Archive for the 'I Was There' Category

What’s a Few Shorties Between Friends?

Final Score: 4-3, Hurricanes.

Recap: The Sabres were poopy, and then they lost.

Analysis: I guess the Sabres aren’t going to go 82-0? Yeah… I don’t know. This is confusing. I don’t really get it either.

The Bad News: The Sabres are all fired.

The Good News: With the exception of the Sabres being poopy, I thought last night was a hoot. Robin are so in love with our new seats that we sort of want to marry them. Instead of dealing with a gate at the end of our row, and having no nearby friends, we were surrounded by fun people who were willing to high five us when the Sabres scored. I drank just the right amount of beer, at just the right pace. The “clackers” weren’t clackers at all! They were just big fans that make a really pleasant and not-at-all-annoying swat-y sound when you swat them. (I was FULLY prepared to fire Ted Black over the clackers when I first heard about them. I’m sorry I doubted you, Ted.) My friend Hannah, age 12, texted this hiiiiilarious picture to us from the balcony, and it was so funny that we passed my phone around to everyone in our section so they could see it. My friend Alex gave me a really good suggestion, that I would like to pass along to you: We should all be saving all of our tickets stubs all season long, just in case the Sabres win the Stanley Cup. (It probably won’t be this year, because, let’s face it, the season is pretty much over. The Sabres already lost a game.) That way, when they win, we can make really cool framed displays of all the tickets from all the games we attended the year the Sabres won the Cup. When Staffy scored late in the third, we all get free 6 inch subs from Subway because the Sabres scored 3 or more goals. The “free sub” celebration was short-lived because the Canes are an unstoppable juggernaut (apparently), but it was a celebration nonetheless.  The Harbor Club was extra fun and chock full of fun people. After the Harbor Club we went out for a little while and eventually I was delivered safely home in Jessica’s ultra-chic minivan. Pretty good night.

Next Opponent: The Sid and Malkin-less Penguins.

Prediction: Just don’t give up any shorties tonight. Jeez.

The Locker Room Tour

I’ve been EXTREMELY lucky to have been offered some incredibly cool Sabres experiences in the last few weeks. Honestly, my head is still spinning, and the season has barely even started.

Yesterday, along with the traditional media and a bunch of other bloggers, I was invited to tour the new locker room facilities at the First Niagara Center. As luck would have it, my schedule was free on short notice and I was able to take the tour. While this was obviously an enticing offer from the onset, the experience wound up being so much more interesting than the initial email invitation indicated it might be. In the end, this opportunity was practically a dream-come-true for me, because we were allowed to literally wander around the locker room area, looking at whatever struck our fancy. As this INCREDIBLY LONG post will show, quite a bit about the locker room facilities ending up striking my fancy.

Basically, yesterday was a little like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for me. I got a golden ticket. (Sadly, if there are Oompa-Loompas in FNC, they’re keeping them well hidden.)

Looking good, F'NC! I took this photo as I was walking up to the arena for the tour. As you can see, there is a new outdoor ribbon board, and the old "HSBC ARENA" sign is gone, replaced by... a single "R". I'm assuming the workers who are installing a new "First Niagara Center" sign were rained out yesterday, but personally I think the "R" is whimsical and fun. I think they should leave it like this!

Before I get too far into the description of the arena, I feel compelled to admit that I was pretty intimidated by the idea of joining what I figured would be a well attended media event. I’ve always worn the label “fan blogger” with pride, but that doesn’t mean I feel totally comfortable waltzing into a room full of journalists all, “HEY Y’ALL! NICE TO MEET YOU. I’M A FAN BLOGGER.” When I first arrived at the arena, things actually were a little awkward. Instructed to head to the media room, I didn’t know where to go, and I wandered around a little aimlessly for awhile before walking into a room full of all the Buffalo sports media types. It was weird, and I can’t lie, a little scary.

But then it quickly became apparent that the people who didn’t know me (most people) weren’t going to pay much attention to me, and the guys who did already know me were going to be their usual nice selves. A sincere thanks to Andrew, Jeremy, and Mike for helping to ease me into the world of media access by being friendly and welcoming.

After a few comments from Ted Black, the tour was turned over to Stan Makowski, Jr. (the Sabres VP of Arena Operations) and
Frank Cravotta (Sabres Director of Creative Services), who, from what I gathered, were the two guys most responsible for executing the locker room plans. They were both excellent guides, but the thing that really pinged my attention at this point was the news that after the guided tour, we were going to get to “wander around, check the place out, and stay as long as we like.” THIS, was extremely interesting and welcome news. I’d been anticipating a very controlled tour through the locker rooms, and the news that I’d be welcome to poke around was music to my ears.

The first thing we saw was Lindy’s office, which sadly, I didn’t take a picture of. (I was still trying to get my sea legs with the “media hoard” scene, and I wasn’t sure about taking pictures with my phone. It took me about 2 more minutes before I started taking pictures of EVERYTHING.) Lindy’s office is behind glass, visible from the hallway, and apparently all the players have to walk past him to get into work. Harsh, Lindy.

After Lindy’s office, you enter the player’s lounge.

The Player’s Lounge:

This is a terrible picture, but you get the idea. This is the view of the player's lounge from behind the bar. This room has lots of comfortable looking furniture and a cozy fireplace. I was trying to describe this room to a BPO coworker, and I said, "Imagine they took our break room, and totally swankified it to the degree that you never wanted to leave."

Lots of bowls of healthy snacks, and fancy single-serving coffee makers, and a slick-looking bar. If I'd had more time (and more privacy) I would've gone back behind the bar, opened all the drawers, and seriously investigated what's in a "Sabres" kitchen. For example, I feel a little ashamed that I don't know what kind of knives are in that knife block behind the bar. In retrospect, this seems like important information.

This table was a little suspicious to me. Do they honestly have a tray of cookies available to the Sabres at all times? Cookies are delicious, and young men (in my experience) certainly enjoy them, but they're not a very healthy snack. I suspect these cookies are a prop, put there to inspire jealousy in the journalists. Note that the cookie tray is FULL. No Sabres have sampled those cookies.

Here's where the Sabres can send some emails if, for some reason, their phones/ipads/laptops are all broken. I like this feature a lot, mostly for sentimental reasons. It reminds me of the computer labs at college. I like the idea of Ryan Miller sending sappy emails to his lady love from these computers, because, if I recall, that's all anyone ever writes from computer lab computers. "Dear Noreen, today was a good day at practice. I doubt we'll ever lose again. But, I miss you terribly..."

The Video Room

This is an absurdly bad photo, but this is the video screening room. It's basically a small movie theater where the Sabres can go to study their opponents and also get yelled at about what they did wrong the night before. I like these little desks, where I imagine Lindy will occasionally make them sit and write, "I will not try to get too fancy in front of the home crowd" a hundred times in a row.

Here's another area for plotting and studying. I love those dry erase boards. One of my favorite jokes during a game is to talk in my Lindy voice during a timeout. "Okay. What I want you to do is skate down to the net, and shoot the puck INTO their net. Does everyone understand the plan?" I imagine a lot of those schemes will be planned in this little room.

The Dressing Room

This is the area that we’ll see a lot of on television. It’s round, and opulent, and it’s dimly lit in a way that makes everyone look attractive. In the center is a large Sabres light fixture and directly below that is a light box in the floor with the Sabres logo. This is no mere “carpet logo”. You’d have to be pretty spectacularly unaware of your surroundings to step on this logo.

After the tour was over, during the time when we were invited to wander around and look at whatever we liked, I caught a few moments alone in this room, and I gotta say, it was pretty awe-inspiring. This area is really, REALLY well done, and standing there alone, surrounded by the stalls, I wanted to pledge my allegiance to the Sabres, forever, and ever.

This picture doesn't really do justice to the light box in the floor. One neat feature of the light box is that it's removable, meaning, the image can be swapped out depending on the occasion or situation. For example, if the Sabres are in the playoffs, they might put the number of wins necessary to win the Stanley Cup in the light box. To honor Rick Martin, they would've put a "7" in the light box. This is a very artful and cool feature of the locker room

The pictures above the stalls do not correspond with the individual lockers, mostly because the players move their stalls around a lot. All of the photos in this room are of current Sabres. There is a lot of Sabres history represented in the hallway leading to the ice, but the dressing room belongs entirely to the current Sabres.

Here's Vanek's stall. It's worth mentioning that while we were in there, the dressing room was at LEAST 45,000 degrees. This is because they were "drying the equipment". The whole extreme-heat-thing was explained, but honestly, I wasn't paying very close attention because I was too busy trying to surreptitiously snoop in the stalls. Something about the heat being forced over the equipment, and state-of-the-art technology, and blah blah blah... Some of the more seasoned sports journalists in the room commented that it doesn't stink in there... yet.

Every stall has one of these cool looking pouches. I don't know what that Sabres keep in those pouches, but if I had one of those, that's where I'd keep my most prized keepsakes and trinkets. I covet these Sabres pouches. I covet them HARD. (Also, if I hadn't been afraid I'd be thrown out for excessive nosiness, I'd have opened up one of the hatches in the bench.)

Those are Crunchy's pads in the front of the photo, and Enroth's in the back. They were just laying there on the floor in front of the stalls. I resisted the urge to try the pads on.

I think these skate hooks above the stalls are kind of nifty. I also like how their little blade cozies have their jersey numbers on them.

This might be a decent time to mention that I don’t think I touched a single thing the entire time I was in the arena. Like, I literally don’t think I touched anything. Later, I thought about why this was, and I have two explanations: 1. I guess I’m a little superstitious. I mean, why risk jinxing the whole place by running my grubby hands over everything? Better to be safe than sorry.  2. I sort of felt like I was in a Sabres-themed museum. You don’t walk into the Albright Knox and touch the art, so why would I touch the stuff in the Sabres museum?

In the end, it just felt more respectful to their space to keep my hands to myself, but still, it’s kind of funny that I don’t think I left a single fingerprint in the hour and a half I spent at the arena.

Laundry Room


The laundry room is where I realized that this would be no ordinary “locker room tour.” This was where it really sunk in that the Sabres were basically being all, “Hey, come on in, Katebits! Look at whatever you’d like.”  For as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve been joking about trying to get an interview with the folks that do the Sabres laundry. I want to know everything there is to know about jersey maintenance.

One of the only things I asked Vanek and Ehrhoff in the limo was if they feel any sort of attachment to specific jerseys, or if they’d prefer a fresh new jersey every day. (Disappointingly, they both answered that they could not care less. I believe Vanek’s actual words were, “As long as it doesn’t stink, I’ll wear it.”)

So, the laundry room held a bit of mystic for me, if only because it represented a very-modest-dream realized.

Look! It's a stack of freshly laundered Sabres' socks!

Stacks of towels!

I don't know what this thing is, but it was in the laundry room, and I took a picture of it. It seems to be a little suitcase-type thing with a bunch of pouches. Stain stick organizer? Special detergents for the guys with allergies? Who knows.

Behind those people is a RACK OF JERSEYS! I KNOW. Try to contain your excitement. You don't want to look like a total goober in front of the journalists, do you?

The Medical Area

The Sabres have a little mini-hospital at the rink.

Here's where the Sabres hang out getting fixed up if they get injured during a game. There are three (maybe four?) tables like this. It kind of gives me the willies to imagine the Sabres hospital all filled up with injured Sabres.

Across from the medical tables is this medical station full of gauze, and Alka-Seltzer, and Tylenol. You can't see it in this picture, but on top of the cupboards are little medical models of spines and other hockey-related body bits.

Snippers

I have no idea what this is. It's a whirlpool, but it's too tiny for a Sabre. If a Sabre were to climb into this thing, he'd only be covered up to his thighs. (Exception: Gerbe might be waist-high.)

Here's a stack of weird Sabres towels that were next to the weird tiny whirlpool in the medical area. These towels sort reminded me of the blankets they put over you when you get x-rays at the dentist, but they're clearly too small and fluffy for that job. These are mystery towels.

The medical area was full of oddities. This is a bin full of soapy water, and in it is a strange-looking rack. What's up with this?

The Bathroom/Locker Room

This is room is adjacent to the bathrooms and showers. This area contains actual lockable lockers and a place for the Sabres to change out of their street clothes and into their Sabre-y stuff. I wish I'd taken more pictures of this area, but unfortunately I was distracted by the rows of toiletries on the counters by the sinks. Katebits: "Who cares about mega-fancy new lockers! There are bottles of Listerine and Lubriderm over here!"

Here are various team-provided products that the Sabres use to keep themselves sweet-smelling and their skin satiny-soft. Also, someone's hairbrush. Right behind these sinks are the toilets and urinals, which I briefly considered photographing but decided against in the interest of "acting like I've been there before."

The Sabres had, not one, but TWO, giant bottles of Listerine in the bathroom. I guess good breath and the prevention of gingivitis is an important team priority.

Here's the Sabres shower.

The Gym

The workout room is long and decorated by this cool astroturf carpet. You can't see it well in this photo, but there's a logo in the middle of this carpet. There was some discussion among the journalists about whether they were allowed to step on THAT logo. Personally, I don't understand the confusion about this issue. The rules are simple, guys. Play it safe, don't step on ANY logos, and Goose won't yell at you. It's easy!

Here are some balance balls and various stretchy exercise-y things.

At the end of the astroturf carpet are a couple of small rooms and offices, and in one of the rooms is this. It's a Bod Pod. I didn't get the details on this contraption, but I think it's some sort of horrible body fat calculator. I'm inherently afraid of the Bod Pod because, first of all, it's a crazy looking POD and if science fiction movies have taught me anything it's, "steer clear of pods," and second of all, I have noooooo interest in an ultra-accurate body fat measurement. When I look at this photo, I can easily picture the faces of various unhappy Sabres, forlornly looking out of the Bod Pod window, hands pressed to the glass in despair. Poor Sabres!

The gym has two fleets of bikes. The white bikes...

...and the black bikes. I'd like to think that one set of bikes is somehow more difficult and torturous than the other. Lindy: "DEREK, YOU WERE TOO SLOW TO THE BENCH AFTER YOUR SHIFTS TODAY. GET YOUR BUTT ON THE BIKE."" Roy-Z: (sheepishly) "Black bike?" Lindy: "NO. WHITE BIKE." Roy-Z: (cries)

Back behind all the bikes is a bunch of weight-lifting equipment that I didn't photograph for some reason. In the middle of the weight area, were these two boxes, one of which has the old red "B" on it. I took this photo because it was literally the only thing in the entire place where I noticed an old logo. The "B" with the sword through it is still alive and well in the locker room (all of the other B's I saw were gold), but I seriously don't think I saw a slug the entire time I was there. F'NC really HAS been de-slugged.

Here's a pull-y arm machine. I think this is where Staffy does his hissing cat exercises.

I don't know what a "stabilizer" is, but the Sabres have one.

The Visitor’s Locker Room

The Visitor’s locker room is predictably less awesome than the Sabres locker room. It’s long, rectangular, and utilitarian. While I was in the visitor’s locker room Paul Hamilton mentioned that he’s always thought that you should make the visitors as comfortable as possible. Give them comfy chairs and keep the room just a liiiiittle too warm. I have to say, I agree with Paul on this one. Do what you can to make the visitors sleepy, that’s what I say. Hell, give them fluffy cots to lay down on between periods and pipe in meditational music.

Apparently, the Sabres take an opposite philosophy: provide the visitors with exactly what they need, and not much more.

If the visitor's locker room could talk, it would say, "Visitors, you guys are lame, and the Sabres are going to win this game."

If the visitor's shower could talk it would say, "Visitors, you guys are lame, and now you're about to take a tepid, unpleasant shower."

This was one of the funnest things I saw all day. It's a dry erase board! With the names of Leafs on it! And Sabres power play units! One of the reasons I love this dry erase board is because I found it in a closet-like room in the visitor's area. (I can't TELL you how fun it was to wander around the bowels of the arena, opening whatever door I thought I could safely get away with opening.) I also love this dry erase board because it's just so behind-the-scene-y. After Heather B. saw this photo she wanted to know if I'd asked anyone whose handwriting this is. I didn't ask about that, but I think this demonstrates well why Heather and I are BFFS.

Here's the visitor's bench.

My Seriously Inept Attempt at Documenting the Artistic Touches Designed to Honor the History of the Franchise and Inspire the Current Sabres

I did a COMICALLY BAD job of documenting the hallways of the new locker room facilities at First Niagara Center. There are two areas of really neat artwork that the Sabres will walk by every single workday. One is the wall of names and retired numbers, and the other is a wall of pucks, which commemorate important events in Sabres history. Here’s the only picture I took of ALL of that.

There is a spot for the Stanley Cup on this very cool wall.

My excuse for not spending more time on these genuinely SPECTACULAR features is that I figured the professional media outlets would cover these features well. If I was invited on the media tour for a “reason” it wasn’t to mimic The Buffalo News (poorly), it was to find the dry erase boards and other assorted arena oddities that Harrington or Vogl might not be inclined to fuss over. Also, during the period of time when the tour group was looking at the hallways, I took the opportunity to slip back into the locker room and steal a few minutes alone, soaking up the vibe in there. That is a memory from the day that I’ll cherish for a long time.

However, I really wish that I’d had enough time to really take a long, long look at these artful hallways. After the guided part of the tour was over, the Sabres graciously said, “Stay as long as you’d like,” but since I knew they didn’t really mean that (especially since “as long as I’d like” actually equaled, “Can I sleep over? Those lounge couches look pretty comfortable, and I see you have plenty of snacks to tide me over for dinner”), I knew I had to strategically pick my spots. If I ever have another opportunity to walk through the locker rooms, the first thing I’m going to do is head towards those hallways, and read every single name, and every single word.

Tool, Sticks, and other Equipment-type stuff!

Seeing things like racks of sticks and skate sharpeners was by FAR my favorite part of the tour. I desperately wanted to pick up all the little tools, and open all the drawers of assorted hockey-related knick-knacks. I’m not sure why these things hold such interest for me, but they do.

I might not have taken any photographs of the gorgeous hallways, but I DID take about 45 pictures of these drying racks for skates and gloves.

It looks like something from a nightmare.

All of the tools are shiny new and red.

Here's some stuff for fixing other stuff.

I really like this. Small cubbys full of skate blades.

Along with the dry erase board, this was my other favorite find from the day. It's where they keep the skate laces! THIS IS IMPORTANT SABRES INFORMATION, YOU GUYS!

Sticks! And lots of them! Like I said earlier, I don't think I touched a single thing while I was in the arena, but this was DEFINITELY the hardest place to keep my hands to myself.

For some reason I think it's cute that someone has used a Sharpie to change the number on Regehr's sticks.

 __________

So, 3900 words later, we have FINALLY reached the end of my tour of the Sabres tour. If you’d like to read more about the locker room and look at photos much, much better than the ones I took with my phone, I recommend going here.

A heartfelt thanks to the Sabres for inviting me to this event and for being so welcoming while I was there. It was an incredibly fun afternoon. And, of course, thanks to the Pegulas for buying the Sabres, being generally awesome, and building a new locker room for us to tour.

Let’s go Buff-a-lo!

5 Things

Okay, I PROMISED myself, under pain of death (well, okay, not death, but maybe “pain of extreme self loathing”) that I would blog this week, NO MATTER WHAT. According to my calendar, today is Thursday, which makes tomorrow Friday, which means time is running out. So, here I am.

Hi.

The bad news is, I really don’t have a lot to say. The good news is, damn it, I’ll be saying it in the form of a blog post, come hell or high water.

You will probably notice that for the most part I’m choosing not to address the multitude of tragedies that struck the hockey world over the summer. Please don’t interpret this as a lack of heartfelt and sorrowful consideration. Many times over the last few week I’ve sat down in front of the computer to express sorrow, or to opine on a number of issues, but honestly… I just can’t. There was too much sadness this summer for me to address here. This frivolous blog is no place to be discussing matters of life and death. I just can’t do it. Maybe someday, but not today.

So, onward!

1. I went to the US Open last week with the Ookies, and it was every bit as fun as “going to the US Open with the Ookies” sounds like it might be fun.

Suh-weet

I’m no tennis expert, but to my untrained eye, the U.S. Open appears to be a wonderland of tennis. While you’re at the U.S. Open, you wander blissfully around, flitting in and out of matches, and marveling at the enormous spectacle of it all.

We went at the very beginning of the tournament, and I knew from the get-go that we probably wouldn’t be seeing any big stars. This ended up being totally fine with me though, because it turns out I was MUCH more drawn to the tiny courts than I was to any of the bigger venues. I think the coolest thing about the U.S. Open is how close you can get to the action.

Here's a shot I took with my phone from the FRONT row of a doubles match. The front row is close enough to feel a little dangerous. Also, any court this small is very likely to put you in the immediate vicinity of at least some portion of the player's coaching/support entourage, so be carefully about repeatedly referring to one of the players as "Andy Murray's less talented younger brother" unless you're prepared to field some dirty looks.

I loved the tiny courts, and if I ever return to the U.S Open (I WILL RETURN), I think my game plan will be to just pick a tiny court and camp out there all day long. I will, however, need someone to fetch me cold drinks and snacks so that I don’t lose my seats, so if you’re up to the task, you should come along.

2. For a variety of reasons, ranging from normal-offseason-antsyness to unrelenting-tragedy-and-despair, THIS OFFSEASON NEEDS TO STOP. And guess what? It will! Really soon!

Hockey is almost here now. It’s perfectly reasonable to start anticipating the hockey season. Football starts tonight, and after football, hockey comes right behind. Training camp starts ONE WEEK from tomorrow. Ticket drafts are occurring across the land. Season tickets are available for pickup MONDAY. It’s happening you guys, it’s really happening. Hockey is returning.

3. Along with hockey will come a whole slew of new Sabres, and speaking of those Sabres… I was practically Vile Leino’s landlord.  Allow me to explain: My friend’s fiancee’s brother almost rented his carriage house to Ville Leino. I KNOW. Can you imagine how much better this blog would’ve gotten if I had access to a spare set of keys to Ville Leino’s apartment? INFINITELY BETTER. But alas, Ville chose a different apartment.

(Private to Ville Leino: wise move)

(Private to everyone else in the world: I’m just kidding. If, by sheer coincidence, Ville Leino had moved into an apartment owned by a friend of mine, I would’ve employed the super suave move I’ve used for every other Sabre I’ve ever encountered in a real life situation- pretend I don’t recognize him and then hide behind the nearest large object just in case he tries to make eye contact. Not only would I not harass him, I’d probably avoid the entire square mile surrounding his apartment for the duration of his lease.)

4. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m on a diet, but this summer I’ve been sort of trying to watch what I eat. (Can’t you just feel the commitment in that last sentence?) This week I’ve been feeling a little cranky about the lack of delicious desserts in my life. In an effort to stave off the inevitable eating of a genuinely delicious dessert, I bought some Wegmans brand sugar-free pudding yesterday. I just ate one now, and it was truly gross. There was absolutely NO HINT of “delicious dessert” in that little plastic cup. If you’d fed me that pudding in a blindfolded taste test and asked me to identify the substance, I would’ve replied, “…dish soap?”

I do NOT recommend Wegmans brand sugar-free pudding. At all.

5. I ordinarily put “Live Chats” extremely low on my list of things-to-do, but Ted Black’s live chats really are a thing of beauty. Ted Black is legit funny, and he has never, not for even one second come across as a d-bag. In fact, Black seems so at home online that I’ve started to wonder if perhaps he already has a top-secret twitter account, and he’s actually someone we’ve already been interacting with for months. I’m starting to wonder which one of the zillions of Sabres fans on twitter is really Ted Black, just letting it all hang out.

Anyhooch, I recommend these chats. They’re fun. AND, if you’re very lucky, and you pepper Ted and Kevin Snow with enough ridiculous questions/twitter comments, you might get yourself a shoutout.

Yay! It pays to be annoying!

Series Score, 2-2 WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I freaking love this. I love the Sabres. I love going to these games. I love being so effing nervous that I forget to breath.  I love the feeling of my body trying to relax and recover from the stress of the game during the intermission.  I love the fact that I’m still buzzed with adrenaline an hour after the game ends. I love it when Lindy is proud in the postgame interview. I love it when Nathan Gerbe is a honey badger. I love it when Mike Grier gets a scoring chance. I love it when Goose puts his head down and pumps his arms and skates as fast as he can. I love it when Tyler Myers knocks Briere over, repeatedly. I love it when Sabretooth has his little drum. I love the little “ding ding” sound that the ticket readers make as they scan the tickets. I love trying to decide which outfits are lucky. I love watching the players lean against the bench during the tv timeouts. I love that I have such a great view of Ryan Miller’s saves from my seats. I love whooping with victory on the escalators on the way out. I love my usher. I love listening to the postgame in the car on the way home (when they win, ONLY when they win). I love having a pom-pom. I love watching the out of town scoreboard. I love watching them fist-bump Sabretooth at the end of a game. I love how Niedermayer really IS better in the playoffs. I love the responsiveness of the crowd. I love how “Let’s go Buff-a-lo” twirls around the arena. I love that all around me I can hear people saying, “I can’t handle this stress,” when really, they can. I love drinking beers faster than I ordinarily would, because I’m nervous. I love watching the other half of the arena leap to their feet a split second sooner than us when the Sabres score on that end. I love how I manage to look from the ice to the clock, from the ice to the clock, a hundred times in those last 5 seconds. I love it when Ryan Miller is the hero. I love being with Buffalonians, all of us cheering for the same thing.

I love this.

This Is A Special Time to Be A Sabres Fan

I had the great pleasure of attending the game on Sunday with my friends Laura, Nate, and their adorable toddler, Lucas.  We sat at one of those little tables in the Harbor Club.  We had table service all evening, and Lucas had a little extra space to wiggle around.  The value of these perks canNOT be overstated.  I think everyone in our party agreed that sitting at a table for a game is AWESOME.  What you lose in proletarian camaraderie by not sitting with the riff-raff, you MORE than get back in chicken fingers and ice cream sundaes delivered to your seats.

What I’m trying to say is if you are a single man between the ages of 30-45, and you have seats in this section of the arena, you should be my boyfriend.  Actually, let’s expand the age range to 25-60.  These are special seats.  Ah, what the hell, you only live once… If you are a man OR a woman between the ages of 18-100, and you have seats in this section of the arena, call me. You won’t be sorry.

Since Lucas is the best 2-and-a-half-year-old boy IN THE WORLD, this is pretty much what he did for the entire game. He stood on his chair, leaned against the glass, and watched the game (he also danced when there was music playing). When the Sabres scored, he would scream and high five everyone. Actually, he did that when the Sens scored too, but he'd quickly take it back when we gave the goal the thumbs down sign and told him, "Sens are yuck!" They're raising this kid right, I tell ya.

I don’t very often do recaps of my experience at the arena anymore, but I feel compelled to write a few words about this particular afternoon, not just because I was sitting in fancy seats, but also because the atmosphere in the arena has been great recently.  It’s really difficult to quantify the change in attitude, but there’s no doubt it’s there.  The team has been playing very well, and the fanbase has been invigorated by the ownership change, and you can feel it in the arena.

This particular game was obviously out of the ordinary for two big reasons- 1. It was, in many ways, the first home game of the new ownership.  This was the first chance for Pegula and his team to really put their stamp on the game day experience.  And 2. The Sabres community was still reeling from the news of Rick Martin’s passing.

The news of Martin’s death was handled beautifully by the Sabres organization.  Rick Jeanneret’s recorded message was simple and elegant, and the moment of silence had weight.  It wasn’t just a perfunctory gesture to mark the occasion.  I was impressed, top to bottom, with how, in an extremely short amount of time, the Sabres staff handled the situation.

The game day experience was slightly different in a couple of other ways too.

Everyone got a free program when they came in the door.  I think this is an extremely nice (if not very environmentally friendly) gesture.  The program is very glossy and I enjoyed flipping through it.  I probably won’t take one for every game that I attend, but I do think it makes a nice souvenir for the fans (especially kids) who don’t come to many games.  I always try to stay cognizant of just how expensive it is for a family to attend a hockey game.  I come from fairly modest means myself, and while I was fortunate to get to go to a lot of Minnesota Twins games as a kid, we always did it on the cheap.  We sat in the cheap seats, and we kids knew not to even bother asking for souvenirs.  So, when I see a nice glossy program, with pictures of all the Sabres and all the Sens, it’s very easy to imagine my 9-year-old self treating it as a treasure.  I think I would’ve happily poured over that program as a kid.   Anything that the Sabres can do to make it easier and more fun for families to take their kids to a game, is a great idea in my book.  Not every kid who goes to a Sabres game gets the jerseys and the foam paws and all the bells and whistles, but every kid gets a fun, colorful program.  It’s nice.

Good work, Sabres!

There were a bunch of minor tweeks to the in-game presentation, and I won’t bother listing them all here, but overall I REALLY appreciate that Pegula’s team is freshening up the arena experience.  I’m not one to complain about specific songs, or pregame videos, but I’d love to see a little more variety at the games.  It’s interesting to me to think about this aspect of Sabres production.  I seriously doubt that the Sabres staff was working under the directive to “be boring” with Golisano and Quinn, but it’s cool to see how much a breath of fresh air can make a difference.  It’s possible that the Ted Black and Pegula have already expanded the budget for game-day production, but most of what I noticed in terms of change seemed primarily a product of a new burst of creativity.  If nothing else, the arena staff seems creatively invigorated and that makes me so so so so so happy.  I’ve often thought that in-game arena production, in the right hands, could be something akin to a REALLY awesome blog, just bursting with energy and genuine enthusiasm for the product.  If creativity is given free rein at HSBC Arena, I don’t see any reason why the game experience can’t continue to get more vibrant, funnier, and more exciting.  Presenting the games well is SUCH a good way of growing enthusiasm for the Sabres.

I do want to take the time to RAVE about one thing: after every goal, when they played the replay on the jumbotron they piped in RJ’s call along with the video.  I cannot tell you how much I loved this. It felt like I got to celebrate every goal twice; once when the Sabres scored it, and then 30 seconds later when I heard Jeanneret call it.  That second burst of energy that I got hearing RJ screech, “HE SCOOOOOoooOOOOoooRES!” just ramped up the happiness SO MUCH.  I absolutely LOVED it, and I REALLY hope the Sabres keep doing this.  (And just as an aside, I love the idea that the  players hear RJ’s call too.  I’ve often wondered if the players have a real sense of how RJ calls the game.  They’re on the ice, afterall, while Rick’s working.  I’m sure they’ve heard the odd call here or there as a soundtrack to their specific highlights, but I doubt they really have a feel for Rick Jeanneret.  For some reason, I just love the idea that someday Chris Butler might hear RJ squawk, “THE BUTLER DID IT!” while he’s celebrating a goal on the ice.  Rick Jeanneret means so much to us fans, and I’d love it if his voice become part of the memories that players take away from their goal celebrations.  I dunno, maybe I’m over romanticizing it, but really, I want players like Thomas Vanek to unconsciously associate their biggest on-ice triumphs with the sound of Rick Jeanneret’s voice.  It just seems right.)

I guess that’s all!  I had SUCH a wonderful time at the game on Sunday.  I love Laura and Nate and Lucas, and I love the Sabres. I won’t be at the game tonight, but sure wish I could be.

This is a special time to be a Sabres fan.  The changes we’re seeing, the responsiveness we’re getting to our suggestions, it all just makes me feel great about rooting for this team.

Punchy

Well, I think we can all agree that last night’s game against the Blue Jackets was awesome and that the Sabres are never going to lose again.  (Full disclosure: I’m rushing to get this post finished within the next few minutes so that it can be published before the eternally lame Senators swoop in to challenge the “The Sabres are never going to lose again” theory.  If the Sabres do win tonight, they really AREN’T ever going to lose again.)

I attended the game with the always-hilarious Jessica and it was one of the best times evvvver.

There are roughly ten million things to discuss when the Sabres are the triumphant kickers in a thorough ass-kicking such as the one we all enjoyed last night, but time is short, so I’ll cut right to the chase.

“I’m all done kicking your ass now.  It was super easy.  Who’s next?”

First of all, let’s just all admit it.  Even the most ardent Kaleta fans had no idea Pat could do that.  That was….terrifying.  And amazing.  And hot.  And revolting.  That was me alternating between blood thirsty howls of approval and cringing in my arena chair thinking, “Holy Mary, Mother of Lindy Ruff.  Kaleta is trying to kill that guy.  Kill him, as in dead.”

And THEN, after the incredible flurry of punching was over, Patrick Kaleta leapt to his feet and did the douchiest thing I have ever seen. He theatrically washed his hands for our benefit, using the universal sign for, “Let me hear your roars of approval, Sabres fans.  I am a douche, but I am your douche, and I am mighty.”

And roar we did, for our beloved Douche King.

I was so taken aback and taken with the gesture that I’ve been making it all day.  Pretty much all day long I’ve been doing the, “Kaleta hand wash” gesture to mark my meager accomplishments.

This morning when I put my dirty coffee cup in the sink?

“All done with my coffee, bitches.  I’ll load the dishwasher when I’m damn good and ready.”

During the dress rehearsal this morning after we finished running the Brahms?

“Brahms, you’re the best, but you’re really no match for me.  I will play all your notes and then I will punch you in the face a few extra times for good measure.  Don’t act like you don’t like it, Brahms.”

At Home Depot, picking out a gigantic flower-pot to go with my new gigantic plant?

“Flower pot, I’m going to buy you, and then I’m going to take you home, and I’m going to fill you with dirt and a giant plant and I’m going to put you in the corner.  I’ll put you in the corner WHERE YOU BELONG, BEEYAAAAACH!

After mailing my Netflix back?

“That’s RIGHT, West Wing Season 3 Disc 3, I watched your ass, and now I’m sending you back to the Netflix headquarters.  FEEL MY POWER!”

_________

I should warn you in advance.  I intend to get a lot of mileage out of this one.

“I wrote a blog post, mofos!  KNEEL BEFORE ME AND REJOICE.”

 

Recap

At first it seemed like they were not going to win, and then it was like, “Well, maaaaybe they can win.  I mean…they’re not losing right now.”  And then they won!

Hooray!

The End.

10 Things

1. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

2. That overtime was RIDICULOUSLY fun.  That game was ridiculously fun.  I haven’t been that bonkers during a regular season game, well, possibly ever.  The arena had a GREAT buzz tonight, and the overtime period was incredible.  Great, great entertainment.  That was my first win in the arena this year, and IT FELT GOOD.  More please.  I’m home now, and I’m bouncing off the walls, filled with big beers and warm fuzzies.

3. At some point during the Rangers game last week, I got so frustrated with Thomas Vanek that I got a little temper tantrum-y.  If I weren’t such a lazy blogger I would’ve written a post in which I declared that Darcy should have taken the draft picks from Edmonton.  This was a new low in my relationship with Thomas Vanek.  As much as I’ve bitched about him in the past, I’d never actually given up on him before.  But I gave up on him last week.  I really did.

Thomas Vanek is never going to be the guy we thought he would be when the Sabres signed him to the seven year contract, but, he’s never going to let us give up on him either.  He’s got “it”.  He may not have access to it all the time, but when he’s got it, he’s got it.

I’ve said this before, but to me, the game looks different, and it really feels like anything is possible when Thomas Vanek is hot.  There are no other Sabres that make me feel this way, including Ryan Miller. (Maybe I just take Crunchy for granted.)  Somehow Thomas Vanek alone perfectly represents my vast array of feelings about this team.  As low as I was about him last week, that’s how high watching him made me feel tonight.

Thomas mother effing Vanek.  I want him to be awesome.  I love it when he’s awesome.

4. Tyler Myers had the overtime game winning goal, which makes him a hot, hot bitch.  Sekera (a guy who Lindy has always been more than happy to bench) hit the jackpot by being the guy playing with Myers when he started to take baby steps out of his slump.  If Sekera and Myers develop any type of lasting chemistry, Darcy better roll out the lifetime contract for Sekera, because I don’t want to see, “My Name Is Tyler Myers And I Miss My Defensive Partner, Part II”.   I’m glad Myers is starting to look like himself again, and if Sekera can help Myers forget about Hank, all the power to him.

5. At the start of OT, when the Sabres had about 30 seconds left to kill on the PK, Lindy sent out Myers, Connolly, and Morrisonn.  I thought it was pretty interesting (and more than a little bonkers) that those were the three guys Lindy trusted most in that situation.  Lindy was right.  It was an admirable PK, start to finish.

6. Damn it’s good to have Ryan Miller back.

7. I sat up in the 300s tonight with my buddies from work (I was playing the role of “one of the guys” this evening), and I’ve got to say, the 300s are VERY fun.  Granted, this was a particularly exciting game, so maybe my regular seats would’ve been just as boisterous….but I kind of doubt it.  I really have to hand it to the 300s, it’s a hoot up there, and the view is great.

8. The Sabres have done something INCREDIBLY clever.  (I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “‘Clever’ and ‘Sabres’?  Those words do not belong together,” but bear with me here.)  By sucking beyond our scariest nightmares in October, they absolutely convinced us that they were a terrible team.  They were so bad, that we had no choice but to believe in their shittiness.  And now?  When they don’t suck?  We all think, “EEEEEEEEEEEE!  The Sabres are so scrappy and over-achieving and wonderful!  I want to marry them all!”  This is an astonishing feat.  I think I might love the Sabres more because they don’t suck than I would have had they never sucked in the first place.  Well played, Sabres.  Well.  Played.

9. I like it when guys wear jerseys that fit with their body-type.  Like, if you’re tall and skinny, I think you should wear a Myers or a Miller.  If you’re mega cute and cuddly, you should wear a Pominville.  If you’re just basically dude-shaped, not too tall and not too short, you should wear a Vanek or a Connolly.  If you’re short and kind of a punk, I think you should wear a Roy.  I thought of this tonight because I saw a tall skinny guy in a Myers jersey standing next to a short guy in a Roy jersey and I thought, “Well, that just looks right.

10.I really, really loved that game.  Sometimes you just have to go ahead and blow the 3rd period lead in order to set up the best OT ever.  Hockey is great.

Organists Unite!

Okay, now that I’ve had a few hours away from the hockey game, I’m feeling considerably less mopey, and I want to tell you about something I learned at the game today.

I think I have mentioned before that I sit right next to the organ in the arena.  Like, RIGHT next to the organ.  So, today we got to talking to Tim, the guy who plays the organ.  (Actually, Tim is one of two guys who play the organ at Sabres games.  The other guy is Ken.)  We talked about the Sabres, and being musicians in Buffalo, and how Tim’s daughter reads TWC (Isn’t that cool?!  Hi, Erin!), and how hard it is to plan your gigs when you don’t KNOW THE DARN PLAYOFF SCHEDULE, and how the Sabres should play less loud pop music in the arena and more hardcore organ shredding.  Over the course of the conversation, Tim let a REALLY charming and interesting bit of behind-the-scenes information slip.

Get THIS:

At some point a few years ago, one of the NHL organists (I think he said the Carolina organist, but I’m not sure I’m remembering that correctly), decided that all the NHL organists should be BFFs.  So, he started an email list, and they keep each other informed of all the organ-related goings-on in the NHL.  Tim just called it an “email list” but you know me, I’m assuming that they all email each other all day long, talking smack about each other’s teams and gossiping about one other.  The email list ALONE was hugely interesting to me, but then Tim told me that the NHL ORGANISTS HAVE A FANTASY HOCKEY LEAGUE.

Isn’t that the best thing you have ever heard?

Private to NHL organists: Tim gave me permission to write about this, so if any of you are reading this blog post and are outraged that I am spilling the beans about your [super rad] secret society, you can take it up with him. :)

That Was Really Awesome

I really wasn’t prepared for how much more awesome the playoffs would feel.  Oh sure, you guys kept telling me, but I guess I had to experience it for myself.   Playoff hockey in person is just astounding.

First of all, the crowd.  Wow.

I’ve bristled a bit all season when I’ve heard people bagging on the HSBC crowd for being too quiet.  As most of you know, this was my first year as a season ticket holder, so even if the crowd was a little subdued compared to previous years, I wanted to love it, and I did.  I loved HSBC Arena and the people I shared the games with this season, passionately and with all my heart.  So, when people kept telling me, “You won’t believe how much wilder the arena can get during the playoffs,” a small part of me was thinking, “Oh please, that’s just the old ‘everything-was-better-a-few-years-ago’ Buffalo thing, talking”  I kind of didn’t believe that the crowd would suddenly change, as if a flip had been switched, just because it was playoff time.

But that’s exactly how it was.  It was as if a switch got flipped.

I think Jessica said it best in the comments a few days ago: “This is the best time of year for fans to lead with their hearts and not their heads.”  That’s exactly how if felt last night.  All of a sudden, everyone was on the same page, cheering for the Sabres.  Everyone was cheering with their hearts instead of their heads.  It was loud and raucous and wonderful.  The atmosphere was incredibly special to me, and even though I’ve been to nearly 50 games over the last three seasons , I think last night was the game I became a real citizen of HSBC Arena.

Second of all, the game. In the immortal words of Rick Jeanneret, “WOW.  DOUBLE WOW.”

There were times last night when I was thinking, “WHO IS THIS TEAM?!  Who are they…and can I marry them ALL?”  A flip was switched with the Sabres, as well as in the crowd.  Playoff hockey really is a different game.  It’s wilder, and harder, and all around MORE AWESOME, which seems weird to say, because frankly, I think regular season hockey is pretty damn awesome already.

Of course I’ve watched the playoffs before, so I know what playoff hockey looks like, but to suddenly see the Sabres, my Sabres, playing real playoff hockey like they meant it, well, it was super cool.  My doubts about how the Sabres would perform in the playoffs were always there just because I couldn’t imagine them playing as hard as, say, the Pens and the Caps played last postseason.  But now, after seeing Jason Pominville (!) lay a hit on Chara with my own two eyes, I’m a believer.  I was really impressed.

The Sabres have looked like a playoff team all season, but last night they looked like a team in the playoffs, and it made me incredibly happy.

I can’t believe I get to go back tomorrow.

___________________________

A few thoughts about the game and last night in general:

- I’ve always booed Chara, mostly because it cracked me up.  Truthfully, I’ve actually always liked him, and I really only booed him because it cracked me up.  (Robin and I referred to him for years as “The Guy We Boo For No Apparent Reason.”)  But things are different now.  What a douche.  Last night I booed that guy with genuine malice in my heart.  I will do so again tomorrow.

- A lot of forwards had impressive games, but the one who really amazed me was Thomas Vanek.  He had a few shifts last night that reminded me of last year, when some nights he was the only guy I could see on the ice.  I LOVE it when Vanek is the only player I can see on the ice.  I love it so so so much.  If Atlas is back…..*stops to ponder what it might mean for this postseason if Atlas really is back*……man oh man.

- Last night during the first period for awhile I was thinking, “Gee, the Bruins are hitting REALLY hard, I don’t know if the Sabres can deal.”  And then, a few minutes later I realized that the Sabres were dealing.  Quite capably, in fact.  I was actually impressed with the Bruins last night (rightly or wrongly, I think of them as a passionless team), but I was MORE impressed with the Sabres willingness and ability to push back.  Screw you, Bruins!

- Derek Roy played a terrific game.

- Toni Lydman is the best.

- I heard Julien’s postgame comments in the car on the way home, and I was very unimpressed.  Basically all he said was, “Well, I thought we played well enough to win.  Hopefully we’ll win on Saturday.”  Thems fightin’ words!

- I also heard Ryan Miller’s postgame comments on the car on the way home, and I was, as usual, very impressed.  The thing that he said that I loved the most was about the second period (which was fairly puke-tastic).  He said something like (I’m paraphrasing), “If we do this right, we’ve got two more months of hockey.  Not every period is going to go our way.  The important thing is that we were way better in the third.”  That’s pretty much how I felt about the second period too.  Yeah, the second period was WAY lame (that’s where having Crunchy comes in SUPER handy), but they pulled themselves back together, and they WON THAT SHIT.  The Sabres are now 31-0 when entering the 3rd period with a lead this season.  31-0. That’s THIRTY ONE WINS, and ZERO losses.  This team knows how to lock it down.

- Sabretooth rappelled from the rafters, you guys!  I’ve always assumed that maybe it was actually Daniel Briere in the Sabretooth suit back when he regularly rappelled, because that tradition seemed to disappear after the Briere-era.  It’s something I’ve always been sad I missed.  Was it always just a playoff thing?  At any rate, I might have squealed out loud when I saw the spotlight on Sabretooth way up there.

- Raffi Torres!  All of a sudden!  Raffi Torres!

- I have two minor quibbles about the crowd last night: 1. I DISAPPROVE of goalie taunting until the goalie has DONE SOMETHING DUMB.  For goodness sakes, people were busting out the “Tuuuuka, Tuuuuka,” when the game was still scoreless. I didn’t think Rask did anything that warranted a goalie taunt last night, but I will admit that in the third period when the score was locked at 2-1, I did feel a strong urge to join in.  “Tuuuuuka, Tuuuuuuka,” seems like a VERY satisfying thing to chant.  Hopefully he’ll have a bad game tomorrow and I’ll be able to taunt him with a clear conscience. 2.  I realize that chanting U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A is really just our way of chanting “We love you Crunchy!” but the Olympics are over, AND BOSTON IS IN THE UNITED STATES.  We need a better, “Yay for Crunchy” cheer.  (May I suggest, “Yay for Crunchy!”)

- Tyler Ennis really is good.  He came close to two highlight reel goals last night.  One of these nights he’s going to score a beauty.


…A Blog About the Buffalo Sabres

Observations 2
I can be reached at: willfulcaboose [at] gmail [dot] com

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