Archive for the ‘Non-Game Related Hockey’ Category

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Extreme Locker Room Makeover: Sabres Edition

May 25, 2011

I know there’s not a ton going on in Pegulaville and the surrounding suburbs of Sabreland, but I do want to write a few things about the formal announcement of the team’s new locker room.

You know it’s a long off-season when a LOCKER ROOM renovation is big doings, but I digress.

- I completely understand that the circular shape of the new locker room promotes team unity and all that other caring & sharing rah!rah!-ness, but I really did like the old style lockers. It made it seem like each player had their own personal space. I wasn’t wild about the gloves & pads storage area being above the heads of the players, as it seemed like it would be at a disadvantage for shorter players like Gerbe or Ennis. (Did they have a stool? Ask a taller player for help? More importantly, why am I wondering about this?) It also was a clean look during interviews, but I could also understand how it might be awkward for reporters to interview players if they have to climb into lockers and contort themselves around walls.

- Today’s press conference is the second time in recent memory that I recall “player communication” mentioned as one of the goals. I know after this past season ended that someone remarked that the players had a goal of staying in better touch during the off-season. I remember someone saying something along the lines that the players have to do better than the occasional text message to make sure that they’re all alive. I realize that after spending the better part of 7-8 months together that they may need a break from each other, but the break shouldn’t be the entire off-season long. Relax, and then check in on each other. Talk. Whether it’s about kids, life, politics, religion, the hot barista at the coffee shop down the street, I don’t care. Just don’t be freaking strangers. Pretend that you like each other and give a flip about each other.But I digress. It sounds like management has zeroed in on a problem and is doing everything they can to fix it.

- I love Lindy’s enthusiasm about having dedicated space to review video with the team. Was it this season or last season where the press was kicked out of their room so Lindy could take over for a video session? Having a designated area with the proper equipment should make video sessions more comfortable & productive for all involved (and avoid throwing the media out into the street.)

- Granted, it’s the probably the style of the photo, but doesn’t it look like Miller had his own personal plan review with Pegula, as opposed to the group view that some of the other guys got? Is he that much more special than the other players, or is he ensuring that the goalie portion of the circle is adequately sized?

That’s it for now, but I plan to review Sunday’s Indy 500 insanity in some form, so check back at the end of this long holiday weekend.

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The End of the Road

April 29, 2011

What am I going to remember most about this Sabres season? Here are a few thoughts in no particular order…

- The horrible, horrible first half of the season. The team was a cellar dweller just after the new year, but somehow managed to charge to a respectable 7th in the conference. I still have no idea what caused the come to jesus turnaround, but I’m pleased with how the regular season ended up.

- That Rob Niedermayer took for-freaking-ever to score a goal.

- That Rob Neidermayer played a few games for the Sabres this year. How no one, including Niedermayer himself, realized that his sweater contained a misspelling is a mystery to me.

- The end of the Craig Rivet captaincy. Giving Gaustad/Pominville/Vanek/Hecht the A after he left could have led to a potentially hilarious moment had the Sabres won the cup this year. How would they have decided who got to take the Cup from Bettman? Would there have been a gentlemanly discussion beforehand? A coin flip? A rock-paper-scissors battle? A slap fight? I know the captaincy situation will most likely be resolved by the start of next season, but it still was an interesting problem to have. I’d love to see Goose wearing the C next year, but wouldn’t mind if it was Vanek.

- Connolly’s surprising play on the penalty kill. I didn’t know he had it in him.

- That Nathan Gerbe appeared to find his swagger around February or so and proved that he deserved to be in Buffalo and not in Portland. Somewhere along the way he turned from “why is he here, again?” to “hey, look at that little fun-sized guy taking on Chara.” Gerbe’s persistent tenacity endeared him to a lot of people, me included. I also enjoyed his surprising chemistry with Gaustad. They seriously are the team’s odd couple on the ice, aren’t they?

- This Patrick Kaleta fight.

I was at that game and remember how insanely loud the crowd got. Good times.

- How injury prone Kaleta is. I swear, the guy can’t sneeze without ending up on the 15-day disabled list, to borrow a baseball term. And for some reason, I really do not believe that Kaleta broke his hand blocking a shot in Game 6. I can’t exactly pinpoint why I believe the “he allegedly punched a wall” story more, but I do. I really hope that he just rests and heals this offseason and comes back next year with a new outlook on how to play his game but protect his body more.

- How hilarious a pissed off Ryan Miller is. I’m not talking about the whiny, pissed off Ryan Miller that usually appears when he gets a bad call on the ice, but the ornery, pissed off Ryan Miller that takes swings and slaps at people that come too far into his crease. Since it seems like Miller is left to his own devices entirely all too often, it’s interesting to see just how much Miller’s feathers have to get ruffled before he snaps.

- And speaking of snapping, Miller’s rant/tantrum/shitfit towards John Vogl this year was a thing of beauty. I’m pretty sure no reporter will ever ask Miller “are you ok” ever again.

- Connolly leaving the arena on locker cleanout day without talking to the media. I know Connolly hasn’t always been the warmest and fuzziest interview out there, but it doesn’t say too much about him that he fled without at least making a perfunctory appearance in front of the media. Sure, he was hurt and probably didn’t have much to say, but it’s still a cowardly move in my opinion. Just smile and nod and say all the things you should say and then you can go hide in the corner. It’s not that hard!

- That Enroth proved his worth as a perfectly cromulent backup goaltender while Miller was resting after his temper tantrum and late-season concussion. I know Enroth’s success signaled the end of the Lalime era as backup goalie, but it will be nice to see Miller get a night or two off next year and not have to joke that Miller’s night off means an automatic check in the L column.

- That Patrick Lalime and his giant bear hugs/on ice dances will not be a part of the Sabres next year. That makes me sad, even though I know that his presence on the roster means that Miller has to work harder and wears down faster.

- That I had “Somebody’s Getting Married” from “Muppets Take Manhattan” running through my head after news of Ryan Miller’s engagement leaked out in December. I also remember Miller’s utter shock that the news of his engagement had broken so quickly. Uh, Crunchy, in case you didn’t get the memo, Buffalo is the biggest small town you’ll ever see. Everyone knows someone that knows someone that knows somebody else’s business. You should know that by now.

- The start of the Pegula era. The ownership change was the equivalent of opening up the windows on that first nice spring day and airing out a dark, musty apartment. Pegula brought a sense of optimism and hope to both the organization and the fans. It was good to see him geek out like a fan over seeing Gil Perreault in the audience. You can tell that Pegula is 100% committed to building a team that will win the Stanley Cup.

- Rick Martin’s passing. I feel like this event demonstrated just what it means to be a Buffalonian. While Martin may not have originally been from buffalo, he did settle in and make this community his. He’s what I think of when I hear “lifetime Buffalo Sabre.”

- That some of the players chose to honor Martin by wearing ‘staches & chops during the playoffs. While I admit that some players (Miller, Stafford) pulled off the look better than others (Gerbe), it was a fitting tribute to a team legend (and in some cases, a way to shake up the playoff juju).

- That Nathan Gerbe isn’t going to spend his off-season loafing around or being completely skeezy. He will be going back to class at Boston College and working towards completing his degree. The internet tells me that Gerbe was a Communications major at BC. I’m kind of geeked out that he’s a fellow member of the “communications majors at Jesuit colleges” club. (We have t-shirts and everything.) I know that a lot of players leave school early to focus on their pro careers, so it makes me happy when I hear that someone is going back to school. It’s like they’ve had the realization that hockey careers don’t last forever, so it might be good to finish that college degree. Good luck to little Gerbe.

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Laying Down the Law

March 28, 2011

I guess that as a non-hockey player, I will never fully understand the logic behind putting the logo of your team on the carpet in the middle of the room. I mean, on the surface level, I do get it. The logo indicates that this is your room, your team, your space. You take pride in the space and the team, and you don’t dishonor either by stepping on the symbol of the organization. But on some other common sense level, if the logo is so sacred, then why is it on the floor where anyone can/will step on it unless they are threatened with monetary penalties?

At least the laying down of the law regarding the carpet was done with a nice, pleasant reminder from Mike Grier.

Warning: this video contains a word that rhymes with “ducking,” so please be warned if you are in an office environment or other place where such language is not appreciated.

I love Grier’s “dad” tone of voice when speaking to the team and assorted media. You can tell he’s used the same tone with his kids before. (“I warned you about flushing daddy’s keys down the toilet. $20 fine goes into your college fund right now!”) While I wouldn’t necessarily want to hear about any more profanity induced freak outs from the team regarding the new policy, I would genuinely be curious as to the amount of money donated to charity at the end of the season (playoffs) because of the new rule.

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What’s Next?

February 24, 2011

- If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I am a fan of The West Wing. One of Josiah Bartlet’s favorite things to ask on the show is “what’s next?” Terry Pegula answered that question for us on Tuesday: what’s next is winning a Stanley Cup. Before that (or to aid in that), the immediate “what’s next?” is to attract players to Buffalo. We all know that players fall in love with Buffalo once they get here, it’s the getting them here that’s been the hard part. Gossip about how previous management treated the players ran rampant throughout the league, and no matter how much current players talked up the organization, players were reluctant to come here. I have a feeling that Pegula’s true enthusiasm for the team, the sport and the city is going to shine through and that we may be seeing free agents start wanting to come here during free agent season.

- I said on Twitter last night that Pegula must be feeling like a kid in a candy store. He’s met his hero Perreault, was surprised at center ice by the French Connection, and had an entire arena full of fans chanting his name. Where else can you go from there?

- According to Thomas Vanek’s official blog, Pegula is throwing a party at the arena for not only the Sabres players & staffers, but also their families. I really do think that is a nice touch, as the families are just as important as the players themselves. And if you continue reading Vanek’s blog, it seems that his mini backyard rink is the site of quite the ruckus when Leopold & Lalime bring their kids over. I really like hearing warm and fuzzy anecdotes like this one, as it stresses how close some of them are off the ice. We rarely hear stories like this from the media because warm and fuzzy generally doesn’t sell papers or gross ratings points. I’m not saying I want an entire sports report or sports section full of warm and fuzzy, but the occasional bit would be nice. And can someone tell me how the Sabres can have a no-Twitter policy, but yet Vanek can still blog? A blog is still social media. Just saying…

- The decision to waive Rivet was shocking on one hand because he’s the team captain, but yet not shocking because the guy has had his rear permanently glued to a seat in the press box for a good chunk of this season. It’s going to be fascinating to see whether another team picks him up on the re-entry wire, or whether he just fades back into the press box for the remainder of the season if Darcy can’t pull a trade out of his hat.

- I’m decidedly not a fan of Pegula calling out local sportswriters for being tough on players. By their play – or lack thereof – players help sportswriters make the case that they are soft, fragile, clumsy, lazy and whatever other adjective has been used to describe some players lately. Writers write what they see. They aren’t paid to be the team’s spin doctors (that’s what PR guys are for*). Sports writers are meant to be objective news reporters, or in the case of commentary, present their arguments in a logical and hopefully fair manner. It’s not the owner’s job to plead the case for his players. The players should be able to handle a little criticism from the media. They’re professional athletes and grown ups. They shouldn’t be running to PR/management every time the media has a negative thing to say about them.

*I know PR isn’t spin. Put your rotten tomatoes down.

That’s not to say that the media is blameless in its somewhat contentious relationship with the team. There are times that issues have been hashed and rehashed until they’ve just turned into a talking point that seems to be included because it’s expected. I think that both sides need to move on and just start with a fresh slate now that there’s a new man in town. What’s in the past is in the past. Move on.

- Finally, and this is completely not hockey related, I watched the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery before I left the office today. There’s always something exciting and awesome about a space shuttle launch. I mean, it’s 6 very brave men and women sitting on top of a rocket getting hurtled into the great unknown. There’s a lot that can go wrong (and has).  The fact that the shuttle program is winding down and there is no viable replacement in sight makes me kind of sad for what this current generation of kids is going to miss. My parents, as most baby boomers, grew up in the midst of the Cold War and the space race. As kids, they lived through JFK promising a moon landing and the growth of the Apollo program. They encouraged their kids – my peers – to study math and science so that they could be astronauts some day. Game shows targeted to kids regularly gave away trips to space camp. The way things are going, my generation is going to be the last one to grow up with space travel as a “regular” thing. What’s next after there’s no shuttle to hurtle people into outer space? Do we not strive for the moon or further exploration because there’s budget difficulties and cuts have to be made somewhere? Who knows. I feel like this scene from the West Wing encapsulates why space is still so important:

What’s next, indeed.

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A New System, Volume 2

February 19, 2011

Note: if the Sabres aren’t going to put in the effort on the ice, I’m not going to put in the effort to discuss their lack of effort. See how that works? Blogging’s fun, right?

Anyway, the news that the Sabres hired Ted Black to be Larry Quinn, 2.0, got me wondering about potential changes that could be coming for the Sabres. I’m not going to speculate on the hockey related changes, since right now I’d like to send most of the team on an all expenses paid trip to a gulag in Siberia; so I’m going to talk today about the changes I’d like to see off the ice.

Black has a background in television, so let’s start there in discussing how things could be improved. First, drop the asinine arrangement that exists with MSG for road games against the Devils, Islanders and Rangers. If K-Syl and a camera crew can schlep over hill and over dale to cover the rest of the team’s away games, then there is no reason why they can’t cover games in New York and New Jersey. So what if the home team already has MSG cameras there? The Sabres should not be the redheaded stepchild of the MSG broadcast empire. In addition, K-Syl needs to have someone on the road with him to interact with. He’s perfectly cromulent as a solo host, but really shines when he has someone to banter with and respond to. And for the love of everything holy, give the man a box to stand on when interviewing certain players!

Continuing on with TV improvements, whatever happened to those intermission features talking about the players, their charity work, their odd or interesting hobbies? We used to see at least 3-4 minutes of feature during each intermission. Now, it’s 3-4 minutes of The Whip with a brief recap of game action interrupted by commercials. We know the players have personality and charisma in spades and are active in the community. Why is the team not taking advantage of these things? Was it because of poor reception to the Sabres lifestyle show hosted by Maria Genero a couple years ago? Selling the players as something other than soulless automatons spouting the latest party line helps sell interest in the games. Selling interest in the games allows for more viewers on TV and potentially more butts in the arena seats.

Golisano’s attempts to keep the team within a specific budget level affected the TV side of things. Fortunately, the changes that need to be made are minor and things are easily fixable.

Moving on, the team needs to expand its communcation efforts, specifically on the social media side of things. I’m not saying the team needs to go all New Jersey Devils on us, but there are some subtle improvements that can be made. Let’s start with Twitter. The team has a loyal fanbase on Twitter that shares news, discusses the game and even offers witty commentary. We know that the Sabres organization and Sabretooth have their own Twitter accounts. One of the PR guys has a Twitter account. Pegula’s daughters have Twitter accounts. For the love of Lindy Ruff, let the players have personal Twitter accounts! Look at Mr. BizNasty out in Phoenix. Sure, he put his foot in it on occasion, but he is overseen by a PR department member and yet still manages to let his true persona shine through. I think he and the other NHL players out on Twitter have shown that you can interact with fans and show them a slice of life in the NHL without the world coming to an end. The team can establish a Twitter code of conduct covering things like trades, locker room discord, picking up puckbunnies, discussing late night antics, etc. These are grown ass men, for pete’s sake. I think the Sabres would be surprised at how much response the player’s would receive. (Of course, that does require that the fans cooperate and not act like pompous, know-it-all arseholes towards those players that do engage on Twitter.)

Along a similar line, the team needs to work on expanding communication efforts to prompty announce transactions. Don’t rely on print journalists, radio hosts, 6 bloggers and East Side Eddy to do it for you. Lift the cone of silence once and a while. You’d be surprised at how much the fans and the media will appreciate it.

I’ve saved what might be the simplest improvement for last. We know that a serviceman/woman attends a home game for free through Butler’s Tickets for Troops program. The recipient is announced and acknowledged by the crowd at the rink.  How about making it a regular announcement so that the folks at home know about it as well?

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Stuff, stuff and oh, I don’t know, some more stuff

January 4, 2011

Lots of little things today.

- I admit to watching a fair amount of the World Juniors over the past week-and-a-half. The games have been entertaining and well worth my time. However, the ads shown during the game broadcast have been incredibly disappointing. The “Ovechkin head in a bowling ball bag” terrifies me. Who is the creative director that thought a disembodied Russian head made a good ad? And this ad is repeated at least three times per game, so it’s disturbing in triplicate.

Ad over-repitition seems to be a key theme on NHL Network. I’m pretty sure that I am very close to being able to recite the AHL promotional ad and the USA Hockey “Hockey Weekend Across America” ads. Speaking of the latter ads, Ryan Miller and Patrick Kane manage to cram about 30 kinds of awkward into their :30 ad. (Go to this USA Hockey page, and flip to the second video to watch Miller & Kane.) Miller is nervous and “reading” the ad (and strangely dressed like he’s going to a costume party as a low rent Danny Zuko), while Kane just mumbles his way through the entire thing.  Compare these two Awkward McGee’s to the stellar performance turned in by Zach Parise. Parise is a natural in front of the camera, almost like he memorized the script and practiced it in his bedroom mirror.

I know that the ad repetition occurs because it is difficult to convince companies to buy ad time on a network that appears on a premium tier in a lot of homes. I understand why it is on a premium tier, as most of the nation has no interest in hockey, but at the same time, the network can’t be expected to grow if all it is running is ads from current league or program sponsors.

- Can someone explain to me why tonight’s pre-game story on WGR has the tag of “disaster_accident, sports“? Is it an auto-tag based on the use of the word “Avalanche?” Is WGR hoping that the Sabres meet an untimely end in Colorado? Do they know something the rest of us don’t?

- I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the play of Marcus Foligno during the WJC’s. Dude has played like he is playing for an NHL contract, which in a way, I suppose he is. I would be really happy to see him and Kassian win a gold medal in this tournament. If the USA can’t win it, might as well be the team with the guys that are “ours.” (Sidebar: when I was in college and working summer orientation, Marcus’ older sister was a part of the freshman class that we were orientating and her father accompanied her to orientation. It was hilarious watching the parents of these incoming freshman freaking out that Mike Foligno was in their midst and had a kid their kid’s age.)

- Only in Buffalo does a tweet by a mascot get included in a recap of a hockey game.

- Also, only in Buffalo does a quarterback’s grooming habits warrant coverage on the 5 o’clock news…and not in the sports report. I will say that Fitz’s beard was probably the best part of the Bills season. I haven’t been that impressed with a beard since Scott Niedermayer’s playoff beard a couple of years ago.

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New Year, New Team

December 31, 2010

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day. Many magazines/newspapers have a “New Year, New You” theme that runs at some point during the first couple weeks of the new year. I’d like to take that idea one step further for the Sabres team: “New Year, New Team.” If they follow these simple steps, they may be able to turn their current misfortunes around…somewhat. I’m not saying they would be a playoff contender, but it’s getting really old to keep saying “these guys really, really suck.”

But I digress. Here’s my “New Year, New Team” list.

1. Remember that a hockey game is 60 minutes long, not 40 or 20. Please note that a full team effort should be applied for the full 60 minutes.

2. Shoot the puck at the net. I don’t care if you can make the pass of the year on a two-on-one. If you have a clear shot at the net, take it. Good things happen when you shoot at the net.

3. See #1.

4. Stop taking dumb penalties. Lindy should not be turning that shade of red that often during a game. Think of Lindy’s health, guys!

5. Play a decent team game so Miller can have a relaxing night every once in a while. (As relaxing as a night in goal for a professional hockey player can get, I suppose.)

6. Stop deflecting pucks past your own goalie because your big foot or big stick was in the way.

7. Learn when to pick your fights. Or learn to fight better. (I suppose this one really applies to Montador only. Dude is 19 kinds of heart, but not that great of a fighter. He’s more of a grappler.)

8. Remember #1.

9. Pick up the scoring. Then again, I suppose that should come with following #2.

10. Switch up the locker room music from the MJ. Obviously, MJ has ceased to work.

11. Listen to Lindy. For the love of everything holy, stop tuning out the coach. He knows what he’s talking about.

12. Don’t forget about #1!

13. Play every night like your contract is dangling over a lit Bic lighter in Darcy’s office. Then again, with rumors of the new owner coming aboard sooner rather than later, your contracts may actually be dangling over a lit Bic lighter.

14. For those on a contract year, quickly come down with that case of contractyearitis. (I suppose this only really applies to Timmy. When Stafford has been healthy and been on the ice, he actually hasn’t been half bad.)

15. Don’t forget about #1!

And for us fans: if we’ve learned anything this year, its that we should double check our rumor mongering sources. Then again, if someone did, we wouldn’t have been treated to Punch-Gate and Vogl’s prejudice against the land of feces known as Twitter.

I hope you all have a wonderful (and safe) New Year’s Eve. Catch you back here in 2011!

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