Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rochester the only game in town this weekend

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Based upon historical statistics, Buffalo is the third snowiest city in New York State behind Syracuse and Rochester. Syracuse, according to currentresults.com, averages 123.8 inches of snow per year, much more than Rochester with 99.5 and Buffalo's 94.7 inches. All three cities are adversely affected by lake-effect snow as evidenced by the "Wall of Snow" that dumped on the snowbelt areas south of Buffalo.

Having gone through the Blizzard of '77 and climbing up 6' mounds of snow just to (hopefully) get to the front door to deliver the Tonawanda News, I can't imagine trucking across a blanket of snow that is 5 or 6 feet high.

Godspeed to everyone caught in this mess.

Because of Mother Nature's madness, the Rochester Americans are the only game in town this weekend. The Buffalo Sabres game vs. the NY Rangers tonight was postponed and the team will be in Washington tomorrow night. The Buffalo Bills, who's Ralph Wilson Stadium is buried beneath five feet of snow, will head to Detroit for a Monday night "home" game vs. the NY Jets. How ironic that the Bills will still be playing a "home" game away from The Ralph after postponing the Toronto Series which saw them play "home" games at Rogers Center in Toronto over the course of the last six seasons. They were 1-5, by the way.

Although the Rochester area remained relatively unscathed by the events less than an hour to the WSW, their hockey club is trying to dig themselves out of a terrible rut this month. The Amerks have managed only one win and three points in their eight November games.

A 1-6-1 record should be expected when you start out the month on a five game losing streak, and what's worse, they lost four at home before winning on the last game of their five-game homestand. It was a complete team (non) effort that saw the Amerks mimic what their parent club had been doing. During the losing streak they managed only eight goals while allowing 19.

Rochester began to claw their way back with a 6-1 drubbing of the Toronto Marlies last Friday. Veterans Luke Adam and Matt "Friggen" Ellis had two goals apiece while another veteran, Phil Varone contributed three assists (two, primary.) Andrey Makarov stopped 23 of 24 shots in the win. But they followed that up with a 7-4 loss vs. a very strong Chicago Wolves (STL) team and lost in overtime to the Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL.)

Tonight they play the league-leading Utica Comets (VAN) who are 12-2-2-0 overall and have garnered 26 of a possible 32 points on the year. Utica is hot with points in 11 of their 12 previous games and have a 6-1-1-0 road record.

The Comets are lead by their 24 yr. old goalie, Jacob Markstrom. His 1.24 goals against average and .955 save percentage are both second in the AHL while he leads the league with four shutouts.

Markstrom was a part of the Roberto Luongo to Florida trade. He was originally drafted by the Panthers with 31st pick in the 2008 draft and played his first year of professional hockey for the Rochester Americans while the Sabres had their AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.

Earlier this month vs. Utica, an Amerks comeback fell just short when they lost to the Comets 3-2. Zac Dalpe brought Rochester to within one with just over three minutes to play, but the Amerks couldn't get the equalizer past Markstrom. Mikhail Grigorenko had the only other Rochester goal, his only tally of the month.

If the Amerks want to get things rolling they'll need to continue scoring as the defense is still adjusting to the loss of veteran Drew Bagnall. Grigorenko in particular needs to step it up. He has one goal and two assists this month. His linemate Joel Armia also needs to get things going as he only has one goal to go along with four assists in the eight November games.

The team in general will need to provide some secondary scoring like they have the last three games (14g.) Other than Adam (6g, 4a) Varone, (1g, 9a,) and Johan Larsson (2g, 5a) none are making consistent contributions up front. After beginning the month slow, defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (2g, 3a) has begun heating up, but other than him no one on the back-end has been contributing this month. Varone, Adam and Larsson are 1-2-3 in points for Rochester while Ruhwedel is tied for fourth with Armia.

Makarov will be manning the crease for the Amerks until Nathan Lieuwen returns from a call-up to Buffalo. Lieuwen got the nod when Sabres netminder Michal Neuvirth was felled by a lower-body injury in Tuesday's win vs. San Jose'.

At one point this month Makarov was sporting a 2.47 gaa with a .928 sv%, but his numbers have taken a nose-dive during the Amerks slump. He enters tonight's game with a 2.92 gaa and only a .907 sv%.

One thing about Makarov, though, when he's hot, he's hot. Last year when turmoil enveloped the crease in Buffalo and the Sabres were dressing a record number of goalies (9,) Makarov was busy leading Rochester to the playoffs as the clear-cut #1. He's at that point right now, at least for a couple of games, while Lieuwen is with Buffalo.

Makarov's backup will be Sam Marrota who was just signed to a pro try-out contract. Marrota was graduate of D-1 Merrimack College and was in Elmira (like Makarov last season,) Buffalo's ECHL affiliate, before landing in Rochester. In four games with the Jackals he was 2-0-1-1 with a 2.45 gaa and a .917 sv. %.








Friday, November 21, 2014

Sabres score four, win 2nd in a row. Are the Leafs Tanking?

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Before we get to a strange anomaly in the sportsworld--the Buffalo Sabres domination of the San Jose' Sharks--the Toronto Maple Leafs got chrushed last night at home.

The "non-traditional hockey market's" Nashville Predators laid a good old-fashioned southern-style 9-2 whooping on the boys from the self-described "Center of the Hockey Universe." The nine goals by the Preds tied a franchise record initially set in 2006 vs. Calgary.

This is the second loss in a row for Toronto and the second game in a row their fans displayed their anger and disgust by throwing their Leafs' regalia on the ice, although this time a Leafs' sweater was thrown on the ice during live play. Three nights prior, the Buffalo Sabres had pounded the Leafs 6-2 and frustrated Toronto hockey fans littered the First Niagara Center ice with a jersey and some scarves.

Although the Leafs are still a very respectable 9-8-2, no one can tell me that the thought of Connor McDavid donning the blue and white hasn't crossed the mind of Team President Brendan Shanahan. McDavid is from Newmarket, Ontario, just outside of Toronto and could take his place as a Zeus-type god sitting high atop Mount Maple Leaf.

Despite their self-perceived "holy" status in the hockey world, they've not been able to lure a true superstar to the Air Canada Center and like the Buffalo's and Edmonton's of the sportsworld, maybe the only way to get one is by picking at the top of the draft. With the Toronto languishing in mediocrity over the past nine seasons, and this year possibly spinning out of control, a nose dive to the lower eschelon of the league may well be in the cards.

It's something to keep an eye on and with deft PR work they can "tank with style."

After all, they're Canadian franchises that do things the right way. Right?
Last night the Sabres continued their mastery over the San Jose' Sharks, a team that has not missed the playoffs since the 2002-03 season.

With last night's 4-1 defeat at Buffalo, the Sharks are now winless against the Sabres in their last eight matchups (0-7-1.) The last time San Jose' beat Buffalo was January 23, 2010. During that span the Sabres have changed ownership, changed general managers, are on their third coach, were the worst team in the league last season and are well on their way to a bottom-finish this year.

In all, Buffalo is 16-1-0 vs. San Jose' at home. The only time the Sharks have come out on top in Buffalo was December 6, 2005.

Go figure.

Captain Brian Gionta would finally get off the schneid scoring two goals, including an empty-netter while another Brian, he of the surname, Flynn, collected a goal and an assist. The two Brian's had Torrey Mitchell as their other winger and although he didn't hit the scoresheet, Mitchell was a plus-3 for the night.

Another shot of the "Wall of Snow" pummeling
the Southtowns.
The game itself was played while areas just south of the city were being crippled by an immense "Wall of Snow". It was an epic storm which dumped six feet of lake-effect snow in just 24 hours. The clearly defined line of the storm spared downtown Buffalo and areas north which is why the game was played. There were 6,200 fans in attendance last night.

Oddly enough, this wasn't the first time that the Sharks would come to town and play a game with catastrophe surrounding the city.

On Thursday, February 12, 2009 a commuter plane crashed into a home in Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo. The crash killed all 49 people on board plus, miraculously, just one on the ground.


47 yr. old Arturs Irbe, former NHL goalie
and present Sabres goalie coach,
puts on that pads as insurance for the team.

The Sabres would host the Sharks the following night and come up with a 6-5 shootout win. Former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff had questioned whether the game should have been played at all, but with the outcome as it was said afterwards, "I think, yeah, ever so small, this event turned out to be a positive night. Though it is a hockey game, it was a good ending. It's a positive feeling. We needed it. I think our fans needed it."

For posterity's sake, Jason Pominville tipped defenseman Craig Rivet's point shot past the Sharks' Evgeni Nabakov to tie the score with only four seconds left in the game. "Obviously, it's been a real tough day for all of Buffalo," captain Rivet said. "If we could somehow ease some of the pain, I hope it'll help."

Were not sure how many fans were able to watch the Sabres win their second in a row while buried under Mother Natures fury, but hopefully it helped.

The Sabres played an entertaining game that once again saw them skate hard play solid defense and rally around goalie Jhonas Enroth who entered the game after starter Michal Neuvirth was injured. Buffalo was limited to only 14 shots but would score on four of them which would cause Sharks coach Todd McClellan to remark, we come out in the second and third period and play dumb hockey. Just flat-out dumb. Pinching, giving up two on ones, three on twos. We had only given up 10 shots after two periods and we're down (3-1). Just dumb hockey."
"You don't win at any level playing like that. You don't beat any type of team playing like that."

Enroth could have sued for lack of support in nearly every game this season as the team couldn't produce much of anything. In the 10 games he started for the Sabres prior to last night, Enroth went 1-8-1. During that span the Sabres were shutout four times, including back-to-back games, and scored only one goal on two other occasions.

With Neuvirth down and the Sabres without a back up, head coach Ted Nolan made the call to former goalie and present goalie coach, Arturs Irbe, who was up in the pressbox. After quickly signing a pro try-out contract, Irbe strapped on some goalie gear featuring Enroth's pads as well as a glove and blocker from former Sabres goalie, Ryan Miller. His helmet came from "parts unknown."

"It’s not the comfortable equipment I’m used to,” said Irbe. “But I had to preserve, put it on. It took a while. Much longer than it usually takes – it’s been seven years. And that was it. By the start of the third period, I was, just in case ready. It was a fun feeling."

Nolan could have used a skater to be back-up, but turned to Irbe. “We started scrambling, looking for options and it’s a snow day, No. 1. And No. 2, it’s Independence Day for Latvia, for our tiny country today,” Irbe said after the game. “Ted said, “Arch, why don’t you be our security net just in case?’

“I said, ‘Ted, I haven’t donned a uniform in seven years.’

“He said, ‘It’s doesn’t matter. Now you will.’"

The Sabres are on a bit of a roll these days having won two in a row and looking like a real NHL team. Nolan has them playing good, solid hockey and their willingness to drive to the net is starting to produce some goals.

Where this all ends up this season is yet to be determined, but if anyone thought that the Sabres would be alone at the bottom of the league and a clear-cut favorite in the "Connor McDavid Sweepstakes," they'll be sadly mistaken.

There are many teams who've been on that 10th-place treadmill to nowhere and although none will admit it, a player like McDavid, or Jack Eichel, is their way to finally get off of it. Only one team right now is in full rebuild-mode, and that's Buffalo, but there are a number of teams who could easily blow it up and start their rebuild this year with a shot at one of those two franchise-type players

How they do it, and how they'll be perceived as they tumble to the bottom, is another matter. But they all know where a fall leads.







Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sharks at Sabres a go as a dump truck of snow hits the southtowns

Despite an early storm that's literally dumping snow by the foot just outside downtown Buffalo, tonight's game will go on.

The official press release from Sabresdigitalpress.com goes like this:

Tonight’s Buffalo Sabres game against the San Jose Sharks, taking place at 7:30 p.m. at First Niagara Center, will be played as scheduled. Due to the inclement weather and dangerous driving conditions in some areas of Western New York, the Sabres organization is urging anyone planning to attend tonight’s game to obey all local traffic advisories and driving bans. Those who decide it is safe to travel to tonight’s game are encouraged to use caution and allow for extra driving time to the arena.

Fans are also reminded that the game will be televised on NBCSN and the radio broadcast will be available on WGR 550.

Fans who are unable to attend tonight’s game will be able to exchange their unused tickets from tonight’s game for tickets to a future Sabres game (list of games below). Tickets and location will be based on availability.

For an idea of just what's happening with this storm, here's a pic that's been making the rounds. It's a shot from downtown Buffalo looking south towards the snowbelt:




Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dominik Hasek heads to the Hall. Na Zdravi, Dominator

Reprinted with permission form hockeybuzz.com


In as much as Taro Tsujimoto is legendary in Buffalo and around the league for being a 10th round draft pick that never existed, tonight the NHL will induct a real Sabres' legend into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Dominik Hasek.

The Czechoslovakian native was drafted in the 10th round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft as an 18 yr. old by the Chicago Blackhawks but he was unable to come to North America because his nation was behind the Berlin Wall. When that fell in 1990, he began his trek to the Hall as backup to fellow rookie Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour for the Chicago.

Sabres General Manager, Gerry Meehan, who had goalies Darren Puppa, Clint Malarchuk and Tom Draper to work with at the time, saw an opportunity to land Hasek then proceeded to pull of the greatest Sabres' trade of all time. On August 8, 1992 he sent goalie Stephane Beauregard and a fourth round pick (Eric Daze) to the 'Hawks for Hasek.

Meehan set that deal up two months earlier via a trade with the original Winnipeg Jets. On June 15, he sent forward Christian Ruutu to the Jets for Beauregard. Three days after the Hasek deal, Beauregard would go back to Winnipeg and Ruutu, the player Chicago wanted all along, headed to the Windy City.

Tim Tierney of the Chicago Tribune wrote at the time of the trade, "For a team with a goaltending surplus, the Blackhawks' trade Friday that sent Dominik Hasek to the Buffalo Sabres for goalie Stephane Beauregard doesn`t seem to help the Hawks. But there is more to this deal than a one-for-one swap.

"A source within the Hawks' organization confirmed a report the team would deal Beauregard, 24, to the Winnipeg Jets for former Sabres center Christian Ruuttu as early as next week. The Hawks tried to get Ruuttu from Buffalo last season."

At the time nobody really thought too much of the trade. Tierney would label it "a questionable deal from a rules standpoint" and he even got the draft position wrong when he wrote that Hasek was picked in the 11th round with the 207th pick.

The Hawks were set in goal at the time and only needed a backup. GM Mike Keenan was pretty forthright in saying that Belfour "has been the Hawk' No. 1 goalie the past two seasons. [He] is at the top of our depth chart."

Meehan, though, had gotten the goalie he coveted. "Hasek will be given the opportunity to be the No. 1 goalie," he said at the time. "We've liked Hasek for a long time. We've been trying to get the trade done since February or March."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

After backing up Grant Fuhr for the 1992-93 season, Hasek would control the crease for the Buffalo Sabres for eight seasons during which he earned "The Dominator" moniker. The Buffalo years, from 1993-2001, were the years he would essentially punch his ticket to the Hall.

During his time as a starter in Buffalo, Hasek won six Vezina Trophies, (second only to Jacques Plante's seven all-time,) two Hart Trophies and two Lester B. Pearson awards for MVP as voted on by his peers.

Hasek also won two Jennings Trophies while with the Sabres for lowest goals against average.

His first season as a starter in Buffalo was ridiculous and set the tone for his career. He won his first Vezina Trophy that year, was nominated for the Hart Trophy for the first time and was the first goalie since Flyers legend Bernie Parent in 1973-74 to post a sub 2.00 goals against average (1.95.)

The NHL stats and awards speak for themselves in North American, but Hasek also became a world wide hockey phenomenon when he lead his native Czechoslovakian team to the 1998 Gold Medal at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan. It was the first time in Olympic history that professionals were allowed to play.

In the semifinals Hasek outdueled Hall of Famer, Patrick Roy and the Canadian squad in a 2-1 shootout victory. During the shootout he stopped, Theo Fleury, Ray Bourque (HOF,) Joe Niewendyk (HOF,) Eric Lindros, and Brendan Shanahan (HOF.)

In an oddity, or complete oversight or maybe just blind devotion to "his plan," Canadian Olympic coach Marc Crawford didn't call Wayne Gretzky's name for the shootout. "When it comes down to penalty shots, you go with gut instincts," said Crawford at the time. "We prepared a list before the game."

The win over a heavily favored, superstar-laden Team Canada by Czechoslovakia was somewhat of a "Miracle" similar to the feat that the Americans pulled off in 1980 when they defeated mighty Soviets before going on to win the gold. Hasek, by the way, pitched a 1-0 shutout of the Russians in the finals.

For some, though, "The Dominator" will be remembered for the events leading to, and his departure from, Buffalo.

During the 1996-97 season when Ted Nolan was busy winning coach of the year and "The hardest working team in hockey" was winning it's first division title in 16 yrs., the bottom was beginning to fall out. The man who put this team together, John Muckler who won Executive of the year that season, was fired and replaced by Darcy Regier.

All of this came about in the off season after the Sabres travelled to the Ottawa Senators for Game-3 of their first round matchup earlier in the playoffs. Something was bothering Hasek as he deviated greatly from his normal pre-game routine and he would leave the game with a questionable knee injury. And in one of the quirks in his overly quirky hockey life, Hasek would eventually accost respected Buffalo News writer Jim Kelley for implying that Hasek faked his injury.

In hindsight what it seemed to boil down to was that the enigmatic Hasek simply wasn't happy playing for Nolan and that he wouldn't play another game under him. He didn't.

In the off season Muckler was fired and Nolan was low-balled by new Regier. Nolan walked and in stepped Lindy Ruff.

Despite the Sabres making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998 and the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999, the winds of change were fiercely blowing at the foot of Washington St. The team Muckler fashioned was being dismantled and Buffalo was ousted in the first round of the 2000 playoffs. Captain Michael Peca held out over a contract dispute the entire 2000-01 season and was eventually traded to the NY Islanders, the team that drafted him.

Hasek began losing interest, it would seem, and in the 2001 playoffs the Sabres would bow out to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Game-7 went to overtime with Hasek letting in a shot he usually saved with his eyes closed from noted NHL pest Darius Kasparaitis. He then skated directly from his crease in a fashion that said he was finished.

"The Dominator" had seen enough in Buffalo. According to Kelley, "As the Sabres were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs, Hasek was on record saying he was upset that management had not made moves, particularly that they did not re-sign or trade captain Michael Peca who had been gone all season in a contract dispute."

Hasek demanded a trade and according to his agent, Rich Winter, he wanted to be traded to a contender which included the Red Wings, "because of their history, depth and experienced coaching staff." Hockeytown would gladly welcome him as they were in the throes of a "King of the Mountain" duel with the Colorado Avalanche. But, not only did Hasek demand a trade, he set the terms of it--nothing of immediate value to the Wings' Stanley Cup roster would go back in return. Hasek was traded for Viktor Kozlov and a 2002 first rounder.

It should be noted that Kozlov hated the thought of playing in Buffalo but managed to get through one injury plagued season for the Sabres while the first round pick (No. 30 overall) was traded along with Mike Pandolfo to Columbus for the 20th pick (Daniel Paille.)

Hasek would get his wish and add a Stanley Cup ring to his resume' that season with the Red Wings. He posted a 1.85 goals against average in 23 playoff games. He would add a second ring with Detroit in 2008 as a backup.

The wounds from that tumultuous 1997-2001 span took a long time to heal, but eventually time does what it does--heals all wounds.

In March of this year, in a precursor to his Hall of Fame induction tonight, Hasek was elected to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame while the team also announced that his jersey would be retired. No. 39 will take it's rightful place in the rafters in a ceremony on January 13, 2015 before a game vs. the Detroit Red Wings.

Nolan and Hasek buried the hatchet before the Buffalo Hall of Fame ceremony and it would seem as if any fans who still feel betrayed should bury it also. For those who watched him game-in/game-out he was a marvel.

It's time to take a look at Hasek for what he was--an enigmatic goaltending phenom, wrapped inside the riddle of the goalie mask who many, like me, consider the greatest goalie of all time.

Na Zdravi, Dominator


Monday, November 17, 2014

Buffalo thumps Toronto 6-2 and Happy Birthday Taro Tsujimoto

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


For the first time this season, the Buffalo Sabres looked like an NHL team as they put in a 60-minute effort full of skating, hitting, top-notch goaltending and scoring. That their best performance of the year against a rival like Toronto, complete with a Leaf-nation invasion of First Niagara Center that turned sour, made it even better.

Despite giving up six goals in each of the previous three games, there were glimmers of hope beginning to emerge, especially on the offensive side of the equation. Head coach Ted Nolan had been juggling players, lines and positions more than an act at a three-ring circus, which is something this team had looked like for most of the season thus far.

It would seem as if he finally has one line he can rely on. Two games ago against St. Louis, Nolan put Zemgus Girgensons at center between left wing Matt Moulson and converted center Tyler Ennis. Although they didn't produce any scoring as a line, there was a noticeable chemistry between them which includes the defensive side where as a trio they were not on the ice for either of the Blues even strength goals.

In Minnesota they began click. Just over one minute into the game, they would tap into Nolan's "Latvian Line" play and were instrumental in Rasmus Ristolainen's first goal of the season. Girgensons, who was the catalyst in the Wild offensive zone on that goal, also scored his fourth of the season that game. Despite the Sabres losing 6-3 that trio had a stat-line of one goal, three assists and were a plus-3.

Last night they exploded in helping the Sabres do something they haven't done since January 31, 2012--score six or more goals in a game. During that 141 game span the Buffalo Sabres have scored five goals in a game only three times, all of them during the 2013-14 season before the trade deadline. The Sabres have been so bereft of goal scoring that they haven't scored more than three goals in a game since Ryan Miller and Steve Ott were traded this past February 28th, a span of 40 games.

Ennis got things rolling last night on the powerplay with his team-leading sixth goal of the year. The diminutive forward was the first Sabres' player to have his name called by Rick Jenneret post-cancer. By the end of the game, Girgensons would tie Ennis for the team lead in goals by scoring two of his own, one short handed while Moulson would pot his second of the season. The stat-line for the trio--four goals, four assists, and a plus-eight with Girgensons at a plus-four.

Nolan was so thrilled with the line's play that he couldn't fully get the words out to describe it, "I think when we put that line together it really..." he began, the kinda fumbling in his enthusiasm, "you see Matty Moulson put the...cute little passes underneath sticks and Girgensons grabbing it and throwing it behind the net for Tyler [Ennis].

"They kinda know where each other are," is what he finally got to. And in a grand understatement for this game he concluded, "They're three very talented players and they're starting to gel a little bit."

It's fun to see.

The first 18 games of this season have been a real drag, testing the patience of everyone in Buffalo, team and fans alike. Girgensons has been a catalyst in helping bring some fun back into the game. In the last five games dating back to the Edmonton tilt on November 7th, he has four goals, two assists and is a plus-five.

Both of his goals last night were doozies. On the first one, his short-handed tally, his patience was only outdone by the patience of Brian Flynn to get him the puck after Toronto goalie James Reimer was caught way too far out of his net. After receiving the pass from Flynn, Girgensons waited it out and rifled one into an empty net.

“It was just a free goal for me, pretty much," he said after the game. "Someone was in front there to block it but it’s not a goalie so what do you do? Score on a d-man with no goalie. Flynn did everything on that goal.”
 
He scored his second in "Latvian Locomotive" style as he barreled towards the net on a break finishing with a highlight real backhand (see full highlights below thanx to Captain Canada.)
 
Although that line was outstanding, with the entire offense playing well, one shouldn't take away from the work of Sabres' goalie Michal Neuvirth last night. He made some outstanding saves that kept the Leafs at bay. Toronto threw 34 shots at him and only two got by. Plus the defense played great as well. Just how well they played is reflected in the stat-line of the much maligned Mike Weber. In 18:14 of ice-time he had an assist on the Moulson goal and was a plus-three.
 
Another standout in the game was Tyler Myers. He really took the "A" on his sweater to heart playing a stout game that included netting his first goal of the season. Just how exasperating it's been for him was shown in the display of relief in finally scoring. His goal, where he poked in a puck lying in the crease, came 1:10 into the third period. It would provide some breathing room for the remainder of the game as it restored the Sabres three-goal lead.
 
Again, this was against the hated Maple Leafs and the influx of fans from Toronto almost gives the feel as if it's a road game for the Sabres. As one reporter at the press conference noted, the two first period goals "took the crowd (the large contingent of Toronto fans) out of it."
 
"Leaf-nation is very strong," said Nolan with a smile on his face as if he just ate the canary. "They were here in full-force tonight. I don't know what the percentage was, but it was almost like winning a road game for us."
 
That "road game" also included a very frustrated Leaf-nation. As bad as the Sabres are, most expected that. But with the Leafs struggling to a 9-7-2 record out of the gate and being shellacked by the worst team in the league, in full view of Hockey Night In Canada no-less, frustration grew into something that might be considered sacrilegious in Canada. Some Leafs fans were so distraught at the whooping they were witnessing took to throwing Leafs regalia on the First Niagara Center ice in.
 
All-in-all this was a good win for the Sabres and their fans. It's not as if anyone is planning a Stanley Cup parade, but it presents a solid leap forward. "We've had a tough season," said Girgensons, "and it's hard enough when you don't win games, but today was absolutely different how we played, 10 times better than what we've done."
 
He then was able to contrast the actions of Leafs-nation to getting blown out, "You don't see Buffalo fans out doing that with the kind of season we're having," Girgensons said. "I don't think that's right from the fans."
 




**********

One final note, today marks the 60th birthday of Sabres' legend Taro Tsujimoto. The diminutive center was plucked from the Tokyo Katanas of the Japan Ice Hockey League with the 183rd pick of the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft.

Tsujimoto is legendary for the simple fact that he never existed. Sabres GM Punch Imlach, who had grown tired of the long, tedious draft format that he was talked into pulling a little prank.

According to Sal Maiorana in his book, 100 Things Sabres Fans Should Know Before They Die, the Sabres PR director at the time, Paul Wieland, came up with the stunt and convinced Imlach to go through with it. Imlach would go along with it figuring, according to Maiorana, "a 10th round pick stood almost no chance of making it in the organization anyway."

From wiki, "Wieland wanted the player to be of Asian descent and he knew instantly what the last name would be. As a college student driving route 16 from Buffalo to St. Bonaventure Wieland would regularly pass the Tsujimoto store and that name just stuck in his head. In 2013, hockey blogger Ben Tsujimoto revealed that Imlach eventually called his grandfather -- Joshua Tsujimoto, a local grocery store owner -- and a Sabres staffer asked for permission to use his family name without revealing the club's true intent, as well as asking what were 'popular' first names in Japanese."

And so, Taro Tsujimoto was born. The ficticious hockey team he came from got it's name from the Japanese word for sword or, katana.

Imlach would continue the ruse by creating a bio with Tsujimoto's "date of birth" being November 16, 1954, and according to Maiorana, they went as far as to "have a stall set up at a practice rink in St. Catharines, Ontario and equipment manager Rip Simonick even issued him a full set of equipment."

It's a classic story and a fun time for a team that was still in it's infancy.

Happy birthday Taro. Wherever you are.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rick Jenneret on the call. Ted Nolan looking for the "want" in players

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Legendary Buffalo Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret will be calling the first period of tonight's game against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. Jeanneret has been battling throat cancer all summer and has said that he is now "cancer free."

Back in July when he announced he had stage III cancer--where the cancer is within the general region where it first began--Jeanrette said he'd be back. 'I would like to stress I have every intention of coming back,' he told Alan Pergament of the Buffalo news back in July. 'I have probably three months ahead of me that aren’t going to be fun. I know they aren’t going to be.'

After three months of radiation and chemo therapy, doctors declared him cancer free and Jeanneret is now easing his way back into the broadcast booth. "The time seems right to slowly begin transitioning back to work,” Jeanneret said in a statement released yesterday. “My doctors have told me I’m cancer free and I’m feeling well enough to get back in the booth, even if it’s only on a limited basis for the time being."

It's a jolt of positivity for the Sabres as they are in the throes of a four-game losing streak and a 3-13-2 record to start the season. The man himself can't go on the ice and play the game, but he can at least provide a little incentive.

“One of the best, if not the best thing about being a Sabre is hearing your name called by Rick Jeanneret,” Buffalo native Patrick Kaleta said Friday. “I still get chills listening to some of stuff on YouTube.”

Jeanneret's iconic calls are woven into the fabric of the Buffalo hockey existence and as the players hit the First Niagara Center Ice tonight, there's some extra motivation to have Jeanneret call his first post-cancer goal.

“It’s pretty special," said Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. "Not only for R.J., but to see what he’s gone through, he fought out of it and was a fighter throughout the whole experience. It’s a pretty special moment for the whole organization.

"To be the guy to get the first goal with him would be pretty cool.”

Perhaps for Myers, just getting that first goal of the season would be cool regardless of who's announcing. Myers along with Sabres captain Brian Gionta remain goalless this season through 18 games and there are a host of others with only one goal on the season.

Two of them, Chris Stewart and Cody Hodgson are testing head coach Ted Nolan's patience. Both have managed only one goal and two points each while dipping down into the double-digit minus category and one of them will probably be up in the pressbox as the injured Marcus Foligno is slated to return tonight.

Stewart and Hodgson are both former 20-goal scorers and started the season in the top-nine, but inconsistent/poor play has Nolan wondering where to put them. While not calling either of them out directly, Nolan said yesterday, "The guys who are in a position they are shouldn't be in that position. They should be one of our top-nine, but in order for them to get there they have to perform a little bit better."

Nolan dialed back the ice-time for both of those players, each of them playing a season low in Minnesota, in an effort to get their attention. When asked if the message got through, he wasn't so sure. "The response was not what I expected," said the coach. "I expected a little bit more frustration, a little bit more anger. But it's like we're OK with it.

"We can't be OK with it. You got to want it. That's the biggest thing."

Cancer survivors Jim Kelly (l) and Rick Jeanneret shake hands
with Tyler Myers and Nikita Zadorov before dropping
the ceremonial first puck for Hockey Fights Cancer
November 7, 2014 (photo: yahoo)
The Sabres have shown that they "wanted it" a little more over the last two games. Unfortunately it was for about one period. They got off to good starts on the road vs. St. Louis and Minnesota, but were unable to sustain that past the first period of each game. They allowed six goals to each team but had a little more offensive punch vs. the Wild scoring three goals. It was only the second time all season they've hit three goals in a game.

Nolan pointed to a group of players, though, that are "in a good place" right now despite the teams record. He said defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen "is playing real well" and his d-partner Nikita Zadorov is "coming on like gang-busters," while center  Zemgus Girgensons, he said, "[has] arguably been one of our best players for a long time."

It's been commonplace for Nolan to mention those three over the course of the past few games as players who are getting it done. "We keep building on that," continued Nolan. "Matty Moulson seems to be coming along and Tyler Ennis has five of our [22] goals.

"There's chunks and pieces that are coming. We just got to get more chunks and pieces added on to it."

Despite Myers and Kaleta thinking that the return of Jeanneret to the booth will provide inspiration, Nolan has his reservations. When local legends and fellow cancer survivors Jeanneret and Jim Kelly dropped the puck last Friday for Hockey Fights Cancer, Nolan thought at the time that it would be a huge inspiration to the team. "I thought for sure," he said. "There's no bigger inspiration than when Jim Kelly walks into your room with Rick Jeanneret. You can't get two bigger sports figures for the Buffalo area. I thought for sure we'd come out flyin'."

The Sabres put on a lackluster performance vs. the Edmonton Oilers surrendering two goals in the third period to drop the game 3-2. Having Jeanneret and Kelly would have personally inspired him, said Nolan, "but, different strokes for different folks" was about all he could come up with concerning his team's uninspired performance.

Perhaps things will be a bit different tonight with the rival Maple Leafs and thousands of their fans invading the First Niagara Center. Perhaps it will be just another case of talking the talk but not walking the walk.

But for this team to progress, individuals will need to tap into their internal "want," according to Nolan. Regardless of rivalries, external motivations, or the threat of sitting in the pressbox, he said that motivation should simply come from "just having pride in what you do for your occupation."



Much thanks to the Buffalo News' Alan Pergament and the Olean Times' Bill Hoppe

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Half-blind after watching the Sabres and Bills last night

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Any Buffalo sports fan who had one eye on the Sabres game and the other on the Bills last night is lucky to be able to see this morning. The Sabres lost 6-3 at Minnesota while the Bills turned in a clunker at Miami 22-9 in a game that had playoff implications despite being played in mid-November.

For Sabres' fans, losses are expected, unfortunately. All they're asking for is an honest effort and that Connor McDavid stops getting into fights. Yet, for as bad as this year has gone, these last two losses vs. a very strong St. Louis Blues club and a very good Wild team have provided some positives that look to be longstanding.

Against the Blues they managed to keep it relatively close for most of the game while pulling up their man pants and actually sticking up for each other and last night they scored three goals. It was the first time they've scored more than two goals in a game since their three-goal "outburst" against Carolina on October 14th.

Glimmers of hope are being seen on a sporadic basis as evidenced by the play of their two rookie defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. Head coach Ted Nolan has had them as a pairing and they've been playing extremely well together. Over the last three games when each opponent has scored six goals (including Pittsburgh,) the "Twin Towers" have each averaged over 20 minutes of ice-time and are a combined plus-1. They've been on the ice for six of the 18 goals against, three of them while short-handed.

Get your tickets now. It's like going to see a band in it's infancy. There's a chemistry between Ristolainen and Zadorov and despite them being from different countries, they're communicating with one another and playing off of each other.

Another glimmer is center Zemgus Girgensons. Last night he potted his fourth goal of the season as he flicked a quick snapshot top-shelf past Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper. Girgensons is now second on the team with four goals (Tyler Ennis, 5) and is third with eight points behind Drew Stafford (10) and Ennis (9.) His minus-1 tops any Sabres player who's played in 12 games or more. Keep in mind that this is a 3-13-2 hockey club that has a minus-42 goal differential.

One of the coolest things last night that Sabres fans saw, was Nolan tapping into his Latvian National experience. Between periods we were shown how he used "The Latvian Wall" for their first goal. With the Wild attacking, the Sabres lined up four across their blueline. When the puck was shot deep in their zone, Ennis retrieved it and sent it all the way into the Wild zone where Girgensons retrieved it to nullified icing. He picked it up in the corner and got it to Matt Moulson on the half-wall. Moulson's shot was kicked out to Ristolainen at the opposite point and the big d-man got his shot to squeak through for his first goal of the season.

It's baby steps like these that keep the eternal flame of hope burning for Buffalo sports fans.

But the Bills were another story. They laid another egg last night in their loss to Miami as their league-worst red-zone percentage got worse and their head coach, Doug Marrone looked defeated.

Owners Kim and Terry Pegula will have some decisions to make, if they haven't already. After being approved as owners just before the first Miami game on September 14, their Bills have gone 3-5 and are effectively out of the playoff race at 5-5 on the season.

It's hard to see them keeping this coaching staff on, even if they can guide the Bills to a noble run to .500. And even that looks difficult as they would need to beat the upstart Cleveland Browns in addition to winning the games they should over the NY Jets and Oakland Raiders.

Former Buffalo Bills standout Steve Tasker speculated on what losing the Miami game, and in effect missing out on the playoffs, could mean for Marrone and company. “You’re not out of it (if you lose)," he said, "but when it comes down to it, there’s a lot of teams in the AFC that are sitting right there where you’re at." And of those teams in the AFC wild card playoff mix, the Bills have the worst conference record at 2-5.

It was a make or break game last night and they broke. It wouldn't be surprising to see this team unravel just like it's done so many times during their 14-year absence from the playoffs with Marrone and his staff getting the axe at the end of the season.

Tasker acknowledges that, but leaves the door open to any possibility including a Pegula ownership who supposedly have a "template" based upon patience.

"They did[not] come in with a big broom and clean the entire building out." said Tasker. "They sat there and watched, they learned what was going on, they had a lot of meetings to learn how the game was played, how it was officiated, how teams were built and what they should do. They didn’t just come in and summarily fire people just because they could. They really learned what was going on, why the team had been successful in the past and why it wasn’t successful."

But what's missing from the "template" Tsker laid out was the end result--the collapse of the Sabres despite Pegula's financial commitment in the 2011 off season. After getting the players that would supposedly make them a playoff team, within six months the dream was shattered and designs for a complete rebuild was forming.

By giving his GM and coach the benefit of the doubt, an indubitably a noble gesture, the team wasted a lot of time and resources.

But Tasker seems to be in tune with the Pegulas and sees them taking a similar approach with the Bills. “They are very patient in what goes on in making changes,” he said. “I think (Marrone and his staff) will be given a fair evaluation. There won’t be any knee-jerk reactions to this season. I think this is a very fair organization at the ownership level, and they seem to be very willing to wait until they feel like they know enough to make a smart decision before they start firing people.”

To many fans who woke up this morning with only one eye after gouging the other one out, why wait? Desperate times call for desperate measures.

As of right now the Bills' only saving grace is their defense, despite their propensity for giving up big chunks of yardage on 3rd or 4th down and (very) long that invariably end up in first downs (or touchdowns.)

Their offense is downright offensive and the brains behind it looks more like a behind than a brain. If Marrone has any brains, he'll want to save his own behind, by dumping his offensive coordinator, Nate Hackett.

This isn't college where the two were some "dynamic duo" leading a poor Syracuse team to a .500 record. This is the pros. Orange is merely a color at this level, one that happens belong to a team that's light-years ahead of the Bills, the Denver Broncos.

If these are desperate times and Marrone wants to save his ass he needs give his sidekick one more secret Orangeman handshake before showing him the door. And if he can't do that, he and Hackett can walk hand in hand into the the cold, dark night of coaching footnotes.

The Bills have 10 days before their next game against the Jets, plenty of time for the ensuing turmoil of a coaching change to recede. And it's the Jets, certainly not a laughing stock right now with Michael Vick playing pre-dog football, but certainly not the Broncos.

The Pegulas need to do something even if it calls for busting out the big spot light and shining that "CG" in the sky.

At least Chan Gailey has the experience to mask weaknesses and get the offense into some sort of rhythm. He did it with Ryan Fitzpatrick behind and a patchwork offensive line without a player the caliber of Sammy Watkins.

Or find someone else, for that matter. Just do something.