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You Owe Me: Fear & Self-Loathing in Cheektovegas

January 20, 2013

They’re playing hockey today – which is great. I’m excited, and you probably are too if you’re reading this. All the teeth gnashing you did, all the cursing of Bettman, Daly, and Fehr, the threats of never watching this league again – they were all hollow. And you kind of knew it too, didn’t you? Deep down you weren’t walking away.

The sweet day those arena gates were flung open and you got the chance to get your grubby little hands on a minipack and a Grigorenko sweater you knew you were a lost cause.

And that’s fine – despite all my rage, I acknowledged early on that the minute this hilariously needless work stoppage ended, I’d be in front of my TV like the hopeless rube that I am. Maybe not buying tickets and merchandise but definitely giving the Sabres & NHL my full attention and mindshare. And in the age of trending topics and commercial self worth determined by facebook shares and likes – that’s almost as valuable, isn’t it?

The NHL & NHLPA kissed and made up, the fans cheered and most got in line to hand over gobs of cash…as fans are wont to do. But some haven’t been as compliant. Some still aren’t completely sated and, right or wrong, made their viewpoints made

Which, in turn, brought an avalanche of scorn from those who weren’t asking for a bit more.

You think you’re OWED something? This is a BUSINESS – they owe you NOTHING was the general refrain from those doing the shaming.

Which, is generally true – the NHL and its franchises all operate as for profit institutions. The end game is making money, not playing hockey. That is reality.

The fact that this was being communicated didn’t strike me as much as the widespread ferocity in which it was delivered. It was almost as if the people asking for half priced beer or car magnets as good faith gestures were posting YouTube videos of themselves wearing Bin Laden masks and burning American flags while Norwood’s kick sailed right on a 52” in the background for all the hostility they were met with.

And it made me think about the broader context of how American sports fans behave and view themselves, say compared to their counterparts in Europe or South America.

Last weekend Manchester City of the English Premier League traveled south to London to play Arsenal. As is the norm in English soccer, a few sections of every stadium are set aside for fans of the visiting team as to not have fans of opposing sides mingle together and cause potential crowd trouble (long story – google “The English Disease”).

Similar to the Sabres variable pricing model, Arsenal also prices games based on the stature of the opponent, competition, etc… Given that Manchester City are the defending EPL champions and that away tickets are normally higher in price than home fan tickets (supply & demand) – City fans were met with a staggering per ticket cost of 62 GBP or, in US dollars, $98.36.

Incensed City fans balked at the prices and over 900 unsold tickets were returned to the Arsenal front office as an embarrassingly large swath of empty seats was displayed prominently on televisions around the globe. The ones that did come down from the north of England brought protest banners and chants with them, winning the sympathy of not only fan groups across the UK but a game official who persuaded the Manchester City players to jog over to the away end and thank the fans for dishing out so much cash.

Think about that story – can you ever conceive of that happening in Buffalo? It’s absurd, isn’t it? The thought of Drew Stafford glumly skating over to the bench after a dull 2-1 Wednesday night loss to Winnipeg or Washington and thanking fans by the railings for having to plunk down the cost of a pretty damn nice meal at the Chop House to see what amounted to the hockey version of the dollar menu.

Can you ever imagine Sabres fans in the 100s unfurling banners reading “$180? WHERE DOES IT STOP?” WGR drive time show hosts clucking their tongues sympathetically at the extortionist nature of modern pro sports and exhorting listeners to action.

But that doesn’t happen here. Behind the high ticket prices, threat of relocation if public funds aren’t handed over and general disregard for those who make the whole system work lies this sentiment: “You’re lucky to have us“.

And the response, nearly universally from the great unwashed is nearly always “Yes, we know!”

Sports are a game – they’re entertainment; in the grand scheme they don’t mean anything of any true substance (or so I’ve been told). And, if, as a society this is how we want things to be that’s fine.

But it’s interesting to note that in the wake of this fiasco reaching a non-season killing resolution, the first scarlet letters handed out post-lockout weren’t to the perpetrators, but to those who wouldn’t let the frustration of the work stoppage die.

Collectivist action just isn’t in our bones as Americans – for a nation that has prided itself on protest, modern sports fandom across the four majors seems to be a nervy game of musical chairs – no one wants to speak up or walk out in fears of the next guy on the season ticket waiting list taking your spot and effectively erasing your relevance to the team. Or worse – being called out for not being a REAL FAN.

Which, of course, all plays into the math the NHL and NHLPA literally bank on: that you can’t say no. That no matter what kind of farce they make of the game you love and fund, that you’d sooner trample the guy in the row below you for a ticket upgrade than EVER consider maybe talking to him about staging a meaningful protest or boycott to send the money men a lesson that what happened from October until earlier this month is NOT OK.

But, again, that’s not how we think. The first instinct is to accept the lot of ever increasing tickets, ever brazen ownership and ever shortsighted player representation. Fans – the people who genuinely hold all the cards- defeat, no, cannibalize themselves before the battle even begins.

Granted, nothing more terrible than some boring winter evenings and lean times at Cobblestone area pubs have come as a result of all this. This isn’t huge banks laundering money for cartels or drone strikes killing civilians in Pakistan. It’s hockey, it’s supposed to be a fun diversion, not the whole point.

I suppose it all comes down to what we want as a sporting society – is this all worth it? Is it still fun? Would you want anything to change?

Personally, I don’t know those answers. It’s late and the Sabres are playing tomorrow.

June 20, 2012

Originally posted on In Towards McBride:

With a shock upset of (now former) division leaders AFC Cleveland on Saturday, Greater Binghamton FC rolled into Buffalo on an overcast Father’s Day afternoon brimming with the confidence of a side that saw a prime opportunity to wash away the trauma of a disastrous first half of their maiden season with a statement win that would put them in pole position for the final spot in the Great Lakes playoffs next month in Erie.

Photo courtesy of Nate Benson Photography

FC Buffalo, reeling from a demoralizing and thorough defeat to Detroit City FC the previous evening were simply looking to stop the bleeding from several weeks of key injuries, suspensions and poor results. The Great Lakes basement battle, however, did nothing but prolong the questions and tension of the final few weeks as the two struggling sides battled to a 1-1 draw at All High Stadium.

GBFC looked the…

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June 13, 2012

Originally posted on In Towards McBride:

The stories of soccer seasons are written in the ink of patterns and repetition. With half of the 2012 FC Buffalo season completed and only one win to show, there have been several refrains as common as any song from The Situation Room: Shots off the woodwork; Missing the final ball; Good possession play with nothing to show for it, set piece chances wasted…the beat has gone on in frustrating fashion for a club that, for all intents & purposes, should probably have more than just 5 points and a tentative grasp on the final playoff spot in the Great Lakes Division standings.

TSR On Tour….Again

Sunday afternoon continued the Groundhog Day like narrative of familiar ailments as FC Buffalo dropped a 1-3 decision to the same Erie side that won a massively controversial Friday evening match in Buffalo that saw Josiah Snelgrove sent to the hospital with a broken…

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June 6, 2012

Originally posted on In Towards McBride:

A gloomy day in Buffalo saw a road weary Greater Binghamton FC venture into All High Stadium on Sunday coming off a demoralizing 0-4 loss to Detroit. A fresh and motivated Buffalo side would prove their undoing as a hotly contested match ended 2-1 in favor of the Western New Yorkers.

Fans were still filing into the stands when FC Buffalo struck early. Mike Reidy displayed fantastic footwork through a maze of defenders keeping the ball on a string before dishing a beautiful through ball to Kendell McFayden. McFayden made no mistake and placed the home side up 1-0 in the 1st minute.

Buffalo continued to dominate play, as well as set piece opportunities through the first 20 minutes. The proceedings remained lopsided as Blitzer defenders played neatly in the back and the midfielders controlled possession in a way they were unable to against Cleveland the previous week. Mike Reidy…

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May 28, 2012

Originally posted on In Towards McBride:

With both Detroit and Cleveland extending their undefeated records over the third weekend of Great Lakes Division play, Sunday afternoon’s return match with AFC Cleveland at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium proved a pivotal early season test and opportunity for FC Buffalo to keep pace with their Rust Belt Cup brethren.

Photo courtesy of Nate Benson Photography

However, all three points were not to be as the two respective slices of bread in the Erie sandwich (it tastes awful, if you’re wondering) played a match that featured everything but a decisive winner.  Hard tackles, questionable refereeing, smashed shots off the wood work and last minute goal mouth scrambles entertained a lively holiday weekend crowd in Buffalo as the I-90 rivals shared the spoils when the final whistle blew.

The game kicked off in Cleveland’s favor as the Ohioans bossed possession for a majority of the opening 10 minutes.  FC Buffalo’s attempts…

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Match Report – FC Buffalo: 0 Detroit City FC: 0

May 14, 2012

We’re partnering with our friends at In Towards McBride to bring you full coverage of FC Buffalo’s 3rd season over the course of this summer.  

Sunday night was FCB’s home & season opener

 

 

Sunday’s letter perfect May weather was versatile – setting a beautiful stage for Mothers Day, an EPL finish for the ages and the kickoff of FC Buffalo’s 3rd season in Buffalo’s Central Park neighborhood against NPSL newcomers Detroit City FC.  Buffalo fans marched to All High, adding to the fanfare and anticipation to what should be a seminal year for the Beautiful Game in Buffalo.

Detroit City looked strong from the start even though they were coming off a 1-1 draw vs. AFC Cleveland the night before along with the accompanying travel.  A bad giveaway in the 8th minute almost led to a DCFC goal but a shot wide killed those chances.  Other than the strong play from Andy Tiedt, FC Buffalo didn’t have much to show in the first few minutes of 2012.

Weathering the first quarter of an hour, the tide started to turn FC Buffalo’s way.  A corner kick led to a great scoring chance, but Josiah Snelgrove’s header hit the woodwork and a few minutes later a Matt Steadman opportunity off a goal kick couldn’t find the back of the net and the score remained 0-0.

FC Buffalo continued to control play the latter part of the 1st half over the road weary Detroit club.  FCB attacking play kept the pressure on and the best scoring chance of the half for the home squad once again rang off of the post.

Detroit City did manage to find a bit of an offensive spark towards the end of the 1st but FC Buffalo goalkeeper Eric Dehond came up with a big save in the 41st minute and kept the score even.

Just before the end of the half, tempers flared and a skirmish led to a yellow card on the visitors and free kick for FC Buffalo.  Despite their best efforts and some nice play by newly signed Kendell McFayden, both teams retired to their dressing rooms knotted at 0-0.

The second half started off a bit sloppy as McFayden received a caution as Detroit started off very strong.  It didn’t take long though before another one of FCB’s newest signings, Alex Rouse, showed the home fans a preview of the attacking verve and acumen he has demonstrated during his prolific college career.  Rouse created 2 excellent chances, but still had nothing to show for and the game marched on scoreless.

Second half activity remained quiet most of the way with both clubs not generating many offensive chances or wanting to venture forward in fear of exposing gaps in their respective back lines.  FC Buffalo midfielder Mike Reidy tried to establish a passing rhythm in the center of the park, but little came of it and we remained even.

The tempo increased in the final 10 minutes of play and both teams appeared very interested in collecting all 3 points in the inaugural match of the Rust Belt Derby.  Play see-sawed back and forth as both sides went for broke to gain an early foothold in the Great Lakes Division.  FC Buffalo had an apparent winner but was waived off due to a controversial offside call in the 89th minute.  The home crowd loudly voiced their displeasure with the call on the field, but the officials remained adamant in their decision.

Gary Boughton had a chance to win it in stoppage time after another yellow card on Detroit City, but once again the Detroit keeper ended this chance and the game ended at a 0-0 draw.

While the match didn’t end with the 3 points, gaining a draw against a very good Detroit squad made for a successful night.  McFayden and Rouse proved tonight why they were signed this offseason.  Their play tonight should only improve as they gel with veterans such as Andy Tiedt and Matt Stedman.

FC Buffalo continues their season in Cleveland on 5/18 at 7pm.  The team returns home on 5/27 to take on AFC Cleveland once again at 3pm at All-High Stadium.

FC Buffalo lineup: DeHond; Zelko, Snelgrove, McFayden, Hall; Reidy, Stedman (Grabowski 75’), Faga, Boughton; Rouse, Tiedt (Cwiklinski 68’).

Report compiled by Jeff Fabin - @jfabin15

The Beautiful Interview: Bleed Buffalo Sits Down with FC Buffalo Founders Nick Mendola & Scott Frauenhofer

May 4, 2012

For those who don’t know me personally, I love soccer.  A lot.

Like…Sabres/USMNT/Bills are 1A/1B/1C (and not necessarily in that order) a lot.  So shut your face, Kowalski; it’s summer, the front page is drowning in draft analysis and I really can’t be bothered with talking Sabres hockey for at least another month.

Sorry, no t-shirt cannons or B-O-X chants permitted.

Soccer and Buffalo are things you don’t naturally correlate aside from old Stallions pennants in a few diners around town and people laughing at the memory of the Pikuzinski mullets or Tony Meola’s brief stop here in the wake of  USA ’94.

However, if you’ve been paying any kind of attention since the summer of 2010, you’d have noticed a burgeoning culture of soccer establishing itself in the region.

In less than 2 years we’ve seen Buffalo’s first soccer dedicated pub (Mes Que) open, an American Outlaws chapter (@AOBuffalo) form and, most importantly, the rise of FC Buffalo.  Having a club to call your own is essential if you fashion yourself a respectable footballing city.  Ever since the contraction of the Blizzard nearly a decade ago, Buffalo has gone wanting for a professional men’s team of any stripe.  That has been remedied by Kenmore natives Nick Mendola (@NicholasMendola) and Scott Frauenhofer (@sfrauenhofer) with the establishment of FC Buffalo in the NPSL.

The NPSL represents the 4th tier of soccer in the US (with MLS/NASL/USL rounding out the top tiers) yet supporters, staff & players surrounding the club have brought a top flight attitude and lofty goals and dreams to All High Stadium.  Nick & Scott were kind enough to take time out for an interview about the team, the city and how they plan on making this club something all Buffalonians can be proud of.

Note – this is the first of what I hope is a full summer of FC Buffalo coverage and features for Bleed Buffalo in conjunction with my other fledgling blog and fake writing job: In Towards McBride.  

Look for match reports, more interviews and other goodies as the summer rolls on.  Soccer truly is the world’s game and FC Buffalo and the people involved have a story that should be told.  So without further Adu (pun most assuredly intended)…

 

Bleed Buffalo: Let’s get the obvious questions out of the way- why soccer?  Why Buffalo?  Why now?

Nick - Soccer’s a great game. Buffalo’s a great city. Now is a great time. Quite literally, I believe that FC Buffalo can play a pivotal role in revitalizing a neighborhood or even an image if we operate this club as well as possible


Scott - 
I started playing soccer at a young age and the sport has always been more than an activity to me. The culture and lifestyle that come along with being a fan of the game has always been a lot of fun. We wanted to bring some of that culture to Buffalo. When we bought the rights for the team and started thinking about our business philosophy one of the first things we all agreed on was we need to do something positive for Buffalo, we wanted to operate inside the city and work with local businesses. We wanted to put together a roster that showcased our local talent, and work with the best local coaches. That’s how Nick came up with our motto: “For Our City.”

 

Bleed Buffalo: We’re coming into the third season of FC Buffalo.  As a Buffalo sports club the training wheels are off in a sense.  Do you feel like the team and the name has made the kind of progress you anticipated/hoped for in Spring 2010 both on and off the field?

Nick- That’s a tremendously-difficult question to answer, but I’ll try. Our supporters, sponsors and players have given us everything they’ve got, and that’s beyond our wildest dreams. However, as an organization, we still have a ton to accomplish on and off the field. We’re alive after two-plus years and no one’s had to sell their houses or souls. These are good things to own.

Scott - I remember going to the National Premier Soccer League’s annual general meeting before our first season and being astonished by the presentation given by the owners of FC Chattanooga. They had a major sponsor (Volkswagen) and were drawing 4,000 people on average to their home games. I quickly realized FC Buffalo could succeed in the league and the city, we just needed to be creative and tenacious with our approach.. The team is continuing to grow positively on and off the field. The fan support seems to be growing at a much more rapid clip than I can say I’ve noticed in the previous years. The Rust Belt rivalry is already turning into a nice experience and given our fans a way to be activated and participate in the team’s culture.

 

Bleed Buffalo: There’s a definite sense of bigger things coming in the NPSL this season.  AFC Cleveland & Detroit City FC bring a more “major league” sensibility to what was before simply a way for local NCAA players to keep in shape over the summer.  Both have seemed to embrace the Portland Timbers style ground up/community & supporter oriented culture that’s been such a success across MLS and the upper divisions of the US Soccer pyramid.  What are your thoughts on these new clubs and what effect do you think they’ll have on our regional soccer landscape?

Nick - Moving to the Great Lakes Division is nearly everything we want and Detroit City and Cleveland are major parts of our excitement. There’s a natural Rust Belt kinship between our areas and they are located so close to our home. It would’ve taken a lot of work to build up a fierce rivalry with Eastern Pennsylvanian or Maryland-based teams. With Detroit and Cleveland – thanks in no small part to the supporters groups in Michigan and Ohio – we’re almost at rivalry status immediately.

Scott - It’s going to be amazing. I like the regionality a lot, the rivalries are organic, the fans have somebody to villainize, it’s going to be a lot like the Sabres classic rivalries I think.

 

Bleed Buffalo: All High Stadium is a fantastic place to catch a game and, with the roof and brick facade, is the wet dream of many a soccer nerd considering it evokes images of grounds like Highbury & Villa Park.  However, being owned by Buffalo Public Schools throws up a lot of roadblocks in terms of scheduling, vendor restrictions and liquor laws.  Do you think the positives ultimately outweigh the negatives and what do you see in the future for the FC Buffalo/All High relationship?

Nick - Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium is a good home for us at this very moment in the club’s progression. We believe the stadium is an absolute jewel and respect the privilege of spending time playing there. The future is largely in the hands of the people behind the scenes and far up the ladder with Buffalo Public Schools, but we’re prepared for anything.

Scott  - It’s been a pleasure to work with Buffalo Public Schools and have them as a partner in the team’s development. All High is a fantastic facility and I consider us very fortunate to be able to use it. The ability to refresh the supporters during the summer with cold, adult beverages would be welcome, but those are the rules and if the tradeoff is the historic, beautiful stadium I’m afraid I can’t complain.

 

Bleed Buffalo: Besides soccer camps with local youth clubs, are there any other facets of community engagement you’d like to be involved in or are currently working on?

Nick - Yes. There will be a slow build-up because we don’t want to step on any current clubs’ toes, but we will be bringing national soccer figures into the area for some Q&As and linking up with some city programs to provide top-notch instruction to Buffalo youth players from our players and staff. There are other things I need to remain tight-lipped about, but rest-assured we have gigantic things in the pipeline. It’s just difficult to know the exact length of that pipeline

Scott - Right now we’re happy to assist our local youth clubs however we can. Whether it’s additional training, camps and clinics, or giving free tickets away, we know that we can’t survive longterm without young people embracing the team and becoming fans. I see FC Buffalo becoming more involved with local charities in the future, we’ve got some ideas lined up for this season including honoring “Buffalo’s Toughest Kids,” so we’ll be looking for more ways to engage the community like that in the future.

 

Bleed Buffalo: It’s a sad fact that Metropolitan Buffalo is an extremely segregated city, one of the worst in the nation.  

This is uncomfortably evident at our sporting events…there’s minimal presence in the stands of the Ralph or the FNC of Buffalo’s sizable minority community.  Of all our local sports teams, FC Buffalo has been the most outspoken  in terms of embracing civic pride and the sometimes hidden diversity of the area.  Do you see any opportunity in the minority and immigrant communities that have been passed over by the Bills & Sabres as a potential bedrock of support moving into the future?

Nick - Absolutely. First off, let me say I don’t believe the Bills & Sabres have purposely done anything to ignore these groups. What I will say is that we’re actively pursuing all Western New Yorkers as fans. There are certainly some cultural gaps we will have to bridge, but I’m comfortable with our efforts to build that infrastructure. Whether it be a “hidden” Burmese population or a new family of immigrants from Sweden, we’re going to do what we can to show them they have a football club to get behind.

Scott - Of course. Some of my favorite experiences playing soccer in Buffalo is getting into pickup games at Delaware Park or Lasalle Park and counting the languages being spoken off the field, but speaking the same language on the field. The great thing about soccer is you only need a ball to get a game going, so I want to find the pickup games and introduce myself and put some tickets in their hands. I have this idea that the future of FC Buffalo, even the future of American soccer is out there kicking around and maybe there’s a language or financial barrier keeping them from participating. I want all of Buffalo behind us, at our games, being a part of Buffalo’s new soccer culture.

 

Bleed Buffalo: Ever since the summer of 2010 and the incredible watch parties at Papa Jakes for the World Cup, there seems to have been a flourishing of soccer culture across Buffalo.  We’ve seen the growth of FC Buffalo, formation of an American Outlaws chapter and the first dedicated soccer bar ever in the city in the form of Mes Que.  

How do you think FC Buffalo can capitalize on that growth and where do you see Buffalo soccer going in the coming years?

Nick - I like to think we’ve become a part of the fabric, at least with fervent soccer supporters. We’ll continue to put ourselves in places where we can meet fans who don’t know they have a local club, but the mere fact that we continue to exist should aid our growth.

I believe it’s not entirely about growth; Parents and kids have been playing the game for a long time, but they can now “come out of the soccer closet” – so-to-speak — thanks to mass media and market appeal. The term “the beautiful game” isn’t a misnomer. The folks who want to latch onto complaints about diving and urine bombs overseas have had to come face-to-face with the facts that there are plenty of problems in American sports… like diving, flopping, reckless intent to injure, et cetera. All sports have issues, and if one of our biggest obstacles is people stereotyping us as orange-eaters and Capri Sun drinkers… sweet.

Scott - We just need to continue to be accessible to everybody, FC Buffalo isn’t just about soccer, it’s for our city. New fans, old fans, casual onlookers, we want to make a product that anyone can get on board with.

 

Bleed Buffalo: It’s been said before that America loves soccer.  Just not American soccer.  How do you feel you can bridge the gap between those in the area (and there are many) who look down on American soccer…especially NPSL level soccer?

Nick- Well, we have to put on an entertaining, winning product. We’ve prided ourselves on hiring coaches who were scrappy as players and looked down upon the theatrics we’ve witnessed from some of our rivals.Short of winning an Earth lottery that gives us trillions upon trillions of dollars, we’re not going to be able to pay the best players in the world to come play for FC Buffalo, even at the Major League Soccer level. So, supporters are going to have to decide: do they want to support only European teams and hang out in their houses or do they want to do that AND come outside for their city and embrace folks who love the game just as much as they do?

Why wouldn’t you want to play an integral role in the growth of a club? What if Seymour Knox or Ralph Wilson weren’t loaded and just trying to grow a game they loved? Wouldn’t you feel aces right about now? And old?

Look, I’m looking to have a favorite team in every country in the world. I support Newcastle United in England, Fiorentina in Italy, Barcelona in Spain… and there will certainly be more (leaning toward Buffalo’s sister city in France, Lille).

Scott - I love American soccer. I love the never say die attitude, the Spain beating bravado, all that us against the world mentality. That said, I honestly believe the next generation of soccer players is going to be the breakthrough generation. My reasoning is that as the US gets over the relative newness of the sport, and more former players become coaches, the quality of the player will improve. When I was kid, not to knock my former coaches, but they were dads who grew up playing baseball or hockey, they didn’t know the ins and outs of the game. We’re going to see a generation of soccer players raised by soccer players, and I think you’ll see a real shift in the American game.

 


Bleed Buffalo: Dempsey or Donovan?

Nick - I like Lando just fine, but to me Dempsey is a dirty jersey, grass-stained Buffalo boy who happens to be from Texas. Lando’s big city, Dempsey’s us.

Scott - John O’Brien. Kidding. I love them both. I don’t really support any club team, so I always tell people my favorite team is the US Men’s National Team. Clint and Landon have stepped up for the US and chipped in some amazing, clutch goals so regularly I can’t help rooting for both of them.

 

Bleed Buffalo: Last one.  It’s 2022.  FC Buffalo is still a functioning club.  Where do you see it?

Nick - Major League Soccer or the closest thing to it.

Scott - Being a host city for the 2022 World Cup after Qatar loses its bid and the tournament comes stateside. A guy can dream right?


 

Many thanks to Nick & Scott – check out a game at All High sometime this summer: www.fcbuffalo.org 

What the Walrus Wrought: Lindy Ruff Behind Closed Doors

April 13, 2012

As a fan/citizen journalist/blogger scum/etc… it’s easy to lob verbal and written rocks at the old boys club of the traditional media in this town.

It’s not like they make it difficult or anything; I’m sure we’ve all muttered any combination of expletives after reading Jerry Sullivan columns full of smug, lazy, obvious hindsight conclusions and half-truths told by manipulated stats and convenient episodes of selective memory.

However,  every once in a while WGR & The Buffalo News prove to still serve some purpose and release a bit of information that really makes you take a step back and reassess what you’ve come to think of this team and the truth behind the narrative of the past 5 years.

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Seeing that series of tweets scroll across my phone before leaving for work this past Monday gave me pause about the Sabres like nothing else in a good long while.  While hearsay and he said she said might not be a perfect basis for opinion, I do put more stock into Paul Hamilton’s reporting and connections than that of any other member of the Buffalo media, new or old.

Full disclosure: my policy towards Ruff in the post-Drury/Briere, pre-Pegula world had always been that he’s a capable coach stuck in a horrible situation with a meek and/or incompetent GM along with an ownership group simply going through the motions and looking to mitigate the losses of consecutive playoff-less years with self-destructive internal caps and a give-a-shit attitude towards a restless and success starved city.  Why should I have called for Ruff’s head when Roy, Stafford, Pominville and Vanek looked so woefully unprepared to take on the vacant leadership positions?  Line juggling and goalie mishandling?  Regrettable but what do you expect him to do when absolutely nothing clicks or sticks with this laughable, rotten core enabled by ownership who frankly couldn’t be bothered to G4 it up from Florida for a game?

And then….Pegula.  This is it, boys!  We’re busting out of these chains…open check books and new cup holders for everyone!  Regher?  Awesome!  Ehrhoff?  Amazing!  Leino?  Sure!  We’ll finally get to see what a Quinn-less world is like where Connolly plays for the Leafs, rainbows crisscross Erie County and anything is possible.

And it was good….for a while.  And then injuries…and Lucic…and closed door meetings…14th at Christmas?  What the hell happened?  What’s not adding up here?  Everything should be in order beyond the obvious injuries…..could it be Lindy?  No, no…surely it can’t.  Well, I mean, he’s certainly adamant about trying every line combination by the 2nd intermission but still…Roy & Stafford are dogging it like they always have.  Oh come on, give Miller a rest!  I know we’re trying to claw our way back into 8th but he’s going to be useless in the first round!  I can’t ****-ing believe this…

Which brings us to Monday, which for myself was a time of acceptance and general ambivalence towards Ruff’s employment status with my club even after Regher’s blue line clowning in Philadelphia.  The center situation was starting to self-correct with the emergence of Ennis and the acquisition of Hodgson which, in my eyes, would solve the Roy questions by bumping him down to the 3rd line where he’s thrived before for Buffalo.  There was also confirmation of Vanek nursing a baker’s dozen of various nagging injuries and ailments which explained his winter/spring swoon.

Bombing out still sucked something fierce however it wasn’t the end of the world in my mind.  But hearing that report and seeing those tweets broke a dam of anti-Ruff sentiment just bubbling below the surface of my former whatever-ness towards the man.

You mean to tell me that we’re going to have to shop both Vanek AND Roy, two players poised to shake off the crushing weight of being the focal points of this team which would create MORE yawning holes in the lineup because Ruff cannot stop berating them whether or not they’re producing?  Ruff doesn’t want a strong captain?  Are you kidding me?  Is that why the captaincy has been such a transient joke these past 5 years?  He doesn’t want to be challenged in the room???

As pointed out by my esteemed colleague and hockey savant, Charles Oring (@coring) in conversation earlier this week we’ve only ever been good in the Ruff/Regier era with strong captains.  Peca, Drury & Briere got it done…Stu Barnes and whatever flavor of the month we had between ’07 and the Pominville era haven’t.

Modern professional sports have begun to transcend coaches – legendary managers are few and far between in the age of instant results and managerial merry-go-rounds.  Pegula and Regier can and should be commended for investing in this team and making smart long term moves, respectively.  If Ruff cannot keep up with the improved quality of this roster and insists on jettisoning quality players (making sane salaries to boot) because they won’t cater to HIS way and HIS vision; the logical decision is sitting right there for ownership to make.

Hockey clubs don’t revolve around one man anymore so don’t cut off our hockey nose to spite our face, Terry.  Your 3 year plan is dependent on this group putting it together within the next year, two at the very latest.

Alienating Vanek & Roy for potentially sub-par returns will not make that time frame feasible, period.   It’s been long enough and Ruff’s benefit of the doubt is quickly fading.


I’m on twitter and you should follow me if you don’t want anything unfortunate to happen: @rjandolina

Buffalo Sabres 2011/2012: What If They Had a Funeral and No One Showed Up?

April 7, 2012

Overcast June gloom dimly lit the first floor of Pearl St. as we silently watched Erik Cole & Rob Brind’Amour gallivant around the RBC Center ice.  Perhaps it was the endless loops of “RORY, LOOK DOWN” replays that set me off or maybe it was the kid in the camouflage ball cap waving his “Redneck Hockey” placard around in the crowd like some kind of goddamn……hockey redneck.

"Game 81 v. Philadelpia in '12? Please - it can't hold a candle to Kasparaitis in OT."

In any event, a stream of paint peeling profanity and unimaginative death threats spewed from my mouth towards the TVs mounted above the bar; 100% sober, mind you.  This prompted a pair of frightened women in front of me to nervously laugh, look at each other and pretend they were somewhere far, far away from the lunatic wishing pain and death upon a group of Canadians he had never met 12 hours to the South.

I sit here 36 hours after watching another season meekly slip away with nothing more than slight bemusement wondering where that young hot head went.  In every successive year without a playoff round win since that generation defining spring of Buffalo hockey, I’ve found it an increasingly difficult task to be upset about seasons, teams and players who treat the months between October & January like a pre-game shooting drill writ large.  Why should I tie my stomach in knots over a team so blatantly dependent on two, maybe three players to the point of covering your mouth in horror when Myers can’t be found on the bench after catching a puck in the shin?  What sense does it make to reply “Maybe” on every April Facebook event invitation when Miller fighting the puck against Winnipeg in his 134th consecutive start (or something) is consummate to a death sentence on the night?

My esteemed colleague, Mr. John Kowalski commented after Tyler “Don’t Call Him Beliveau” Bozak’s second of Tuesday night that this team is just so typically Buffalo in the “get your hopes up and dash them at the last second” manner.  That, I suppose, is accurate if you look at it from a perspective of the Sabres having their fate in their hands at the climax of the regular season and then ultimately doing nothing with it.  Beyond the simple numbers and stats of a 9th place finish and less than 4 point gap lies a season that just isn’t worthy of any place in your all time desert island top 5 heartbreaks and soul crushing loss list.

Sure, you can and should feel a little remorse for the highlights of the year: Pominville thriving with the captaincy, Foligno being the player everyone said that Kassian was, Ennis calling in a reservation for the top center spot, etc..  Those performances warranted 4-7 extra games at minimum.  But the nice thing about young players and reclamation projects like Pommers playing well is that they will more than likely continue to play well when Buffalo ices a team again in six months.  My writing here at Bleed Buffalo has covered my bullish long term attitude towards Buffalo hockey extensively so I won’t bore you with a rehash of those thoughts but it bears repeating: we’re going to be okay.  5 years of roster stagnation doesn’t switch from mediocrity to Pittsburgh style contention overnight.  This team still doesn’t have the top to bottom quality that is able to compensate for losing your two best defensemen in the same 48 hour period.  That will change, and soon I feel – but not now.  So why dwell on a year that wasn’t looking like it was going anywhere and ultimately didn’t?  Sorry, 2011/2012 – if you want me screaming at Scott Hartnell that I hope he gets Ebola and bleeds out of every orifice, you’ll have to do a LOT better.

Yo dawg – I heard you like twitter so I got a twitter so you can twitter while you twitter: @rjandolina

Curb Your Enthusiasm – Instant Gratification in the Age of Pegula

April 3, 2012

It was inevitable.  You had to have at least sensed it coming – lost in the underdog Spirit Of ’99 euphoria in the wake of the Washington dismantling were those curious side effects that so often accompany big Sabres wins this millennium: crippling defensive injuries to our least expendable players.  18-5-5 since the All Star break; Jhonas Enroth on the side of milk cartons; your two TOI per game leaders sidelined for possibly the duration of your playable games.  All the signs of a very untimely late season slide were there and we still fell for it – the mass cries of “CHOKERS!” and general teeth gnashing and mass incredulousness because….well….how could they lose to Toronto???

Fans are fans – there’s a certain amount of logic you sacrifice giving yourself over to following a sports team; I understand that and am VERY guilty of it at times (ask me about the US U23 national team getting bounced from this summer’s Olympics – or don’t).  The thing that bothered me the most about Saturday night’s backlash was the absolute lack of context a lot of fans carried into these final weeks of the season.  It sounds ridiculous to have to repeat but a lot of Sabres fans lose sight of the very simple, very crucial fact that clubs, players, front offices and ownership do not and have never existed in a vacuum…especially in a season such as this one.  In the midst of the post-All Star and post-deadline tear it was easy to assume the wins would keep flowing and Miller would keep sharpening his form and everything would tie up neatly into the mythical late 90s style low seed run to the 2nd round and maybe beyond.  This is the same team that flirted with the basement of the league at Christmas and then suddenly when Miller has an off night and the defense becomes unorganized without the presence of Myers & Ehrhoff it all becomes for naught?

I’ve written, tweeted and commented many times that the new reality of Pegula and all the trappings that go along with it has absolutely changed our sporting and, I believe, overall mindset as a city.  Which, mind you, isn’t 100% positive…with renewed hope comes heightened expectations and who are we to be a people of sober moderation and judgment?  Lost in the surrealism of Mario Williams actually buying what we were selling was the fact that the hockey team had made colossal strides towards rectifying the festering wounds of 7/1/07 on Deadline Day ‘12.     From the cult like Core worship of the Golisano years came a much more prudent and practical Darcy…no more wishing and hoping and crossing of appendages that Roy would kind of sort of resemble a number 1 center.  No more assurances that Stafford really has it deep down to be a player other teams have to game plan around.  No more lying to ourselves – Gaustad not playing up to a new contract?  Fleece a Western team for an extra 1st rounder and send a warning shot over the heads of the underachievers.  The center situation not panning out?  Send over a somewhat overhyped winger who has an understudy that plays the same game (and better) for a kid widely described as “Towes Lite”.

What?  Did someone turn the NHL ’12 GM AI down to vegetable?  Of the two most widely complained about topics surrounding the Buffalo Sabres Hockey Club both were addressed, if not immediately resolved two months ago.  I can’t remember a time when this team was so readily poised to take full advantage of its assets in the coming off-season.  So it smacks as petulant and overly whiny to this writer when the message boards, twitter feeds and (for you old people) phone lines are flooded with righteous indignation that the Sabres could ever THINK about losing a back to back towards the end of a season that most of us left for dead before the New Year.  Expectations of constant and sustained success can be a great thing in certain situations but when it blinds you from the long view and the big picture, it does nothing but justify every bad stereotype the sports fan has ever drawn.  Be cool, bitches – we got this.

Talk to me on the interwebz: @rjandolina


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