Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Bisons break camp and head for Buffalo

Time to chime in a bit on Buffalo Bisons baseball, as the team held its final Spring Training game this afternoon in Winter Haven, Florida, and the team will head up to Buffalo tomorrow to set up shop here.

If anybody is counting, the Bisons ended their preseason schedule with a 3-5-3 record and one rainout. In the finale today, they lost to Toledo 5-3.

So now the countdown starts to Opening Day. Here are the planned activities:

Sun Apr 1 7:00PM... MLB Opening Night party at Pettibones Grill... $5 admission gets you free chicken wings and a free ticket to this Friday's game. Torey Lovullo and select Bisons players will be on hand.

Tue Apr 3 7-9PM and Wed Apr 4 2-4 PM... team practices, open to the media.

Thur Apr 5 3:05PM... Opening Day! The Richmond Braves are the opponent.

Just checked the updated long range forecast on Thursday: High 33, snow shower/wind.

Uh boy... that does not sound good.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sabres 6, Islanders 4

This score is deceptive... the game was over early and the Sabres were all over the New York Islanders from the get go. Want some ugly stats? How about 5 first period goals on 10 shots, chasing Islanders goalie Mike Dunham after one period. With Rick DiPietro out of the lineup with headaches, the Isles were then forced to turn to AHL journeyman Wade Dubiliewicz (by the way we saw him in net back in January when we visited Worcester, as he was playing for the Isles farm team Bridgeport Sound that night). For the final two periods it was mop duty.

Two of those goals by Buffalo were scored shorthanded... and Daniel Paille was skunked on three point blank opportunities, including two breakaways, otherwise it would have been uglier.

New York then got two goals early in the third to cut it to 5-3; Lindy called a time out to refocus the team and they played with a bit more conviction the rest of the way.

With the win the team goes to 107 points and retakes the overall league lead. With one more win they will clinch the East and first seed... maybe tomorrow night in Montreal!

Other observations from the game:

-Was that Nicholas Picholas wearing #81 for the Isles tonight??? Just kidding, but actually, Miroslav Satan was such a non factor in the game that Buffalo fans didn't get much of a chance to boo him.

-Philadelphia lost tonight, meaning they officially clinch 30th and last place in the standings. That means that Buffalo will have the 31st overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft, the pick we got in the Biron trade.

-The whole "Teddy Nolan comes to Buffalo" thing is yesterday's news. The fanfare and salute should have happened back in January. Tonight it would have come across as idiotic.

-You almost have to feel sorry for the Islanders...yeah they are still in the mix in the six way race for the final three spots, but with DiPietro out and Ryan Smyth injured, one can't like their chances.

-And last, Detroit lost in a shootout tonight, meaning a loss of one point in the President's Trophy race. Detroit's remaining schedule? Home and homes vs Columbus and Chicago. Ugh!

Bass Pro at Canalside - is this finally the real deal?

Above are two renderings of the new Bass Pro and related development set for the central wharf next door to HSBC Arena. Check out the 19th century period architecture!

It's front page news here in Buffalo - the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation today inked a "pre development" agreement with Bass Pro to construct a 125,000 sf retail store on the waterfront next door to HSBC Arena. This will be the retail anchor for a comprehensive mixed use development which should dramatically change the look of the arena neighborhood in the coming few years.

Looking at the renderings - part of me is thrilled, and part of me is looking at this with a feeling of trepidation and dread. What will go wrong now? Supposedly all that is standing in the way is the standard environmental impact review, and once a negative declaration is issued, it is all systems go. Nonetheless, I will believe all this when I see a shovel in the ground. I've seen Buffalo's hopes and dreams dashed too many times and that is where my skepticism comes in.

And sure enough, Tim Tielman from the local preservationist crowd is already chiming in, calling the renderings "an abomination". As a reminder, this is same posse who tried to move heaven and earth to prevent Dunn Tire Park from being built in the 80s... they much would have preferred to maintain the few derelict vacant buldings and litter strewn parking lots over a beautiful baseball stadium.

Anyways, the urban planner in me is jacked up and I am just a fountain of ideas.... so rapid fire here goes:

1) The renderings show the skyway gone; $10MM is set aside for Aud demo; and the Donovan Building is now vacant and slated for demolition this year. So how about fast tracking the Skyway closure, and start bidding out asbestos and mold remediation for the Aud NOW! Demo all three structures at the same time, and have development ready sites all in place for immediate build out.

2) They are leaving the skyway piers in place, according to the drawings. So light 'em up, turn them into dramatic sculptures. Imagine laser lights and other special effects offering a symphony of light each night.

3) How about leaving the Terrace Street lobby entrance of the Aud intact. The size of the structure would be proportional to future development, and it would leave a bit of Aud history in place.

4) I would love to see a dramatic new Canalside light rail station - with weather protected access for arena patrons.

5) When can we see construction of that low rise bridge at the foot of Main Street, presumably connecting to the new Fuhrmann Blvd in the outer harbor. Get that bridge built and open and that land the other side of the Buffalo River becomes HOT PROPERTY.

Here is more from The Buffalo News. Also, Jim Fink has an update from the ECHDC meeting this morning at Buffalo Business First.

This is a circa 50s photo of the Inner Harbor, with the Skyway under construction. With today's plans being released, the new look would resemble what things were like there two generations ago

Thursday, March 29, 2007

This week in Artvoice

"Staring at the Standings"

This week's Puck Stop. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Get out of the way Peter you're blocking the camera!

When Lindy Ruff walks into the press room for his postgame news conference, reporters jump up and place their recorders on the lectern. Peter was covering tonight, and did not get seated quickly enough, so yes for a brief moment we all got a glimpse of Artvoice's finest (well, second finest next to ME) on the MSG postgame telecast.

By the way Peter is sporting his new haircut, his first since his sister Katy's wedding... last August!

Sabres 4, Devils 3

The boys in blue and gold win a big Eastern Conference game with the help of some returning faces.

Welcome back Kotalik. Nice to see you again Paille.

Out with significant long term injuries, these two Sabres returned to the ice and provided two of the Sabres' third period goals and lifted Buffalo to a critical 4-3 win over the Devils. Paille got the scoring going in the third with a nice rebound shot that got under Brodeur, and Kotalik showed that his rocket of a shot hadn't been slowed down as he powered home what proved to be the game winner with a tad over four minutes to go.

The win pushes the Sabres to 105 points on the season and most importantly expands their lead over the Devils and Senators to seven points and puts the magic number to win the conference's top seed at four. Buffalo can clinch as early as Friday with a win over the Islanders combined with a bunch of dominoes falling in other games just right.

Notes from inside the arena....

Whoever is in charge of returning the banners to their rightful spots in the rafters either messed things up or decided to do a little redecorating. Tim Horton's #2 has been moved away from the middle of the Sabres retired numbers and sent way off to the right of the other five. Again, can't say whether this is a goof or if it's planned.

Hey, if you go to as many arenas as we do, trust me you'd notice things like this too.....

Fitting music track of the night: Van Halen's "Runnin' With the Devil".

No goals and no penalties in period one. I thinks Taro is gonna get to work on finding out when the last time that has occured at a Sabres game.

After seeing Zubrus' amazing end to end rush in the first period I now can see why people go crazy over this guy and wonder why things like this don't happen more often.

Islanders coming into town Friday. 18,690 fans will know that Teddy is in the building, will anyone with a tv/scoreboard camera know that???

Baltimore's wish list: An NCAA basketball subregional

Here in Buffalo we might covet an exciting and vibrant downtown core - something like Baltimore's Inner Harbor, but over in Baltimore, they covet something that WE have (and no I'm not referring to Willis McGahee and his progeny). They would love to be in the rotation for an NCAA basketball event, and as Baltimore Sun columnist David Steele points out in his column, Baltimore does not have the facility to support a tournament of this magnitude. The 45 year old First Mariner Arena in downtown Baltimore was once the home of the NBA Baltimore Bullets, but that was a lifetime ago.

One quote from the column:
"This time, Maryland and seven other schools traveled to drab, bone-chilling Buffalo, thin on top-notch hotels and nearby amenities...."


No amenities? Perhaps next time we need to get the good Mr. Steele up to Fort Erie and a visit to the Canadian Ballet. Or maybe he was in a surly mood because his Terrapins got themselves a good whoopin'!

Washington Nationals new ballpark on schedule for 2008

Coming out of DC is this report stating that the new ballpark for the Washington Nationals, located on the banks of the Anacostia River, is on schedule and on budget.

The new venue, with the working title of "Nationals Ballpark" (you know that corporate moniker is coming!) will open in April of 2008. And of course this visit is firmly on the USRT radar screen!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Martin Biron signs with the Flyers

A two year contract extension.

More on the Philadelphia Flyers website.

Cherry drops the gloves on Colin Campbell

Last week NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell raised the question about whether fighting belongs in the NHL anymore. As this article from the Canadian Press shows, the entire issue generated a great deal of comment across the NHL.

But none as hard hitting as Don Cherry on last Saturday's "Coach's Corner" on CBC. When host Ron MacLean tried to interject during Cherry's tirade about what message parents should be giving to youngsters playing hockey, Cherry snapped back, "The NFL doesn't worry about kids. Baseball doesn't worry about throwing at a guy's head."

The funniest part of the segment was a vintage clip from 1991, of a very young Ron MacLean and Cherry at the zamboni entrance at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. Cherry was wearing his Hollywood shades, an earring dangling from his left ear, and in total Peter Pan mode was wisping and lisping his way about how hockey should be just one happy lovefest. "Hockey without violence is like a silver ballet", Cherry mimicked as he waved his imaginary wand.

Great stuff. No wonder all of Canada stops dead in its tracks at 7:45PM each Saturday to tune in CBC. Here in Buffalo we do likewise.

While Buffalo's Adam Mair and Ottawa's Jason Spezza were flailing away at each other in the big brawl on February 22, Tom Preissing and Brian Campbell look on in an almost tender embrace. Cherry has shown this clip twice and has heaped his ridicule on the two both times.

Football stadium plans unveiled in San Francisco

While the San Francisco 49ers have been quietly making plans for a new stadium in suburban Santa Clara, the City of San Francisco yesterday unveiled this plan for a complete overaul of Hunters Point and Candlestick Point, which is the current location of Candlestick, err... 3Com, err... Monster Park, err.... San Francisco Stadium. Included in the proposal would be thousands of new homes, retail, and public spaces and parks. And a commitment for open parking to keep an active and vibrant tailgate scene.

Mayor Gavin Newsom apparently wants to keep the heat on the 49ers to remain in the city. Whatever the outcome, 2012 seems to be the year everyone is circling for the replacement of their current stadium, which we have ranked as the worst venue in the NFL.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hockey Night in Canada stays on CBC!!!!

Hallej - freaking - lujah!!!

For the past few months, the rumblings were out that the Canadian institution known as Hockey Night In Canada would move from the CBC to TSN when the contract was up due to an "offer you can't refuse" coming from TSN. Whatever actually went down, in the end tradition prevailed as the CBC retained the rights to one of North America's longest running sports shows.

I mean, HNIC leaving the CBC would be about as unthinkable as Monday Night Football leaving ABC, wouldn't it??


Buffalo Bisons roll out the red carpet on Media Day

Check out the new home uniforms...those red unis with the classic red Buffalo logo look sweet!

New Bisons radio voice Ben Wagner and I got to sit down and talk baseball, sports and Buffalo stuff.

What better way to get into the baseball spirit than to to head down to Dunn Tire Park on a warm and sunny March day... the grass is green, the ballpark looks to be in great shape, and in less than 10 days it will be time to "Play Ball" for the 2007 season.

The team held its annual "Media Day" at Pettibones this afternoon, and it's always a great chance to reconnect with familiar faces, meet some new people, and see all the exciting things the team has in store for the new season.

The team had a display of some of the new merchandise, and also were modeling the new home uniforms, which look pretty snazzy. PR coordinator Brad Bisbing said they were still sticking with the sliding Bison and the green/black colors as the primary identity for the team.

I got a chance to sit down with the new Voice of the Bisons, Ben Wagner, and he is positively giddy about making his new home in Buffalo and his new job as the play by play guy. Ben and his wife just got settled in their apartment in Williamsville last week, and he got a taste of what a great sports town Buffalo is last Friday, when he was dining downtown and watching the streets explode with joy as the Sabres mounted their furious rally against the Leafs.

All the Bisons media regulars in attendance today were giving Ben the warm welcome and making him feel at home.

GM Mike Buczkowski gave me an inside peek as to the process of filling the important job of play by play announcer in a very short time frame. They only learned as late as February that Rosie was leaving the team, and had to interview and hire someone quick. We will have more on this in our kickoff "Play Ball" column next week in Artvoice.

Oh one more thing... when the Bisons sent out the alert with the invitation, Brad indicated that there would be samples of the new iced capuccino and beef brisket for us to try. So I show up and there's a whole frikkin' buffet set up...penne pasta with sausage, barbecued chicken strips, chicken finger wraps, pastrami with melted cheese, bacon cheeseburgers, a dozen different desserts. I know I left some stuff out. Man oh man they always feed us well there!

Opening Day is Thursday, April 5 at 3PM vs. Richmond. Can't come soon enough for me!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Our weekly series on cool media folks - Meet Matthew Ondesko

One thing about sitting in the pressbox at Sabres games is you don't get to choose the company you keep. Assigned seating chart means the Sabres staff gets to pick your neighbors, not you.

For Artvoice, that means Sports and Leisure Magazine on the left, Metro Source on the right. And most of the time, we'll find Matthew Ondesko in the Metro Source chair.

Matthew is the Associate Editor for Metro Source, which is sort of a combination of your local pennysaver and a mix of localized editorial content. The weekly paper is delivered to every doorknob in WNY. Matthew is in charge of sports, and his paper has found a big niche in covering local high school sports.

With strong South Buffalo roots (Bishop Timon HS grad), Matthew has big goals... he talks of being his own publisher some day. With ease he will rattle off and examine "new media" business models and talk about the future of journalism and the delivery of news. He looks upward towards larger media outlets and asks "why not me?". But of all his current media assignments, clearly he relishes most his coverage of Sabres hockey and participation in the Sabres media corps, once saying "my friends see me up here and they are so envious and say I'm so lucky to be able to do this. Yeah I am lucky."

While we have known Matthew since we started covering the Sabres, it is this season that he has rocketed onto our media "A" list. He is a valued colleague, a good friend... and oh... Matthew likes sports travel as well, so don't be surprised if you hear of him again here, coming along on a future USRT adventure.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Save the Aud? Tear down the Aud?

Back in February we ran this Puck Stop column in Artvoice, called "A Blueprint For The Aud", which examined the trials and tribulations that the Montreal Forum went through in its transformation from a hockey arena to a multi use retail and entertainment facility.

This week, our colleague Jim Fink at Buffalo Business First broke this story indicating that Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown now wants the Aud torn down, and wants it done soon. I chatted with Jim at the hockey game last night, and he confirmed that this is all in the pipeline, and also that asbestos removal and demolition preparation will be starting on the adjacent Donovan building this summer.

But whether the Aud is saved or demolished, it will still require massive dollars for asbestos removal and environmental remediation, no?

So that's why this post by Queenseyes at Buffalo Rising Online really got me excited. Very simple premise - gut the Aud and turn it into a massive parking facility. It would service downtown retail and business during the day, HSBC Arena and Dunn Tire Park at night, and free up every frikkin' surface lot down there for new construction.

Memo to Mayor Brown, Congressman Higgins and the powers that be at the ECHDC... can we give a good look to this idea? Can we get moving on it NOW!

Rendering above taken from Buffalo Rising

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sabres 5, Leaves 4

These Leafs fans sitting below my pressbox perch were chanting "over-ra-ted" early in the 3rd period, but they could only watch in stunned disbelief as Stafford scores to give the Sabres the lead, and bedlam ensues in the arena.

In a year of electric and great moments, this game will rank right up there among the all time best Buffalo games of the regular season.

The Sabres fell behind 4-1 early in the 3rd period, the 4000 or so Leafs fans in the building were savoring the moment, drowning out the stunned Sabres faithful with chants of "Go Leafs Go", "over-ra-ted" and taunting Ryan Miller.

But then the comeback... Thomas Vanek, scoring his second of the night to bring it within two, then drew a penalty which resulted in a Buffalo power play goal to bring it to 4-3. Soon after Jason Pominville broke in on the Toronto goal, burying a wrist shot to tie the game, and before the delirious crowd could even settle down, Drew Stafford scored 20 seconds later, and just like that, Buffalo led 5-4, with 6 minutes left in the game.

Incredibly, as lethargically as the Sabres played early on, being outshot at one point 27-9, they continued to pour it on once they got the lead, and could easily have made it 7 or even 8-4. Toronto pulled the goalie, but Buffalo made enough defensive plays to thwart the Leafs, and Sundin's one timer with 13 seconds left misfired. In a blink of an eye, the game was over, and the Sabres had stolen themselves 2 points, and in doing so, recaptured the "never say die" mojo which was their hallmark in the first month of the season.

Best of all, the Sabres fans got their mojo back... the atmosphere in the arena was electric, and when the comeback was on, it was as loud as I have heard it all season. And just in time to get the fans in playoff mode.

The walk up Washington, on a balmy clear early spring Buffalo night, was great. Horns were honking, people were chanting and cheering. And devastated Leafs fans out on the street could only ponder their team and their crumbling season.

The rematch is on at the ACC in Toronto tomorrow at 7... a Sabres win will, in my opinion, put the final dagger in Toronto's heart for the 2006-07 season. How sweet would that be!

New Meadowlands stadium - a staggering $1.6 billion!!!

Appearing in today's Newsday is this report that has the proposed new stadium in the Meadowlands now estimated at costing$1.6 billion, and that number is seemingly climbing by the day.

Now the NFL owners will have to vote on whether to expand the borrowing capacity for the project. If owners nix the deal, both the Jets and the Giants might have to return to the drawing board on their stadium plans.

Reporting in from the Sabres morning skate

So it's the Sabres and the Leafs tonight, and just in time to put a jump in the stands. The crowds were dead on that last homestand, and getting arrogant Leafsfan into the building might be just the tonic we need to get Buffalo fans into playoff mode.

The team had a great morning skate, both Connolly and Paille were on the ice, with Paille wearing the red "no contact jersey". Lindy Ruff said that the next step was to get Connolly on the ice for back to back practices. At this point the concussion really isn't the issue - it's recovering from his recent injury and getting into top shape.

For Toronto, it is clearly desperation time - last night the worst possible outcome of all games happened to them, with Montreal, New York Islanders, Carolina and Tampa Bay all getting wins. Come this morning they are back in 11th place. Time is running out and they are looking up at a lot of teams. "I know the feeling" said Lindy. "When I was an assistant in Florida we twice missed the playoffs by one point and then you think of that one bad bounce or that one poor night and how it cost you."

On the way out the door I ran into Leafs forward Michael Peca (I do service at the Peca residence in my full time business so that's how I know him). A big grin and "Hi Andrew!" from Michael, and he was walking normally and seemingly no ill effects from his broken leg. "Ready to be out there in time for the playoffs?" I asked. "Knock on wood" was the reply.

One more odd story - I think Leafs coach Paul Maurice is losing it. He was wearing a t-shirt and sweats during the Sabres ice time, popped out to sit in the stands for a bit, then I spotted him just going up and down the hall, peering into rooms and broom closets and stuff. It didn't seem like he was looking for anything in particular, just exploring.

Faceoff at 8:05PM. I am covering tonight. Can't wait!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

So why did James Dungy commit suicide?

Back in late 2005, we were saddened to hear of this story regarding James Dungy, the 18 year old son of NFL coach Tony Dungy. Why would such a fine young man abruptly kill himself? It was sad, it was tragic, and there seemingly were no answers.

But knowing Coach Dungy and his constant religious pontificating, my gut told me that his son was hiding a deep secret. My instinct told me James was gay, and if you understand the parallel universe that Christians operate in, sometimes death might be preferable to the *insert shriek here* horror of being gay.

Now my instincts are being reconfimed as I read this report in the Indianapolis Star, as Dungy was the keynote speaker at a banquet the other night for some nut group called the "Indiana Family Institute". This organization is apparently fighting to adopt legislation to ban same-sex marriage in Indiana and also rescind hard won equal rights initiatives in the state.

"IFI is saying what the Lord says," Dungy said. "You can take that and make your decision on which way you want to be. I'm on the Lord's side."

So tell us, Coach Dungy, when exactly did you and God have this conversation?

I used to admire and respect Tony Dungy. Suffice to say that is over.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Northwest Arkansas Naturals sell 500 season tickets on first day

So why do we care?

Well, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals are currently known as the Wichita Wranglers, and are one of the three minor league baseball teams owned by Buffalo based Rich Baseball, also owners of the Buffalo Bisons.

Rich Baseball announced last year that they were breaking their lease at Lawrence Dumont Stadium and leaving Wichita, and news from that region indicates that things are just dandy - fans are buying tickets and they are racing to have their new ballpark in Springdale ready in time for the 2008 season.

Minnesota Twins ballpark plans back on track

News out of Minneapolis today is that plans for their new ballpark are back on track. According to this article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, team officials feel confident enough that condemnation proceedings will proceed positively in the downtown Warehouse District behind the Target Center.

The Twins plan to formally unveil ballpark renderings on April 5. The stadium is scheduled to open in time for the 2010 season.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tickets! Tickets! Who's sellin' extras?!

Making front page news in today's Buffalo News confirms what has long been expected - Sabres playoff tickets are sold out and there will be NO single ticket sale to the general public for rounds one and two.

Some of the more salient points of the article:

*90% of this year's season ticket holders have renewed their seats for next season.

*98.5% of season ticket holders have exercised their option to purchase playoff tickets.

*The team might drop the mini pack product next year in favor of full season tickets. The cap will be set at 14,800 tickets. Current mini pack holders would have the option to upgrade to full season tickets, then current season ticket holders could buy additional season tickets. After that, the team will turn to their waiting list, reportedly containing 2000 names.

*Only 10% of season ticket holders requesting additional playoff tickets were successful in getting tickets.

I have mixed thoughts about all of this.

First of all, I am thrilled that the Sabres have developed this demand for their product. Nothing is better than sellouts and packed houses to showcase the health of a franchise. We have been season ticket holders since the early 90s - first in sec 14 in the Upper Blues at the Aud, and now in sec 113 at HSBC Arena. We have numerous shareholders in our group, and have fully taken advantage of the perks and discounts and superior customer attention that the Sabres have given to their season ticket holders.

Something is fishy though, regarding filling requests for playoff additionals on a "first come first served basis". Curiously, my brother Taras got his "sorry" letter from the Sabres today, saying he would not be able to purchase additionals. The day the 2007-08 renewal and playoff order form hit the mailbox, we filled out all the paperwork and HAND DELIVERED all the forms to HSBC Arena later that afternoon. I personally handed our renewals over to Andrea Keane at account services.

I find it hard to believe that orders for 1500 additional playoff tickets were accepted and time stamped before my order hit their desk.

That being said, I am in no way mad at the Sabres about being shut out for additionals. I answer to our shareholders, and we will just have to make do with fewer tickets. Furthermore, while as a season ticket holder it was nice having the perk of first dibs on additionals for so long, I believe it is a policy that should now be eliminated.

Totally shutting out the single ticket buyer for a chance to buy playoff tickets is patently unfair. Since only 10% of additionals orders could be filled, then there should now be NO ADDITIONALS. The season ticket holder already gets a HUGE bargain pricewise (our tickets in 113 run $29 and $40 for the first two rounds - face is $150)

My idea - Put those 1500 tickets onsale to the public - but not via phone or the internet or satellite locations. Have a public sale only at HSBC Arena, limit to 2-4 per customer, pass out wristbands, let the REAL Sabres fans cue up to buy seats, shutting out the opportunists and scalpers. There is something cool and special about getting everyone together at one location to have a chance to buy tickets... almost a community party. At Duke University, they set up a neighborhood called "Krzyzewskiville" outside Cameron Indoor Stadium, and students actually pitch tents there waiting for basketball tickets to go onsale.

I am also sympathetic, because in our USRT travels we have come up against the same dilemma - wanting a chance to get into a building and finding there were NO single ticket sales -- Green Bay Packers, Ohio State Buckeyes, New York Giants to name a few. We had to get in via back door channels each time.

For this Sabres front office, these are heady times and they are sailing in uncharted territories... hopefully their policies will be tweaked and adjusted to reflect public opinion and demand as they move forward. And as a long time season ticket holder of the Sabres, I tip my hat to them. They have always treated me as a cherished and valued customer, and it is a relationship which I value highly.

More on this story from Mark at Bfloblog.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Welcome to Buffalo Ben Wagner!

Here's a name that will become better known in Buffalo real soon... the Bisons today announced that Ben Wagner has been named the new "Voice of the Bisons" for the 2007 season. He is the third person to hold that post in the Bisons modern era, replacing Jim Rosenhaus and before that Pete Weber.

Wagner most recently was the play-by-play announcer with the single-A Lakewood Blue Claws, where he also was in charge of public relations.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

It's official! The Sabres are in the playoffs

With all the excitement and activities surrounding the NCAA tournament, we haven't posted an update on the Buffalo Sabres. Last we wrote, the Sabres had concluded a disastrous homsetand, going 0-3 with no points.

Turns out the time on the road was just what the team needed, but it could have been a completely different outcome had the team not roared back against Pittsburgh last Tuesday.

Down 4-2 and time running out, the Sabres got two late goals, including the tying goal by Chris Drury with mere seconds remianing. Buffalo eventually lost in a shootout, but considering the emotion in the buidling, where earlier in the day it was learned that the Penguins were staying put, it was a huge point.

From there, down to Florida, and the Sabres beat both the Panthers and the Lightning, with Ty Conklin and Ryan Miller both playing stellar games in goal. It was great watching the wide open style of play between Buffalo and Tampa Bay, the type of game that's fun to watch and where Buffalo excels.

Buffalo never led today in Atlanta, and as the game wore on the team seemed to run out of gas. Three games in three cities in 66 hours would tend to do that to any team. But an OT loss still means a point, and 6 out of 8 points makes for a good road trip.

The team has mathematically clinched a playoff spot, and are within striking distance of mathemetically finishing no worse than 5th. Now we need to cheer against New Jersey and Pittsburgh, and especially Ottawa in the points standings. Shag these three off and first seed in the conference is ours!

The team comes home Wednesday vs the all of a sudden hot Washington Capitals, and then Friday Leafsnation comes to Buffalo to cheer on Toronto. Pete's covering Wed; I'll be there Friday.

Our weekly series on cool media folk - Meet Gary and The King

Left- Mike Casiano, Right - Gary Herman

OK, maybe Gary Herman and Mike Casiano aren't technically "media folk", but they are good friends and integral parts of the USRT lore, and since they made it to Buffalo last weekend for the Sabres/Devils game, we are pleased to showcase these two guys this week.

When the USRT hit the finish line in late 2002, we were feted with a great deal of media attention on the national stage. Gary and Mike caught the news somewhere, and quickly emailed us... "Not so fast!" they said. "We too have traveled the same path. We have been to every sporting venue as well."

We met up, compared notes, and indeed they have made the sacrifice and pain and joy to go all across the country. But they take it a step further... both of these guys live in New York City, and in close proximity to major league and minor league teams of all sorts. So they go to games every day... yes every day they are at a sporting event, even major holidays. Last year The King tallied up over 400 games attended. Do the math that's more than one a day!

Our travel plans sometime overlap, so it's always good reconnecting with the guys, updating what's going on in the sports travel and sports venue departments, and assisting each other in our mutual roadtripping efforts.

They're good guys... a little crazy maybe. But when it comes to sports road trips and attending games, yeah we might call ourselves "Ultimate", but Mike is the only one truly worthy of the title, "The King". We bow in deference!

Is it over with.....already???


The anticipation of an NCAA Subregional coming to your town builds for weeks, months, even years. Then the time comes, fans have a blast, wild times ensue on and off the court...then it's all over before you know it and fans are left thinking along the lines of "three years til the next one....". Count me in with that line of thinking.

Saturday's doubleheader was another classic day of hoops with game one featuring ACC power Maryland versus midmajor darling Butler. Butler's slow paced style of play was a throwback to another era from the days before the existence of a shot clock.

How many times did Butler toss the ball around spending a minimum of 25 seconds before calmly, and I do stress that word, putting up a good shot. Many teams constantly panic when faced with taking a shot in the dying seconds of the shot clock. Not these guys...I could almost see Butler coach Lickliter playing the role of Norman Dale in "Hoosiers" telling his players: "I want FOUR passes before any shot!!! FOUR PASSES!!"

I don't know what it was about Maryland that I didn't like. Were they the anti-Butler because Butler's skills were that good, or was it just that the Terps were'nt that sound in general and only had the advantage in talent. Either way, Butler managed to hold off the Terps to go to their second sweet 16 in five seasons.

Game two featured Cinderella VCU against Big East powerhouse Pitt....Pitt's inside game v. VCU's guardplay. For the first thirty minutes it was all Pitt as they held a commanding double digit lead....then VCU put on the full court press....and god did things change....

Pitt was incapable of handling the pressure committing turnover after turnover while the Rams closed the gap, and with it the gap narrowed and the crowd began to buzz.
By the time the game was knotted, HSBC Arena had become Richmond North..booing lustily over the lame foul call in the dying seconds of regulation(justice was served when Pitt missed both free throws).

But like Ohio St./Xavier, the extra frame gave the favorite new life and Pitt would go on to win and reach the sweet 16.

For fans in the building that night and on Thursday, it was money well spent and a time well spent. Thanks to the eight clubs and their fans for livening up our city for a weekend...

1093 days(give or take a couple) till it happens again here...yes I'm counting.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Kansas 107, Niagara 67

History would not be made on this night.

There would be no upset, not even a scare.

The eyes of a nation would not be focused on the United Center late in the second half.

In truth, it was just your basic 1 v. 16 (mis)matchup as the (much)taller and (far more)talented Kansas Jayhawks steamrolled the Purple Eagles in a game that was no longer in doubt after about the midway point of the first half. Kansas was not only the better club, but it looked and played the part of a power conference club that had been eliminated in the first round the past two years running by a 13 and a 14 seed and sure as hell wasn't gonna have that happen again.

The score was tied at 12 then the Jayhawks opened that up to a ten point, then twenty point lead prior to halftime and the urge to switch to another game was on.

I caught a glimpse of Danny Manning on the bench for the Jayhawks. Apparently he's serving in an assistant coach's role or something. Perhaps that's an omen for Kansas as he led, no wait, carried the Jayhawks on his back to the NCAA title in 1988. You just may see them do it this spring in Atlanta.

Niagara has nothing to bow their heads about regardless as they've come a long way from the difficulties of the early season with all of the suspensions to come back and play in the Big Dance. They've become the premier Big 4 program in recent years and well deserved.

Other notes....

For being such a knowledgeable hoops analyst, did Billy Packer spend more than thirty seconds looking at the scouting report for Niagara? Packer constantly harped on the notion that the Purple Eagles should play a slowdown game to beat Kansas. Maybe so, but Billy was probably clueless to the fact that the up tempo style of play is how Niagara does things. That's inexcusable for being CBS's top analyst and shows a lack of preparation that I'd expect from a Billy Jo Hobert before Packer.
Heh, heh, another reason not to like Packer....

Friday, March 16, 2007

Peter's report on NCAA Buffalo - Round 1 Thursday

Yep, an NCAA Subregional is about the best sporting event one can attend in their lifetime. I mean where else can one spend a day witnessing four games in one day spanning a twelve hour period of time and still leave the venue feeling as if they didn't get enough?

This is my fourth subregional attended and third one in Buffalo and the action of yesterday may have been the best first round I've ever attended. You had your "mid major scares power club before fading" game (DAV/MAR), your "dull and boring yet competitive" game (BUT/OLD), your "complete mismatch high seed v low seed" game (PIT/WRI), and your "memorable upset" game (DUK/VIR).

It was a memorable outing, and cheers to Buffalo as they seemed to correct the crying need to feed its patrons during the between sessions break with food stands just across the street, at Dunn Tire Park and with the help of an army of local volunteers to aid out of town fans in finding refreshments and such to cure their hunger pangs. And props go to the cops for coming to their senses and putting off the sniffles for another day.

And by the way are you puzzled by the acroynms above identifying the teams? Yep, such is what it's like to attempt to read the out of town scoreboard at the HSBC Arena. Unlike other difficulties from past NCAA events that have been tweaked and solved, this anomaly remains. The acronyms were difficult in '04, downright impossible during the '05 MAAC tournament(those who attended had to chuckle at the sight of scores of games featuring TEX against TEX and SOU vs. SOU). And this season fans were treated to the sight of EAS v. NOR...isn't it obvious to anyone that that is the acronyms for Eastern Kentucky v. North Carolina? That BYU is actually BRI? UNC is really NOR?

Heck, headlines across America this morning tooted the horn of giant killer VCU, yet if that game was in any other building but ours that scoreboard would have said "VIR". Can't you hear those students now....V! I! R!! V! I! R!!

This really shouldn't bug me, except that it has been an ongoing situation at the arena with no real attempt to fix despite numerous comments from media in the past. Perhaps with a brand new videoboard over center court/ice we'll get some new out of town boards with acroynms that are universally understood(outside of said venue).

In other news, had we been the type to actually gamble on this type of thing then I would have collected quite a pile in going four for four in picking Thursday's games. But since we're playing "for entertainment purposes only"...snicker, snicker.

Little over an hour until the greatest upset in tournament history commences, and roughly 21 hours until tipoff downtown.

Andrew's report on NCAA Buffalo - Round 1 Thursday

Check out this billboard along the Kensington Expressway, which was along the travel route for the Wright State Raiders from their headquarters hotel at the Holiday Inn-Airport.

Some very buxom revelers greeted our group at the door to Fat Bob's as we made our way inside for barbecue and libations between the two sessions.

Check out the packed house of almost 19,000 fans. Many were on their feet cheering as the VCU celebration unfolds down on the court.

I had the time of my life.

What can be better than getting together with a group of good friends, a bunch of true sports guys, and sharing a full day of NCAA basketball? That was the case yesterday at HSBC Arena, as the sub-regionals came back to Buffalo for the first time since 2004.

Participating in our gang was myself and Peter; Peter's brother and dad John Sr and John Jr; Our buddies Bill Zilliox and Chris Mach; and the Toronto group - Alan Bossin, Ephraim Fiksel and Harold Cares. We managed to organize some great club seats, got ourselves a dinner reservation at Fab Bob's in Allentown for between sessions, Pete organized the pools. It was all good.

The highlight of the four games we saw, and making national headlines, was Duke's upset loss at the hands of Virginia Commonwealth. Now granted, the Blue Devils aren't the force they were when guys like Boozer, Duhon, Battier and Redick held sway. But they are still a force, and when you play them, you're playing against a mystique.

It all came down to the final minute, and a sophomore guard for VCU named Eric Maynor was absolutely filthy, taking the ball down the court himself and nailing clutch buckets. When Duke tied it with 8 seconds left, Maynor waved off any thoughts of a time out, running down the court and hitting a 17 foot jumper with 1.8 seconds to go. The crowd went wild! And this time, Kryzooski didn't have any horseshoes left up his ass. Final score VCU 79, Duke 77.

Off the court - Much of the problem from 2004 centered around the difficulty fans had finding restaurants, eateries, bars or other places to hang out between sessions. Well this time Buffalo was ready! Metro rail and shuttle busses were lined up outside the front door to ferry people throughout downtown. Many restauranteurs were promoting their establishments, and Organizing Committee volunteers were passing out maps and offering directions. We ended up taking the Metro rail to Allentown and enjoying dinner at Fat Bob's on Virginia Place. Reservation for 11 and our table was waiting! And after dinner we just walked back to the arena... yeah it's almost 2 miles but it was a nice day and we had the stamina and a chance to walk off some the big meal we had just enjoyed.

It was great seeing all the people on the streets of downtown Buffalo. Great but also sad. For a shining few days, we get to feel and experience what a bustling and electric city should feel like. Come Monday it will be back to silent echoes down the vehicle-less Main street, and tumbleweeds bouncing down the light rail tracks.

As the night wore on and the finale of the evening became more and more of a laugher (Pitt v Wright State), one by one the group bailed - first the Toronto guys, then John and John Jr (all had long rides to their comfy beds), then Billy Z. But Peter, Chris and I made it to the bitter end.

As we left the already much empty arena, we bid the security guy at the door a good night and said "see you tomorrow". He replied "you mean Saturday". Yes... but tomorrow is Saturday... the clock read 12:20 AM and it was Friday morning; we had been at the arena and around downtown for 13 hours.

And best of all, we do it all again Saturday - two games starting at 3:20PM; we should be out by 8PM and an evening of St. Patty's Day revelry then awaits.

Yes, the time of my life!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sights and sounds from HSBC Arena - on the eve of the NCAA's

The Pitt Panthers had their big contingent in the stands to watch their boys practice Wednesday night

Yep we did score one credential and parking pass, thanks to our affiliation with Sports and Leisure Magazine. Full press access at our disposal!

Coach Mike Krzyzewski spent the entire Duke practice time along the sidelines, talking to the fans and signing autographs

Man oh man Buffalo is hopping! It is buzzing! And you can feel it in the streets, at the arena, the excitement is all over the TV and the other media.

I got down to the arena late this afternoon to pick up my credential and check out the lay of the land. It is amazing how totally organized and well put together the entire function is. The bowels of the arena have been transformed into a small city... the media dining/work room is now just a giant "hospitality room" with food service going seemingly all the time. Then of course all four auxiliary locker rooms are in use for the teams; the afternoon teams will have to clear out so the evening guys can come in. That ground floor windowed open space fronting Main Street is the media center, with hundreds of tabled positions for writers. Immediately adjacent is the postgame interview room. CBS has their own "hospitality suite" and they get their own cool media credential, to separate them from us grunts I guess. Then there are lounge areas and dressing areas for the bands and the cheerleaders. Directional signage is posted all over the place. It is all very impressive.

I did chow down a bit (beef on weck and wings on the menu yummy!) and headed out onto the court, to find Duke doing their practice, and Coach K was nowhere near his players. Instead he was along the boards, signing autographs and greeting fans, and of course the throng of media was eating all that up. Very nice!

I caught up with Kevin Sylvester, who we all know as Sabres studio host but also handles marketing for the NCAA events, one of the many hats he wears. He was beaming from ear to ear... everything going good so far Kev! I also ran into Ron Bertovich, former Exec VP for the Sabres during the Adelphia years; he is now Deputy Commissioner for the Colonial Athletic Association. Ron was an integral part of the USRT success when we were at it at full throttle, so always props to him.

Also props to our good friend and colleague Mike Harrington, who is doing a great job blogging on the News' College Hoopla site. Mike is with the Purple Eagles, went to Dayton and is now on his way to Chicago for the Friday subregional there and we have also been emailing with Mike back and forth to get the latest scoop on things. We will miss seeing him on the sidelines tomorrow... if Niagara loses, he'll be here for Saturday's sessions. So let's say this right now... have fun in Chicago for Niagara's Round 2 game Sunday Mike!

So it all starts tomorrow... the long awaited day long marathon of basketball; sharing with our group of good friends all the magical moments, feeling the energy of the students, the colorful pageantry, the electricity on the streets of downtown... it's like Christmas, your birthday, the 4th of July and the feast at the end of Ramadan all rolled into one!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Niagara 77, Florida A+M 69

OK.....NOW they're in the Big Dance!

And thanks in part to A+M's inability to outdo your average hoops playing ten year old at the free throw line.

Niagara raced out to a 20-7 lead early, but the Rattlers hung around, even taking a 31-29 lead late in the first half, but NU quickly regained the lead to head to the break 35-31.

NU was able to keep some separation between themselves and A+M, their guard play was the key with their quickness that allowed them to penetrate to the hoop and their ability to knock down some 3's.

But man oh man, A+M had chances late to close the gap....apparently these guys attended the prestigious free throw shooting school known as Chamberlain, O'Neal, and Dudley. At one point they were 2-12 from the charity stripe....all this while they were keeping the game within single digits.

So Niagara advances to take on mighty Kansas in the first(next???) round. Does Niagara have a shot? Not really, but as the late Jimmy V stated prior to the '83 NCAA Final:"We have a better chance than all the teams that aren't here." and frankly, Kansas does have this history of postseason "success". We do remember Bucknell, don't we??

Either way, it should be interesting.

Some thoughts on this whole "play-in" concept. Or, "If Peter was running the NCAA, this is how he'd do the opening round."

Some say it should be eliminated and the field returned to 64, I say hogwash! First off, eliminate automatic bids from the play in game. They have earned the right to be in and experience the true tournament experience of the eight team subregional. Only at-large teams would be in the play in round.

Next, expand the play in round to two, or perhaps four games. A few years back, the NFL came up with the idea of opening the season on the Thursday prior to Sunday. The NCAA should do the same with an opening round double header featuring four bubble teams fighting to make the field. Since they are at large teams it's highly likely that the clubs will be power conference schools with name recognition and produce better ratings for television.

Sure, it wouldn't end the argument of who should be in and who doesn't. But there is an added excitement to that opening night. Hey Jimmy B....and Bob Huggins you want in? Syracuse v Stanford followed by Kansas State v Illinois on ESPN's Opening Night Doubleheader live from Dayton!

Sounds like a plan to me! Any thoughts?

Done deal! The Penguins are staying in Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Penguins are staying put; they will sign a short term lease to continue playing at Mellon Arena for two more seasons, before dropping the puck at their new venue for the 2009-10 season.

Demolition of buildings and land clearing will begin in a few weeks.

Yes there are Hockey Gods and today they are smiling.

A few factoids:

Cost: $290MM

Location: Centre Avenue, Washington Avenue and Fifth Place (parcel south of current arena)

Architects: HOK Sport

Outside the venue: The building's two entrances - on the Centre and Fifth Avenue sides - stretch over a grade change of no less than 40 feet. Fans entering from Fifth Avenue will travel up to a main concourse, and all ticket holders then enter the building's bowl area from a common concourse. Improved sight lines inside the arena were designed to enhance enjoyment of the game and other performances, and more open common spaces will be integrated to allow better views of the game while fans travel to their seats.

The future of Mellon Arena: Will be demo'd...Planners see mixed-use development in the parcel's future, with residential, commercial and retail buildings integrated into the planning. A 265 room hotel, as well as 1,100 housing units for rent or sale, numerous stores, restaurants, office buildings, parking areas and open spaces are all possibilities.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Times now set for Buffalo subregional......

12:20 Maryland/Davidson to be followed by Butler/Old Dominion

7:10 Duke/Virginia Commonwealth to be followed by Pittsburgh/Wright State

Saturday's doubleheader will begin at 3:20 pm.

In each case, the second game of each doubleheader will begin approximately thirty minutes after the conclusion of the first game.

We've had our first major shocker! Duke is slotted to play in prime time!!! That statement was dripping heavily with sarcasm.

Is Steve Donner going to fold the Amerks?

Some alarming news coming out of Rochester this past week as Rochester Americans President/CEO Steve Donner has stated that his Amerks and the NLL Rochester Knighthawks will not play in Rochester next season unless they get more money, namely in the form of concession revenue. The city has offered a six-figure cash advance and a promise to delay for a year collection of that money and a past-due $500,000 loan given to the Amerks in 1995. The Amerks rank third in AHL attendance, with 7,603 per game.

Donner claims financial losses of $390,000 for the 2005-06 season.

Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy said there will be hockey next season at Blue Cross, but if the Amerks do indeed suspend operations, they would still maintain AHL territorial rights to the market, meaning that only a lower level league such as the UHL or ECHL would be available to Rochester hockey fans.

Rochester is one of the oldest franchises in the AHL, with its history going back to the 40s. Their working agreement with the Buffalo Sabres is the longest such arrangement of any of the NHL teams.

Florida Marlins ballpark plans just one big mess

The discussion and debate for a new stadium for the Florida Marlins has more moving parts than you can imagine.

The focus now lies on two alternatives... a rebuild of the Orange Bowl, which would be contingent on the Miami Hurricanes moving to Dolphin Stadium. The second involves an expensive downtown location, on a parking lot north of the government center. If the 'Canes stay at the Orange Bowl, they will want money to rehab that venue, funds which would be diverted from the ballpark. Then there are proponents of a plan to build a Children's Courthouse on the downtown site, a plan which has the support of many civic boosters.

The Florida Marlins are surprisingly mum on the whole debate, except that they have stated that they will not play at Dolphin Stadium once their lease expires after the 2010 season.

More from the Miami Herald

Mmmmm...... Poutine!

French fries and gravy with melted cheese curds... gotta eat 'em with a fork!

Available at concession stands throughout the Air Canada Centre.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

And then off to Niagara.....

Above - Shock and disappointment spread quickly in a packed Gallagher Center, and the crowd ended the party early.

After we dropped off the NYC guys at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto it was off to Niagara University to catch the revealing of the NCAA field of 65.

Unfortunately we were severely delayed at the Lewiston/Queenston border crossing (about an hour's wait) and by the time we had reached the Gallagher Center it was already known that Niagara would be seeded in the dreaded "play-in" game against Florida A+M.

What a robbery, the Purple Eagles had won eleven games in a row to finish with a 22-11 record. And no reputable news source had these guys slotted in the play in game.

If they do survive, then they head to Chicago to take on Kansas. If Niagara really wants to show the world that they were disrespected, then a good game against Kansas would be needed.

Other thoughts about Selection Sunday:

Teams that were hosed - Syracuse....the only team to beat red hot Georgetown down the stretch. They also had a 10-6 conference record, which in the Big East should have gotten them a bit. Possibly playing their traditional weak early season schedule may have doomed them.

Drexel...a mid major school that follows the protocol to get in to a T and still do not get in. Drexel goes to Syracuse....walks out with a W, goes to Villanova....walks out with a W....goes to Creighton....walks out with a W. They won 23 games in a respectable Colonial Athletic Association and had some great road victories, but in the end the committee took a mediocre club from a power conference such as Arkansas.

The matchups are set for the Buffalo sub regional (times not yet set) with seedings:

#3 Pittsburgh v. #14 Wright State
#4 Maryland v. #13 Davidson
#6 Duke v. #11 Virginia Commonwealth
#5 Butler v. #12 Old Dominion

First thought, how the hell do five teams from south of the Mason Dixon line get sent to play in Buffalo when there are plenty of tournament teams in the northeast to choose from? Buffalo is the only site in the northeast, yet only one Big East team (Pitt) is coming here with no schools from smaller conferences in the region either. I thought the whole concept of "pods" was to make travel easier for the schools involved.

The inclusion of Duke gives me an automatic villain to cheer against, a close second being Maryland as both are member of the ACC...again, why the committee sent two ACC clubs and three mid major southern schools up north while plenty of other Big East schools and small conference champions such as Albany and Central Connecticut were available is beyond my comprehension.

Still can't wait.....Thursday is just around the corner.

Road Trip to the Air Canada Centre

Up to TO we went today, along with our friends Gary and Mike (The King) from New York, to catch some NBA basketball action between the Toronto Raptors and the Seattle Supersonics. This one was a thriller, with Seattle getting a bucket at the buzzer to force overtime, before the Raptors put the game away, 120-119.

It was great hooking up with Mike and Gary, and this was their 59th NBA game of the season. These guys are SICK!

The other funny thing was Peter... his logic was simple: since Wellandfan and FortEriefan and StCatherinesfan comes to HSBC Arena at Sabres games to cheer for any Canadian based team, he felt it was his duty to go into the ACC and cheer for any American based teams against the Raptors. So on he went the chants of "Go Sonics" and "USA! USA!". All that was missing was him wearing a Seattle jersey.

We dropped the NYC guys off at Ricoh Coliseum for part two of their doubleheader, an AHL Marlies game at Ricoh Coliseum, and then hightailed it down to Monteagle Ridge for the Niagara selection party...The line at customs at Lewiston? UGH! Peter will have more on that..

Posting a couple photos here... enjoy!

Below - another packed house for the Raptors, and yep, we are in the "Sprite Zone" cheapies!

Above and below - Development around the ACC and Rogers Centre is happening at a dizzying pace - high rise condos, retail and office buildings sprouting EVERYWHERE!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Devils 3, Sabres 2

I will keep this post short as it is late, we have had a full day, and tomorrow (Sunday) we have a full plate on our schedule.

A week ago we were coming off of three huge wins... renewed visions of President's Trophies, steamrolling into the playoffs, the scoring machine back.

One week later there is despair, and a feeling of dread. The Sabres have lost three straight at home, tonight to the second place New Jersey Devils, who are within one point of overtaking us for the conference lead, a position the Sabres have held all season long.

Furthermore, Ottawa loses tonight, but in OT so they pick up a point, and though letting the division crown slip away seems unimaginable, one has to watch the teams chasing Buffalo in the standings with a bit of trepidation.

Now comes a road trip... Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Florida and Atlanta, all fighting desperately for points, and save for Atlanta, all playing well.

A full day on tap for us awaits... we head up to Toronto with Gary and The King for a 1 PM Raptors tipoff, then afterwards down to the Gallagher center at Niagara University, where we will crash their Selection Sunday party. Should be a hoot!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Wild 5, Sabres 1

Somber. Depressing.

That was the mood in the building, the pulse of the game and the thick air of defeat in the locker room after the Minnesota Wild made their tri-ennial visit to HSBC Arena and gave the Sabres a good old fashioned beatdown.

A beatdown? Buffalo did put 36 shots on net, but prospect goaltender Josh Harding made 35 saves, and only Mike Ryan's late tally messed up what would have been Harding's third shutout since his callup to the NHL.

The Sabres really didn't play poorly... there just seems to be no zip or magic in their play the last two games.

Everyone thought Ty Conklin would get his first Sabres start tonight, but when the lineup sheets were handed out, it was Miller between the pipes. Conklin did get into the game when Miller was pulled after the Wild got their fourth goal. He made several saves in the unspectacular category, then got beat on a shorthanded breakaway as the game wound down.

I asked Ty if he expected the start tonight and also was he disappointed... he said no and not to believe the blogs and papers about his much heralded start, but as he spoke I was reading between the lines and thought he was indeed disappointed. Lindy Ruff did address this in his post game comments, sayng he has sat down with Conklin, gone over the game schedule and told the press that Conklin knows exactly when he is going to play and what is expected of him. That being said, it will be Ryan Miller in goal tomorrow vs New Jersey.

Miller was nowhere to be found after the game... me thinks the jeers he heard from the crowd didn't sit too well with him.

And speaking of jeers, things are starting to get ugly with these so called fans at HSBC Arena... this team really needs the 7th man in the building, but the energy and the passion in the stands has really been lacking these last two nights. Next, now that Nicholas Picholas has been truncated to spot duty on the jumbotron, the derision is starting to turn towards lead national anthem singer Doug Allen.

So a couple takes here - First, having been to every NHL venue, I have experienced some God-awful anthem renditions in some of the yee-haw hockey markets, and all that does is make me appreciate that much more what a solid job Allen does with the two anthems.

Second, can't Sabres fans save their jeers and heckling for the visiting teams and leave the home town people alone? What the hell is going on with some of these people in the stands they are behaving like morons!

So now we turn towards tomorrow night and it is New Jersey coming to town... win and our boys make a great statement for who should be number one in the East. Lose, and it means taking the stench of this dreary homestand onto what will be a difficult road trip.

The puck drops at 7PM... Pete will be covering tomorrow night. I will be in the stands wearing my Sabres jersey, enjoying a couple cold ones and cheering my ass off.

Oh no! Not another Silverbacks logo!!!!!

Remember the big flap last summer about the new nickname and logo for Buffalo's ABA club? When the name Silverbacks was announced with a red gorilla as a logo, some community leaders hellbent on creating a crisis where there was none cried foul over the notion of a basketball team (read: predominantly African-American) having a gorilla for a logo.

Personally, I thought this to be quite silly. The logo and name was the idea of Modie Cox, player and assistant coach of the club. He liked the idea of an aggressive and powerful animal such as a gorilla for a logo. I'm darned well certain that his race wasn't part of his decision making.

Shortly thereafter, the club caved in to pressure and changed the logo to a panther/hyena type animal with a silver back....yawn.

Well, while Andrew is off at the Sabres game, I went on a random search to see if any other teams had picked up on the Silverbacks original idea....let's just say those community activists that had a bee in their bonnet over this could be busy for a while if they so chose...

Let's start with hockey....the BCHL'S Salmon Arm Silverbacks

how 'bout arena football....the CIFL's Miami Valley Silverbacks

and while we're at it, how about soccer....the USL's Atlanta Silverbacks

nope, not done yet! Minor league football! the NAFL's London(Ont.) Silverbacks

Look at all of these nasty and racist dare they! heavy sarcasm here

Notice the racial diversity of the teams involved here is at all ends of the spectrum, some teams have little or no African Americans, some have many. In the end I'm certain that the teams saw the nickname and logo in the same light that Modie and his organization did, simply a really cool nickname and logo representing a physically intimidating, ferocious, and intelligent animal. Nothing more.

Too bad some folks here in Buffalo didn't see it the same light....

Note: I'm very "pc" when it comes to offensive sports logos....but this was utterly ridiculous...