sabres playoffs:

Sabres, Bills Fans on the Precipice of Glory… and Disaster


October 25th, 2008:

Happy “New Year,” folks.

To me, the New Year begins with the Bills and the Sabres. How’s this for a new beginning: the Sabres and Bills just spent a few days with the same record – the same winning record of 5-1 – marking the first time both teams had season starts like this one since 1975, when the Bills were 4-0 and the Sabres were 8-0.

In 1975, I was wearing a blue and gold onesy and shooting Cheerios with a plastic mini-stick at the family dogs from my high chair. Since then, I’ve grown out of my onesy and into adult x-large Sabres jersey sizes with names like Audette, LaFontaine, Peca, and Stafford decorating the back. Since then, I’ve had to listen to games on the primitive internet of the 90’s while living in Australia. I’ve spent late nights at grimy sports bars in Florida, watching the old over-the-hill analog TV’s that management sticks in the corner for hockey fans while the big screens rage with college football. You can imagine some of the strange conversations I had to endure in those places, while decked out in my seemingly inappropriate hockey jersey:

“Hey, dude, are you a hockey fan?”

“No. I’m a rapper.”

“Ohhhhh… cool. Hockey is stupid anyway.”

Sigh. True story.

Since 1975, well, since the beginning, neither the Bills nor the Sabres have been able to win the Big Game. But recently I’ve made my return to WNY, and so far, that return has been a triumphant one. And this rapper smells a championship or two at “year’s end.”

I’ve mentioned the undying hope of WNY sports fans here many times. Despite the snow, despite the legendary losses, despite the reputation as a cursed sports citezenry – each year, when the puck drops on game one, anything is possible. Isn’t that the true spirit of New Year’s Day? “Auld lang syne” means “times gone by.” Those sad years and mournful losses are in the past, and who knows what is in store for the WNY sports fan.

Right now, I am drawing up blueprints for my backyard rink, and conjuring up zealous visions of a Stanley Cup and Superbowl party at my place this summer.

There are many games left to be played, heck, that legendary snow hasn’t even fallen yet. But something is different this year. I can feel it.

I’ll go see if my mother still has that lucky 1975 onesy somewhere.

I’m finally coming clean. I was the one who jinxed it all in 2008-09. Right after I wrote that piece, things began to fall apart. After such auspicious beginnings, our teams floundered down the stretch, my championship barbecue slowly flamed out. There would be no championships that year – not even a playoff game.

The Sabres would finish with a record of 41-32-9 – good enough for 91 points, and good enough for missing the playoffs by just 2 points. One game.

The Bills would finish at the bottom of the AFC East, stumbling their way to one of seemingly a dozen records of 7-9.

It’s been three years. The Bills are 3-0 and are turning heads all over the NFL landscape. The Sabres are 4-1 – in the preseason – but the infusion of Pegula fever has the NHL world spinning its wheels, trying to calculate all that has changed for the Sabres and what it bodes for the future. 640w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Placed atop my TV just before the Bills began their Week Two comeback against the Raiders. It hasn't been moved, or touched, since. Rally cat!

“This time is different,” we’re being told. OK, fair enough. For Bills fans, this is not the team of 2008-09 that squandered a 5-1 start. It’s a new energy, we’re being told. A new confidence. Well, for me, that’s all far too familiar. I’ll keep Rally Cat atop my Vizio, but I’m not painting up a “Super Bowl or Bust” sign for the bandwagon just yet.

There are many games left to be played, heck, that legendary snow hasn’t even fallen yet. But something is different this year. I can feel it.

This time, I’m just enjoying the ride, taking the games one at a time.

For most of the first half of the Bills/Pats game, I was knee deep in water, hiking along Stone Creek as I like to do to clear my head when my family man lifestyle affords me the chance. I might be a sports nut, which should be obvious by now, but I also need to breathe sometimes. I still need to get my feet wet and my hands dirty. A blog cant do that, but a creek can really refresh the soul.

So there I was, letting the water rush around me, the fish dart past me along the sunlit creek bed. But those weren’t the only things rushing over me. I was close enough to the Ralph so that I could hear the roar of the crowd echo around me, and could hear the announcer call the plays.

I hadn’t really gone anywhere.

So, I climbed up the small shale cliff, and worked my way back through the tall grass back to my car. I got on Milestrip Road just in time to hear Stevie Johnson’s touchdown grab to make the game 21-7, and was back in front of my Vizio – back in front of that Rally Cat – when Ryan Lindell cashed in a field goal to close the gap to 11 points at the half.

My feet were still muddy, cold and wet, but my heart was beating hard and fast. I guess you could I’m a lot more down to earth (literally) this time around. I’m sweating every down, but I’m more objective now. I’m looking to enjoy the ride, win or lose, listening with my feet in a stream or my eyes watching the game with the magical power of Rally Cat getting things done.

It’s a balancing act for me this year.

So far, the Bills are doing well. The Sabres haven’t entered the regular season yet, but they’re doing well too. I’m just not going to jinx it this time. I’m not going to get all antsy-in-the-pantsy and predict anything silly or stupidly hopeful – those days are done. I’m a new man now. Patient, balanced, and taking it one game at a time.

At least, I’m trying to – when Lindell hit that game winner as time expired, I felt those magical hopeful stirrings again, and there was no way I even wanted to tune them out.

Is it really going to be different for us this time? Well, I can’t answer that, but I do know this:

If anyone touches Rally Cat, there’s gonna’ be trouble.

Go Sabres.

Go Bills.

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High Projections for the 2011-12 Sabres Have Begun, but Don’t get too Excited yet, Billy

Always the bridesmaid.

4 Superbowls, 2 appearances in the Stanley Cup Final – and 6 second best ribbons.

Prognosticators and the media haven’t been kind to Buffalo for quite a while, and who can blame them? Having an “internal cap” and “spending budget” never did scream “Cup or bust” here for the Sabres.

Still, now that Pegula and Regier have busted through the Cap ceiling – leading all NHL teams in salary – the hockey world has no choice but to at least raise an eyebrow. Bookies are salivating, ready for the bets to start pouring in from over-excited Buffalonians.

Um, it’s Billy Brown calling. l’d like to bet on the Super Bowl. On Buffalo. To win. Right.

-(Billy Brown on the phone with his bookie. From the script of “Buffalo 66.”)

Take a breath, folks. And please, take your bookies off speed-dial. Yea, the offseason has been a thrilling ride, but we haven’t ever won a dang thing when it mattered most, and we haven’t won a single game in the 2011-12 season.

High projections have started to come to print for the 2011-12 Sabres. The core of our Blue and Gold roster that barely squeaked into the playoffs last year is still here, but with the additions of Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, and Ville Leino, expectations have vastly risen for next season.

Excited? You should be. We’re in uncharted ice, here. 670w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Those banners look awfully lonely up in the rafters - but there are some who are saying the HSBC might be adding another banner or two by the time the 2011-12 season is finished.

“The Hockey News” published their list of the “Top 10 Offseason Winners” recently. Though the offseason is not yet over (and certainly not over for the Sabres, who are already over the cap with Marc-Andre Gragnani and Jhonas Enroth yet to sign), Adam Proteau had this to say about how things have changed at the HSBC:

The Sabres received enough of a boost this past season when new team owner Terry Pegula assumed control of the organization. And Pegula put a lot of his money where his Sabres-loving mouth is this summer, ponying up for D-man Christian Ehrhoff, outbidding numerous teams for left winger Ville Leino and adding rugged blueliner Robyn Regehr from Calgary. If the Sabres don’t challenge Boston for the Northeast Division title, it won’t be because they don’t have the players.

Challenge the Bruins? The team that just won the Stanley Cup? Yep. Those Bruins.

The NE Division crown and the Stanley Cup are a long, long way off, and there is a lot of hockey to play before we can back up our bold new hopes, but at least we can enjoy some realistic dreams for once.

Then again… 454w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

"Oh, and, Billy. lf Buffalo ever makes it back to the Super Bowl, bet against them."

We’re still Buffalo – that snake-bitten town that has never won a thing (apologies to the Bills of the AFL and our beloved Bandits). We’re all pretty excited to be bringing players in – very good players – but hopes are still tempered around the Queen City.

This past season, the Sabres went on a remarkable run to make the playoffs after Pegula took over on February 22nd. They posted a 16-4-4 record down the stretch, before running out of gas and Pegula magic in a hard fought first round series against the Flyers. It remains to be seen how much gas these new additions will bring to the squad, and if that Pegula magic still holds any lionizing power over the locker room.  This time, it’s a stretch of 82 games instead of just 24.

It’s still about surviving that long regular season, it’s still about making the playoffs – and then winning 16 of those extra and bloodiest games before anyone else does.

That’s a tall order.

That is a lot to hope for, and we’re all a little rusty on hope here in the Rust Belt.

But at least, for once, we can have some realistic hope. Even if we do keep our hopes a little quiet.

Go Sabres.

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