Playoff beards

First of all, last night’s game was awesome.  There were some tense moments when I thought, “Maybe these Sabres just aren’t good enough,” but Vanek’s OT winner was incredible.  I hope we haven’t seen the end of the Enroth experiment, he didn’t deserve to be pulled but Miller really looked strong.  Bring on the playoffs!

Of course with the playoffs comes playoff beards.  I’m a huge fan of growing a playoff beard; any excuse to skip shaving!  Unfortunately this year I have a dilemma.  I grew a beard this winter to keep my face warm.  It had nothing to do with hockey; at the time the Sabres were in 12th place, I had no hope of them making the playoffs, and the plan was to shave the beard off when the weather warmed up.

Since then the Sabres have gone on a magical run, compiling the best record in the East since Jan 1st (according to the jumbotron last night) on their way to clinching a playoff spot.  A lot of the credit probably goes to Terry Pegula, but I can’t help but feel that my beard has played a small part in their turn around.  I don’t want to shave it off now, but I know it’s cheating to start the playoffs with a full beard.  Not to mention it’s going to get out of control really fast if I stop grooming it.

So what to do?  Right now I’m leaning towards trimming it short at the start of the playoffs and letting it go, but I’m open to suggestions!  Post your comments.

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The first week

Time to get this blog going!  Laura and I have been spending so much time going to Sabres games, we haven’t had time to blog about them.

The Sabres started their season in Ottawa a little less than a week ago, and we were there with them!  After watching a group of children with rock instruments butcher classic Guns N Roses tunes, Derek Roy started the season right with a goal.  Roy is just on fire this year, I don’t know what got into him but I wish I had drafted him in my fantasy league.  The Sabres were all over the Senators for most of the game, but Pascal Leclaire kept them in it with some ridiculous saves.  Chris Kelly tied the game at 1 with less than a minute to go in the second.  I felt the Sabres were really dominating the game, and if they just kept with it they would prevail.  Derek Roy banked one off Leclaire’s skate halfway through the third, and that was the game winner.  The Ottawa fans were very polite, and the little Sabres fan sitting next to me was very happy with the outcome.

After such a strong first game, I had high expectations for the Sabres’ second game of the year against the Rangers.  Unfortunately, the Sabres decided to try a new defensive strategy – fall down and let the opponent take point blank shots at Miller.  Apparently even a Vezina goaltender isn’t good enough to bail out a team that plays no defense at all, and the Sabres lost 6-3.  Derek Stepan becomes the fourth player ever to score a hat trick in his first NHL game.  Hopes, meet reality.

We were at HSBC arena for the third game of the season against the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, and it actually started pretty well.  The Sabres got off to a quick 2-0 lead with backup Corey Crawford in the Hawks net.  Patrick Kane scored a goal and Laura clapped, and everything was fine.  But then Niklas Hjalmarsson decided to end Jason Pominville’s consecutive games streak at 335 (was the longest current Sabres’ streak) and the Sabres fell apart.  It’s always weird being at the arena when an injury happens; you don’t know who’s injured or how badly, and you immediately start texting all your friends at home to find out what happened.  Also, I’ve written Hjalmarsson at least 5 times over the past couple of days and I still have to check the spelling every time.  After that Marion Hossa decided to score some goals, and there really wasn’t much the Sabres were going to do about it.  They got some pressure at the end, but Corey Crawford remembered how to play goal and the Hawks won 4-3.

So I’m going tonight and I’m hoping for a good outcome.  The Devils will dress 16 skaters after signing Adam Mair yesterday.  Marty Brodeur has looked awful so far this season.  It will be interesting to see how the fans react to Mair and Tallinder returning as Devils.  My prediction: 5-2 Sabres, Mair and Tallinder get a warm reception, Kovalchuk gets booed.

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New Link

Just a quick note, I added a new link over on the right there.  It’s to Bourne’s Blog.  Justin Bourne is a hockey player turned columnist, so he has a lot of interesting insights about professional hockey.  His most recent Puck Daddy column about steroid use in hockey is a must read.

Hockey starts soooo sooooon!

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Craigory

Craig Rivet has the stupidest expression on his face for my Sabres calendar this month.  I think it sums up how people feel about him this summer.

When Craigory came to Buffalo two summers ago, he was immediately one of my favorite players.  He came in here and won the captaincy right after the trade.  He was openly upset about being traded to Buffalo, but once he settled in he changed his tune.  He beat the hell out of Ryan Hollweg in his first preseason game.  He had five fights that season, and won every one of them.  He was the first star in a wild back and forth shootout win over his former team San Jose (I was at that game and Jason Pominville deflected Rivet’s shot with 4 seconds left to send it to overtime). I was sold and bought his jersey (with the C proudly displayed on the shoulder).

This past season it was tough to wear the Rivet jersey.  Laura and I went on the road to Philadelphia (great people there), and after the game (we won) a guy in a Miller jersey tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I gotta tell you, Rivet sucks!”  At a home game, I was sitting next to some neutral fans from Canada and they asked me who my favorite Sabre was.  Indicating my jersey, I said, “Rivet, of course!”  Their response, “Really, Rivet?”  I always defended him; I feel a lot of his bad season was because the play of Chris Butler, his defensive partner for most of the year, was absolutely terrible.

Then it was revealed this offseason that Craig has been playing with a torn double labrum (shoulder) since November 2008.  Almost two full seasons!  Anyone who knows me will know I’ve been whining about a mild achilles strain all week, and this guy played with a torn shoulder through two seasons!  At first I was mad.  All the ridicule I had taken for wearing his jersey, how could he be so dumb to play with such a serious injury?  But now I’m just excited.

Craig has said that he immediately felt better following his surgery.  He should be ready to go for training camp.  I expect him to be a totally different player this year.  When I express my excitement to other Sabres fans, I still get the standard response: “Craig Rivet?  He sucks!”  I can’t wait for his first shift, his first fight, his first goal this year.  Last year had some shining moments for Craig (the game winner in game one of the playoffs), but I think this year it’s going to be a lot more fun to be a Craig Rivet fan.

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On Tim Kennedy

Lots of times, I’ll react harshly to a front office decision at first, but after having some time to think about it, I see the Sabres’ point of view.  This Tim Kennedy buy out situation is one of those times.

Tim is a pretty good player, and he’s from Buffalo.  It’s easy to root for the guy.  When he got a million dollar arbitration award, I thought it was reasonable.  So naturally I was shocked when the Sabres waived and bought him out.  I was angry.  The Sabres have never bought out anyone before, and they start with a hometown kid making a mere million dollars??

Having had some time to think, I understand it.  The team wanted a three way competition with Kennedy, Gerbe and Ennis for the last roster spot.  Ennis is clearly the front runner, but Kennedy’s one-way contract took him out of the competition.  It’s not about the $1 million, it’s about not being able to send him down.  Further, Tim played hardball with the team in contract negotiations.  Here is a kid, 1 year in the NHL, playing for his favorite team, and he refuses every contract offer and takes them to arbitration.  Well, you’re taking a risk when you do that, and I don’t pity him that his favorite team dumped him in the end.  Because he fought for the best contract possible, knowing it was more than the Sabres were willing to pay for him.

It does still sting a little.  You’d like to think the Sabres could have traded him, or at least give him a chance to compete for that last spot, rather than pay him not to play.  Unfortunately the CBA only gives them a small window to buy him out, and they had to act quickly.  I’m sure it was a very tough decision.  I like the way Kate from the Willful Caboose said it best: “if I had $200,000 I would NOT want to give it to Tim Kennedy.”  (In fairness, she goes on to say that $200,000 is a lot more to one of us than it is to a professional sports team.  She’s defending him.  I’m not.)

I do really think this shows that the Sabres want to win this year.  People always say, why don’t the Sabres ever go for it, it’s always about next year.  Well they are going for it right now.  They felt a physical defenseman would help them more than a scrappy left winger, and they went for it.  (Love the Morrisonn signing!)  We now have a ton of flexibility in our roster.  I want to see them go out and use one of their young defensemen or some of their salary space to land a veteran forward.  A guy like Mark Recchi or even Miro Satan (ugh I know) who is capable of leading their team in the playoffs.  Sorry Tim Kennedy, but you can’t do that.

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

One of my favorite things about going to a Sabres game was eating snacks from the concession stand. That was until I saw this delightful little report on ESPN’s website today. Now I know how dreadful (only 8% critical violations, that’s not so bad!) the snack bars are at HSBC arena as opposed to the Verizon Center (100% violations, OMG that place is filthy!)

I am a slight germaphobe. Now I will check this list every time I go to an out of town arena to see how they stack up to our beloved HSBC arena, and then I can decide if I should eat a giant dinner before I go to the game or if I will be safe eating there. It looks like If I ever go to a game in Toronto I’ll  be safe, but I’ll probably have spent so much money on the tickets I’m probably not going to have much left for a pretzel and beer.

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Empire State of Mind

On Saturday Steve and I had the pleasure of witnessing the Western women’s hockey team win their first gold medals since 2005. I was surprised at how big the crowd was for this game. It was also one of the most thrilling amateur hockey games I’ve ever seen.

I’m very glad to see that women’s hockey has been getting the recognition that it deserves. Until recently, young women in Western New York weren’t able to play hockey for their school unless they were willing to play on the rougher boys team. Thankfully some school districts have come to their senses and this coming school year these young women will have their own varsity teams. It may be several years before they are at the skill level of the players from Nichols, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Western New York obviously breeds excellent NHL quality players, but it can also create top notch women players. These women may never play in the NHL but they will likely have distinguished careers at the collegiate level. Western New York should take pride in their hockey players of both genders, especially when they have both done so well these last few day at the Empire State Games.

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