the day I die to get me to jump out of my seat when the gloves fall off down on the ice. At the Aud, fighting was as big a part of the culture as anything else on the program.
Game turning sour? Down, say, 8-1? No problem. Everyone yells “WE WANT RAY.” Coach puts Rayzor out for a faceoff. Instant fight. Everyone’s happy.
The days before CTE were so naively fun.
I couldn’t locate a video for this chant (what the hey?) – but here’s a fun news report of a fan who jumped over the glass and got mercilessly PUMMELED by Rayzor, because dammit, that’s what happened when a fan jumped over the glass in front of Rob Ray back in the early 90’s.
5. Milt Ellis’ public address announcements
OK, obviously this one is not a chant, but it’s worthy of any list of legendary things said and heard at the Aud.
Meanwhile, here’s a wonderful tribute video to the man who left us in 2011…
Great old building, great old times. These days we’re quiet, as we await what very likely may be the next great chapter in Sabres history. Many are banking on the plausibility that what is coming may be the best. So don’t worry – the chants – some old, some new – are coming back to the FNC.
Something about winning gets those started up, organically.
I can’t wait for us all to make some more legendary memories at our new digs.
I asked via the Twitters for a few of you to chirp in on some of your favorite old sounds of the Aud. A few of you broke through the noise that was Sabres Trademageddon Day and I was actually able to find your responses. Here’s a few, with an extra bonus take at the end (a take that I wish I had remembered myself, actually):
Back in the way back, hockey organists were like conductors – they were quick to respond to any incident on the ice quickly with a tune that would get fans orchestrated and involved.
At some point, every arena in the NHL started blaring “Crazy Train” out of giant speakers and the whole organist/fan connection slowly died off, and that’s kinda sad. I know, we have lasers now, and some pretty hypnotic and engaging “game presentation,” but the organ at the old Aud was a persona in itself, a piece of the hockey experience that made the games just a little more personal.
There are plenty of great examples of the organ being utilized in this vintage video of the 1976 Super Series between the Sabres and the Soviet Wings, but go ahead and skip to the 1:52:20 mark, where the pipes chime in to keep the crowd clapping away even as the game was long over, having reached a score of 11-6.
Again, if you have any more sounds of the Aud that I’ve missed, go ahead and post them in the comments section below.
0Posted by Scott Michalak on January 31, 2015 at 1:40 pm
With their 14th regulation loss in a row, the Buffalo Sabres are in danger of matching one of the most embarrassing of all NHL team records – 17 L’s in a row was achieved by the Caps (1974-75) and Sharks (1992-93). Fans and media have been driven into mobs, and the discourse happening right now is mob-ugly. Meanwhile, much has been done by the team to try to stave off relieving the Caps and Sharks of their infamous listing. Well, as much as can be done.
The players have tried closed door meetings. They’ve run out of things to say.
Play your guts out, get gutted. That can’t be a good feeling.
The coach stands behind his podium after each loss, repeating mostly the same things about the same mistakes that have earned the same results. He’s got no insight left on a team that has competed to its capacity against the other NHL clubs that were put together to win this season. He’s coaching up a team that’s not supposed to win for another year or more.
Fans on social media are desperate for anything to talk about aside from the losing, and in such cases, the expected stink of rumors, trade proposals, buyout wishes, and firings is pervasive in the feed. Arguments are turning spiteful, especially between those that have labeled themselves as “tankers” or “purists.” This dissention in the ranks comes off often as septic and cruel, but it’s a symptom of the mental/social disease of being somehow obligated to support an historically bad team in one logical way or another.
So what’s the cure? What is a fan base to do, to feel less lousy?
This is a season like no other in modern team history, so the best advice I can offer is to take a step off of each other’s throats.
Really, the only thing you can do is embrace the pain, and be happy that you still care. If it hurts, it means you’re still invested. You’re here to see this through – to get to the end of the rebuild and enjoy the payoff. If you’ve reached the point where you’ve lost interest, or become completely indifferent, you may have a hard time coming back next season when the increments of improvement may not happen as quickly as you may want. (Trades can certainly accelerate the transition back to winning, but a team with centers like Grigorenko, Reinhart, and McEichel – as talented as they may be – is far too young down the middle to be successful for a while.)
Most importantly, and plausibly the most overlooked point about this trying season, is to try to remember that it’s not a “tank.” It’s a rebuild, and it didn’t begin this season.
We all came into this together, and we’ll come out of it together. The best thing we can do in the interim is to ditch the virulent “tank” talk and remember that a rebuild is a process. It’s a huge body of work that isn’t accomplished quickly.
Feel like cracking a joke about tanks? Feel free. It’s cathartic.