Thursday, January 4, 2018

Highlights and notes from a busy weekend for Western New Yorker sports fans.

Published by, 1-2-2018

Is there anything better than Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams having his moment in the sun?

The 12 yr. Bills vet had been a beacon of professionalism throughout Buffalo's long, 17-year playoff drought which finally ended on New Years Eve with a Buffalo win and a Cincinnati Bengals upset of the Baltimore Ravens. In a game the Bills had to win on the final day of the 2017 NFL season, Williams was given the ball on a first and goal at the one, scored his first career touchdown then proceeded to lead one of the best touchdown celebrations we've seen all season:

(video from Highlight Haven)

After the Bills beat the Miami Dolphins to finish the regular season 9-7, it was off to the locker room for some scoreboard watching and this reaction (plus some additional cheering from Bills fans) after  Bengals scored the game-winning touchdown on a fourth and 12 with :44 seconds left in the fourth quarter:

We're two days removed from that glorious finish but it's still goosebumps-worthy video to watch.


How do you top that?

The Buffalo Sabres had an opportunity to at least keep the celebration rolling with a New Year's Day outdoor clash against the NY Rangers in the 10th annual NHL Winter Classic, but unfortunately they came up just short in a 3-2 overtime loss.

Whether it was the 20 degree temperature at game-time, the gusty wind, a military flyover or the overall enormity of the lone NHL game of the day being played at Citi Field in The Big Apple before 41,000+ fans the Sabres found themselves in a hole. After falling behind 2-0 in the first period the Sabres clawed their way back with goals early in the second and third periods to take the game to overtime. But it ended when they allowed a powerplay goal to the Rangers in overtime.

Some notes on that game:

--We've heard plenty about the outdoor game losing it's luster, but for a fan whose team is actually playing, it doesn't. It was a helluva event and an extremely well played game that could've went either way.
--The Winter Classic sweaters designed by Adidas were outstanding for both the Sabres and the Rangers.
--"Doc" Emerick is considered to be one of the best announcers in the game. And rightfully so. His knowledge of the game and the players playing is top-notch and he can roll with the game as good as anybody. However, with all due respect to him, his play-by-play does not allow the game to breathe. Emerick is a wordsmith who's constant barrage of words and phrases describing nearly every name and nearly every moment. At times it comes off as if he's more interested in displaying his knowledge than calling the game. His calls are great for radio, but seemingly smothers the television audience.
--I was finally left with the impression that this group of Sabres players is finally looking like a team. Too bad it tool 38 1/2 games for it to be so. The holes are still there in the lineup, and they still have plenty to learn, but these players are finally developing some chemistry amongst themselves, which is great moving forward. Unfortunately, that might not last long as the next big NHL moment is the trade deadline and it's expected that some Sabres will be on the move.
--The "Ref-cam" was very cool in this game getting us as close to the action as possible. But where was it when Buffalo's Evander Kane got whacked in the face by an rough high stick? Kane tumbled to the ice and lay there while gathering his faculties. Oddly enough there was no gathering of officials which sometimes happens in the NHL. After he go up you could see blood pouring from the bridge of hid nose and when they showed a profile shot there was a huge lump forming. It was an egregious non-call and you have to wonder:  did the ref not see it, or did they just bury the tape from the "Ref-cam?
--Rasmus Ristolainen has goals in consecutive games and has been looking strong in the process. He played 26:00 yesterday had a goal and an assist and was a plus-1. In a curious move, Ristolainen was on the ice for only one shift (:33) in overtime last night.
--That was one of a few head-scratchers from Sabres head coach Phil Housley with the big one being, why was fourth-line center Jacob Josefson on the ice in overtime? Not sure what Housley was thinking on that one, but Josefson wouldn't you want to play your best players as much as possible in the five-minute overtime session?
--Kyle Okposo assisted on both Buffalo goals yesterday and was hard on the puck all game. It looks as if he's recovered from his off-season health issues. He would have been a better pick than Josefson. Benoit Pouliot has the speed to play in overtime. He would have been better. For as much as the players get hammered for their poor start to the season, Housley's been making rookie mistakes all season long.
--Housley also had Marco Scandella on the ice with the Rangers on the powerplay in overtime. Ristolainen had plenty of time to rest and is the team's best defenseman. Why was he not on the ice?
--The powerplay looked better, but on the whole, it still isn't anywhere close to where it should be.

The Sabres have a back-to-back on the road at Minnesota on Thursday and Winnipeg on Friday.


Western New York hockey fans can still see action as the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships are being held downtown.

The elimination games begin today and five Sabres prospects will be playing:

12pm--G, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Finland take on D, Vojtech Budik and the Czechs
6pm--Forwards Alexander Nylander and Marcus Davidson lead Team Sweden against Slovakia
8pm--C, Casey Mittelstadt and Team USA are up against Russia

Mittelstadt and the Americans got this weekend rolling with a tough come-from-behind win over Canada on Friday in the first outdoor game in WJC history. On a cold, blustery evening at New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills, Mittelstadt set up two US third period goals to tie the score at 3-3 with Team USA eventually winning in the shootout.

Mittelstadt has been the unquestioned star pf the event thus far while leading the tournament in scoring with nine points (4+5) in four games.


That win on Friday was the first of four big wins for WNY sports fans over the weekend.

On Saturday the Sabres beat the Metropolitan Division leading New Jersey Devils in overtime on Ristolainen's first goal of the season and the surging Rochester Americans took over first place in the AHL's Eastern Conference with a 2-0 shutout win in Toronto against the Marlies. And, of course, the Bills finally ended their 17-year playoff drought on Sunday.

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