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POSTED ON Thursday, 11.10.2011 / 4:52 PM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES

* I’m sure many of you caught or have heard about the Flyers not advancing the puck into the Tampa Bay 1-3-1 trap in their most recent match up.  It was comical in a way, as the Flyers were basically saying, “your style of play stinks, and you either change or we’re taking our ball and going home.” The trap is bad for entertainment, but it is a proven method of winning.  Guy Boucher is an impressive coach in Tampa Bay and it has to be very difficult to continually have Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steve Stamkos buy in to playing that style.  It will be interesting to see if more teams try to employ the “Delay Play” that Philly tried against the Lightning (Tampa Bay won the game by the way, 2-1 in OT).

* What a night at First Niagara Center for the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame inductions on Tuesday!  Dale Hawerchuk and Rick Jeanneret were enshrined as the newest members, and well deserved by both.  Hawerchuk was already a Hockey Hall of Famer, with the biggest chunk being his years in Winnipeg.  But his five years in Buffalo were pretty amazing, amassing 385 points during that time.  The team that stands out the most has to be the 92-93 version of the Sabres.  Look at the top scorers from that year.
  • Pat LaFontaine, 148 points (53+95)
  • Alex Mogilny, 127 points (76+51)
  • Dale Hawerchuk, 96 points (16+80)
  • Dave Andreychuk, 61 points (29+32)
Could you imagine having four players of that caliber on a roster today?  That’s the year Brad May eliminated the Bruins (finally) with the “May Day” goal, but the Sabres were then swept by the Canadiens.  Every game in that series ended in a 4-3 score, the final three all decided in overtime.  Think about that for a minute, four one-goal games with three ending in OT.  Dale Hawerchuk mentioned if they had been healthy, who knows.  Montreal went on to win the cup that year.  I mention only to help some of you remember, and others to realize how great that team was and what a big part of it #10 was. 

* After greatness on the ice was recognized, greatness above the ice was given and overdue ovation.  Rick Jeanneret finally let the committee honor him after years of asking.  It was awesome to see his family, 91 year old mom front and center, celebrating one of the greatest careers in sports broadcasting history.  As he does during games, he found the perfect words to fit the moment during his speech at center ice.  He also had the right thing to say when he made it to the booth following the start of the game.  You see, I had to start the game for him until he made it to the booth from center ice (a greater challenge that night due to an elevator malfunction).  Filling in for Rick is challenging enough, but starting the game for the legend on his Hall of Fame night!  I can honestly say I was nervous.  The game started and RJ was there a few minutes in.  I motioned for him to take the headset as Harry Neale was describing a replay.  RJ waved me on to continue until the first commercial break as planned.  So there I am, in his chair, calling his game as the Jets pipe in two quick goals.  I was still nervous, and I’m not afraid to admit that.  We hit the commercial break, I stand up and hand the headset to him and he says “Are you kidding, I don’t want to do this game!” with a big grin and laugh.  Again - perfect words to describe the moment. He’s one of a kind, a style all to his own, one that cannot and will never be duplicated. 

* What’s wrong with Ryan Miller?  That’s the question I get asked all the time.  He’s human, and he’ll get it fixed.

* Congratulations to the Sabres Alumni for partnering with ECMC and First Niagara to create the bus with two mammography machines to help get women in rural and inner city areas get screened.  This group continues to make a tremendous impact in our community, as the announcement last week followed up this past summer’s opening of Miracle Field on Grand Island. 

* If you know a military veteran and haven’t spoken to him/her in awhile, now is a great time to reconnect and say thanks. 
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POSTED ON Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 2:45 PM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES
-To my regular readers (Mom, at least) I apologize for the lack of notes in recent weeks. The only excuse has been all the travel. October has been a blur with the trip to Europe and the subsequent four consecutive games away from First Niagara Center. The good news: the time away has given me plenty of fodder for this.

-We’ll start with the trip to Europe. It was nothing short of a great experience. It wasn’t only a chance for players to bond, but also for the staff that made the trip. It gave us all more in common and more time to get to know each other. As for specifics, the team visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is something I’ll never forget. That’s the hospital that takes in all the wounded from the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing first class treatment with the goal of getting the soldiers back to America for continued care in two days or less. There are two soldiers that I’ll remember most:

The first was a soldier sharing the room with the Marine that the media was cleared to talk with and photograph (each soldier had to be pre-screened and give the ok for media and photos). He didn’t know we were coming, and quickly agreed to be photographed. After the players left, I was the last one in the room and asked him what happened to him. He was also a Marine and didn’t want to talk about it. I told him no problem, I understand. He said, “No, it’s stupid and I’m embarrassed.” After a minute of small talk, he relented and told me why he was there. “I’m getting my gall bladder out tomorrow.” My response was “stuff happens” and you have nothing to be embarrassed about. What he said next gave me chills. “You have to know, I begged for two years to get on this detail, and I’m there not even there three weeks and my gall bladder has to come out. It sucks. I can’t wait to get right back.” I felt bad for him, but also admired his dedication and resolve.  I hope he did make it back, and never sees that hospital again.

The other soldier was from the country of Georgia, and he was unforgettable despite not speaking a word. Several Sabres entered his room with an interpreter. Andrej Sekera led the way. The interpreter wasn’t needed because nobody said a word, or needed to. This soldier was no older than 20, and had both legs wrapped heavily from wounds. His face lit up when the players entered the room. When Sekera handed him an autographed hat, you would have thought he handed him his release papers. Soon, everyone in the room was smiling. It was contagious. I was one of the first ones out and interviewed Sekera for a broadcast package when he came out. After the interview, we walked past the doorway of the Georgian soldier’s room. There he was with a Sabres cap on, giving us the thumbs up with a big bright smile. It was amazing to behold, and I’m thankful I was there.

ADDITIONAL LINKSM
Photo Gallery
-Another highlight of the trip was the exhibition game against Adler Mannheim. The 8-3 win by the Sabres was overshadowed by the crowd at the SAP Arena. The fans in the end zone location near the Sabres bench were the best I’ve ever seen (sorry mad hatters). These fans were on their feet (all three levels), singing, chanting, and cheering the entire game. The pre-game tribute to local hockey hero Jochen Hecht was great, as was the retiring of Rene Corbet’s number 20 during the second intermission. There was actually one timeout in the 3rd period where the fans took over the entire time without any prodding or video entertainment. It was great, and I’d love to see that in all buildings in the NHL.

-I guess it’s time to address the eel in Finland. I don’t know if it’s a good sign for my career that the consumption of the head of a lamprey eel has garnered the most questions from people on the street. I had no plans to eat an eel when Mark Blaszak (videographer) and I headed out the market in Finland. We just wanted to capture some culture and a look at the food. We were talking with the merchant about the Baltic Herring she had for sale. We were about to move on when she said I had to try this. This was an eel. I’d explain more, but you know the rest of the story. However, there are two questions that everyone is asking me: How did it really taste? Did you get sick? I don’t remember how it tasted, because all I could think about while I was chewing it was “I am eating the head of an eel!” And for the second question, I thought I was going to be ill for weeks. But nothing happened. For those sushi lovers that say no big deal -- or eel -- eat the head and then let’s talk.

-The new locker room is amazing. If I were a single player, I’d move in.

-It was great to see Kevin Dineen last week when the Sabres visited the Panthers. The former Portland head coach was well deserving of his shot to coach in the NHL. He’s a great guy, one to root for when not playing against the Sabres.

-I enjoyed reading Scott Miner’s blog about what it’s like to travel for away games. His example was the back-to-back situation after the home opener vs. Carolina and then the roadie in Pittsburgh. The multi-game road trips are a bit different with time for dinner on off nights, and the occasional time to explore. During those times, you become familiar with the cities the team plays in year after year, and develop a sense of belonging. You have to, or the road will eat you up. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but embracing it makes it a lot easier. Speaking of embracing, Scott did have his favorite blankie with him on the plane to Florida.

-Finally, don’t panic. It’s still early.

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POSTED ON Thursday, 10.06.2011 / 8:35 AM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES
- What an experience this trip has been so far!  I had been to Europe before, but only Spain (which was great).  This of course is different of course due to the nature of the trip.  It's been great having. Jochen Hecht, Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino, and Teppo Numminen around to give us tips and offer the occasional interpretation.  Each have been helpful to everyone, and you can't help but notice their pride in bringing their team to their native land.

- I know some fans and media question the need start the season in Europe for the NHL Premiere series, and think it doesn't make much sense.  I used to be one of those doubters, but now I see why it's down.  The buzz it has created in both countries the Sabres are visiting has been excellent.  That's great for the league's growth as a global product product, which translates to money in any language.  It's also great for team bonding.  They are together for a week, most facing a common language and cultural barrier.  The North American players also get to experience what life is and was like for European teammates, perhaps giving each other a better appreciation of differences.  Those things can only bring the team closer together.

- I had a chance to interview Ville Leino while walking down the street near our hotel.  He seems like a great guy with a good sense of humor.  We had to trim our time with him as he needed to get to a restaurant early to help prepare for the arrival of all his teammates for some Finnish fair.

- If you're wondering what the Finnish food is like, you'll have to see the piece we filmed at the Herring market in Finland.   I ate a few unusual things.  Those of you that follow me on twitter (@kevsylveter) already know of what I speak.  Sorry no pictures here.

- Interesting to see Jarko Ruutu at Hartwall Arena today.  He's playing for the Helsinki Jokerit.  Someone reminded him about biting Andrew Peters, and his response was that it was the most expensive meal he ever had.
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POSTED ON Monday, 10.03.2011 / 12:51 PM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES
  • I will admit that I'm tired.  2 hours of "sleep" on the plane.  Christian Ehrhoff said we need to stay up. The first day and treat it normal, so that's what I'll try to do.  But I do see a nap in my future.
  • The most popular thing at SAP arena was the Caffe machine by the dressing room.  State of the art, cup by cup, and great patience by all (ok by most) waiting for their fix.
  • Had a great talk with Antti, the play by play announcer for Manheim.  He's actually from Helsinke, and was excited to see Teppo Numminen on the ice coaching.  I asked him about where to go in Finland, and he said anyway will be fun.  The bigger question I had was how is a guy from Finland calling games in German?  It was a long, but good story.
  • Kudos to Kim Pegula for bringing sour patch kids on the plane! 
  • Great turnout for the open practice on Monday.  100 or so fans from Buffalo made the journey
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POSTED ON Thursday, 07.28.2011 / 9:30 AM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES

Andrej Sekera
-Arbitration season is upon us, and most teams and players are coming to terms before heading to a hearing that usually results in nothing but hard feelings.  Darcy Regier accomplished a deal with Andrej Sekera last week, avoiding an uncomfortable hearing where the agent would have argued how good Sekera is and Regier would have had to argue that he’s not that good.  That was avoided with a four-year deal that provides both sides with security and room to grow.  I was asked the other day if Sekera was that good -   my answer is yes, and he’ll be better.  He has struggled with consistency, but has displayed excellent skating ability and offensive skill.  “Reggie”, as he lets us call him, is also a good guy, polite and hard working. 

-The competition and depth on the blue line is going to make many teams jealous.  Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, Shaone Morrisonn and RFA Marc-Andre Gragnani are an impressive stable of defenders.  The competition to not be among the guys that sit out as the 7th and 8th defensemen should make everyone better.

-The most common question I’ve been getting in recent days is, “Are the Sabres done with moves?”  The answer is no since the roster currently puts the team over the salary cap for the upcoming season (based upon various reports—no, I don’t get to see the books), so a move or two will have to be made to get under the cap.  Now, I don’t know what that move(s) will be, but it should make training camp even more interesting and competitive.

Zack Kassian (IIHF)
-For those of you that attended development camp a few weeks ago at Niagara, I hope you noticed the hands displayed by Zack Kassian.  He scored a back-hander in tight during a 3-on-3 drill that was big league.  He put a back-hander top corner with his body turned away from the net on the right side.  I also enjoyed seeing Brayden McNabb and Kassian battled down low.  McNabb is big, but had trouble handling the rugged Kassian.

-Congratulations to Patrick Lalime on his recent retirement.  Twelve seasons in the league is something to celebrate, even if his best years were not here in Buffalo.  He is a class act and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in hockey.  He is now going to work for RDS (the French language sports network in Canada) as an analyst, and he will do very well for them.  Welcome to the booth, Patty!

-From the suggestion box:  “Kevin, since you wrote about the best pancakes in the NHL, can you do that for steaks in the league?”  I’ll have to check the budget for this year, but I am up for it!

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POSTED ON Thursday, 07.14.2011 / 2:25 PM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES
I love pancakes.  My mom made them every Saturday morning for breakfast.  Yes, every Saturday.  Sometimes, we would have pancakes for dinner.  Special occasions (birthdays and snow days) called for chocolate chip pancakes!  Life was good.  I have carried on that tradition in my house.  My kids love pancakes, especially for dinner.  Good thing too, because besides grilling, pancakes are what I make best.  

Since I had a deep affection for pancakes, I decided that I was going to try the pancakes in the cities that we travel to with the Sabres.  In most cases, I took the easy route and had the fluffy, delicious discs at the hotel restaurant.  I was not disappointed.  I took notes on each order and decided to rank them.   What follows is my review (by city instead of hotel) and rankings of 8 Pancakes of the NHL (it’s only eight due to budget and waistline constraints).

8. Philadelphia - I had high expectations for the City of Brotherly love given they came up with the cheese steak.  I have stated before that the chicken wing beats the cheese steak any day of the week, but cheese steaks are still quite good.  The pancakes I ordered were banana pancakes.  I used to hate these as a kid, but have grown to like them.  This version was accented with rosemary and real maple syrup.  I used a lot of syrup to hide the rosemary, which is better suited on potatoes.
    
7. Minnesota – Another order of banana pancakes here.   This order had no herb to
spice it up, which is why they rank ahead of the order in Philly.  These pancakes were buttermilk with bananas worked in.  Nothing flashy.   Again, this order came with real maple syrup and it was really good.  Aunt Jemima should be worried.

6. Denver – If size matters, then this is your city.  “Toast” is the only non-hotel
restaurant in my review, and it’s worth the visit.  The menu has several options on the flavor of cakes to order, some gourmet with flavors like crème brule and bananas foster.  I was just looking for a hearty helping of buttermilk with a side of scrambled eggs.  I didn’t need the eggs.  The regular stack of pancakes could have fed The Brady Bunch!  These pancakes were ridiculously huge.  They were as large as the plate, thick, and impossible to finish.  I tried my best, but kept asking for syrup refills to get through them.  Denver would have ranked higher, but the intimidation and waste pushed the city down.  
 
5. Tampa - I actually didn’t order pancakes here, but a close relative, french toast.  
But not just any french toast -- the crunchy grilled French toast.  It was wheat bread dipped in egg and then topped with corn flakes before grilling.  It’s then topped with berries, bananas, and syrup.  There is no doubt this was the healthiest selection on my tour.

4. Ft. Lauderdale –These pancakes were accompanied with walnuts and a great
view.  The walnuts were caramelized or something close to it, and surprisingly tasty.  The scenery set these apart as I consumed them on a patio overlooking Ft. Lauderdale beach.   No need to write anything more.

3. Edmonton - You had to figure a Canadian city would be high on the list given the
connection to the maple tree (yes, we make maple syrup right here in WNY, but the maple leaf is on the country’s flag!)   Edmonton is that city.  The chocolate chip pancakes are top notch.  The cakes were regular size, buttermilk, loaded with chips, and decorated with powdered sugar.  They were downright delicious. The only reason this breakfast delight is ranked 3rd is due to cost.  $20 for pancakes is too much, no matter how good.

2. Boston - I didn’t think there would be chocolate chip pancakes as good or better
than the ones in Edmonton, but Beantown has them beat (I’m glad there were no beans in the cakes; that would be awful).  These great cakes were slightly bigger than those in Edmonton, but similar in texture.  Light, thin, possessing just the right amount of chips.  There was just a trace of powdered sugar, which I liked.  It made me use less syrup, which brought out more of the chocolate flavor.  These are can’t miss, and cost less than the $20 batch in Edmonton.  
    
1. When it comes to the top city for pancakes in the NHL the winner surprised me.  There is no way I would have picked San Jose in the top 5 prior to my tour.  Silicon Valley is known for megabytes, not breakfast bites.  But the order I had in Shark territory was scrumptious bite after bite.  These cakes were banana pecan buckwheat.  I was planning on just having buttermilk pancakes, but the description was too intriguing.  I like buckwheat pancakes, and will order them here in Buffalo every now and then.  The cakes in San Jose had the bananas and pecans worked into the batter.   The stack of three came with syrup and a raspberry sauce on the side.  I am not really fan of raspberries, but I dipped a forkful lightly in the sauce and was awestruck how good it tasted!  The combination of buckwheat, bananas, pecans, maple syrup and raspberry sauce cannot be beat.  I still can’t believe how good they were.  Since the Sabres are not in the Pacific Division, the Sharks are my top choice for Stanley Cup Final opponent.  Yep, just for the pancakes.

There you have it.  The top pancakes of the NHL.  I admit this is an incomplete list.  Maybe I’ll add to it this season.  I expect Winnipeg to be a strong a contender.  I would love to see any suggestions you may have for not only the road, but right here in Buffalo. 

Bon appétit!
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 07.06.2011 / 3:04 PM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES

Where have I been? Why haven’t I written a blog in a while? I had been waiting for some developments to write about. I have too much material now!

Everywhere I go now, fans are asking what I think about the new additions. How can you think anything other than great?! The defense received major upgrades with veteran bruiser Robyn Regher and the offensive-minded Christian Ehrhoff. Getting one of the two would have been a success in my eyes, but both feels like a major coup. As for Ville Leino, I’m excited to see him bring his pace to the Sabres offense. I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know or have heard about the guy, but I will tell you that Danny Briere is going to miss him in Philly. It was Leino’s ability to handle the puck and slide over to the middle of the ice that allowed Briere to cherry pick at the blue line and park behind the net.

Ville Leino Christian Ehrhoff

For those that are worried the team paid too much money to Leino and Ehrhoff, worry about the cap hit and not the actual dollars. The cap hit is what matters most. Did I just write that? I hope my wife doesn’t read this, because I basically just said, “Don’t worry about the money.”

I was in Rochester the day the Pegulas announced the purchase agreement for the Rochester Americans. It was a golf tournament (no surprise for those that know me), and all the participants were genuinely excited at the news. It’s a great move for both cities, the hockey department, the players and the fans. Portland was obviously a great affiliate with how well the players did there, and they had nothing but good things to say about the city. But getting Rochester back just made too much sense.

Belated congrats to Kevin Dineen on his new job coaching the Florida Panthers. It’s well deserved. And it looks like he might have a decent team to work with after GM Dale Tallon went shopping last week. Adding players like Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc and Jose Theodore brings experience and more credibility to the dressing room.

Thanks to all the kind comments and congratulatory handshakes on being given increased play-by-play duties this season. I’m very excited for the opportunity, and look forward to having Danny Gare riding shotgun.

I was at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. It was interesting to see the event live as opposed to live on TV. I’m a Jay Mohr fan and hope he continues as host, as he’s really funny. I also realized Harry Neale knows everybody, and that came in handy at the after-party when in search of a beer.

If you’ve seen my hockey gloves and stick, let me know. I think we still have a few floor hockey games in us.

Coming soon. Pancakes of the NHL!

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 05.18.2011 / 1:38 PM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES

-Why does everybody complain about the snow in Buffalo?  It’s the rain that’s killing us! A little sun would help coping with what could have been.

Sabres at Coyotes - Jan. 8, 2011 (Getty Images)
-Can we now call concussions an epidemic?  There didn’t seem to be a team in the postseason that didn’t have at least one player with an “upper body injury.”  Nobody wants hitting out of hockey, but all the cheap shots need to go.  It’s a fine line, but the league needs to find it. 

-Eric Lindros had an interesting opinion on why there seems to be an increase in concussions.  He said (forgive me for not remembering where I read this, but it was on the internet so it has to be true) the elimination of the red line has resulted in more speed, thus creating more force during the collisions.  Physics wasn’t my favorite subject (sorry Mr. Bissonnette), but it makes sense.

-San Jose vs. Detroit was one of the better Game 7s I can remember.  Those that follow me on Twitter (@kevsylvester) saw I had the score right, but the team wrong.

-I am writing this after the first game of “Lunch Puck” here at HSBC Arena.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to get up after writing this.  Our goalies, web-man Scott and video-man Mark, were excellent.  Everyone else, eh.

NHL.com
-I’m on the fence about the green men in Vancouver.  I don’t think taunting players in the box as aggressively as they do is acceptable.  However, getting a reaction out of Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban was great.

-I guess I’m happy for fans in Phoenix that the Coyotes are staying.  There is interest there, a great building and a good team.  Now, if they could just move Jobing.com Arena 15 miles east… Actually, all Sabres fans should be behind the efforts to keep the team there.  It wasn’t that long ago that this team was bankrupt with an uncertain future. 

-The situation in Atlanta seems different.  All the stories are pointing to Winnipeg for the Thrashers next season.  IF that does happen (perhaps still wild speculation), re-alignment and scheduling should be fun.  That all probably wouldn’t happen for at least a year as teams and buildings are setting dates for games, concerts and other events now.

-With your permission, I will close on a personal note.  I love my job and enjoy all that comes with it.  That’s not to say it’s an easy schedule by any means.  The season is a grind and really tough on all the families involved with the Sabres and NHL.  We miss more birthdays, concerts, plays, events and special moments than we make.  I mention this because it makes me appreciate the events of last weekend more than I thought I would.   My son got his first hit in baseball in the very first at bat of his career, and my daughter made her first communion.  I was there for both, and to quote my son yelling from first base after his hit, "Wasn’t that awesome Dad!"  Yes it was. 

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POSTED ON Monday, 05.02.2011 / 2:45 PM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES

Photo: Getty Images
-When I first thought of writing the “End of Season” blog, it was just over a week ago and I figured it would be mid-May at the earliest.  How quickly things changed.  Of course, back in early February, if you asked me when I thought the year-end blog would be written, I would have told you April 11.  Just being honest.  How quickly things changed then, too.  I’ve witnessed some great accomplishments by this franchise during my six seasons working here, but this year’s team may be the most impressive.  The first year out of the lockout (my first here) will always be special and frustrating.  The euphoria from that season continues to be haunted by a staph infection and a stupid rule that still exits today.  The 2006-07 season was the best regular season in franchise history as the Sabres won the President’s Trophy for most points in the league.  It was an awesome achievement, but tainted by losing to Ottawa in the conference finals (Hey, we all want to win in this organization).  The division title was nice last year, but being bounced by the Bruins was bitter. 

This year was different.  This team was left for dead following Derek Roy’s injury back in December.  The ownership transfer and uncertainty that naturally accompanies such change added some weight on the shoulders of the team.  There were more things that could be pointed out, but those were the biggies.  Through it all, this team did not give up.  The Pegula family brought an extremely positive, infectious vibe to HSBC Arena that found its way into the dressing room.  The experienced coaching staff continued to display belief in the players and found ways to integrate the steady and necessary invasion of Pirates over the final month.  Tyler Myers started playing like Tyler MyersJhonas Enroth was spectacular filling in for a concussed Ryan MillerNathan Gerbe’s hard work paid off, and he proved he’s a gamer.  Thomas Vanek made a strong case to be the next captain of the team.  I could go on, but I don’t need too.  You all witnessed it and were a part of it.  It was special, and a reason to be proud of a team that we all poured our hearts and souls into for seven months this year.  Let’s make it nine months next year!

-Now it was “feel good” in the previous note, but it still stings to lose to the Flyers.  The Sabres had them on the hook, but never set it (could have used the bull and horn metaphor, but thought fishing was more appropriate in spring).  The chance to win the series was in Game 6 at home on Easter.  Everyone knew it.  Being up 3-1 going into the second period, nobody in HSBC Arena was thinking about Game 7, except the Flyers.  They came out and did what they did all series by dominating the second period.  The second periods of Games 1 and 2 in Philly were a parade to the penalty box for Buffalo.  Game 3 saw two tap-ins on Ryan Miller, which the team was unable to recover from.  Game 4 was perhaps the best second period of the series for the team, as they played desperate to avoid going down three games to one.  Game 5 was another penalty-filled affair and Flyer comeback after that quick 3-0 lead.  And Game 6 was another two-goal outburst by the Flyers.  Are there any second period specialists on the free agent market this summer?

Photo: Getty Images
Another thing the Sabres failed to do in the series was put the Flyers away after a goaltender change.  Peter Laviolette pulled his goalie three times in the series, and it worked.  The Sabres were unable to get a quality scoring chance on goal in each of the games when the change was made.  That’s all it would have taken.  On the flip side, it’s amazing how the Flyers responded each time, dominated puck possession and limited any opportunities by Buffalo. 

-Darn it, Danny Briere is good.  Without getting into back-story (I’m sure there’s more we don’t know than we do know), he was the best player in the series.  He’s a great comeback story for the second time in his career.  The first was here in Buffalo after being put on the trash heap in Phoenix and then being traded to Buffalo.  In Philly, he was the poster boy for bad, bloated NHL contracts after injury-riddled seasons.  A buyout was an often-rumored option with #48.  But he has bounced back to be a big game performer and pest.  All that being said, that was a brutal and disgusting hit from behind on Rob Niedermeyer in Game 7.  Danny was never a choirboy, but that was cheap.  He must have learned that from Mike Richards. 

Tim Connolly
-I don’t know what the future holds for UFA center Tim Connolly, but I hope fans appreciate how tough he is.  That word is not often associated with Connolly because of all the injuries that he’s suffered during his career, but that is precisely the reason why I used it.  To comeback from all those injuries is not easy.  His production fell off, which has to be a direct correlation, but his desire didn’t.  Why else would he dive to block so many shots on the penalty kill?  I believe it was last year (I could be off), in which he played for quite a stretch with a broken rib or bruised ribs.  That’s extremely painful, and Lindy Ruff complimented his dedication to getting out there.  I was impressed this year when he was absolutely crushed into the boards in Tampa and his blood stained the boards.  He came back in that game with a full shield on.  He ended up needing reconstructive surgery on his nose and missed time.  I once asked someone in the know why he has suffered so many injuries.  The answer was because Tim was willing to go into the corners and other areas where you get hit and hurt.  That’s exactly where he was when suffered the separated sternum in Game 6 on the hit from behind by Mike Richards. 

-Ok, the last two notes have finished with references to Mike Richards’ hit on Tim Connolly.  It may sound like bitterness from losing the series or that I’m for soft hockey.  Hardly.  I love hitting.  I love fighting.  What I hate is the cheap stuff.  There are only two ways that hitting from behind and hits to the head are going to end in the NHL.  The first is for players to start showing respect for each other.  Since that’s not going to happen, the second must occur.  The NHL has to get tougher on EVERYONE, not just the post office list. 

-I’m on Twitter now.  I guess I’m supposed to tell you all to follow me @kevsylvester, even though I have yet to send out my first tweet.  I’m not sure when that will be, either.  Probably when the Pegula girls teach me how.

-Now that the season is over, everyone asks me what I’ll be doing this summer.  Tee 2 Green will have a 6th season on WGRZ, and I’ll be on a treadmill trying to lose the 15 lbs. I gained this winter.  I blame the World Junior Championships and an upcoming blog that will be titled Pancakes of the NHL. 

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.13.2011 / 9:10 AM
By Kevin Sylvester - Sabres "Hockey Hotline" Host / SLY NOTES

More than 80 alumni were on hand last weekend to celebrate 40 years of NHL hockey in Buffalo (Photo: Bill Wippert)
-It’s hard to believe that one week ago the Sabres needed a win vs. Tampa Bay to maintain the upper hand in the playoff race with the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes.  Of course the Sabres won, but that didn’t clinch a spot.  It took the dramatic, come-from-behind win against the Flyers to clinch a spot in the second to last game of the season.  Fast forward to this week, and the uncertainty has turned into anxiety to get the series with the Flyers started.  So, before it begins on Thursday, take a step back to appreciate the run this team completed to make the playoffs and the emotional high we’re all feeling.

-Speaking of highs, how great was last Friday’s home finale?  To have over 80 Sabres Alumni on hand to celebrate 40 years of NHL hockey in Buffalo was awesome.  Every generation of Sabres fans had some of their hockey heroes in town  to thank for the memories.  And each generation of players thanked the fans for their support when they played and for welcoming them back with love and enthusiasm.  For some of those players, it was the first time in 30 years or more that they put on a sweater and were applauded.  The pride and excitement I saw in Mike Robitaille when he put his sweater on for the pre-game ceremony is something I’ll never forget.  It meant the world to him and his fellow alumni to be reunited, welcomed and honored as they all were.  It was cool, classy and capped by a signature win.

Nathan Gerbe
-My guess is there’s a waiting list for No. 42 sweaters at the Sabres Store.  Has any rookie had a better second half to a season than Nathan Gerbe?  Of his 16 goals, 15 have been scored in the second half of the season.  I wasn’t sure he would be able to cap what he did in Montreal during a 2-0 win on March 22, but I’m sure he did it with the spin-o-rama backhander to tie the Flyers and send the Sabres to the playoffs.  So what changed?  I think experience.  He’s not the first player in league history that needed time to adjust to the speed and skill of the NHL.  He’s also smart and a hard worker.  Lindy Ruff stuck with him when he wasn’t scoring because he worked his tail off in practice and during games.  His effort could never be questioned, even though his production was.  He figured out where to go on the ice to get more scoring opportunities.  A great example is the first goal he scored in the Montreal game.  He waded in the left corner as the puck went to Tyler Myers at the right point.  Gerbe then raced to the area between the dots because he figured if Myers was going to shoot he’d have a chance at a deflection (that’s how it looked to me anyway), and that’s exactly what happened.  Another example is the first goal he scored against the Flyers last Friday.  He scored on a shot from the point.  Why was he there?  He was covering for Tyler Myers, who had pinched deep behind the net.  Gerbe is proving to be a goal scorer at the right time.  It took hard work and attention to the little things to make it happen.  The Flyers would also be wise to pay attention to the little things, too. 

-I almost sent Doc Emrick a text message this morning to schedule some vehicle maintenance.  The NBC and Devils play-by-play wizard is right next to one of the best service men in the business on my contact list. 

-How long will it take for some Philadelphia-area publication to have a column describing how Buffalo stinks, is boring, and there’s nothing to do here?  Here’s a pre-emptive strike:  You know what’s really boring?  Reading un-original stuff by the uniformed.

-Something I am looking forward to this series is chatting with the Flyers broadcast crew.  Jim Jackson, Keith Jones and Steve Coates are excellent and might be the friendliest peers in the league.  While we’re on the topic of broadcasts, we will continue the pre-game show 30 minutes prior to face off for each playoff game on MSG.  I would also like to recognize our production crew for their excellent work all season.  Joe, Matt, Drew, Mark, Jason, Chrisanne, Jeff, and a cast of interns are here everyday working to make life easy for RJ, Harry, Roby, Razor and me.  Please spend the final minute of our next broadcast reading the credits of the show.  They deserve it.

-Sabres in 6 for a Happy Easter.
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