All Quiet on the Western (NY) Front


The ice has been silent for a couple months now. The offseason football personnel moves have been made, and practices have come and gone.

The end of June brings near complete silence in the two worlds of professional sports in Buffalo, NY. In the 24/7/365 sports world that America seems to currently inhabit, this is definitely a unique time of the year!

The silence will end this weekend as the NHL Draft will take center stage. Not long after that will be the free agent “frenzy” that occurs every July. And at the end of the month, the Buffalo Bills will hold their first public practice of 2013 at St. John Fisher College, here in Rochester, NY.

But for now, the sports talk radio guys don’t have much to talk about during their sixty-eight hours every week of live programming, other than their own rumors and speculation. (It’s kinda funny, in a sad way…)

The Buffalo Sabres: Who’s Next?

The Sabres, who have missed the playoffs more than they have made them in the past five seasons or so, are “rebuilding”. Their management says it could be a painful process. (Nice vote of confidence!) But some teams have proven otherwise. A few recent Stanley Cup champs were at the bottom of the league—lower than the Sabres—just two to five seasons back. The turnaround could happen quicker than the most dire predictions predict.

The word on the street (or, rather, the internet) is that the draft on Sunday is rather deep. Like, three-rounds-of-great deep. That should be quite encouraging to Sabres fans, as the team has five picks in the first three rounds, and two star players that are very likely to be traded (for potentially more picks, as well as players). They are in a good position to really improve their team, and do so quickly.

There was talk of the team with the first overall pick being willing to make a trade, but that doesn’t look very likely; they plan to use it. And while Nathan MacKinnon seems like he’ll be a very good player (even Rick Jeanneret think so), there’s a young kid—only sixteen—who already has the signs of being “the next Sidney Crosby“.

With the draft, you never know. You really never know.

One thing we know for certain is that the Sabres will look pretty different in the 2013/2014 season. That began last year with the firing of Lindy Ruff, whom some figured to be the Sabres coach until he wanted to leave. Add to that the past two seasons of dumping core guys like Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, even Paul Gaustad… and then the potential trades of Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek—this team will look different.

Hopefully they will also play “different”.

Buffalo Bills 2013

The Buffalo Bills: Retool Complete?

Speaking of “different”…

Just down the 219 in Orchard Park, NY, the Buffalo Bills have been not-so-quietly overhauling their franchise, as well. The swift changes started last December with the firing of Chan Gailey and his entire staff, and after a fairly exhaustive coaching search—even though it only lasted little more than a week—the Bills hired their new coach, Doug Marrone, and their feet have barely hit the ground since.

Last year’s QB Ryan Fitzpatrick—a four-year starter for the Bills—is gone, so are many of the players who have been around for a while here. Several veterans retired or were released, leaving a very young, very new-looking roster.

There are still some recognizable faces: CJ Spiller, Stevie Johnson, Mario Williams… but the Buffalo Bills are sporting a vastly new look, much like their Buffalo pro-sports cousins, the Sabres.

The Bills always start out with the somewhat severe handicap of playing in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s division, but things don’t look that great for them (on many levels). That leaves the Jets (Ha!) and the Dolphins, the latter having done some major retooling themselves this offseason.

So when football starts in earnest on July 28th for the Bills, there is really no telling what the new season will bring. Really. Of course, you never know what will come, but this year: new coaches, new defensive and offensive schemes, new general manager, new quarterback(s), and plenty of other new players at plenty of other positions.

These guys will be wearing the familiar uniforms of the Buffalo Bills, but in large part, they are a completely different team!

That seems to be the word for the Buffalo teams, huh?

Think Different

Apple used the phrase “Think different.” in the 1980s when they were the upstart, rebel computer company—which, eventually changed the technological world, no?

The Bills and Sabres are trying hard to copy that success in their own “different” ways.

While they have both become perennial losers—indeed, laughing stocks; Bills more than Sabres—they could both be on the fast track to being perennial contenders. They actually do both have some critical pieces in place for that, and certainly these completely new casts of characters.

I know I’m ever the optimist, but this really could be interesting…

Let’s go Buffalo!

(Ahem… when everything starts up again, I mean…) 🙂

End Of The Lindy Line

Lindy Ruff of the Buffalo SabresThe Buffalo Sabres announced today that they have “relieved Lindy Ruff of his coaching duties”.

That is the “nice” way of saying, “We fired him.”

It’s been asked for, begged for, longed for, pined for, and even fully expected for a few seasons now. Sabres fans (and players?) have felt the need for change due to the teams year after year being appropriately labeled “Underachievers”.

Actually, it is only because of loyalty to the man who has spent 25 years of his life with the Sabres organization, both as a player (1979-1989) and as its head coach (1997-2013) that he was still employed by the team.

Strange. Writing that closing date for Ruff’s coaching career felt a bit like an obituary just now.

Prior to today’s announcement, Ruff had been the second-longest tenured coach in American pro sports. Now the silver medal would currently go to Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators. (This could be the proverbial writing on the wall for Mr. Trotz…)

I actually remember the day, as a long-time Sabres fan, when the team went through coaches as fast as their Buffalo pro-sports counterpart have in the last decade and a half, or so. Rick Dudley, John Muckler, Ted Nolan… all fine coaches, actually. But they all only lasted a few years, then they were “let go”.

Lindy Ruff 1998But not Ruff. His record at his departure: 571-432-162. That’s one thousand, one hundred and sixty-five games. That, folks, is rather impressive. Even if you’re not a fan of his coaching of late (or ever) you’d have to give at least a slight tip of the hat to his incredible longevity. (And a winning percentage of .560 over that span, as well.)

Only three coaches in NHL history have coached more than a thousand games with the same team.

The Sabres have replaced Ruff with Ron Rolston, who was the head coach for their farm club, the Rochester Americans, up until about 5pm ET today.

And thus begins a new era.

I’m not really sure what to expect. I am an eternal optimist, and even I have been saying for a few weeks now, “I guess it’s time they fire Ruff!” The players have been lackluster (by many accounts) in several of their games this season. The 2013 season began well, with two straight wins, but since then the Sabres are 4-10-1.

Some of their wins have been fantastic. A 7-4 win in Boston, scoring four goals in the third, and overcoming a 3-1 second-period deficit as well. They’ve even looked pretty good in at least a couple of the losses: this past Sunday 4-3 to Pittsburgh, and a loss to the Ottawa Senators by the same score a couple weeks prior.

Were the players purposely not playing their best or their hardest to force management’s hand? Did they hope to see Ruff’s tenure severed?

No one can know that but the players.

We will now test that theory beginning tomorrow. The Rolston era will begin in Buffalo.

Boy, that sounds weird.

I look forward to seeing a new and different Sabres team. It can only get better, right?

And I wish the man, Lindy Ruff, who has lived for a while now in one of my home towns (Clarence, NY) only the best. Whether he coaches somewhere else or not—the affirmative being most likely—he will be forever admired and loved by the Buffalo community.

He’s a bit of an icon.

And now he’s gone. May he rest in peace.

Well, at least, his longest tenured coach bit.

The Adventures of Zamboni® and Policeman

Zamboni® Ice Cleaning Machine

We love to read around here. There are books everywhere, and lots of hands, minds, and eyes to devour them. Mom and Dad both love books, love to read… more than we have time in our days to actually accomplish.

Ian, the oldest child, is a ravenous book reader. (And now, he’s becoming a writer of books as well.) Alex is more picky; the books he enjoys, though, are read multiple times—even in the same week. Kirstie is learning to love reading, but does love books (being read to), as do her three younger siblings. Julia is not a confident reader yet, but her four-year-old sister, Emma, was brashly sounding out each letter and word she could locate on the large pages of her over-sized book with Mom last night.

Cameron, not being one content to be left out, and possessing as vivid an imagination as a three year old person could hope to have, decided to “read” his own book. (He picked up a blank date book, showing me the “words” on the empty pages before he began reading.)

The following is, nearly verbatim, the story that he “read” on those pages…


The Adventures of Zamboni® & Policeman

by Cameron J. Campbell

Zamboni® was cleaning the ice.
But then he ran out of water!
He had lots of water, but just didn’t know it.
Then he had a dream about having enough water and cleaning the ice.
Policeman shot Zamboni®.
Zamboni® ate policeman.
The End!

That was too fantastic not to share! I sure hope there will be more “Adventures of Zamboni® and Policeman!”


Note: Cam adores Zamboni® ice cleaning machines. We go early and stay late for Ian’s hockey games, just so Cam can watch the entire ice cleaning process by the Zamboni®. I’m pretty sure he knows most of the drivers at each rink, and someday aspires to attain to their lofty position. 🙂 He also often fancies himself a police man, so the subjects of his book were certainly no surprise to his family.

It’s An Interesting Time To Be A Buffalo Sports Fan

Mario Williams

If you follow sports, you know that Buffalo is more often the butt of a joke rather than a real “player” in whichever sport is being discussed.

Whether that’s deserved, or not, that’s usually how it goes.

They do bring it on themselves. Neither the Buffalo Bills, nor the Buffalo Sabres have won the championships for their leagues. (Note: The Buffalo Bills were two-time, back-to-back AFL Champs in ’64 & ’65, before the league merged with the NFL. But usually that doesn’t “count”.)

Year after year they seem to lose the good players they already have (Drury & Briere?, Most every Buffalo Bill?), allow potential “big name” free agents and draft choices to slip through their fingers, and then of course there’s the matter of wins and losses; playoff appearances and lack thereof.

Somehow Buffalo fans endure the endless hardships, and continue to support their teams more than most pro sports fans around the country.

But last year, something changed.

I wrote about the apparent change, even though it was still developing at that point. It all started with the Sabres being purchased by not just a billionaire with deep pockets, they were purchased by a Sabres’ fan. The way he began to run the team, on and off the ice, really started to change the way people felt about at least one of the Buffalo sports teams.

Could we finally have a real chance at a championship?

In the first season of free agency, the Sabres went out and pursued the most coveted player (Brad Richards), and though they came up just short there, they managed to sign Christian Erhoff, who was the top defenseman available. And not only did they sign him, they made him quite wealthy, to boot!

Very unlike a Buffalo sports team…

So, expectations were very high at the beginning of the season.

Then came the 2011 Buffalo Bills. In their second year of the most recent rebuild, they got off to a nice 2-0 start, and really got on everyone’s radar with a stunning 21-point comeback win over the despised New England Patriots! Heads turned, and wins even kept coming. After two losses by just 3 points each, the Bills were at 6-2, coming off a dominant, shut-out victory over the Redskins. But, unknown at the time, their QB was injured (broken ribs), and that injury was just adding to a somewhat unbelievable steadily growing list.

The Bills were not just injured (ridiculous number of players out for the year on IR), they were dealing with injuries to really key players: starting center (and most of the rest of the offensive line, actually), Pro Bowl DT Kyle Williams (the heart of the defense), and Fred Jackson, who was having an MVP-type season through seven games or so. The players try to minimize the impact injuries have on wins and losses, but it’s really undeniable that the 2011 season was greatly impacted by the amount and significance of the players lost, as well as the length of time they were out.

Strangely, the Sabres—despite the high pre-season hopes—have dealt with very similar issues. Nearly every player on the team has missed many games this season. Even the coach missed a few games due to injury! And as a result, the Sabres are fighting to make the playoffs, despite a roster loaded with “potential”.

Typical Buffalo sports.

But this week, there’s been another apparent change in the direction and attitude of the Buffalo sports teams.

You’ve probably heard that Mario Williams was flown into Buffalo at the very start of free agency (4pm Tuesday March 13th). He is a former number one overall draft pick. He’s the most sought after free agent, at least as defensive players go. (Peyton Manning is also a free agent this year!) And he was going to cost BY FAR the most money of any free agent signing.

And the Bills not only brought him in… they kept him here. For three days!

Today at 1:45pm, the Bills will announce that they have signed him to a mega-huge contract.

What?! The Buffalo Bills???


Not sure what’s going on, but the scene has changed here somewhat. The Sabres have deep (bottomless) pockets with their new owner, and they’re not afraid to use them. And so, they are contenders. (At least on paper?) And apparently, thanks to cap room, and building through the draft the previous two years, the Bills are willing to go out and hire the now highest paid player in the league. Yes! The BILLS!

This is crazy!

Who knows what else will happen this offseason, but so far, the Bills are different. They managed to re-sign a bunch of guys that they could have lost to free agency, Stevie Johnson being the biggest name on that list. Now they signed Mario Williams, who could be the best pass rusher we’ve seen here since Bruce Smith. They are still going to bring in one or two more free agents, likely with at least somewhat recognizable names, and then there’s the draft. (In which the Bills pick 10th, and have multiple picks in some rounds.)

If the beginning of last year (when we had our full roster of players) is any indication, the additions they are making seem to put the Bills into real contention for that ever-elusive league championship!

Perhaps that’s a bit of a jump… but perhaps not!

It is indeed a very interesting time to be a Buffalo sports fan!

A Buffalo Team With Money?

Sabres defenseman, Christian EhrhoffI’ve been a fan of Buffalo sports teams for almost 25 years now. That’s a good long time. Many players, many coaches, many GMs, and—at least for the Sabres—a few different owners. (I’m thinking right now that maybe the Bills could use a different owner…)

Near the mid-way point of last year, the Sabres were purchased by a guy who has made his fortune in the business world, who also happens to be a Sabres’ fan. Terry Pegula sat in the stands as a season ticket holder for a couple decades, watching his favorite team do well, but never well enough to bring home the Stanley Cup. When the Sabres were up for sale, he did what probably most every avid fan would love to do … he bought his favorite team.

The crazy thing is, though he is certainly not wanting to lose money from the business side of his new sports franchise, as a fan of this team (and hockey in general) and as a man with apparently abundant supplies of cash, he doesn’t only want to make the Sabres competitive. He has repeatedly stated that his only goal is to win a Stanley Cup in Buffalo. Many Stanley Cups.

As soon as he came to town, his infectious enthusiasm really did seem to spur the Sabres to play much better hockey. They finished the season on a strong run to end up in 7th place in the Eastern Conference, and played almost well enough to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers, who were a powerhouse in 2010-2011. The talk from the team and all over the region (among fans, media… everyone!) was that this guy might just have the magic touch. (And… the cash to back that up!)

Pegula has been personally visiting the players that the team is targeting to bolster their roster. That is clearly important to him. The players, the management, and nearly everyone in the organization is impressed by how personally involved (and involved passionately) he has been. It could be a reason that the Sabres have signed a couple players already, even before free agency starts at noon today.

The Sabres have already shown a commitment to improving their ‘D’. Trading a couple young guys (including defenseman Chris Butler, whom I was hoping they’d somehow move…) to the Calgary Flames for D Robyn Regher, a tough, veteran D-man. (They also got former Sabre forward, Ales Kotalik in the deal, but not sure where they are going with that.) And just yesterday, the Sabres signed soon-to-be free agent D Christian Ehrhoff (likely one of the top free agent defensemen) to a multi-year deal after acquiring his negotiating rights from the Islanders (who were apparently unsuccessful in their attempt to sign him).

The Sabres—at Pegula’s direction—are on the move.

And I don’t think they are done.

They have been signing a few players that are currently on the roster. After signing Regher and Ehrhoff, they also traded D Steve Montador to Chicago for a conditional draft pick. And then today at noon, free agency begins.

The name everyone is throwing around is Brad Richards. If the Sabres want him, I would expect that they will be a player in the quest to acquire him. (How strange is it, Buffalo fans, to have an owner that has money and wants to spend it!?) It’s conceivable the Sabres would pursue him as they really don’t have a #1 center (even though Derek Roy had a very productive season last year, despite missing about half of it due to injury) and they also lack “star power”, which this veteran forward would bring.

There still is a salary cap, but expect the Sabres, with their new deep-pocketed and fairly aggressive ownership to pursue the best available players. It wouldn’t surprise me if they make another trade or two here this offseason as well.

Hopes are high here in the Buffalo sports region. The Sabres have not been as frustrating as the Bills have been recently, but there has perhaps not been as much hope as there seems to be now. And with apparently good reason. Regher and Ehrhoff make the Sabres better. And the team is not done.

When the clock strikes noon today, the Sabres will be looking to further increase their chances of bringing home the Cup. That is, of course, everyone’s goal. But right now, it looks like more of a real possibility for Buffalo than it ever has.

Now if only Terry could buy the Bills…

NHL GameCenter - Free Preview Oct 11

NHL GameCenter – Free!

NHL GameCenter - Free Preview Oct 11

The NHL is once again offering a one-day only free preview of their NHL GameCenter package. For $19.95/mo or $159 for the whole season you can watch every NHL game, several at once, and they even have classic games and an archive of past games that you can peruse. It’s a pretty great deal if you’re a huge NHL fan, or if you are not in your favorite team’s market.

And for today… it’s completely free!

So head on over and sign up and watch some hockey today! There are games all day, since it’s Colombus Day. Early games have the Rangers and Islanders playing at 1pm ET, then Ducks/Blues at 2pm ET, Penguins/Devils at 4pm ET. At 7pm ET there are three more games (including my Buffalo Sabres!): Blackhawks/Sabres, Avalanche/Flyers, and Sens/Caps. Then, finish of the hockey day with the Panthers visiting the Canucks at 10pm ET. Nice!

Hoping I get to see some of those games today… And I hope you do too!

NHL Top and Bottom

NHL LogoWell, not really bottom, but I’ve just been thinking how strange (and, in a way, cool) it is that while the Western Conference finals features the two teams who finished first and second in 2009-2010, the Eastern Conference finals are upside down, featuring the #7 and #8 seeds, both of whom were questionable to even make the playoffs!

Montreal (the #8) has beaten the overall #1 team this year (which, everyone thought was impossible…) and they beat the defending champion Penguins in the second round (which, everyone thought was impossible…) by winning the last three games of the series! (Which… IS impossible!!) 🙂

Obviously, as is so often said, the teams are really very equal. Not sure how or why that is, since the Capitals really ran away with the top spot this year. And, not sure why it ended up #1 and #2 in the West, when there were some really good teams that those two clubs had to eliminate. Nice job, top clubs!

In the meantime, my team continues to flounder in near mediocrity. Hmmph. Well, at least they aren’t as bad as these guys… 🙂

The NHL Conference Finals continue tonight, two games on Versus! Here’s the full schedule

Sabres Exit Early, Here’s Why

Buffalo Sabres exit the playoffs in the first roundThe Buffalo Sabres 2009-2010 season ended tonight in Boston. They were the losers of Game 6 of the best of seven first round series, and that loss closed the doors on only the sixth season where Buffalo were the champions of their division.

In many ways, this team had everything going for it. Third seed in the Eastern conference. Worked hard all year long to get there. They were 30-0-0 in the regular season with a lead going into the third period. (That means they were dominant.) They had the best goalie in the league for much of the year. (He was overtaken late in the year by the goalie who manned the pipes at the opposite end of the rink in this series, Tuukka Rask.)

But they came up short. Very short.

Now, usually when that happens to one of the higher seeds, it’s cause for tongue lashings and many calls by the fans for the heads of this player or that, or even the coaches and GM. But this series was really, very close. They were essentially all one goal games, with the only exceptions being Boston’s 5-3 victory (thanks to an empty net goal) and Buffalo’s 4-1 win—the only game where there was a 2-goal lead at the end of the game.

The goalies played great. The teams gave tons of effort. And each game was a battle throughout.

The Sabres wish they had a couple of second periods back. They wish they hadn’t given up two 2-goal leads. And, well, they wish they were playing in round two.

They are not. And here’s why.


The Sabres were zero for twenty-two on the power play. ZERO. You can not win with those numbers. In contrast, the Bruins were something like 6 for 22 for the series. By far, that was the advantage the Bruins were able to turn into a series win.

Add to that the inability of some of the Sabres’ key players to “step up” to the playoff level—really, to even regular season level—and help push their team to the next level. Players like Tim Connolly, and Derek Roy, and Drew Stafford, and even Raffi Torres. Players who had scored a good number of goals in the regular season, but who contributed next to nothing (or, actually, nothing) in the post season.

That’s also going to kill you, every time.

Players who did impress include, of course, Ryan Miller. He is the real deal, and will be for years to come. That’s awesome. Mike Grier was clearly the missing piece as he returned to the Sabres after two years in San Jose—two years that the Sabres did not make the playoffs. Of course, it apparently wasn’t quite enough. But he was fantastic.

The two Tylers were very impressive. Myers and Ennis both will be fixtures on this team, as well as perhaps Nathan Gerbe, who despite his (super) diminutive stature, was winning puck battles, hitting guys all over the ice—including 6’9″ Zdeno Chara!—and was rewarded with a goal in the final game.

Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman played well. Thomas Vanek even played really well while he was in there. (Was out for three and a half games.)

Overall, the Sabres really don’t need to be disappointed with their effort this series. Of course they wish they were still playing, but they, as a team, really did compete hard, and this season, they had grown accustomed to Ryan Miller being spectacular enough to pull out such close games in the end.

Sadly, his counterpart was equally (if not more) amazing.

Bruins advance 4-2. They’ll face either Pittsburgh or Montreal in the next series. (If Montreal beats Washington.)

As the Sabres advance to the offseason, it’s time to move on from a few experiments. Please, Sabres GM Darcy Regier, start moving these guys off the team. If you can find a willing partner, trade Tim Connolly, Derek Roy, and Drew Stafford immediately. If no one will trade, then cut them. Now.

Similarly (but oppositely) it’s time to re-sign Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman, Adam Mair, and Mike Grier. Bring in more scoring, and guys who know how to play in the playoffs like Boston’s Mark Recchi.

After all, isn’t that all that matters?

Where did our #3 seed season get us? An early offseason. That’s where.

The Sabres have a good team. They’re fun to watch. Cut away the dead wood. Prune the branches. And next year we won’t have to shave our playoff beards so early!!!

Buffalo Sabres: 2010 Northeast Division Champs

Buffalo Sabres LogoI would like to acknowledge the recent accomplishment of my favorite hockey team, the Buffalo Sabres: winning the Northeast division of the Eastern Conference! Nice job, guys!

For the past two years the Sabres have been just outside the top eight teams that make the playoffs (only missing by a few points!) and so this is not only a return to the playoffs, but complete with a large exclamation point!

They have three games left—all against playoff teams, and all on the road—and a good shot at claiming the second seed in the conference.

The star of the team this year has been their goalie, who became a bit more famous with his MVP play in the Olympic winter games. Ryan Miller has won 40 games this season, and a lot were certainly credited to him. He’s been fantastic.

Add some key young guys to the mix this year: rookies Tyler Myers, and lately, Tyler Ennis, and a veteran player on his second stint with the team: Mike Grier, and apparently you have a pretty good recipe for a victory.

Thankfully, they do not play their nemesis in the first round, the Ottawa Senators. So far this year the Sabres are 0-5-0 against them. (Yikes!) They have one more chance this weekend in Ottawa to at least beat them once in the 2009-2010 season.

Likely first round opponents would be Montreal or Philadelphia. There’s an outside chance that Boston or even the NY Rangers could move up to play the Sabres, but my guess is Montreal. (With the Sabres getting the #2 seed.)

Eventually, they may have to get past Ottawa, though. That will be the true test of this team, I suppose.

Looking forward to the playoffs… starting next week! Go Buffalo!

Last Night in Pittsburgh…

Sidney Crosby (Canada) scores the winning goal vs Ryan Miller (USA)Last night the Buffalo Sabres were the visiting opponent of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, PA … USA. (The country is important here.)

Prior to the game, the hosting team apparently showed a video replay of the overtime goal scored by—Pittsburgh Penguin superstar, Sidney Crosby—and, though I’m certain they anticipated a loud cheer for the hometown hero, instead the crowd booed! Ha! They BOOED!

Meanwhile, they also introduced the MVP of the Olympic tournament—Buffalo Sabres superstar goalie, Ryan Miller, who was not playing that night—to a standing ovation! What??! How great is that! The visiting goalie got a standing ovation, while the hometown superstar—arguably the most recognizable NHL player in the world?—was booed in his own building???

That is flat-out awesome.

Four more years, and the gold medal could very likely go to the United States.

Now if the Sabres could somehow manage to make a run at the Cup…