Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Game Seven

A brief story seems relevant as the Buffalo Sabres pack out their possessions from their lockers after losing Game Seven to the Philadelphia Flyers:

Way back in 1993, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings were headed for Game Seven of the NHL Conference Finals. It had been a back-and-forth series until that point. But the Leafs were at home, and hadn't been to the Stanley Cup Finals in years and years.

Waiting, as it turned out, were the Montreal Canadiens. A Montreal-Toronto matchup for the Cup, something that was eliminated as a possibility because of realignment of the divisions, was at least possible.

You may remember how it came out. Wayne Gretzky had one of the great games of his life for the Kings, scoring five points and almost single-handedly beating the Maple Leafs.

Steve Dryden, my old friend from his days with the Hockey News, and I were talking about that contest a few years after that fact. Yes, I said, Gretzky was great and all that. But when you (meaning the Leafs) are in a situation like that, "You have to win that game!"

The Sabres know a little bit about that.

They had a three games to two lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the first-round series. Game Six was in their own building. If that weren't enough, the Flyers' coach surprised everyone by starting a goalie who had been in the AHL for almost the entire season. In a game he had to have, Peter Laviolette went with a third-stringer. It was a stunning decision.

Michael Leighton was predictably shaky in Game Six. He gave up three goals in the first period, was pulled, and was never seen again in the series. I mean that literally. Leighton supposedly never showed up in practice on Monday, and didn't bother going to the game on Tuesday. I think he burned some bridges in Philadelphia.

So the Sabres had a 3-1 lead with 40 minutes to go, and a 4-3 lead with 20 minutes to go. Yes, Jason Pominville was already out injured, and Tim Connolly exited after a hit by Mike Richards that could have drawn a suspension to the Flyer. But even so ...

"You've got to win that game."

They didn't, losing in overtime. As my good friend and noted author Tim Wendel said, it looked like the Sabres ran out of forwards by the end of Game Six. Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff had little choice but to try Derek Roy and Jochen Hecht in his lineup as they recovered from injuries.

The Flyers went back to starting Brian Boucher, and opted not to take any more chances. They essentially stopped the Sabres from taking any shots in the first period, leaving nothing to chance. Philadelphia scored late in the first to take the lead, added a couple of more goals in the second, and never looked back. The Sabres' gas tank had hit "E" late in Game Six.

It was a sad ending to a magical run by Buffalo, which didn't appear to have any playoff hopes four months ago. The finish won't do much to slow the growth in enthusiasm in the team, which built throughout the run and incorporated the spark provided by new ownership.

The Sabres probably were too banged up to give Washington a good series anyway. Still, a playoff win in Game Six would have given everyone a huge spring boost. You learn in the hockey business how precious opportunities are, and we'll see how this team reacts to this one getting away.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holiday time

My wife and I celebrated Easter in our traditional way. We had lunch at Chili's.

I know, I know. It's not exactly a ham at someone's house, or a buffet at a nice restaurant with family. This tradition does work for us. They serve up a fine chicken sandwich at Chili's. I don't have any more demands from this particular holiday.

The day got me to thinking as usual. Is there an odder holiday than Easter in terms of its celebration?

I remember from my Sunday School days that it is the most joyous day of the Christian year. I don't know why someone decided to peg the date to a phase of the moon rather than put it on the second Sunday of spring, but greater minds than mine figured that one out.

Easter is also the easiest holiday of the year to ignore, or at least not see coming. That's only in part because the date always changes which means I always have to look at my datebook to know when it falls.

I'm not a church-goer, so there are no major references to it in my life. In the past week a couple of writers have mentioned Holy Week, and I said, "Oh yeah." I guess I notice when Peeps have gone on sale at the supermarket. But then, I hate the taste of Peeps. At this time of the year, I don't have to do any gift shopping for anyone. I don't mail out Easter cards. I don't make up Easter CDs for my friends. I don't write a holiday newsletter. No one said "Happy Easter" to me in person.

It's on a Sunday, so most people have it off anyway. But for those who work weekends, like me, we don't get any sort of extra compensation for working that day. No extra pay, no day off in the bank to use later. It's just another day.

Driving around the area on Easter Sunday is a slightly odd experience. I'm old enough to remember a time when many businesses were closed just because it was Sunday. Those days are over, but Easter is something of a throwback to that era. We wound up at Chili's some time ago because it was open. Some restaurants, like Ted's the hot dog stand, are closed for the day. Target is closed, Kmart is open. There's less traffic, but the streets aren't empty like on Christmas. And so on.

It's almost as if those who want to celebrate Easter can do so, in their own way and with people of their own choosing. There's no pressure; it's just out there.

All in all, while it feels a little bit like I'm on the far side of a bit of a cultural divide, this seems a pretty sensible approach. Anything more would be, as they say at Chili's, "Margarita Madness!"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Visting speech-maker

You just never know who might pop up in your town from time to time, if you are paying attention.

Chris Matthews, the host of "Hardball" on MSNBC recently spoke at Daemen College, a small school in suburban Buffalo. You could tell someone important was there because of the limo out front.

A few quick observations about his visit:

* He's taller than you might think.

* He has a list of credentials longer than a city block.

* Matthews is a lot like he is on television, of course. When he took questions and someone rambled -- someone always rambled -- Matthews was quick to say "What's the point?" or "What's your question?"

* He's a lot funnier than he is on television, perhaps because he doesn't have those annoying guests on his show trying to get in a word or two here and there.

* I think I laughed the hardest at a quick aside about Sarah Palin. "Sarah Palin -- there's a role model for you college kids in the front. Don't bother studying! It only gets in the way." He then moved into something along the lines of "Palin thought Katie Couric asked her trick questions about what she read. Katie Couric has never asked a trick question in her life!" Matthews also made fun of Michelle Bachmann's remarks about Lexington and Concord being in New Hampshire, which is so easy and tempting that I did it here.

* As he looks over the Presidential field for 2012, he's not overly impressed with the Republican contenders. I think he used to word "Looney Tunes" to describe the field. Then again, the concept of "Donald Trump -- Presidential candidate" does lend itself to laugher. Meglomania doesn't come any bigger than Trump, even when talking about a profession that lends itself to such personalities.

It was a fun hour and 15 minutes. We need more speakers like that in town, particularly on nights when I can attend such events.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It only took a sentence or two

I have the standard clock-radio that is only used for waking up. FM reception is a little dicey in my part of the world because of an antenna close by, so I tune the dial for AM. Once I'm awake, I shut off the radio -- which is something of a comment on the quality of programming on the dial.

The other day, the radio came on in the middle of a bit of a monologue by the right-wing host. It didn't take long for him to say, "the government doesn't do jack for us."

This host was talking on a radio station, in which the frequencies are regulated so that not every radio station is on the same part of the dial. Otherwise, chaos would result. When the show was over, he probably looked at his mail, delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. He hopped in his car, driving on roads built by the local and state governments. He might stop for lunch, where the food and drink have to pass health standards in order to keep customers safe. The garbage from that meal goes into a bin and might be picked up by the city or town sanitation department.

Perhaps our host will go home and plan his vacation. When it arrives, he'll go through security, so that his plane will be safe to fly in the skies. He'll take off and land through the work of the air traffic controllers (yes, a couple of have been dozing lately, and the resulting publicity shows what an important function they have). Then maybe he'll hop in a car, built to safety regulations that help get him to his destination in one piece. He'll drive on an Interstate highway, a government-built infrastructure device that is crucial to the economy. Maybe he'll head for a National Park Service site to get away from it all.

I'm obviously scratching the surface here.

Nobody wants more government than is necessary, and we want it run efficiently. We also don't want to pay for it all, which is why we've had deficits for most of the past few decades. But to say government doesn't do anything for the population is either not paying attention or out of touch with reality. Or both.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The boss

Work long enough, and you encounter all kinds of bosses. Chatty bosses, friendly bosses, micromanaging bosses, mean bosses, intelligent bosses, bossy bosses. Often those qualities are combined into one complex person.

I'm losing one of the good ones today.

Steve Jones, sports editor of The Buffalo News, accepted a buyout offer from the company and is departing. He's been at the newspaper for many decades, although I've only known him since we covered the Stallions indoor soccer games together and played softball against each other in a media league 30 years ago.

Being a sports editor sounds like a fun job from the outside, but I'm certain it isn't in this day and age. Newspapers are losing readers and profit margins right now, ramping up the pressure on anyone in a management position.

Steve did his best to isolate the sports staff from those pressures, probably flirting with an ulcer in the process. What's more, he probably sent out more notes of support and praise to his staff in three years than the rest of my bosses sent out in the previous 30 combined.

Along the way, he gave his staff some room to try new ideas out when possible. I've always worked better under the Bill Walsh approach as compared to Vince Lombardi -- cerebral vs. military discipline -- and I think I did some good work under Steve's guidance. I'll bet others would say the same thing.

But it's on a personal level where Steve came through in a big way. Back in the fall of 2008, sports writer Tom Borrelli fell down a flight of stairs and landed on his head, dying about 10 days later. Forgetting the aspect of personal loss for a moment if that's possible, I can't think of a worse tragedy to hit a workplace. Steve was there for Tom's wife, Karen, as often as possible to offer support and to do what he could.

Then about two years later, co-worker Bob Summers essentially dropped dead right after a Saturday night shift. Steve was once again provided comfort where possible.

From a professional point of view, Steve wasn't even allowed replacements for Tom, Karen (she had been a clerk, and moved after Tom's death) and Bob, stretching a thin staff even thinner. Throw in a couple of other deaths, as two ex-staff members passed away, and a serious illness, and you have a rather star-crossed tenure.

Steve deserved a better hand than he was dealt, and here's hoping that he gets it in his days after One News Plaza. Steve probably doesn't have to work any more, but he's young enough to do so if he so chooses.

No matter what he does from this point, I'm hoping that Steve has a long, happy and stress-free time in his life starting tomorrow. He certainly deserves it, just as he deserves to read the words "thank you" from me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Simplified sports rooting...

It's much easier than I thought to figure out which baseball team you should root fot. Just follow the flow chart through this link:

If I had been a fan of chowder, er, chowdah, I would have been a Red Sox fan. But instead, I came out a Blue Jays fan.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Tweet, tweet, tweet

I've finally found a couple of uses for Twitter, and they don't involve telling people where I am or what I had for breakfast.

My spiffy phone isn't exactly a competitor with an iPhone when it comes to Web access. I can get to certain mobile websites, but those with a lot of type jams it up. Therefore, I have to pick my spots on what I view.

Twitter is pretty much perfect for it. So, I registered for an account, and signed up for updates from such places as the Buffalo News sports section and the Buffalo Bandits. I can't read the stories, but I can get the headlines to that I'll know generally about the stories of the day.

It's funny to see the Bandits' tweets. Every tweet during a game that's associated with good news for the lacrosse team gets an exclamation point. Enthusiasm is not a problem there!

After using it on a road trip to Philadelphia, the light bulb in my head went off at some point. Why couldn't I send out word that I had updated a couple of my blogs?

So I do. If you want the latest in sports book reviews, you can sign up for SportsBkReviews. I post the URL whenever I write a new one. Then when I do an update of a hockey statistic, word goes out at HockeyAbstract.

The book site already has three followers, which puts me just behind the Butler Bulldog in terms of popularity. We'll see how it all works, but I can't see that I have anything to lose here.

Wish me luck, even if I've already spotted Snooki of "Jersey Shore" a big lead in followers.