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How is this possible?

How is this possible?

But I came back.

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Marty Turco says:

I sucked rocks the first ten games. But I came back.

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But I came back.

Patty: This coffee Haagen Dazs is so delicious, I’ve decided NOT to marry Schlitzy and marry this ice cream instead.
Schnookie: Schlitzy says, “I got passed over for some ice cream. But I came back.”

Pookie: Someone drew a mustache on a picture of me, but I came back.

Pookie: I’m like, “Dammit! I should have taken that nap!” I didn’t take that nap, but I came back.
Schnookie: I took an AMAZING nap. But I came back.

Patty: I was forced to move into a Schlitz can, but I came back.

Kate: I just realized I’m out of dental floss. But I came back.

Patty: I flunked Comedy 101. But I came back.

Pookie: A co-worker just was really rude to me when I asked if she could access the web when her phone wasn’t working. I want Schlitzy to go over there and tell her, “My internet-based phone stopped working when my internet went out, but I came back.” And then kick her in the shins.
Patty: Some giant hockey player with a resplendent schnozz and wearing a Schlitz can just kicked me in the shins. But I came back.
Pookie: I died of laughter. But I came back.

Patty: “I hit a pole with my car. But I came back.”
Schlitzy: “That’s way tougher than I am!”

Heather: I got arrested for keying Sabres players’ cars. But I came back.

Pookie: I had nothing but popcorn and cupcakes for dinner, but I came back.

Schnookie: I was beaten down deep into the ground by my shitty team. But I came back.

ModFan: We haven’t posted in two months. But we came back.

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Five Things That Made Me Say, “Geez, Hockey SUCKS!”

1. The Sabres Missed the Playoffs

I whipped myself into a total frenzy defending management and the players who were still left here. Yeah, yeah, we lost two big pieces of the puzzle. But we have SO much talent left! Of COURSE the Sabres are going to make the playoffs! They’re too good not to! They’re going to be so tired of talking about the guys who left that they’re going to come out guns a-blazing! They’ll DRAG themselves to the postseason if they have to. Well. Those little bastards had other plans. Instead of busting ass and proving everyone wrong they decided they’d rather try to coast and were dizzingly inconsistent, winning 8-1 one night and losing 15-2 the next, beating very good teams and then collapsing against crappy teams.

2. The Buffalo News Columnists Think I’m an Idiot

I really like both of the Sabres beat writers a lot and I think Sabres Edge, TBN’s hockey blog, is one of the best things the paper has done in the last few years. But this season the columnists hit a new level of shrill, irrational hysteria. Listen, I understand people were upset about losing Drury and Briere and it was certainly newsworthy… in October, maybe November. But to still be pounding that drum in March? When there was plenty to criticize on the ice? Ridiculous. To ignore the players still wearing Buffalo uniforms while endlessly slurping – and defending the poor play of – players no longer in Buffalo uniforms? Stupid. To act like those two players are sacred cows who should be treated like Legends of Buffalo even though other players who have been here longer weren’t given any special treatment upon their return? Also stupid. I feel like we spent the entire season talking about what happened this summer in negotiations that none of us were privy to while completely ignoring what was going on on the ice. And what happens on the ice is kind of why I watch hockey. And worst of all, the columnists consistently wrote with an attitude that anyone who didn’t agree with them has a pea brain. We don’t UNDERSTAND how things really work and we don’t GET IT. I get it. You guys think you’re smarter than me, you’re talking down to me and I don’t have to listen to it.

3. The Brian Campbell Show

Being a Sabres fan can be tough because management is very tight-lipped. We can disregard most rumors about what the team is going to do because no one on the inside talks. But if that saves us from things like this year’s Brian Campbell saga, well thank God for it. Every single step of negotiations between Campbell and the Sabres was made public either by “a source close to the negotiations” (i.e. Campbell’s agent) or Campbell himself. And while there were moments where I did genuinely feel a little sad for Campbell and how emotional the process probably was there came a point where I really just wanted him to shut up and play hockey because man alive, I don’t know what he was doing on the ice those last few weeks before the trade deadline but it didn’t have much to do with hockey. And it turns out Brian Campbell is the gift that keeps on giving since he couldn’t stop making idiotic statements about Buffalo and the Sabres organization even on the other side of the country. If the Sharks are THE BESTEST TEAM EVER! feel free to stay there, Brian.

4. Ryan Miller Wasn’t Very Good

I like Ryan Miller and I do hope he signs a long-term contract with Buffalo but he wasn’t very good this year even if you give him a pass for the last couple of months when he was clearly gassed. In a season where a lot of guys were adjusting to new roles on the team, Ryan needed to be much more consistent than he was. I’m still not sure what happened with him in shootouts this year. The goalie who had ice water in his veins and never flinched first last season suddenly looked foolish on a regular basis. Just a few more points in shootouts might have put the team over the hump and into the postseason. Hopefully it was just a blip on the screen of his NHL career.

5. The Boston Bruins

The Bruins are boring. The schedule says we only played them 8 times but each game felt like an eternity. They’re really boring. And trappy. And boring.

Five Things That Made Me Say, “I LOVE Hockey!”

1. Captain Jason Pominville

I came into this season with pretty neutral feelings about Jason Pominville. I thought he was a fine hockey player and I thought people who thought he was going to fall off the face of the earth without Briere at his side were overreacting. But I admit, I let the whole puck bunny thing sway me. He just seemed too cute and fluffy so I didn’t really take him that seriously. And he is cute and fluffy but you know what? He’s also really, really good at hockey. I feel like he grew up right in front of us this season. In a year where a lot of players seemed content to try and win on talent alone, Jason played hard every night. If he didn’t contribute on the point sheet, it wasn’t from a lack of trying. While almost everyone else flailed, Jason was steady and calm no matter what was going on around him. If you’d told me in October that he’d be wearing the C going into the end of the season I would’ve said you were nuts. But when he was wearing the C going into the end of the season it seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

2. Henrik Tallinder Scoring in the Shootout

The shootout is stupid, okay? It’s a ridiculous way to decide which team ends up with more points. But those of you who know me know I adore Henrik Tallinder. And while part of what I adore about him is that he’s a very unnoticed, underrated player, I really enjoyed watching him have his moment in the sun, especially since it was under such ridiculous circumstances. In addition to being inconsistent and annoying this year, the Sabres decided to blow chunks in shootouts. An unassuming stay-at-home d-man breaking that losing streak against a future Hall of Fame goalie was both hilarious and delightful. This picture was my wallpaper for a few weeks afterwards because I love how happy the players looked – seriously, just look at Jason Pomiville’s face – which was not something we saw enough of this season.

3. New Contracts for Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy

I think both of these contracts showed that management was paying attention last summer and realizing some of its mistakes. Based on the timing of the Jochen Hecht signing, the two sides must’ve started talking before the season – a full year before the Sabres have generally re-signed players in the past – and when the season started, the two sides kept talking until an agreement was made. With Derek Roy the Sabres made an effort to lock-up a young player into a reasonable long-term deal. Complaining about Drury and Briere was understandable at first but all that complaining isn’t going to bring them back. All any fan can really ask is for management to do things differently with players they want to keep moving forward and here it certainly seems like they did.

I think both contracts were also smart contracts. On a very young team, Jochen Hecht is a little bit older and more experienced. On a very offensive-minded team, he’s very strong defensively. On a team that’s prone to high-risk passes and moves, he’s more responsible and steady. Jochen will never be flashy and therefore probably never be noticed much outside of Buffalo – heck, I think he’s taken for granted IN Buffalo – but he’s a player that every team needs. And Derek Roy? Well, geez how good does his contract look already? His numbers have improved every year he’s been in the league, he’s showing a little more maturity on the ice, and he’s shaping up to be a very good two-way player who can play in every situation including short-handed. When people are seriously talking about Brian Campbell getting 8 million a year this summer, 4 million for five more years of Derek Roy looks pretty darn good.

4. A Stanley Cup Champion I Can Fully Embrace

Last season I pulled for the Ducks but mostly because they were playing the Senators who had just beaten us (badly) in the previous round. We’re not even going to talk about the season before that. This was the first season in a few years where I’ve really liked the team that lifted the Cup when it was all over. I enjoyed watching the Red Wings. I love Nicklas Lidstrom and how he’s quietly put together one of the best all-time careers. I love that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are both very good two-way players. I love that the team is so efficient at executing a game plan. And I love how they seem absolutely lacking in ego and self-importance.

5. Realizing the Sabres Aren’t That Far Away

While watching the playoffs this year, one thing became clear: The Eastern Conference isn’t very good. There are a lot of teams that have the potential to play well but no one team that shows up and consistently blows everyone else off the ice. The Flyers made the ECF for crying out loud! They’re good but are they that much better than Buffalo? I don’t think so. If Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy play an entire season like they played in the second half, if Ryan Miller plays more consistently, if management adds one or two physical players to the blueline, if the kids continue to get better, if they come out playing like they have something to prove after missing the playoffs…


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Five Things I Didn’t Love About this Season

5. The stubborn insistence by Versus and NBC to use Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury for color analysis. Or whatever it is they were supposed to be doing. I’m not even sure.

4. Detroit won it all. This was my worst-case scenario for the Stanley Cup. I’m sure everybody was getting sick of my whining about it, but too bad. It was awful.

3. All of March. Schnookie and Pookie already knew that March was fraught with danger, but I just blithely waded into it thinking the Stars’ blazing February would just keep rolling. It was a record-breakingly terrible month.

2. Chris Pronger got away with (attempted) murder. He stomped on a Canuck’s foot with the razor-sharp blade of his skate — an act that got Chris Simon suspended for 30 games — and got suspended for eight games. And that was the League’s SECOND idea. The first plan was to call it an accident and hope nobody checked it out.

1. My beloved Philippe Boucher spent almost the whole season on the IR. First, he had surgery on a shoulder that was injured in the previous playoffs, then injured his other shoulder in his fourth game back. Then just a few games into this year’s playoffs, he tore a hip flexor. I know it just broke his heart not to be playing. I missed him terribly all year.

Five Things I Did Love About this Season

5. The Dallas Stars had the honor of sending the Ducks home in the first round of the playoffs. I just cannot overstate how satisfying that was.

4. I started my own blog. I was sure I’d give up on it after two or three posts. I wasn’t kidding about that at the time. I was sure. Now I’m pushing 200 posts and I am really looking forward to the summer when I can go nuts without having to work in a game recap every other day. Writing the blog has taught me a couple of things about myself. One, that I really do love the Stars. Maybe even more than I thought. And two, that I have my own style of writing and there’s just no sense in fighting it any more. One of the reasons I started it was to relieve my family and friends and co-workers of having to listen to me ramble about hockey, and for the most part it’s actually worked. Now I just ramble about blogging. I’ll let them tell you if that’s any better.

3. Hanging out at IPB all season was a special kind of fun. I never knew there were such intelligent and hilarious people out there that just wanted to talk about hockey with me. It was like being a new hockey fan again. It was new and exciting to talk about different teams and players and conferences. And gardens and knitting. And the MSM and turtles-of-affairs and Katamari and fake mustaches and movies and hockey.

2. I loved everybody on this team. Including the coaches. Including the GM that was fired and the two GMs that took his place. There have been many seasons where I’m highly annoyed by at least a player or two (Bill Guerin), or even downright infuriated (Claude Lemieux). But this year there weren’t any that I didn’t like. Every single player endeared himself to me in his own special way.

1. The Playoff Run. It probably doesn’t seem like a lot from the outside, but getting to the Western Conference Finals was a pretty big deal for us. We’d been beaten down by early exits for a long time and even when the Stars played great against Vancouver in the first round last season, they still lost. That, plus the nosedive in March, set the Stars up to be the underdogs in every series. Yet they knocked out the reprehensible Ducks, and kicked out the Cup-darling Sharks. Then, down three games to none against the hated Red Wings, they still didn’t give up — they got two more wins before losing to the eventual champs. I can’t wait to see if they can top that.

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Five Things I Loved About The ’07-’08 NHL Season:

1. The way Pando’s season was going before he got injured. For a couple of glorious months before suffering a debilitating shifted-bits injury, Jay Pandolfo was a bona fide scoring threat. He was a beast! I didn’t care that it was contract-year witchery making it happen — life had never been so grand for PandoNation, and his unprecedented scoring tear was capped off with an honest-to-goodness hat trick. From Pando! Seriously! It doesn’t even seem real now. Man, those were good times.

2. Our road trip. We went on a week-long hockey road trip in October, hitting Buffalo for a Sabres/Leafs game, then swinging to Pittsburgh for Devils/Pens, then back to Buffalo again for Sabres/Blue Jackets. I’d talk all schlockily about how much fun we had meeting up for the first time in person with Katebits and Heather, but I’m trying to stick with hockey for my list of five here. And the thing is that hockey road trips are always fun, but this one featured two of the wildest games of the year (and one dreadfully dull trapfest, even by Devils-fan standards) and a helter-skelter itinerary that had us racing from city to city at a frantic pace; it was a fantastic adventure for us, and stands as one of the highest high points of the year.

3. Cat carrier Zach. Even the most casual reader of IPB will know that Pookie and I are big into the elaborately-conceived fictional characters we spin for our favorite hockey players. The one who has most captured our flights of fancy is Zach Parise, and he’s become our favorite target for goofy mocking. During one mid-season game, Mike Rupp, Arron Asham, and David Clarkson were all in the penalty box — the three guys we’ve joked Zach employs as his henchmen. With none of them available to skate, and the game getting chippy, Pookie suddenly cracked that Zach would refuse to take the ice. This rapidly escalated into our imagining the coaching staff trying to push him off the bench, while a hysterical Zach digs in with his arms and legs on the boards and stanchion, stiff-limbed like a cat that refuses to get into its cat carrier. I don’t remember anything else about that game except that it was the hardest I laughed all season. And now all we have to do to crack each other up is hold our arms out in front of us like we’re frantically pushing against the boards; I frequently will crack myself up just thinking about it. Hockey’s all about the silly for me, and cat carrier Zach was as silly as it got this year.

4. The day the Devils first hit first place. The Devils started the season like such absolute, unheard-of poop that Jersey fans had to scramble to suddenly alter their expectations. After a decade and a half of excellence, the team was looking decidedly lottery-bound. But then something really strange happened — they reeled off nine straight wins while everyone else in the East managed to lose, and before we knew it, our underachieving, lousy, misbegotten team was — GASP! — in first place in the conference. Yeah, yeah, they didn’t hang on, and finished the season with a soul-killing whimper, but for a few delicious weeks, they gave us the opportunity to be giddy with regular-season excitement.

5. The Devils’ crazy-assed D-corps. There was never a single moment in the entire season where I had even a modicum of faith in the Devils eight-man (and then nine[!!!]-man) blue line, but you know what? I still loved those goofy kids. Most of them had no business being in the NHL, but even when it seemed like the back half of our roster was being held together by duct tape and baling wire, there was something hilariously ragtag about them. It was kind of a season-long experience not unlike the time our two ragdoll kittens pooped on my bed — I was literally spitting mad, but they were just too darn cute to stay mad at. In the long run, I wouldn’t mind if Sheldon Brookbank, Mike Mottau, Andy Greene, et al, will stop figuratively pooping in my bed, but still. They’re our crazy-assed D-corps! What can I do about it?

Five Things I Didn’t Love About the ’07-’08 NHL Season:

1. The unbalanced schedule. I can trace almost every single thing I didn’t like about this hockey season back to the unbalanced schedule. It was the root of all Evil.

2. The shootout. I hit rock bottom this year with the shootout, and realized that, purely on account of the shootout, I’m a lot closer to not being an NHL fan at all than I’ve ever been. You know how sports fans will have stock reasons why they don’t watch a particular sport? Like, “Oh, I hate free throws, so I don’t watch the NBA”, or, “I hate the DH, so I don’t watch AL baseball”? I can see myself being a person who says, “I don’t watch the NHL because they have shootouts.” I really, really, really don’t want to be that person.

3. The Devils first-round matchup. I’m not getting into it again. Just… no.

4. Sid being hurt. I want my hockey seasons to be brimming with Sidness, not brimming with Ty Conklin!

5. My own bad attitude. I was a Cranky McCrankypants about pretty much everything all year, and my grouchiness finally reached a point where it was self-perpetuating. On the bright side, though, it’s something I can control, unlike Sid’s ankle sprains.

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Five Things I Loved About the Season

1. Paul Martin. I picked Paulie Martin as my favorite player based on the fact that he wasn’t too terrible the year before. We’d all accepted that he wasn’t going to be the next Niedermayer, or even the next half-way decent puck-carrying d-man that we really needed. But he wasn’t terrible so it seemed safe to pick him as a favorite. Then he went and had a truly fantastic season. He played tons of minutes, was completely unflappable in every situation, stepped almost seamlessly into the role of the #1 d-man, and showed a comfort level with when to rush and when not to. So he was called out by his own father on TV for not being able to finish; he still won our hearts and minds.

2. Tom Gulitti’s Fire and Ice blog. The Devils are such a tight-lipped organization that not only do we not hear about injuries or contract situations, we also don’t hear any fluff behind-the-scenes stuff. Until now. Gulitti brought beleaguered Devils fans into the light this season by including in his blog tidbits like Mike Rupp’s suggestion box, Paulie Martin’s heroics when a fire broke out in the Devils parking lot, and what the boys thought of the movies they saw with Marty Brodeur as part of his playoff pre-game ritual. These little glimpses into life in the dressing room brought Devils fans closer to the team for the first time in ages and made the season so much more fun.

3. Hockey in HD. We’ve been hearing for something like ten years that HD would save hockey as a televised sport. I remember sitting in the Devils premium-seat season ticket holder lounge something like eight or nine years ago and looking at the HD TV they had set up thinking, “That’s pretty cool, but it’s so far off!” Well, it’s here now, and it’s worth the wait. This was the first season I got to see more than a handful of games in HD. Now that I’ve had a taste of it, I don’t ever want to go back.

4. Road tripping. The season’s highlight for me was driving to Buffalo and Pittsburgh to meet new friends and see great hockey games (or rather, two good ones and one horrifically awful one). There’s nothing better than bidding work adieu for a week and living the life of a hockey vagabond, where one’s one obligation is getting to the rink on time. If anyone wishes to pay me to do this for a living… Just sayin’.

5. SportSquee‘s “Fly On The Wall” series. Margee wrote a series of masterpieces this season that went beyond laugh-out-loud funny. But best of all, they reminded me how much better the season is when one takes the time to poke gentle fun at players on all the teams, not just one’s own.

Five Things I Found Annoying This Season

1. Shoot-Outs. This season pushed me to the brink with the goddamn shoot-out. Obviously I didn’t go over the edge about post-OT-shenanigans and didn’t forsake hockey altogether but this season I could see a day when it might come to that. It’s just that bad. I honestly didn’t think shoot-outs would last two years, and yet they’re still there. I know that time after time people have proven that the shoot-out and the 3rd point don’t change the standings, but the fact remains that perfectly hard-fought games are decided by a individual contest of super skills. It’s just wrong.

2. The unbalanced schedule. I could not have been more tired of seeing divisional rivals on the calendar this year. By the time the playoffs rolled around I just could not take one more game against the Rangers.

3. Niedermayer and Selanne unretiring. This nonsense of retired-or-not was such an unwelcome addition to the NHL world. It was annoying enough when NFLers and NBAers did it; I was hoping hockey would stay above that fray. That it’s looking more and more like a move by Burke to circumvent the cap doesn’t make it any more admirable.

4. Slim-fit sweaters. Mercifully the Devils dodged the total-redesign bullet, but the massive changes that did go down with other teams are enough to annoy me.

5. Discovering how little perspective fans have on rival fanbases. This was the season I read a Caps fan calling Sabres fans “classless” for stepping on a picture of Ovechkin. Honestly, what has the world come to?

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