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 September 17, 2015 at 9:00 pm
Physicals were taken today at the First Niagara Center. Bodies were examined, measured, and worried over – for once, not to measure potential or promise, but just to make sure that the kids are OK and ready for their first days together at Sabres U.
In a weird sort of way, it was also to make sure that these kids are real. After the wasteland of The Suffering, the elite talents showed up to snowy Buffalo. They had their pulse taken, and there was a concurrence that they were alive, and were all here, willingly. Pictures were taken, so we have proof. You could see it in the smiles. There was no hint of regret in any of the new pickups that they were now snowbound in hapless Buffalo.
In a series of quick pressers, the youngsters exuded excitement. They were happy. There was confidence in each other, in what the future holds, for this team, for this town, and for its long suffering fans. Smiles all around.
It’s easy to smile now, unless you’re Tim Murray. He arrived here with a meaningful scowl on his face, but this shrewd personality and insight of his have paid off. He’s been a man of few words at the draft podium and in public, but bombastic in the statements of his actions and roster manipulations. His projected team, even if not yet complete, looks to dominate in a few short years. Maybe sooner, if he pushes the plunger down on another dynamite move, or two. There has been a ton of detonation and noise around this man of few words.
It’s easy to be a fan of this team right now. It’s OK when the core group of your talent is mainly chattering about how happy they are, and how they are enjoying the city of Buffalo. It’s a young group, and unless you count the leftover bodies from the last years’ massacres, they’ve never played a game together. Fans really have no measure on how the new influx of size, smarts, possession, passion, speed, and finishing will, well, finish.
It’s easy to be a player incoming of this new, exciting project as well – but that may change very soon. At some point, maybe in a month or two, (maybe more, maybe less), it will be time to get more serious about these kids, and what they are saying. Particularly, we’ll want to talk more specifically about how they are performing. How they have gelled (or not) as a young team in a very competitive National Hockey League.
At some point, there will be an emergence from the rebuilding and the hope and the happy chatter. The real rebirth from the absurdity of the tank years will begin.
I cannot say when that turning point will happen, but I cannot wait to see who takes the reins from Murray, and begins to lead this team by the throat. The expectations are heavy, and eventually, some person or persons in the locker room are going to have to make this assembly win.
Again, Murray’s work isn’t quite done yet, but the locker room has been gone through a transformation. The emergence of leadership, of the identity of this new team, can begin from so many different and powerful personalities. To name a few: Ryan O’Reilly and Zemgus Girgensons are both capable of leading by force of will. Evander Kane is a vision of confidence and power on the ice as well, and wants to best his own goal scoring records yesterday. Samson Reinhart is a humble hockey mastermind stuck almost impatient in a growing hockey body.
Those are just of the few of the personalities that had their pictures taken at the FNC today. It’s a great mix, a balance of all the traits you need to succeed in the NHL today.
The real work began when the cameras were put away today. And now all that fans, along with Tim Murray, have to do, is to await the emergence, and who will lead the commencement to the W column, and further from there.
How all of that comes together will be a marvel to behold. Now, it’s just up to a group of kids who just had their their pictures snapped on the first day of school to make all of our dreams come true. Let them have their day. Tomorrow, their commencement begins.
They have what it takes – the talent, the seriousness and the will, to bring us our day(s) soon enough.
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.