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Overreactions: All-American Prospects Game

027_WEB_Prospects20140925_mediumThursday’s All-American Prospects game at First Niagara Center was nice. It wasn’t great, but it was nice.

The third edition of USA Hockey’s showcase of draft eligible prospects, held in Buffalo for the second time after an affair in Pittsburgh, ended with Team Grier (led by the Sabres legend) defeating Team Olczyk (led by noted horse racing fanatic) by a score of 6-3.

But a couple big name coaches weren’t the story. The story was Jack Eichel, the hotshot prospect who’s going to be the not-so-terrible consolation prize in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes next April.

Eichel, the Boston University freshman who is a sure-fire top-2 pick in next summer’s NHL Draft, was conspicuous throughout the night. Tallying one goal and one assist, the eyes were clearly on him, and not just because he’s a dead ringer for Lindsey Buckingham, notably of Fleetwood Mac.

No, Eichel was the main attraction on the night, and he didn’t disappoint. He was dynamic with the puck, showing great poise and vision, setting up Jeremy Bracco for an early goal, and then a fine finish late in the third to win him the MVP. He’s going to be a fantastic NHL player, and if the Sabres do their job and finish dead last this season, it’ll be alright if it’s not their logo getting pulled out of that envelope belonging to the #1 overall pick.

Some thoughts:

  • It’s great that the Sabres have gotten this event going and will be hosting again next year. Before then, they really need to re-evaluate how they market it. With 16,000 season ticket holders getting free tickets, more being given away and likely tepid individual sales, they announced just over 7,000. I doubt there was that many in the house, and the lower bowl looked so bad that 300 Level ushers were telling fans to move down to the 100 Level. It’s a cool event that should be really interesting. They just don’t seem to know what to do with it.
  • One way to engage fans more? Get the players’ junior/college teams involved. Get some awareness for the junior system in the United States. Build the context for the depth of the American game. If you beat people over the head with the fact that Eichel is playing at Boston University or that other top prospect Noah Hanifin is at Boston College, maybe people will make a point to tune in if they’re on television. Build the demand. Even if you’re the Buffalo Sabres, you’re better off if people give a shit about hockey.
  • Biggest improvement from the 2012 game to the 2014 game? Uniforms. Game looked clean, players seemed easier to identify than last time. Minor thing, but I noticed it.
  • Hanifin is going to be a rock for whatever team that drafts him. Hopefully the Sabres are done and have their guy by the time he’s getting picked, but with some guys, you can just tell. He’s gonna be good.
  • It’s really hard to get a good read on players in an event like this. The best stand out. Some guys can surprise. But I’m not gonna act like I know a player’s game from how they look in an all-star event. Gotta see them at the club level.

That’s about it. Gonna have to see when BU will be on television this season.


Blown Opportunity: NHL leaves Atlanta

You’d never know it by the majority of media coverage, but today is a dark day for American hockey.

There will be a press conference at 12 ET today to announce that the Atlanta Thrashers will be moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba for next season. True North Sports & Entertainment, after failing to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes, will finally be in line to become an NHL ownership group.

Great for the people of Winnipeg, horrible for the game of hockey, especially in the United States.

Atlanta Spirit Group, the Thrashers’ current owners and also owners of Philips Arena and the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, are finally dumping their hockey team after repeated tries. ASG has alienated hockey fans in Atlanta and the players as well in doing so.

Former Sabre Chris Thorburn on the situation:

“It’s discouraging to know they’re not behind us. They’re trying to dump us,” he said. “That makes a guy mad.”

Thorburn also criticized NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who has not [visited] Atlanta while rumors of the sale of Thrashers to Winnipeg’s True North Sports have swirled. “You’d like to see the guy at the head of the league present. So it’s kind of discouraging,” Thorburn said.

The 27-year-old Thorburn has spent the past four seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers. “We’ve made Atlanta home,” he said of his wife and child.

“Atlanta’s a great hockey town. There’s no reason to not stay here,” Thorburn said. “You just don’t want to pick up and leave for the wrong reasons.”

The NHL will gain zero new fans by moving to Manitoba. Instead of focusing on growing a huge, exploding market, they’re sending a franchise to a small city that doesn’t have an NHL-calibre arena.

In an analogy, the NHL is walking into a club and picking up a drunk slampig instead of hitting on the hot girl at the bar. You want a sure thing? There’s your ugly Winnipeg. You gonna try to do better? Atlanta might not put out the first night, but it’s worth an effort. The Atlanta Spirit Group has gone after their Atlanta with no game, so it’s no wonder they haven’t pulled in fans. The team has never won a playoff game. How do you expect to survive sending a bunch of losers out every year? What city (other than Toronto) would that ever fly in?

No franchise has a chance in hell at establishing itself in a market when the team doesn’t perform on the ice and the management doesn’t try. ASG has been trying to sell the team for five years. Do you really expect them to worry about growing the fan base while they’re trying to unload? By all accounts, ASG has done everything it could to salt the earth towards hockey in Atlanta. They’re selling to TNSE simply to recoup as much of their investment as they can. It’s a business move for them, something that’s happening easier because they were able to alienate a lot of people who might’ve cared about the team.

Attendance wasn’t that bad. For being the 25th best team in the league in 2010-11, they were 28th in attendance, averaging 13,469. The season they won the Southeast divison, they averaged 16,240 in 2006-07. It took a hit the following season, but the 15,831 they average in 2007-08 was fairly good considering they finished 14th in the East. They’ve averaged over 15,000 for five of the ten seasons since their expansion year, which is fairly good for finishing in the bottom half of the league for nine of them.

But fans will show up in Winnipeg, right? Read the rest of this entry

The dilemma of a transplanted fan

For those who aren’t incredibly new to this blog (and if you are, I appreciate you coming by) you may have read a previous post mentioning how I relocated this January. I now reside in Predators country: Nashville, Tennessee.

If you would’ve told me five years ago I’d willingly leave Buffalo, I don’t know if I would’ve believed you. The Sabres have always been a huge part of my life. I’m sure if there was no team, if they would’ve left in bankruptcy or the lockout never ended, I may have been willing to go to college outside western New York. But there’s no way I was going to leave the area. There was no way I was going to leave my team.

I made that decision back in 2005, when I decided to get season tickets out of the lockout. Going to school in the city, I was finally going to have the chance to go to every game. Tickets were cheap. For a college student, I could easily handle $400 for 300 level season tickets. I mean, what hockey fan wouldn’t pay $10 to see an NHL game? For some, it wasn’t enough, as evidenced by all the empty seats. No decision for me. My team was coming back, I was going to be there every night. I bled black and red. And holy shit, that team was fun to watch.

But a funny thing started to happen. The empty seats disappeared. They changed the colors I bled. And the money I was paying for tickets wasn’t enough. It seemed like the organization was more interested in my wallet than my presence. Eventually, I felt like I was being pushed away. Read the rest of this entry

An open letter to Mr. B. Thomas Golisano

Mr. Golisano,

Hello. Can I call you Tom? Okay. How about Tommy? No? That’s fine.

Anyways, Tom, you’ve got yourself in the news, haven’t you? You’ve said all along that you would be open to sell, and, well, here’s your chance. There’s this guy named Terry, who, while we don’t really know him that well yet, wants to buy the team. He seems like he’s a hockey guy. He’s a local guy too, and he loves the Sabres. I mean, he had season tickets!

We know you got into this mess without really being a hockey man yourself, and that’s alright. You were approached because you cared about our community and had the money to do good things. And you’ve done good things. Look at all the hospitals and universities in western New York that are better places thanks to your generosity. We appreciate that.

When you came in 2003, things looked bleak. We almost lost the team. But you came in, brought your business skills, streamlined the operation, and turned the franchise around. The organization went from bleeding money to sustainable.

You had a good run. We got to see probably the two best seasons in franchise history under your watch. We were a contender. At least until the business side of the operation got in the way of the hockey side of the operation. Things haven’t been as good since, but things are still alright. Hey, at least we’ve had a bunch of new jerseys to go and buy! Thanks for that!

You’ve had your share of bad moments in this whole thing as well. Some of them, well, most of them, can be blamed on the guy who you have running the show, but that’s not all on you. But Larry Quinn was smart enough to get you involved in the first place, so all the dumb things he’s said and done aren’t your fault. I’m not even gonna use the words “eat” or “microphone” here.

Oh… sorry.

But Tom, things have changed. You’ve got an opportunity here to be a hero again. I know it’s a fun toy to have in the arsenal. Professional sports can be pretty sweet. But the fans in Buffalo want a guy who’s not just here to save the team, or be profitable. It seems like this Pegula guy wants to win. That might be cool, right? Winning? I know winning is fun, but we get the sense that you’re not willing to lose a few bucks for a few more notches in the win column. Not that we can blame you, but can you blame us?

You’re gonna get a solid return on your investment. This guy has money, and he’s willing to spend it. You’ll be able to relax in Florida with your beautiful woman and enjoy retirement. You’ll forever be remembered as a guy who stepped in and saved the team. You can also be remembered as a guy who was willing to step aside when his work here was done. So, we’re asking you to do that.

This is not kicking you out the door. We’d be happy to have you around whenever you wanna stop in. Leaving on good terms can cement a reputation. Be remembered as an important part of our beloved Sabres’ history.

But, for the same reason you stepped in, we’d like you to walk away.

For us.

The new alternate uniform? Yeah, about that…

They’re ugly.

I’m gonna say it. Somebody has to.

As I tweeted yesterday, I don’t wanna be “that guy” who rips the Sabres for everything. I’m not gonna go out of my way to criticize them unless they earn it. With these “40th anniversary” jerseys, they should be getting a lot of flack.

Let’s review what the team’s press release gloated about these gifts to Buffalo.

Here are some design facts about the new 40th anniversary jersey:

  • The royal blue color of the third jersey reflects the original Sabres jersey that debuted in 1970.
  • The “Buffalo” script wordmark was inspired by the old Buffalo Bisons “bottlecap” logo.
  • The choice of an off-white color for the Buffalo script was to give the jersey a vintage feel.
  • There are four stripes on the sleeves, socks and around the waist that represent 40 years of Sabres hockey.
  • A commemorative 40th anniversary “1970” logo sits below the Buffalo script.
  • The faux felt numbers have a unique cross stitched pattern in reference to early pro hockey jerseys

In my opinion, the fact they put this much thought into each individual aspect of the uniform just shows they put way too much thought into this.

Let me make a statement that may contradict what many Sabres fans are led to believe: the Buffalo Sabres don’t have any tradition.

Read the rest of this entry

Adventures in Buffalo sports fandom

The most important thing that blogging has done for the internet is give a voice to everyone.

That may not always be a good thing, as my friend Mike, a past 3MI contributor, pointed out.

From Bleacher Report, by far the premier outpost of sports opinions on the interwebs (to sports what TMZ is to world news), comes this gem entitled “Buffalo Sports Teams: Stop Taking Advantage of Your Fans” from a person called “Alec Joy”.

A quick snippet:

Clearly, we cannot rely on the Bills to create excitement so let’s turn to the Sabres and the focus of the majority of my anger in Buffalo Sports.

Two Words: Darcy Regier.

Yes, the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, Darcy John Regier is, in my opinion, the worst administrative professional in all of sports. Regier is responsible for the loss of such players as Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Brian Campbell, Clarke MacArthur, J.P. Dumont, and Martin Biron for little, or no, compensation.

I’m not going to touch his arguments, because they’re flat out stupid.

Read the rest of this entry

Which game are you watching today?

Today is January 3rd, a microcosm of Buffalo sports as it currently stands.

Sports fans in the 716 area code have a lot to think about today, as the 5-10 Bills play their final game of the season at 1 in Orchard Park, while the 2nd place Sabres are in Montreal to take on the Habs at 3.

Usually, a Bills game day draws all the attention, but today is a bit different. The Bills host the 14-1 Colts, who have absolutely nothing riding on this game whatsoever. All the Bills are playing for is a draft pick. Concluding a decade of accomplishing nothing, as detailed by TBN today, on a sub-freezing day in Western New York, the Bills are a mess.

The Sabres? Not so much. While their play has been unstellar of late, despite pulling out miraculous wins in the last two games, they’ve been winning. 6-2-2 in their last 10, the Sabres face Montreal, who would be their first round opponent if the season ended today. Wait… playoffs? They’d make the playoffs!?!

It’s the divide between the teams. The Sabres, after missing the playoffs two seasons in a row, are a virtual lock to at least make the postseason, and are in good position to win the division. The Bills, on the other hand, have been headed in the opposite direction for years. Read the rest of this entry

Blackhawks’ Kane arrested in Buffalo

pic_kanepat08This is one headline I sure didn’t expect to see this morning when I checked the Buffalo News website for Bills news.

Buffalo native, Chicago Blackhawks star, and South Buffalo’s favorite son, Patrick Kane was arrested this morning, the Buffalo News reports.

Chicago Blackhawk right winger and South Buffalo native Patrick Kane and a relative face robbery and other charges after allegedly assaulting a cab driver and failing to pay their fare after getting a ride from Chippewa Street early this morning.

Kane, 20, and James M. Kane, 21, were arrested about 5 a.m. on Eastwood Place, according to Buffalo police reports.

Alright, so you can assume two things from this report.

  1. Kane was drinking, and was most likely drunk, because no one goes to Chippewa and gets a cab ride back sober.
  2. Our boy Pat is a drunk asshole.

What kind of moron does this kind of thing? Read the rest of this entry

Indians era in Buffalo ends

One of the most prolific minor league affiliations in recent history has come to an end.

With the Buffalo Bisons loss in their season finale yesterday, the relationship with the Cleveland Indians has officially ended after more than a decade of watching future stars come through Buffalo.

The frustrating finish left the Bisons with a 66-77 record, their worst since 1994 and their only losing season with the Tribe.

After putting nine playoff teams and three league champions in Buffalo since 1995, the Indians are expected to move their Triple-A operation to Columbus, Ohio, next season.

“It hasn’t settled in for me,” said Bisons outfielder Jason Cooper, a pending free agent who extended his franchise record by playing in his 410th game. “I feel like tomorrow morning when I wake up that it’s going to be a very strange feeling to realize I’m going home, the season is over, my tenure with the Bisons for right now is over, and my tenure with Cleveland is probably over.”

Read the rest of this entry

RIP Tim Russert 1950-2008

Tim Russert 1950-2008I honestly don’t know where to begin.

Buffalo native Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s Meet The Press, died today at age 58.

Russert was a world renowned journalist who held one of the premier posts in the national media. The host of Meet the Press since 1991.

Tim Russert, who pointedly but politely questioned hundreds of the powerful and influential as moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” died suddenly Friday while preparing for his weekly broadcast. The network’s Washington bureau chief was 58.

In addition to his weekly program, Russert appeared on the network’s other news shows, was moderator for numerous political debates and wrote two best-selling books.

President Bush, informed of Russert’s death while at dinner in Paris, swiftly issued a statement of condolence that praised the NBC newsman as “an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades. Tim was a tough and hardworking newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it.”

NBC interrupted its regular programming with news of Russert’s death and continued for several hours of coverage without commercial break. The network announced that Tom Brokaw will anchor a special edition of “Meet the Press” on Sunday, dedicated to Russert.

Competitors and friends jumped in with superlative praise and sad recognition of the loss of a key voice during a historic presidential election year. Personally, Russert was a family man and a father figure to his colleagues. Parenting organizations several times had named him Father of the Year.

Tim was always there to speak kindly of Buffalo. In a Sports Illustrated article about Chris Drury done during the 2007 NHL Playoffs, Russert was quoted about the hope Drury brought.

“The Sabres and the Bills are the city,” says Tim Russert, Buffalo native and host of NBC’s Meet the Press. “They give it life.”

Russert, Mayor Brown, most anyone in town will say that Drury is the perfect Buffalo player, an embodiment of the city’s self-image: hardworking, self-sacrificing, down to earth. But Buffalonians, as MacDonald, who coached at nearby Niagara University, says, “can also feel sorry for themselves. Woe is me, Scott Norwood, Brett Hull, why does this always happen to us? Chris is the anti of that mentality. He never feels sorry for himself and his team. He doesn’t look in the past, no pity parties. Nope. Next play.”

That, of course, is what Buffalo is counting on. “This is it! Brother Drury is bringing us to the mountaintop!” Russert shouts. “There’s a sense of mission. He has proved he knows how to win championships and he is the leader.” Then he pauses.

“Let’s hope,” Russert says, his voice dropping almost to a whisper. “One time.”

Russert was a beloved member of the media. Just watch some of the news coverage about his passing. The stories of how his Buffalo upbringing made him who he was just reiterates what he meant to Buffalo’s image. He was a personable, down-to-earth guy who spoke to the common man. That’s what he knew. He knew us. Buffalo.

After the jump is an NFL Films special done about Buffalo a few years back. It’s Russert who really does the best job conveying what Buffalonians felt. Read the rest of this entry