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Here We Go!

You guys, I think I’m still sort of reeling from the news that the Sabres freaking MADE THE PLAYOFFS.  The fact that we now get to watch them in the playoffs just feels like an absurdly wonderful/terrifying bonus.

I am determined, DETERMINED, to enjoy this.

Let’s just give 110% and try to have fun out there.  We’ll meet back here tomorrow and swap stories.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Lets Go Buff-a-lo!

Sabres vs. Flyer 4/8/11

I often have a difficult time writing about the biggest games. When the Sabres play a wild game with lots of different storylines, I find it difficult to focus a post.

I wish I was a better writer so I could describe to you how the game on Friday busted my heart right open.

Usually I write this blog with an audience in mind, but this post is mostly for myself.  I want to have a detailed description of this game.  I don’t care if I can’t figure out a way to package this post into one cohesive thought, I just want to have something to read later, to remind myself of the day the Sabres clinched their spot in the 2011 playoffs.

Going with Renee: Those of you who follow me on Twitter, know that until Thursday, I didn’t have tickets to the game.  (This may, or may not, be because at the beginning of the season, I may, or may not, have sold my tickets to a Flyers fan.  How could I have POSSIBLY predicted Pegula and Alumni/Fan Appreciation Night?!)  But, at the last-minute, Renee THE WONDERFUL, decided to bring me to the game.  Renee’s seats are AWESOME.  First row balcony, center ice.  I had so so so much fun watching the game and then celebrating the victory with Renee.

The alumni: I’m a new fan, and I’m naturally suspicious of nostalgia, so the alumni aspect of the evening wasn’t necessarily designed to cater to me, but, I’ve been feeling more and more attached to the history of the Sabres.  I was genuinely moved to see all of those men in Sabres uniforms on the ice. Once a Sabre, always a Sabre.  I’d like to think the alumni played a role in the win on Friday.  Somehow, all of the hopes and the dreams of every past Sabre were on the ice in the 3rd period.

Thomas Vanek: I know that Gerbe scored the goal of the year, but Thomas Vanek was the story for me. He made two passes to Pominville during the game that were so beautiful I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about them.  And then, of course, the OT goal, and the moment he spent plastered against the glass, celebrating, face-to-face with the front row. I am so proud to root for Thomas Vanek.

The guy sitting next to us: I was sitting next to a guy who came to the game alone, just because he felt he had to be there. I was strangely moved by this, probably because the day before, I’d been scrolling through Stub Hub, considering buying a single ticket to the game.  I understood where that guy was coming from, and I admire that he made it happen.  He DID have to be there.

He and I were of similar minds about the game.  We kept turning to each other, and saying determinedly, “One point.  We just need one point.”  There is something so special about bonding with a stranger over sports. It doesn’t happen with every Sabres fan I meet, but he and I seemed to have a similar Sabres-disposition, and at times it felt like we were working in tandem to will the Sabres to OT.  At the end of the night we shook hands, and thanked each other for the experience.

Lindy putting Miller in the 3rd Period: I could NOT have been more shocked and electrified when Ryan Miller skated out to start the 3rd period.  I loved it.  LOVED IT.  WHAT a move by Lindy Ruff.

As much as I loved Enroth’s performance during the stretch-run (and seriously, he saved the season), I always wanted Crunchy back. The shock factor of seeing him skate out for the 3rd cannot be overstated, and after the shock, came the charge of confidence. At least that’s how I experienced it. Lindy put it all on the line with that goalie change, and it paid off. The team responded. Miller is the backbone of this team. End of story. It was an amazing and truly gutsy move by Lindy.

Lindy in general: I have a new appreciation for Lindy Ruff. Even at my most critical, I’ve never doubted that on a fundamental level, Lindy is a good coach. But truthfully, I’ve mostly been taking your word for it, because I’ve been pretty underwhelmed by his work during my fandom. Things are different now. Now, I’ve seen firsthand what Lindy is capable of when he is firing on all cylinders. I seriously doubt I’ll ever be a, “he’s got a job for life” kind of Lindy fan, but I will never again call for him to be fired without a profound awareness of what we’d be losing if he got away.  It has been an honor and a treat to watch him work these last few months.

The last minute of regulation: Without question, when I think back on this game, my most prominent memory will be the last minute of regulation. It was such an oddity to see the Sabres and the Flyers essentially standing around, letting the clock run down. I will never forget the feeling of the arena, welling up with noise and pride, as we watched Tyler Myers twirl around with the puck. The Sabres came so far for that moment, and it was such an unexpected treat that we as spectators got to experience their clinch in one loud, glorious minute. Usually the last minute of an important game is terrifying, but this one was fearless and electric. I will never forget it. Ever.

Seeing SarahJess7 in the bathroom: Right after the game, as I was walking out of the bathroom, I heard someone say “Kate!” and I turned to see Sarah standing in line. In an instant we were hugging and screaming and jumping up and down. We behaved like children. It was a moment of pure joy, and a highlight from a night full of highlights.

Which brings me to my last, and most important, point

Harbor Club and Swanee House: The best thing about Friday night was how it felt like every time I turned around at the arena, I saw a friend.  From the plaza, to the very end of the night at The Swanee House, I laughed and celebrated with wonderful people.  The arena is starting to feel like home, and friendships that started online, are now relationships that I will cherish forever.

I cannot possibly express enough gratitude for the richness that the Sabres have added to my life in Buffalo.

Thank you, Sabres fans!

Important and Lovely Graphbits

Today I mentioned on Twitter that I’ve been checking the NHL standings, like, 45,000 times a day.  Almost instantly I got a ton of replies from other Sabres fans basically saying, “Yo, me too.  I can’t stop gazing at the standings.”  I’m not even sure why I’m so captivated by the standings, but man, I’m bewitched.  It’s sounds like you are too.

Just in case you’re somehow not bewitched, here’s how things currently stand:

Don't look away... or blink. Stay focused.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?  The playoffs are finally starting to feel like a real thing- something that might actually happen.  We still have a LONG way to go, and Lord knows nothing is set in stone (did you hear that, Hockey Gods? WE’RE NOT TAKING ANYTHING FOR GRANTED), but the Sabres have put themselves in a good position.  Things are going well.

If you’re like me, you’re also quite fascinated by the graphs at Sports Club Stats that track the Sabres chances of making the playoffs.  Right now, according to Sports Club Stats, the Sabres have a 91.6% chance of making the playoffs. That’s pretty good, especially considering that they had less than 6% chance on January 1st.  They’ve come a long way.

 

This is a very appealing shape for a graph like this to be.

I’m still a fairly new fan, so I haven’t had any experience with charging towards the playoffs like this.  This is exhilarating.  I’m going to go so far as to say this is more fun than last year, when they made the playoffs with ease.  The Sabres have clawed their way back into the hunt, and I’m incredibly proud of them.  This season has been almost disorienting, and I mean that in a really, really positive way.  There’s nothing quite like sloooowly realizing that you need to reconsider everything you thought you knew about your favorite team.  Sometimes it feels great to be wrong.

One of the things I really like about this graph is how it’s such a complete picture of every twist and turn of the season so far.

But we haven’t crossed the finish line yet.  There is still such a long way to go before they actually make the playoffs, and then, well… we’ll see.

You can do it, Sabres!

:)

Sometimes Things Change

As Sabres fans over the last few years we’ve been repeatedly told that the for the good of the franchise, and to ensure the future of the franchise, the organization has to move cautiously and prudently.  I’ve always believed that the Sabres have intelligent businessmen running the show, and so I’ve never questioned their conservative philosophy from a business perspective.  I believe it when the Sabres tell us that their profit margin is narrow, and I think Golisano has every right to demand that his business balances their books.

Every Sabres fan owes Golisano a “Thanks, man,” for way he stepped in and restored the Sabres as viable Buffalo institution.  So yes, we’re grateful to Tom Golisano.

But.

What if it were different?

What if we had an owner who cared about winning above all else? What if the next owner is comfortable losing a few million dollars here and there?  What if the new guy wants to treat the Sabres like his own personal fantasy hockey team?  What if when the Sabres suck, people lose their jobs?  What if someone tells Darcy Reiger, “Shut up about draft picks and stop calling 18-year-old boys, ‘assets’.  Build me a winner right now.”   What if Larry Quinn doesn’t work for the Sabres anymore?  What if Terry Pegula cares as much as us?  What if he’s annoyed when the games are boring?  What if  he wants to own a team in Buffalo, not because of tax breaks and profit margins and sound investments, but so that he can win a Cup?

In Buffalo we’ve been systematically taught that, above all else, stability is the number one goal.  But what if Terry Pegula comes in and says, “The Sabres are stable because I own them.  End of story.”

What if Terry Pegula is just doing this for fun?

________

I find these questions electrifying.  I understand that there are perfectly good reasons to temper my enthusiasm about this random stranger, but I don’t care.  The most frustrating thing about being a Sabres fan over the last few years has been the sense that nothing will ever change.  New ownership challenges that notion, and I am incredibly excited about the possibilities.  I don’t want to be prudent, and I don’t want to be cautious.  Hell, I don’t even want to be reasonable.  I’m savoring this chance to dream big, and I think you should too.

Sometimes things do change, and this could change everything.

Let’s go Buff-a-lo!

 

Preseason, Baby.

One of the reasons I’m so excited so far in advance of the Sabres first game is that the preseason is genuinely one of my favorite parts of the year.  I absolutely adore wandering downtown to catch a practice or a scrimmage.

I love the odd quietness of the arena, and how you can hear the sound of the skates swirling on the ice, and Lindy barking orders.  The stillness (compared to game nights) makes me feel like I’ve entered some sort of bizarre hockey-themed library.  It seems appropriate to speak in hushed tones, unless someone says something funny, then it’s satisfying to hear a solid laugh echo across the arena. The sounds of a hockey practice are mesmerizing.  I love trying to decipher the complicated drills, but my favorite thing is when they skate around the rink in giant circles, like it’s 1981 and they’re at the roller rink.  Preseason practices are incredibly relaxing.

I love how the players seem to project an air of boyish excitement during preseason practices.  I might be making this one up because it’s what I want to see, but it makes sense that young men being paid millions to play a game would experience a small giddy rush each year when they return to work.  It’s fun to see them joking around on the ice, happy and hopeful about the season to come.  It makes them seem more like us.  The preseason is a fun time.  Hopes are high, and nothing bad has happened yet.

I love how it’s all free.  Lord knows I’m willing to dole out the bucks when it comes to the Sabres, but it’s an indulgence that often makes me feel a little guilty.  The “come one, come all” atmosphere of mid-September practices helps them to feel somehow more innocent, and therefore more special.  I like preseason hockey practices because I think they’re something my (cheeeeap) father would have brought us to when we were kids.  He was an expert at finding inexpensive ways to keep us active and interested.  It makes me happy to think that parents who might otherwise might not get to bring their kids to the arena have the opportunity to sit their family right up against the glass.  It’s refreshing, and it’s nice.

I love how I see a lot of friends at preseason practices.  Blogging about the Sabres has put me in contact with a lot of awesome people, and I love how when I wander into the arena on a random Thursday morning, I’m likely to see someone I know.  Hell, the first time I met Heather (Heather B!  One of my BFFs!) was at a preseason practice.  We spent the entire practice pretending to shout orders at  the players through imaginary megaphones.  Last year I went to a scrimmage with my friend Laura and we spent the whole time watching her then one-and-a-half-year-old son toddle charmingly up and down the rows of empty seats.   These are arena memories that I cherish, I think in part because they are so far removed from the mania of a regular season game.

Basically, what I’m trying to tell you is that I love preseason hockey.  And you know what?  It starts in eighteen days.  Which is practically tomorrow.

Offseason Begone

If you count 2010, I now have FOUR hockey off-seasons under my belt (I know, I’m like, a wise old hockey sage).   In my experience, the offseason has a predictable rhythm, and there are certain things you can expect.  With the exception of the offseasons that happen to contain a Summer Olympics (oh, wonderful, wonderful Summer Olympics. I love you so..) this is how things go:

June: Depending on how your team fared in the playoffs, you’re still kind of buzzing from the events of the previous season.  If your team missed the playoffs altogether that year, you go through a period of genuine relief that hockey is over.  Mid-June can be a nice period of hockey reflection/HOORAY-IT’S-SUMMER!  At the end of June there’s the draft and the all the accompanying speculation about trades. (No one EVER trades ANYONE at draft time though.  We all know this in our hearts, but we pretend it’s not true because it’s fun to pretend that Darcy will figure out a way to trade Drew Stafford for Jerome Iginla.  Darcy never does.)

July: July, of course, is the opening of free agency.  Free agency is fun for a while.  Even the stodgy old Sabres usually sign someone in early July.  This year we got Jordan Leopold, which on a scale of 1-10 warrants about a 2.5 for “exciting developments”.   In early July you’re still in stuck in the past emotionally, and you’re still either brooding over, or celebrating, the season that just ended.  So, even though Jordan Leopold is to free agency signings as a $5 footlong is to fine cuisine, any new signing feels like someone opened a window in a stuffy attic.  Suddenly a fresh breeze wafts in, and you can detect the faint scent of “future” in the air.  It’s just a hint of the season to come, but it’s there.

August: Early and mid-August is the hockey equivalent of that movie where Tom Hanks is stuck on an island and his only companionship is a volleyball.  You’re so far away from hockey that you begin to forget what it’s like, and talking to a volleyball daylight until 9pm begins to feel perfectly normal.  You bask in the heat, you garden, you go on vacations.  You enjoy the summer.  But despite outward signs of happiness, there is a deep-seated restlessness.  You are missing something.  Sure, evenings spent on the patio drinking mojitos with your volleyball are nice, but your heart longs for more…. Hockey is like a beautiful memory, too painful to recall.  You’re stuck on a beautiful tropical island with absolutely no hockey anywhere.

September: At some point in late August/early September, you wake up to a cool crispness in the air.  This slight change in the weather will jog something deep down in your memory…hock…ey?  Hoc-key?  Hockey.  HOCKEY! HOCKEYHOCKEYHOCKEY!!  Suddenly, at lunch, you’ll look across the table and realize your companion is a volleyball, not a person.  But who cares?!  HOCKEY IS ALMOST BACK!

__________

And this is where we are right now.  Summertime is a great volleyball, but the scent of hockey is in the air, and I, for one, am ready to get off this hockeyless island.  I declare August over.  TRAINING CAMP (the best time of the year!) starts in September!  It’s all downhill from here.

I thank you volleyball summer for your service.  You have been warm and wonderful.  But now, it’s time to look ahead, to hockey.

WOOOOOOOOOO!!!

WAAAAHOOOOOOOO!

I didn’t actually watch the game because I was at a rehearsal.  I’ll watch the game in the morning, but there is one thing I already KNOW FOR SURE.

It’s VERY important to stick to the system.

FEAR THE ‘STACHE!

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.

6 Things: EVERYONE Loves Crunchy Edition

I know I’ve been overly reliant on bullet points lately, but I don’t care!  WOOOOOO!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!

1. You know you’re all revved up about hockey when you wake up in the morning and the first thought in your head is “CRUNCH-Y!  CRUNCH-Y!  CRUNCH-Y!”  I can’t imagine a more fun introduction to Olympic hockey than this.  It’s amazing to feel such ownership of the US team.  For the zillionth time, thanks for being awesome, Crunchy.

2. Can you BELIEVE that the win last night set up a probable CAN/RUS non-medal game?  One of the two, either Russia or Canada, is going to leave the Olympics with nothing. Hell, it might turn out that Russia was the biggest loser last night.  That is MIND BOGGLING.

3. Admittedly, I’m being hugely influenced by Ryan Miller’s participation, but I’ve been surprised by my capacity to cheer for Team USA.  Before the Olympics began I was kind of worried about the “Drury Ick” factor.  I mean, cheering for my country is one thing, but cheering for Chris Drury and Phil Kessel? Gross!  Turns out, it’s no problem whatsoever.  In fact, when Drury scored last night I had a long moment of, “OMG…..I love that clutch-y guy.”  The only thing saving me from a complete Drury love-fest is his lack of a playoff beard.  I’d be toast if he had that beard right now.  T-O-A-S-T.

4. As much as I’ve enjoyed my temporary journey into sports-related jingoism, I do think everyone should cool it with the comparisons to the 1980 US team.   It’s rare that the USA gets to enjoy being the underdog, but let’s not blow this TOTALLY out of proportion.  I mean, our team is composed of NHLers too.  Crunchy may look like a homeless high school dropout, but in reality he’s a highly skilled professional who makes $6.25 million a year being a goalie.  That said, I love love love love love LOVE that our team is scrappier, hard-working-er, feistier, and heart-i-er.  Let’s just enjoy this win for what it is: TOTALLY PHONKING AWESOME on its own merits.  WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

5. I’ve watched the replay a dozen times and I STILL don’t understand how Ryan Kesler got that puck into the open net.  From where I’m sitting it looks like Kesler just magically out-hotted it past Corey Perry.

6. I thought Crunchy’s fresh-off-the-ice postgame interview was incredibly interesting last night.  He was so subdued.  He seemed overwhelmed and exhausted, but then there were occasional glimmers of child-like excitement in his answers.

I’ve written a bit about how Ryan Miller is interesting to me in my role as a performer (of music), and last night was one of those instances times INFINITY.  Last night he was on a huge international stage, he performed like a rockstar, but even when it was all over you could see that he was fighting to stay focused on the bigger goal.  This highly cultivated focus is why I’m fascinated by Ryan Miller, but the vulnerability he shows when he lets down his guard is why I adore him.  The interview last night had it all.

I am so grateful that Ryan Miller is the guy I get to watch every night playing in goal for the Sabres.  He’s always interesting, that guy.  Always.

Magic

Kevin wrote a post today that really got me thinking.  While I agree with all of his individual points about the Sabres, I don’t necessarily think that the city-wide skepticism about this team has been out of proportion.

Skepticism and joyfulness are not mutually exclusive.  I’m a skeptic and I love the Sabres.

But damn if that game didn’t knock this skeptic right into outer space.

The key to being a joyful skeptic is making sure you can still marvel when the marveling comes due.

Marvelous

That was a special game and I’m starting to believe that this is a special team.  We had everything tonight.  Guts, redemption, unlikely heroes, and joy, joy, joy.

Let’s go Buff-a-lo!


…A Blog About the Buffalo Sabres

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