If anyone’s been following us on Twitter throughout the last couple weeks, you likely know that I received media access to both developmental camp Wednesday and the scrimmage Thursday (not that the former mattered much, being free and all). I should reiterate that this was not one of those credential bread crumbs Ted Black throws out once in awhile when he wants to prevent ninety percent of the many Sabres blogs out there from voicing any criticism about the team or organization.
That’s a brilliant strategy really: spend a couple nights a year getting all the bloggers in the room, make them feel important because they got to see the pretty locker room carpet, feed them some dribble about paint schemes and announcer schedules and the sheep will be so grateful for the fucking opportunity that they’ll nary write a critical word again. I mean sure, the whole roster could be imploding on a nightly basis but Ted Black was just so nice to us undeserving wannabe reporters! So half the blogs end up being nothing but team mouthpieces and the other half end up avoiding swears and tip-toeing around any criticism because they’re afraid they might miss the breaking news when the team decides to paint the atrium beige. Well fuck that, and shame on you who do that.
(Obligatory disclaimer: I do like a few of the blogs, in writing, opinion and tone. But we have to admit this team has about 478 blogs too many dedicated to it. I also saw one actually saying that everyone invited to the last blogger summit should write about everything Ted Black said because “they accommodated us.” That sentiment is so offensive I could puke, so my larger point stands.)
That’s what brought me to the Deeg really, I DO like to swear. If you’re intelligent and have any discernible skills when it comes to writing, cursing brings language alive, gives it energy, and conveys the strength of your convictions in a way italics and corny exclamation points don’t always accomplish. It’s part of my cadence, part of how I convey my feelings and if you can swear in your writing without sounding like a fifteen-year-old boy, you damn well should. I feel we are an example of this and when you’re instead using language that brings me back to my years in Sunday school, I am immediately turned off. I can respect if this isn’t your cup of tea but odds are if it isn’t, I wouldn’t be your type of person either.
I guess my point is there isn’t a snowballs chance in hell that I, or any of us would be granted one of Ted Black’s golden tickets. When I was writing at my last outpost I didn’t get any access (presumably for using the same language) and certainly given our unabashed tendency to call a spade a spade (or in the Barrister’s case, call a team of pussies a team of pussies), it wasn’t going to happen here. This is what makes this week’s access that much more hilarious.
I have two pages of notes on the practice and eight on the scrimmage so I’ll keep my description of the practice brief. I had hoped this would be my first infiltration but that didn’t happen; I couldn’t find the roped off media seating, as the media entered from the main entrance since it was free to attend, and it was just a practice. So I sat in front of a group of annoying teenagers and behind bored-looking children and attempted to divulge something, anything worth taking a half day from work. I’ll break down my notes on bullet points
- Connor Knapp does not look like a good goalie and I’m afraid those in Rochester are going to be made aware of that soon enough. The players seemed to struggle scoring on the other goalies throughout the day but had no problem eviscerating Knapp (Armia and Mcnabb had damn nice goals on him). Taken with a large grain of salt of course, but consider this guy not impressed.
- 2-on-1 drills: I had noted on twitter that neither group could seem to score on these but I suppose given the past year that’s probably a good thing. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen our one man back stay in no-man’s land like an idiot and result in a goal. Either the coaching staff is getting better at this or the players haven’t watched any Sabres games from last year.
- Roy, Girgensons, and Boychuck all had great moves and goals during drills. The kids behind me were pronouncing Roy as in “Derek Roy” instead of “Patrick Roy,” which I assume is because they’ve never heard of the latter and became hockey fans in 2006 (Editor’s note: like all the post-lockout fans we here at the Deeg just LOVE). They also spent time complaining about how they didn’t get cell phones until 8th and in one case 10th grade. Insert head shake from every Millennial above 25 here. For the record, I received my first cell phone for my 19th birthday. I had a phone with a cord my freshman year of college. As Bernie Mac would say, “what’s wrong wit you kids!?!?”
- Armia, Girgensons, and Grigorenko were put together on 3-on-3 drills and pretty much dominated each unit that was up against them. This should be expected and was great to see.
- After the rest of the team was off the ice, Foligno and I believe Girgensons (how the fuck did I not write this down), practiced trying to bounce the puck from their sticks and land it on their backs. After about three attempts, Girgensons won to loud cheers from the crowd. Probably the loudest cheers of the day, considering everyone was watching a glorified practice.
- Not much to mention from group two since I only knew Adam, Hodgson, Tropp, and Mckenzie. Hodgson has great hands but we knew that already. Gauthier-Leduc, one of our recently drafted prospects did have a really nice shot though. To be honest, by this point I was shivering almost uncontrollably since there were only about 1,000 people in attendance and I was eight rows from the ice. The press release had told us players would be available afterwards but I got the hell out of there for the warmth of the outside. (Editor’s note: But Outlander! You have access and it is your responsibility to tell us EVERYTHING!!!)
- I say this with nearly 30 years of staunch heterosexuality, Teppo Numminen is a handsome man. There is no way he hasn’t landed on the Finnish cover of People as the sexiest man alive. He is like a Scandinavian Liam Neeson.
I managed to find the security entrance and gave them my name. Sure enough I was presented with a sticker that had both my name and “media” on it. I was told to wear this on my shirt (nevermind that when I got to the media seating, NO ONE was wearing the goddamn sticker) and took the elevator to the 100 level. After grabbing a beer (this isn’t my real job!) and asking around I finally reached the roped off media seating. I recognized two people: Joe Buscaglia was a row in front of me (in a pretty nice sport coat by the way) and Mike Harrington was sitting directly in front of my seat in the last media row. I was about five rows up by the visitor’s tunnel.
(A few notes on Harrington: first, I started hating him last fall when he called Penn State diplomas “worthless” since I hold one (Editor’s note: That’s also when he blocked the Scizz!). As the Sabres season went on, he blocked one of my best friends and I began to grow this inner rage towards everything he said on Twitter. Finally, I had my fill and unfollowed him, but am not yet blocked. Second, he is not a well-kept man- pretty greasy and his pants resembled the ones I wore when I worked at Burger King in high school. Third, he searches for his own name on Twitter because of course he does. Fourth, he was on Dominik Hasek’s Wikipedia page presumably to garner facts. Fifth, he was bitching about not being able to sit in the press box. All in all an impressive specimen.)
Anyways, the scrimmage: There were a lot of people there, an announced crowd of 5,073, or well over what the Florida Panthers pull from November until April. The blue team had Foligno, Girgensons, Grigorenko, Armia, McNabb, Pysyk and the gold team had Adam, Hodgson, Tropp….and that was really it. Don’t know who made these teams but if the goal was to evenly space out the talent, I don’t think they succeeded. Nevertheless Gold was winning after one thanks to a goal by Hodgson that was originally given to Adam. Girgensons made a beautiful pass to Armia right in front but he got stopped by Lieuwen, who has a great mask by the way. Some highlights of the game:
- Girgensons had the best goal of the night in a walk, skating in from the left side, cutting in front, getting the goalie out of position and moving the puck to his forehand and in. It would easily be one of the best goals of last season had it occurred then. I know the rules of media not cheering but I certainly voiced my impression because again, I’m not real media, as anyone could have picked up from the beer I was sucking down.
- Instead of penalties, there were penalty shots every time an infraction occurred. There were probably six or seven penalty shots and only two goals. Wise- more on him later- had one, as did Legace, who had a nice Kotalik-esque backhand goal.
- Foligno is a beast. There were three people knocked on their ass during the scrimmage, and Foligno was responsible for every one of them.
- Hodgson got beat in every speed drill I saw him compete in Wednesday. Thursday he was out-skating everyone to the puck when he had to.
- Wise gets the hat trick thanks to a penalty shot, a nice wrister and a backhand. He was everywhere and pretty damn impressive for the last guy added to the camp roster.
- Finehage, who Wednesday let out a loud “FUCK!” and raised his stick at a teammate- during a drill no less (we talkin’ about practice, Corey)- had an awesome wrister during 4-on-4 action. He came off like a petulant dick the day before so it was nice to see some substance.
- Blue won 7-3 because they were better. (Editor’s note: This is my favorite sentence of this whole post.)
- There were twelve players in the shootout, which went to the first extra round. How many scored? Three, and I doubt that is because we have the next Hasek and Miller in net. Grigorenko had a great goal (erasing a pretty subpar night for him), Leduc had a nice slap shot goal (I remarked on Wednesday that he has a great shot), and Parker (who?) won the shootout for gold. Tropp, Armia, Foligno, Adam, Girgensons, Hodgson were all stopped, although Girgensons almost pulled off a sick spin-o-rama goal.
The Outlandess told me I should wear my shoes, not sandals. I didn’t listen since it was 95 freaking degrees and sure enough my sandals (which were my shower sandals throughout college) popped along the concrete every step to the press room. Oh, and I wore a PSU hat on the day the Freeh report came out, so inconspicuous I was not.
Anyways, at the second intermission we get shuttled in and there’s Darcy to answer questions. I’ve been hard on the guy plenty but generally I can’t hate anything he’s done in the Pegula era aside from referring to a coach with zero series wins since 2007 as “elite.” What happens is I start to panic and then he makes a deal that makes sense, or so it has gone over the past couple seasons. So I didn’t feel the urge to act like an Iraqi journalist and throw a shoe at him, which would have been the case not long ago. Here’s a summary on what he had to say:
- On Roy: He said he felt Roy could have played without the surgery and that it was Dallas’ call. He said he spoke to Dallas before the trade about Roy’s injury history so no one got screwed. He voiced confidence in the medical staff. This isn’t all that surprising given the fact we now know Vanek was carrying his worthless body up and down the ice late in the season instead of sitting his ass down for a week, but it’s still disconcerting to think a team with so many man-games missed (as if you’ve forgotten it being shoved down your throat all year) was still putting injured players out there during the season.
- Hasek: He wanted a meeting with Darcy and Lindy and they gave it to him. He explained that he wanted to come back and felt he could and afterwards Darcy explained they’d stick with who they got. This is certainly smart, but come on, any fan would have liked the idea of 39 skating out in the blue and gold one last time, even if he let in five goals in the first period. Regardless, I really hope he just stays retired so we can put his damn number in the rafters. On a related note, the best goalie in team history and one of the best of all-time came right to the First Niagara Center last month and NO ONE KNEW. Real crack media we got in town.
- Trade/Free Agency: The market’s stagnant (BREAKING NEWS), he’s surprised nothing’s been moving but expects that to change. Eventually. Hard hitting stuff guys.
After the game we were taken back to the press room to interview several of the players and Lindy. Obviously this is tough since I am a fan first and want nothing more than to ask these kids if they want to go to Cobblestone or Dome Stadium in Tonawanda and pound beers while trashing the coach, but I have to stand there with my little notebook and listen to them explain their thoughts to much older, and creepier men. Also, these guys are REALLY FUCKING YOUNG. You don’t appreciate it when they’re wearing pads and a helmet, but put them in t-shirts, shorts and sandals and suddenly my bald ass feels a solid decade older. You can read quotes from these guys anywhere since the usual suspects from WGR, TBN and the TV stations were there, so I’ll try and mention some things that they won’t put in their coverage:
- Grigorenko certainly has a better grasp of English after one year than I ever did during seven years of French, but he totally didn’t understand two of the questions. He does what I did in Belgium when I didn’t know something, which is to smile sheepishly and reply very softly “yeah.” Luckily no one has asked him if he’s ever fellated a horse. Yet.
- Foligno was wearing a BOSS shirt. I found this awesome because if I had held on to any of my clothes from junior high, I could have worn them and hung out with Foligno afterwards. That said, it was a polo and he was the best dressed out of the players we were given, with the possible exception of Wise.
- Girgensons complained about getting up at 4:30am. Who wouldn’t? He admitted bashfully that he had a “pretty good” goal. He also said he’d be meeting with Lindy and Darcy today and hoped to make a decision bout his future. If not, he called it a “day-to-day” process, and he didn’t tip us off with his words in any way, but if I had to guess, he’s turning pro. Burlington is a beautiful town, the campus is gorgeous and UVM hockey is the biggest thing in the state, which I’m sure would give him a solid selection of coeds, but Rochester/Buffalo has one thing better: straight cash, homey. (Editor’s note: Outlander nailed it. Girgs just announced he’s going pro.)
- Wise was the last interview and came out in a polo and khaki shorts. First thing he said when he saw the cameras and ten or so reporters standing around him was “I’ve never had this before” with a smile. I loved that reaction. He got the call on Sunday and missed the team activities that day, and while admitting he had a great game, he obviously hopes for more opportunities in the future. Still, the humility of the kid was great and I’d love to see us take a long look at this guy.
From The Amerks Youtube channel:
Before Jamie Wise was Lindy. He wasn’t hesitant in saying that he felt their talent at camp was the most it’s ever been and really that’s hard for me to disagree with. It’s probably why the arena was nearly 1/3 full on a 90 degree evening in July. You have five NHL guys and one who should be on the main roster but won’t be (McNabb), that’s not bad for your “developmental camp.” Other highlights:
- Girgensons is physically ready. I tried not to chuckle at the creepiness of Lindy saying he has a “man body”). I could have told you this given how well he’s looked- better than Grigorenko- but it’s nice to see the coach on the same page.
- His face lit up when discussing their conversation with Hasek. Lindy called it “great,” and really marveled over the man’s drive and belief in himself. Frankly, I think we’re all impressed there. It almost makes me wish we still had Lalime just so we could cut his ass for the 47-year-old legend.
- When asked if he was “resigned” to the fact that Ennis and Hodgson would be his top two centers, Lindy said that sounded about right. He thinks Ennis is ready (so do I) and believes it’s time for Hodgson to show he’s a top six guy (I agree here as well). Adam has been at the wing during camp so who the fuck knows what kind of idea Lindy has brewing here. He also went on about Ott’s ability to play both center and the wing, specifically having Ott take the faceoff then shift over to the wing. Personally I like this idea, but turning a winger into a center is stupid and we only have to look back a year to see why.
- Lockout. Oh yeah, the fucking lockout. Well business as usual, he hopes it’ll get resolved, the team has to be ready, blah, blah, blah. Seriously I forget about the lockout constantly, which I suppose is a good thing. I mean discussions sound civil which is nice, so no chance of a Wade-Stern confrontation happening here. I’m personally confident that we’ll all get our hockey, but I just want to know that for sure, now.
- Lindy said he’d have discussions about using the Navy Seals with the veterans. Somewhere in Austria Thomas Vanek just threw a full beer can across the room.
- Finally, Wise was brought up and Lindy said he really didn’t know anything about the kid but that he definitely opened some eyes, and that the coaching staff would be taking a deeper look at him. I’ll be a fan and say please do, the kid scored plenty for his junior team, played great in a pressure situation and I’d say deserves a long look.
With everything done, the grease-jobs who have to report this stuff the same night went to work on their little laptops while I just wanted to get the hell out of there without being had. Problem was, the way we were escorted to the press room was locked. So,I had to stand outside the press room for a terrifying minute until a camera crew came out, who I calmly followed out to the security entrance and to my car. My infiltration had gone perfectly, no one seemed to mind me being there, and more importantly it would appear, I may be able to do this again.
Finally, I’d like to thank all the bloggers out there for alerting me to the new painting schemes. It was nice to be aware of as I walked to pick up my media credentials. (Editor’s note: BURN!)
See you in a couple months, media row.
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