of 16 /16

Embed Size (px)

Transcript of Page 2 SPORTS & LEISURE MAGAZINE April 2008

S&L.AprilEdition2008.FinalBy Shawn Krest There seems to be very lit-
tle suspense leading up to the Buffalo Bills’ 2008 draft. The team needs a big wide receiv- er to line up opposite Lee Evans, and they are going to take Oklahoma wide receiver Malcolm Kelly. End of story. Give him the team hat, write the headlines about a “new Kelly era” in Buffalo, get ready for training camp.
A Bills draft pick hasn’t been this obvious since last year, when everyone “knew” that Buffalo was taking Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis. Sure enough, Willis immediately became a starter and ended the year as the league’s top rookie defender. Of course, he did it for the San Francisco 49ers.
Not many fans com- plained about the Bills’ draft day performance last year. Their first-round pick, Marshawn Lynch, provided plenty of big plays, and the Bills addressed their line- backer need when they trad- ed up to select Penn State’s Paul Posluszny with their second pick.
The lesson? Perhaps we shouldn’t start placing orders for those “No.81: Kelly” Bills jerseys just yet.
Kelly would be a great addition to the Bills passing attack. The 6-foot-4 wide out would add height to a posi- tion where the Bills have been, well, short on size in recent years. Kelly reached the end zone 21 times in three years with the Sooners and was the fastest player to reach 1,000 career receiving yards in Oklahoma history.
There are some concerns with Kelly. He missed most of the last two Fiesta Bowls with mid-game injuries. Concerns over both of his knees have
him as low as the second round in many recent draft projections.
If Kelly really does slide as low as that, it’s possible that the Bills will be able to pull
him out of his long day in the ESPN Green Room when they choose in round two. Other big name receiver prospects, such as Texas’ Limas Sweed or LSU’s Early Doucet could also be avail- able for Buffalo’s second pick. Long story short, it’s possible that the Bills will follow the same strategy as last year, and fill what is perceived to be their biggest need with their second pick.
Who would they take in round one, then? The other big need areas for the Bills are additional depth at defensive back or on the defensive line. If Buffalo goes big, North Carolina tackle Kentwan Balmer has been mentioned as a possibility. At defensive end, Clemson’s Phillip
Merling might be the pick. If Buffalo decides to devote
their first pick to the second- ary, South Florida’s Mike Jenkins has been mentioned as a potential pick.
If Buffalo is set on choos- ing a wide receiver, and Michigan State’s Devin Thomas (the best receiver prospect in the draft) is off the board when they pick, the team might trade down in Round One to take Kelly or Sweed in the late twenties. Buffalo was recently awarded two additional picks as com- pensation for free-agent loss- es, however, lessening their need to stock up on draft picks this year.
What is Sports & Leisure’s forecast? Buffalo will indeed go with defense in the first round, adding a cornerback. Look for small-school stand- out Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie of Tennessee State to slip to the Bills’ pick at number 11 overall.
The 6-foot-2 Rodgers- Cromartie has been called the best small-school corner prospect since Aeneas Williams of Southern University in the late 1980s. Rodgers-Cromartie was dom- inant at the Division II level, and has been slotted as high as the seventh overall pick.
Assuming Buffalo nabs Rodgers-Cromartie, they could use their second pick to take LSU’s Doucet. If the top receivers are off the board by then, Florida’s Andre Caldwell could be available in round three.
For a team whose draft pick was a done deal, things appear to be wide open. And if the Bills manage to get a running mate for Lee Evans, the big-play receiver may appear to be wide open next season.
Bills draft preview: Wide open, or case closed?
Photo University of Oklahoma Oklahoma receiver Malcolm Kelly was considered a lock first-rounder for the Bills, but don’t be so sure.
By Charles Roberts Like years past, most have
their opinion on which col- lege standout will be taken first overall in the NFL Draft. Generally, barring trade, a majority of football fans can fill in the blanks on the top three or four slots. This year however, the process is a bit more ambiguous. The Miami Dolphins, who hold the first overall choice in this year’s draft, are coming off a horrid season, where they narrowly avoided an entry in the NFL record books with a near winless season. With that said, it’s of no real surprise that their team needs report is about as long as a 7-year- olds Christmas wish list.
Although he was terrible last season (putting it mild- ly), the Dolphins may give second-year quarterback John Beck a shot at redemp- tion. Keep in mind, when healthy, running back Ronnie Brown is capable of putting
up Pro Bowl numbers, which certainly helps quell the growing pains young quarter- backs have a propensity of
going through. It seems like providing Beck and Brown with a little protection might be the best route, should Miami not maneuver out of the first choice. If that is indeed new head of football
operations Bill Parcells’ thought process, the pick is simple; Michigan left tackle Jake Long. At 6-foot-7, 313 pounds, Long provides a massive frame that most teams would be hard-pressed to pass up as a cornerstone for their offensive line for years to come. He’s not the most athletic offensive line- man, but what he lacks in agility, he makes up for in technique and strength. Combine reports had him bench pressing 225 pounds a whopping 37 times.
Wait a second though. There is another guy with the last name Long that might just be appealing enough to change the normal pattern of thinking. Remember former Oakland Raiders’ great and current FOX analyst Howie Long? Have you seen his son lately? Virginia defensive end Chris Long is coming off a monster senior season that
Desperate Dolphins leaving the door open to many first round surprises
Photo University of Michigan Jake Long may be packing his bags for Miami.
continued on page 15
By Robert Plezia I was fortunate to travel
to Florida again this March to watch Spring Training games and talk to man- agers, hitting coaches, play- ers, and scouts while find- ing some time to watch 11 teams play in nine games.
It seems like a lot of knowledgeable people think this could be the year that the Cleveland Indians win it all. And it appears the management thinks the same thing because a rumor had it the Indians were in the market for some veterans to stock up in Buffalo for their run at the World Series.
When I was in Florida I had a chance to spend a few minutes to talk baseball with Peter Gammons, the syndi- cated sportswriter, ESPN TV analyst and reporter. Gammons is one guy who thinks that the Indians’ pitching, hitting and bench, could take them all the way. Gammons also thinks that the Braves could be the Indians opponent in the World Series this year.
I spent some time in Winter Haven, the spring home of the Indians, watch-
ing them beat the Blue Jays with a hitting barrage, clos- ing the day with a 9-5 win on 15 hits. Not to mention that the Indians didn’t even play Garko, Sizemore or Peralta.
Every hitting coach I met with I was sure to ask two questions: when you are get- ting hits but not runs what do you suggest and what do you do to motivate players and then have them consider and try your recommenda- tions?
Dave Hudgens, the Indians current Minor League player development coordinator, used to work
with the A’s as a hitting coach. He said that a player is more apt to listen to you when he’s in a slump and that you have to watch each player when they are playing well so you may notice a dif- ference when they are not hitting well. In the past I had taken some clinics with Dave and it was good to talk about hitting. He concluded by saying that a lot of hitting in the big leagues is about play- er confidence.
The Tigers look like they’ll have a great hitting team this year but parts of their bullpen are suspect. I watched a game where the Tigers lost to Washington as the middle relief failed the boys from Detroit.
In his second year manag- ing the Nationals, Manny Acta, 38, is the youngest manager in the majors. The Nats have a very young out- field and Nick Johnson is back after missing 2007 with a broken leg. This team is a team to watch over the next few years.
The Nationals also have a promising new hitting coach in Larry Harris. Harris had a great career as a Major League pinch hitter with
m o r e than 15 p i n c h -
hits over four straight years. Harris said he took his bat- ting tee everywhere he went and practiced with it. He also used a “two strike mode” on every pitch so that when opponents realized he was a first strike hitter and started to throw curves he would look for the second pitch.
The Cards-Dodgers match was interesting because LA played with a split squad with part of their club in Beijing, China for two games and LaRussa, the ever-inno- vating manager, hit the pitcher in the eighth spot. This was after the Cards did a study that showed the ninth hitter had more oppor- tunities for RBI’s than the eight. This, however, didn’t produce much in the two games I watched.
Pujols, however, was a dif- ferent story. I watched him take 30 minutes of BP in the cage and he is like a machine with an unbelievable consis- tency in each swing. Some people still say that his elbow is giving him trouble though.
I also got to spend some time with Hal McRae, the Cards hitting coach, who played second with the
Bisons in old War Memorial. McRae is one of the best hit- ting coaches in the game today and worked with Larry Harris as well as Sean Berry, the hitting coach of the Astros, who both played under McRae. Both players learned a lot about hitting from him and both still teach a lot of McRae’s approaches to hitting.
McRae also spoke about how the game is different today with players being paid to hit home runs, and those that do, getting paid a lot more than just the aver- age hitter. He pointed out that the people who hit home runs also strikeout a lot and that the concept of “protecting the dish” with two strikes is therefore not as important today.
Berry said that when you’re hitting but not scor- ing you have to force runs in with ‘hit and runs,’ suicides, steals and hitting behind the runners. He also stressed incorporating “situations” in your batting practice to mimic game-time hypotheti- cals.
The Blue Jays, Cards and Dodgers will have long sea- sons this year but they all are missing too many parts to go the distance.
With Reyes, Beltran,
Wright and Santana, the Mets should have a good sea- son and could win their divi- sion or be a wild card. The Braves will be real tough with good pitching and a solid hitting line up and the Phillies could pose some problems.
The Orioles are starting to rebuild. After ten straight losing seasons, they certainly need to do something and the appointment of Dave Trembley as manager is a step in the right direction as well as a few trades that improved pitching and defense, a good draft to bol- ster their minor league development system and having the owners, managers and players on the same page. Unfortunately the Orioles are in a very tough division and it could be a long, losing season for the Orioles as well as the Astros and Marlins.
Probably the most unusu- al event of this trip occurred at the Indians’ Senior Stroll Day. After the game, senior citizens could leave the stands and “stroll” around the bases from first to home for about 15 minutes. Many got to take a picture at home, proving once again that baseball is truly a timeless American tradition.
2008 Spring Training: Indians all the way
Peter Gammons (right) and Bob Plezia discuss the 2008 season at Dodgertown.
By Shawn Krest The Yankees will feature
a new look in 2008. Two scenes from the spring paint a picture of why.
The first took place in Vero Beach, Calif., shortly after Valentine’s Day. It was the first day of full-squad workouts for the Los Angeles Dodgers. All-Star second baseman and infa- mous malcontent Jeff Kent was meeting with the media in front of his locker while Dodgers new and old took part in busy activity around the clubhouse.
The door to the manag- er’s office opened a crack, and out stepped the Dodgers new skipper. Future Hall of Famer Joe Torre walked deliberately across the now-silent room. The group of reporters parted, and Torre extended his hand to Kent. The two spoke briefly, then Torre stepped through a door on that side of the room. Just as quickly as he’d arrived, he was gone, but not before making a point of welcom- ing Kent publicly—just the type of low-key clubhouse maneuvering that had sev- eral Yankee veterans ready to follow him out of town, including the Yankees’ Donnie Baseball himself, Don Mattingly, now wearing Dodger Blue as part of Torre’s staff.
The second scene took place on the other side of the state, just before St. Patrick’s Day. Yankees first baseman Shelly Duncan went Ty Cobb on the Tampa Bay Rays. Spikes high in the air, he slashed into second base, retaliating for a violent
collision at home plate four days earlier—a collision that sparked the ire of new Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
Girardi brings a fiery presence to a Yankee club- house that had been master- fully subdued under the steady hand of Torre for the last twelve seasons—all of which finished in the post- season. He has promised a more National League style for the Bronx Bombers, extolling the virtues of bunting, running, and who knows, maybe even some double switches.
“Of course I’m different than Joe,” Girardi said of Torre. “I’m made up differ- ent. As time goes by, you’ll probably understand more just how I’m made up differ- ent.”
Never has a pair of Joes seemed such opposites. While Torre managed to keep the volcanic temper of George S t e i n b r e n n e r under wraps, Girardi lasted just one season with the Marlins before being fired after a clash with management.
“The Boss is the Boss,” Girardi said of S t e i n b r e n n e r, promising that most of his argu- ments with the t e m p e s t u o u s owner will be over Big Ten foot- ball.
While the Yankees have scrapped and fought this spring, Girardi shies away from any conclu- sions made on his manage- rial style. “Your style depends on the players in the clubhouse,” Girardi said. He points out that four Yankees stole more than 30 bases last year.
Girardi also seems excit- ed by the young talent on the mound. Despite the team’s reluctance to chase high-profile pitchers like Johann Santana in the off- season, the next generation of Yankee arms seems ready for the bigs. Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy all had their postseason baptism by fire, and, in Chamberlain’s case, locusts last October. The kids were able to
Yankees move from Joe Cool to G.I. Joe
Photo NY Yankees New Yankees manager Joe Girardi should bring a fire not seen in the laid back Joe Torre era.
continued on page 15
While the calendar said spring started in March, it takes another month for the season to really take hold.
Baseball season is in full swing, and Sports & Leisure is ready to take their cuts in the cage this month. We preview the International League sea- son, which might end up with another Governor’s Cup trophy in Western New York. Whether it will be earned by a loaded Rochester Red Wings team or the always formidable Buffalo Bisons…well, you’ll have to wait until September to find out.
While the two International League teams are the closest option for baseball-starved fans, the hearts of many Western New Yorkers are in the Bronx. The New York Yankees have a new look this year. While a Joe is still managing the team, Girardi and Torre are polar
opposites. We take a look at the new boss and check in with the old one this month.
Golf season is also in full swing, and we gear up for the links this month. Whether you plan on play- ing a round or watching the pros that will be invad- ing the area this season, golf will be an option for the Western New York sports scene for the next few months.
Our annual pull-out golf directory boasts a compre- hensive listing of public golf courses from Southern Ontario to Rochester and beyond. Our directory also features articles on “golfing at great local courses for $36 or less” and “what’s new in golf technology.” Be sure to hang on to your copy!
We also check in with our out-of-season pro teams. Many years, the Buffalo Sabres wouldn’t fall into this category—at least
not this early in the season. But the hockey season around here ended with the close of the regular sea- son. Meanwhile, the 2008 football season opens with the NFL Draft. The big day is at the end of the month, and we take a look at what to expect from the Bills braintrust.
Fitness fans don’t forget to check out the Northern States Super Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness Championships on April 26 at McKinley high school, Buffalo, NY (evening show, 6pm). This all-natural show will show- case some of the finest local and regional fitness athletes. Come and join in the fun. The show will surely motivate you to get in shape for summer! For more information call 716- 445-5603 or go to www.northernstatessuper-
From the Publisher
Sports & Leisure Magazine 469 Virginia Street, Buffalo, New York 14202 Tel.: (716) 876-2738, Fax: (716) 874-8289
Email to: [email protected] Check us out on the web at
Publisher & Editor Marian Giallombardo Feature Writers Ross Brewitt, Robert Caico, Rick Davenport, Peter Farrell, Mike Fox, Greg Gardner, Shirley Giallombardo, Ivan the Impaler, Ed Kilgore, Shawn Krest (Buffalo Managing Editor), Brian Koziol, George Kuhn, Andrew Kulyk, Jeffrey Levine, Brian Mazurek, Brian McFarlane, AdamMcGill, Brian Michalek, Ron Montesano, Len Mytko, Gary Reeves, Charles Roberts, Dave Sully, Tim Wright, Rick Zurak (golf editor) Chief Photographer Jeff Barnes Staff Photographers Ryan Bartholomew, Nick LoVerde, Joe Valenti Cover photos Joe Girardi courtesy NY Yankees, Joe Torre by Job SooHoo/LA Dodgers Contributing Writers Mark Bowers, Corey Erdman, Glen Jackson, Christopher Koenig, Gregory Kowalczyk, Matt Ladewski, Stephen Marth, Chris Nentarz, Bob Plezia, Phil Taylor, Al Valentin, Ryan Wolfe Layout & Cover Scott Appleby, Graphic artist Liz Seivert Assignment Editors: Shawn Krest Copy Editors and Office Assistants Jeffrey Levine, Ben Muchnik, Len Mytko, Mark Richardson, Justin Vernold Please send your letters, questions, and comments to: Sports & Leisure Magazine, 469 Virginia Street, Buffalo, NY 14202 or e-mail them to [email protected]. Please include your name, address and phone number or your letter can’t be published. All letters and responses become the property of Sports & Leisure Magazine, they may be print- ed, and are subject to editing. Sports & Leisure Magazine is circulated throughout Western New York and Southern Ontario. All rights and trademarks reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the express written consent of the publisher is strictly prohibited. ©1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 Sports & Leisure Magazine.
By Ed Kilgore Ch. 2 Sports Director
It’s going to be a looooong summer for the Sabres, and not only that, they’ve joined some select company for the wrong rea- sons. Bummer. The Sabres now share the rare distinction of being the first NHL team to win the P r e s i d e n t ’ s Trophy and then miss the playoffs the fol- lowing year since the New York Rangers had that hap- pen to them in the ‘92-’93 season.
This happened to the Sabres and Rangers for a lot of different reasons, but the Rangers fall was a lot steep- er dive than the Sabres drop off in 2007-2008. The Rangers went from best overall in the regular season to five games under .500 in ‘92-’93. It’s worth mention- ing, because the NEXT sea- son, the Rangers roared back to win the Stanley Cup! Oh, don’t worry, I’m not about to predict that’s what will happen with the disappointing Sabres, who reached the Eastern Conference finals the past couple seasons, but it also goes to show you a big bounce back isn’t out of the question.
The Sabres have them- selves to blame in many ways for where they are, with the benefit of hind- sight, because they greatly underestimated how quick- ly salaries would escalate in dealings with key players like Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, the unfortunate sur- prise of Thomas Vanek and later Brian Campbell. But the Sabres are also at a dis- advantage that can’t be shoved aside as a meaning- less excuse. In order to stay in business and remain competitive down the road in one of the smallest NHL markets, they have to make some tough decisions based on the future rather than the present.
The Rangers aren’t think- ing at all about two years from now when Drury is still making over $7 million a year at 34 years of age and is under contract at that guaranteed money for
another couple years. Similarly, the Flyers aren’t all that con- cerned about Briere, at a year younger in a couple of sea- sons, when he isn’t even h a l f w a y through his eight year, $52
million dollar deal. These are big market teams that can afford it, but that does- n’t mean the big contracts won’t have consequences for them.
As their younger players get better, the payroll will continue to climb as well, and eventually, they’ll be forced to lose some YOUNGER players. That won’t show up now, or in a couple years, but it will eventually show up as Drury and Briere and others fade away.
Although it’s an oversim- plification, the Sabres basi- cally felt they should pay Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy and now hopefully Ryan Miller and Jason Pominville, rather than shell out more than the $5 million or so per season they actually offered Briere and Drury who’d already decided they were gone once their final Sabres sea- son began anyway. After a slow start, Vanek actually looked the part of a $49 mil- lion dollar player by fin- ished with 36 goals, and Roy led the team with 81 points on 32 goals and 49 assists, and his plus 13 was second only to Jason Pominville’s plus 16.
The Sabres are not spend- ing all the way to the cap now, but managing partner Larry Quinn was recently quoted in USA Today as say- ing the Sabres payroll WILL climb as the talented young players on the current team mature and improve. Still,
their payroll is currently at just over $46 million, and not making the playoffs will be a hit on the bottom line.
Were the Sabres good enough this year, even WITH Briere and Drury, to WIN the Cup? No, and that includes Brian Campbell as well. The Sabres still have plenty of skilled players, and they flirted with leading the NHL in scoring all year long. The skilled players are almost ALL fairly young, and decisions will probably have to be made on Tim Connolly or Max Afinogenov or others, but essentially, this team is still pretty good.
It’s defensively, and in goal, where the really big decisions must be made. Miller’s numbers are actual- ly better than they were a year ago, but by no means is he among the NHL leaders. Miller played about 700 minutes more this year than the year before, and at times, he LOOKED tired. It looks like the Sabres think he’s their future though, and I think they’ll throw a lot of money - $6 million per or higher for multiple years - to keep him in a Sabres uni- form while the young team matures.
In general terms, the Sabres need more toughness both up front and on the blue line, if they want to get where they want to go. They have a terrific head coach in Lindy Ruff and an astute GM, despite his many crit- ics, in Darcy Regier. While this season has been a huge disappointment, even though expectations were down after the key losses, it isn’t the time for wholesale changes, and many impa- tient fans and media will be saying and writing exactly that in the coming months.
Changes? By all means, but the ingredients for an outstanding team - yes, even a Cup contender - are still here, so don’t throw away those Vanek or Miller shirts just yet, and hope maybe history can repeat itself once again.
Summer too soon
By George Kuhn Goaltending: C+ Ryan Miller: B-
His swoon in March may have been the result of too many games played. The Sabres ranked only 22nd this season in goals allowed. Among playoff teams, only Ottawa allowed more goals. Miller was only 19th in goals against aver- age among NHL goalies playing at least 25 games. While the team was clearly below average defensively, Miller’s above average grade reflects the fact that goals against average is actually a team statistic, reflecting an entire teams’ commitment to defensive play.
Miller’s grade this season would have been a solid B but for his rather ordinary record in shootouts. Last season, he stopped over 80 percent of shootout shots he faced, this year he stopped just over 50 per- cent. His slip in efficiency likely cost the Sabres four to six points in the stand- ings and a playoff spot. Jocelyn Thibault: D
He may have been out- standing in shutting out the Montreal Canadiens team in his hometown, but his inability to deliver qual- ity performances in relief have forced the Sabres to ride Miller every game. Defense: C +
The defense had a dis- turbing tendency to turn the puck over with ill- advised passes out of the defensive zone. Also, defensive zone coverage was weak at times with physical play lacking in a league where physical aggression has been on the rise. Jaroslav Spacek: B
No. 6 was the team’s best all around defender. His strong point shot helped invigorate the power play and his thundering open ice body checks are only exceeded in their ferocity by Patrick Kaleta. Henrik Tallinder: B-
Supremely skilled defender became solid defensive defenseman this season, scoring only one goal all season, into an empty net, although he did beat Martin Brodeur for a memorable shootout goal. Tallinder’s strong skating ability allows him to lug the puck out of his own zone with authority. Toni Lydman: B-
Skilled player is like a Bill Hajt with Phil Housley type skills, excellent skater and puck handler concen- trates on defensive game but manages to work down low to score some big goals when the team needs them. He has been susceptible to a strong physical fore check, but name one NHL defenseman who isn’t. Mike Weber: B
The young rookie shows remarkable poise and
demonstrates physicality sorely needed on the blue- line. He is a strong skater and makes a strong first pass in the defensive zone.
He had an outstanding plus 12 in only 16 games. Weber projects to be an outstanding defender, and don’t let that beard fool you, he just turned 20. Andrej Sekara: B-
This outstanding skater is the reason the Sabres traded Brian Campbell, other than the money. He projects as the heir appar- ent to Campbell’s role of puck rushing defenseman and is much farther along in his development than Campbell was at the same age. His acceleration is explosive and his speed helps him to blow past fore checkers at times. Paired with Weber as they were with Rochester, they make the classic duo where the steady defender and the puck carrier complement each other well. Nathan Paetsch: C
A strong skater with good offensive skills who has filled in at forward and is an effective power play point man, Paetsch has spent a good deal of time in the press box. He is per- haps deserving of more ice time next season. Dimitri Kalinin: C-
Once viewed as the heir apparent to former defen- sive leader and puck rusher Alexei Zhitnik, Kalinin’s offensive prowess has faded and his lack of physicality makes him a marginal asset. His sub par playoff performance in 2007 found him glued to the bench in the conference finals and his play this season has not redeemed his career. The rule of thumb in profes- sional hockey is if you’re not a scorer you had better hit. Kalinin does neither. His unrestricted free agent status coupled with the emergence of young Mike Weber and Andrej Sakera means he will not be back next season. Forwards: B
The leagues’ fourth high- est scoring team featured a
balanced attack with Vanek, the team’s top scor- er, tallying 36 goals and was tied for 13th across the league. Their overall grade has been reduced to reflect sub standard defensive play. Jason Pominville: B+
Team leader whose quiet demeanor reflects his style of play. He’s not the fastest skater or most clever stick handler. Rather, Pominville plays with intelligence and is proficient in all areas of the game. Since the all-star break, he has quietly been the fourth highest scoring player in the league, which bodes well for his contin- ued development. Derek Roy: B+
Roy took his game to the next level and began to jus- tify his new $4 million per year contract with 31 goals and 70 points. He has made the adjustment to playing against opponents’ top lines after playing on last year’s third line and has been the NHL’s third lead- ing scorer since the all-star break. Roy is the Sabres most effective and skilled forward, in contrast to the increasingly ineffective Max Afinogenov. His puck handling abilities give the Sabres their best opportu- nities to enter the attacking zone with puck possession. He has developed into an effective goal scorer to complement his playmak- ing ability and his plus minus reflects his continu- ing commitment to playing a strong two way game. Jochen Hecht: B+
The team’s best all around player, Hecht is a strong two way forward whose defensive game has been nicely complemented by his career high 24 goals. Adam Mair: B
For an illustration of what character looks like in a hockey player, watch Mair demonstrate his work ethic for a Sabres team sometimes lacking in that area. Mair was chosen by The Hockey News as an all- star as the top fourth line right winger in the Eastern
Sabres Report Cards
Photo by Joe Valenti Jochen Hecht has complimented his two-way play with 24 goals.
By Brian Koziol WGR Radio Host
The blame for the failures of the Buffalo Sabres this season can be directed to n u m e r o u s avenues. Fans have had an easy time finding peo- ple and areas to point the finger at - rightly so - and now the team is left trying to get back to the level that once had them at the top of the National Hockey League. It seems that all fans feel that a lack of leadership in such a young team has produced results that couldn’t get any- where near last year’s stan- dards.
Start with the front office. Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn clearly have to be having second thoughts on how they handled the previ- ous off-season in which they let their two captains walk and got forced into signing Thomas Vanek for much more money than they were hoping for. The team also decided to pass on paying Brian Campbell big time money in order to keep him around. While I agree that the contract of Campbell this off-season will likely exceed his true value, his presence in the locker room, along with the other depart- ed captains, cannot be underscored. How many times did the Sabres blow late leads at home and have no one there to steer the ship through the final rocky few minutes of a game? More than you can count on one hand. Campbell could have been signed before this season and a great puck car- rying defenseman would have finished his career right where it started.
Lindy Ruff is still one of the best coaches in the NHL but he does need a model on this team to help carry out his messages and keep the team from falling apart at the seams when things get a little rough on the ice. The rotating captaincy seems like a cute idea but it really
shows there is no true leader. It’s like that old foot- ball analogy, ‘when you have two quarterbacks, you really have none.’ The rotating captain seemed like a nice reward to a player who ele- vated his game during recent weeks but I’ve seen enough of it. In my eyes, the best captain for this team the entire season was sent packing to San Jose. So is there enough leadership on this team now to help it regain elite status in 2008- 09?
Jason Pominville devel- oped before our very own eyes and if no one is brought in during the off-season that would fit the role of captain, I would say Pominville seems like a decent fit for wearing the permanent C. He’s well-liked by his team- mates, he’s popular among fans, he answers all the questions from the media during good and bad times and he clearly seems to thrive off of the responsibil- ity as his game elevated to an even higher level in the final months of the seasons. Jochen Hecht, Jaro Spacek and others do lead by exam- ple on the ice, but they’re not the type of guys to rally around in a tough spot or when something needs to be said in the dressing room.
Another player who already is showing signs of leadership is Derek Roy. Roy was forced into a larger offensive role out of necessi- ty this season after the Sabres were unable to bring back Chris Drury and
Daniel Briere. Roy was great offensively and seems to spark linemate Thomas Vanek to his potential at times when Vanek needed that extra push. The team was criticized by some for overre- acting to the hor- rendous off-sea- son by signing Roy to a six-year deal worth $24 million. Turns out they got one right. It seems like a bargain now
where you compare Roy’s numbers to Briere’s in Philadelphia. Briere made 10 million this season with the Flyers. Roy’s antics last season and early this year seem to be an unhealthy dis- traction to a player who did a lot of good things on the ice. His chirping with offi- cials and dives are a thing of the past and he now gets calls from officials that earli- er would have been passed over. Roy won’t be mistaken for Chris Drury with the players, but he’s definitely matured into a player that can be a leader in some capacity.
Missing the playoffs you would think would give a strong wake up call to the organization that improve- ments need to be made, especially in the leadership area. Since the lockout, Jay McKee, JP Dumont, Mike Grier, Marty Biron, Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, and Brian Campbell have all departed. Those players arguably were some of the best leaders this team has had in recent memory. Removing those names from the stalls in the locker room and expecting the same results from a team are ridiculous. They provided so many quality attributes even beyond their goals or saves or blocked shots. The team needs to act and fill the void this off-season otherwise another year of inconsistent play may be what Sabres fans will have to endure.
Will the real leaders please stand up
Photo by Joe Valenti Will Jason Pominville wear the “C” full-time next year?
continued on page 15
By Gregory Kowalczyk
The Buffalo Bandits’ (7-5) high- powered offense con- tinues to shine with consistent scoring throughout the line- up. The Bandits rank first in the National Lacrosse League with 158 goals for and currently sit one game back of first place in the division heading into the April stretch.
John Tavares (45 assists, 67 points) and Mark Steenhuis (26 goals, 63 points) are ranked among the top five in the NLL for total scoring, but opponents have to focus on key role players. Scoring can come throughout the lineup, as the Bandits have six players with 30 plus points. Delby Powless’ 31 assists rank third on the team, behind only Tavares and Steenhuis. Forwards Cory Bomberry and Roger Vyse both pose serious threats offensively as each has 20-plus assists, spreading the ball out and creating a defen- sive nightmare for opponents to cover.
“Any guy on the floor can score, not just the forwards,” director of Bandits operations Dave Zyagj said. “But our defense [can] step up at any time and I think that’s what brings us balance.”
The Bandits continue to add to their arsenal trading for
All-Star forward and former Bandit, Mike Accursi. Accursi was acquired at the trade deadline, dealing forward Dan Teat, Buffalo’s second round selection in the 2008 Entry Draft and first selection in the 2009 draft. Accursi has 11 goals in nine games this sea- son. He is an 11-year veteran who has scored 264 times in 144 games, and his pin-point accuracy only adds another dynamic player to the potent Bandits offense. Accursi placed first in the 2008 All- Star Accuracy competition.
“I’ve made a career of work- ing hard and doing things off (the) ball,” Accursi said. “That’s what I’m going to con- tinue to do.”
Accursi will help bolster the lackluster faceoff win percent- age which ranks dead last in the NLL. Accursi ranks 13th all-time in faceoff percentage, winning 48.9 percent. The Bandits through 12 games have won 35.6 percent of their
tries. “Adding Mike to
the lineup is impor- tant,” Zyagj said. “He brings experience and competitive hard working nature with a little unfinished business to attend.”
With the regular season winding down and teams fighting for playoff positioning the Bandits will bolster their already high
scoring offense as forward Brent Bucktooth returns to the lineup after his torn cartilage injury. In his first game back, Bucktooth added a goal on his first shot of the season and an assist versus the Toronto Rock.
The defense helps con- tribute to the success of the Bandits scoring. While their contributions may not always show up in the box score, Clay Hill and Billy Dee Smith are vital to the team with a physi- cal style of play that prevents second chance opportunities. Hill ranks third on the team with 62 loose balls. These pickups help jumpstart the offense and consistently limit opponents to one-and-done opportunities. Forward Pat McCready ranks second on the team in loose balls, only trailing Steenhuis’ 91, which rank sixth in the entire league.
The Bandits close out April with three games and a one- day contest at Rochester.
The Bandits scoring surge
Photo courtesy Buffalo Bandits Accursi joins the Bandits for his second stint with the team.
By Charles Roberts In the topsy-turvy busi-
ness that is Triple-A baseball, there is very little certainty. Players are promoted, demoted and re-promoted in rapid-fire style. Coming into the 2008 season, however, the Buffalo Bisons’ stud pitching staff has given the team a degree of confidence unfamiliar to many of their minor league peers.
The Herd’s starting rota- tion includes three highly touted pitching prospects in Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers and Adam Miller – all of whom the Indians will be watching closely. Laffey, 22, probably enters the season with the most bragging rights among the three, being named the team’s Most Valuable Pitcher in 2007, and seeing action in the ALCS with the Indians – not bad considering he started the season in Double-A Akron. In 16 games with Buffalo, he went 9-3 with a 3.08 ERA. He also became the first Bisons pitcher in the modern era to win six games in a month, when he went 6-0 in June. During that span he posted a remarkable 0.87 ERA.
Sowers is an entirely differ- ent story. His return to Buffalo is one he may not be too pleased with, as a year ago he figured into the starting rota- tion in Cleveland, where he had been since his June 23, 2006 promotion from the Bisons. Sowers carved up the International League in 2006 prior to his call-up, going 9-1 with an absurd 1.39 ERA in 15 games. What is perhaps the most upsetting for the 24- year-old is that he was quite effective in Cleveland that season as well – posting a 7-4 record in 14 starts. Last sea- son however, the big leagues weren’t as kind. Sowers was shelled to the tune of a 1-6 record and a 6.93 ERA. A full season in Buffalo might be
just what the doctor ordered to restore confidence. He seemed to have realized he was in for the long haul last year when Cleveland optioned him down around the midway point of the sea- son.
“I just want to put myself in a position where I’m ready to go back there (Cleveland) and be successful,” Sowers said late last season. “There’s no time-table on that at all.”
Then there’s Miller. Riddled by injuries, the top prospect could have and should have started the season in an Indians’ uniform. Finger and elbow problems slowed him down a bit last season, while a blister on the middle finger of his right hand all but sabo- taged his chances of edging out Cliff Lee for the fifth spot. He didn’t see any spring-train- ing action until March 20, but by that time, the Indians’ brass essentially had its mind made up. Regardless, if Miller can effectively work through his injuries, he should be a force at the Triple-A level.
•••••••• Despite the fact that
Cleveland and Buffalo have now enjoyed each other’s company since 1995, rumors continue to swirl amongst the baseball community that the two may part ways after this season, when the Indians’
contract with the Bisons expires. The speculation is no slant on Buffalo, nor is it a result of any sort of strain on the two organizations’ rela- tionships. The Washington Nationals’ contract with the Columbus Clippers also expires at the conclusion of this season, and Ohio’s other team, the Cincinnati Reds, have made it clear that they have no desire to move their minor league affiliate out of Louisville. Couple that with the fact that the city of Columbus is building a state- of-the-art stadium down- town, set to open next season, and the move makes geo- graphic sense. Whether or not the move makes fiscal sense or has any merit is yet to be determined, as it is just hearsay at this point.
•••••••• One of the classier and
most mild-mannered people you will meet in baseball is Buffalo manager Torey Lovullo. He was a key compo- nent for two championship teams during the 1990s as a player and is now entering his third season as the team’s manager. Despite the fact that the Bisons have failed to make it into the postseason with Lovullo calling the shots instead of fielding ground- balls, he has earned high praise in baseball circles. There was a lot of discussion toward the end of last season that Lovullo was considered a front-runner to take over the manager role in Pittsburgh, as the Pirates are now under the leadership of general manager Neil Huntington – who last worked as the special assis- tant to the general manger in Cleveland. The Pirates even- tually opted to hire John Russell, one of their former third-base coaches, but the fact that Lovullo’s name is out there should spell a move to the next level sooner before later.
Armed and dangerous: Indians stock Bisons with pitching depth
Photo courtesy Buffalo Bisons Reigning pitching MVP Aaron Laffey looks to pick up where he left off last sea- son.
Fantasy baseball
By Mike Fox Assembling a pitching staff
is arguably the most challeng- ing task in all of fantasy sports, simply because there are so many things that can go awry in the course of a season. The very act of throwing a baseball places remarkable strain on the human body, and even a slight muscle pull is often enough to adversely affect a pitcher’s delivery, much less a severe injury. Then consider that two of the five major pitching categories (wins and saves) are often determined more by the flow of the game than by the performance of the pitcher, and one starts to get an idea of just how daunt- ing a task it is.
This month, I humbly sug- gest some pitchers for you to target. None are exactly deep dark secrets, but all have enough question marks sur- rounding them to make them potentially available in your league.
Tim Lincecum will be the top-rated Giants pitcher on many draft boards, but my money will be riding on Matt Cain. Cain will be drastically undervalued after producing only seven wins last season but this kid can pitch, as evi- denced by his 3.65 ERA and
1.26 WHIP in 2007. He should produce close to 200 K’s and a double-digit win total in his all-important third season, despite the likely lack of run support from the ane- mic Giants’ bats.
John Maine’s final 2007 stats were solid if not spectac- ular, but some owners may have forgotten that he posted All Star-caliber stats (2.97 ERA in his first 22 starts) before wearing down in August. If he can maintain that pace over an entire sea- son, 18 wins and 200 K’s are not out of the question.
Is this the year that King Felix finally assumes the throne? Even the most obtuse fantasy owner knows that it’s a matter of when, not if, Felix Hernandez will rise to the top of the fantasy pitcher rank- ings, but he still hasn’t pro- duced like a true ace. If this fact leaves you with an oppor- tunity to lock him in at a rea- sonable cost, do so. We got a taste of what he’s capable of last April. Once he does that over a full season, he’ll become virtually untouchable, so act now, especially if you play in a keeper league.
After a long list of free- agent pitcher flops, the New York Yankees are finally posi- tioned to give some of their homegrown talent a chance to shine. Twenty one-year old Phil Hughes has a cannon arm, and his off-speed stuff has shown marked improve-
ment. Now all he needs to add to his resume is durability.
Ian Kennedy was granted the No. 5 spot in the Yanks’ rotation over Joba Chamberlain, but that was partly because Chamberlain proved invaluable as an eighth-inning bridge to “Mo” Rivera last season. Nevertheless, Kennedy showed last year that he’s a budding talent in his own right. He ripped up the minors at three levels, followed by three strong September starts in the Bronx. He’ll struggle at times like every young pitcher, but should receive enough run support to post double- digit wins, even from the No.5 spot.
Coveting injury-prone pitchers is usually contrary to my philosophy, but I’m willing to make an exception in the case of Rich Harden. His Mark Prior-like past has caused his market value to drop dramati- cally, but his huge potential upside makes him a worthy target for fantasy gamblers. He’s started strong again this season. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be the four-category stud we’ve been expecting for the last three years. Yeah, I know; it’s a big “if.”
Others to consider: Jeremy Bonderman, Jered Weaver, Ben Sheets, Tom Gorzelanny, and Dontrelle Willis.
Fantasy NBA: A 2008 draft
preview By Phil Taylor
If you’re reading a fantasy hoops article at this time of year, chances are that you’re an incorri- gible hoops addict. Your fantasy season is likely over now, but fresh off the NCAA Tournament you’re already doing your home- work for next season. To be in contention for your league title every year you’ve got to put in almost as much work as a real NBA general manager but hope- fully with far less time spent responding to sexual harassment allegations. But then again, who ever said Isaiah Thomas is a real NBA general manager? Without further ado, here is an educated estimate of this season’s lottery picks with a forecast on their pro careers: Michael Beasley (freshman): Kansas St.
The freshman power forward burst onto the college scene in November with consecutive 30+ point games to open the season and hasn’t looked back. He’ll need to bulk up his slender 220 pound frame to withstand the rigors of a rugged 82-game NBA season, but if he’s taken by the abysmal Miami Heat he should get plenty of playing time early on, making him a solid mid-round draft pick for your fantasy team. Brook Lopez (sophomore): Stanford
You can’t teach tall and 7-foot- ers don’t grow on trees. The
Seattle, soon-to-be Oklahoma City, Sonics may be picking sec- ond for the second consecutive year and need a presence in the middle to clean the glass for last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Kevin Durant. The Sonics scored big with the Durant pick, but won’t with this one. Despite his size Lopez is a surprisingly soft rebounder and his height won’t be nearly as intimidating to the pros. O.J. Mayo (freshman): USC
Mayo has been hyped since he was in eighth grade, making him just barely the second most famous O.J. to attend USC. We’ll finally get to see if he measures up to his press clippings when he steps onto an NBA court. I think he’s at least as talented as Kevin Durant, but he’ll need a little sea- soning to really make an impact
in the NBA. He’s likely to be a high volume/low percentage shooter initially, with the poten- tial to become a good scorer. Derrick Rose (freshman): Memphis
In a draft rich with point guards, Rose may be the best of the bunch. As a freshman he ran the high scoring Memphis Tigers offense all the way to the Championship this season. He plays a team oriented game that includes rebounding and defense. He won’t be a perennial All-Star in the NBA, but he should be a nice, ‘glue’ guy for a team that needs a floor leader. Stephen Curry (sophomore): Davidson
Curry was a relative unknown until he carried tiny Davidson University to the brink of the Final Four. Unfortunately, against Kansas the clock struck midnight on Davidson’s Cinderella run, but Curry made himself a lot of money in the tournament. His season long field goal and three point percentages were good, meaning he should be a very good shooting guard at the next level. Eric Gordon (freshman): Indiana
Bottom line: Gordon can fill up the basket in a hurry. The only problem is his size. He’s too short to play and defend the shooting guard position in the NBA. He has a point guard’s size, but a shoot- ing guard’s mentality. Some team will take him as a potential sixth man spark-off-the-bench type player in the hope that he learns to distribute the ball.
Phil Taylor is author of Ask the Dr., a column appearing every Thursday on www.fantasybasket-
Photo courtesy USC Future NBA star?
By Mark Bowers Generally speak-
ing, when opponents start referring to low- ering the margin of loss from one game to the next or of “moral victories” then you know that your team is in a good position to dominate. The Rochester Raiders kicked off their 2008 title defense season with two victories, giving them 14 con- secutive wins dating back to last season.
The Raider’s first contest of the season, on March 21, proved to be a much closer call than they would have liked on the road against the Chesapeake Tide, using all four quar- ters to chalk up a victory. Unlike previous encoun- ters with the Tide, includ- ing a 76-43 victory in their last meeting in the 2007 playoffs, Chesapeake was able to keep this one close. Leading 21-20 at halftime, Rochester knew it was in for a battle in the second half. Fortunately our hometown heroes were up for the challenge. Chesapeake took the lead on two separate occasions, but both times Rochester battled back. Maurice Jackson once again showed off his magnificent
hands and running ability by pulling in what many called the catch of the day for his third touchdown mid-way through the final period to put the Raiders up for good. Still, Raiders fans were unable to rest easy until the final whistle blew after the Raiders intercepted one final Tide attempt to bring the champs back down to earth. The final score was 43-36 and the Raiders have now outscored the Tide 250-144 in four meet- ings.
Rochester kicked off its home season against Lehigh Valley in its new location downtown at the Blue Cross Arena in front of 3,279 raucous fans. Again, much like its game against Chesapeake, the Raiders flexed their defen-
sive muscle. In fact, if it weren’t for the defensive side of the ball, in particular dur- ing the first half, the fans of the champs may have gone home disappointed. Instead, the defense held the Outlawz to just two yards of offense in the first half and directly set up all three Raider scores. Indeed, their formula for victory looked more like something out of the Baltimore Ravens’
playbook than what the fans of the Rochester Raiders are used to seeing.
Granted, this win was significantly more con- vincing than the season opener at Chesapeake, but fans still have to wonder where last years offense, which averaged 59 points per game, has gone. Most believe that this is the result of two things. The first is an influx of talent around the league and the second is the addition of new players to the Raiders offense that might still need some time to get used to their new roles.
But regardless of the way it happens, a win is a win. If fans are concerned with margin of victory or player stats, then things must not be all bad.
Raiders off and running
Photo courtesy Raiders The defense has carried the defending champion Raiders thus far.
By Gary Reeves Continuous
foot movement simply means keeping your skates moving as much as pos- sible while play- ing the game of hockey. If you break your stride and make a little glide, your power development is interrupted and speed is automatically curtailed.
When I first watched the Russian National Team, I was simply amazed at their quick reflexes when shoot- ing on goal. The puck was in the net in the blink of an eye. There was absolutely no indication that they were about to shoot the puck. A few years later I managed to find a book written by the great Russian coach Anatoli Tarasov and discovered the reason why.
Tarasov stated, “To be a goal scorer you must learn to shoot the puck unexpect- edly.” In other words the
Russians were taught to shoot “in stride”, which means they did not telegraph their shot by gliding and setting t h e m s e l v e s before shooting. All you young hockey players
should study Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, and they will see what I mean.
Learn to use continuous foot movement while dek- ing your opponent. It’s very hard to stop a player who continues to develop power, especially if he’s skating with a low center of gravity. Remember the domino effect, a good knee bend equals a low center of gravi- ty that leads to a better bal- ance factor that results in better power development. This is why it’s so difficult to take the puck away from Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In my opinion, many of
the hooking, tripping and slashing penalties are a direct result of a lack of con- tinuous foot movement. If you turn off the power your opponent pulls away from you and you automatically reach out and take foolish penalties. Two of the main reasons that causes this to happen is firstly fatigue (staying on the ice too long) and secondly the old proverbial “just plain lazi- ness.” At some point in a hockey game we all break stride and take a little glide. We’re not all perfect! However, by striving to keep your skates moving with continuous power development it will undoubtedly bring your game performance to anoth- er level.
For more information regarding Pro Skating Hockey Skills Clinics or Individual and Team Clinics call Gary Reeves (905) 384-0508 or fax (905) 384-0430.
Continuous foot movement
By Peter Farrell and Andrew Kulyk
In past columns we have made reference to the big selection of American Hockey League arenas in close prox- imity to us here in Buffalo. If you like sports road tripping and checking out some unique and distinct venues a short drive away, then the AHL could be a good bet.
For the Ultimate Sports Road Trip, two more AHL are- nas are in the books, as we had a chance to visit and explore the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza, home to the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins, and also The Arena at Harbor Yard, where the Bridgeport Sound Tigers play. The Penguins are the minor league affiliate of, who else, the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Tigers are hooked up with the New York Islanders.
Now mind you, we got very different reviews of both these venues from other fans and media folk who had already been there. Once we had the chance to see these two places for ourselves, we got complete- ly opposite impressions. Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza. Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
This arena opened its door in November of 1999 when the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins made their debut. The arena is located just south of downtown Wilkes Barre, plainly visible from I-81, and is situated amid office parks, shopping centers, chain restau- rants and an adjacent mall.
While the arena looks pretty glitzy from the outside, the building itself is pretty cold and sterile. The concourses are worn and dated in this 8,000- seat arena, and the seating bowl bears too much concrete and not enough color.
So what is it that makes this experience special? Basically, the community here in Wilkes Barre/Scranton packs this place night after night, and is very passionate about their team. Go to the team’s website, and a scrolling ticker will display the number of single tickets remaining for the next game in real time. “We pride ourselves on sellouts and having big
crowds here” team communi- cations director Brian Coe said.
The Penguins have had some success on the ice in their short history here, but have yet to win a Calder Cup. And while one would think that their nearest geographic oppo- nent, the Philadelphia Phantoms (who were the opponent the night we visited), would make for a great natural rivalry, it is the Hershey Bears, one of the league’s oldest teams, that raises the ire of most Penguins fans.
Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza is about a five-hour drive from Buffalo, and the tip here is to get your game tickets early. The Arena at Harbor Yard. Bridgeport, Conn.
Harbor Yard is actually a two venue complex. The Arena at Harbor Yard is a 10,000 seat venue that opened just five years ago, and is the home of the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Fairfield University college basketball program. Right next-door is a splendid 5,000-seat minor league ballpark that is the home to an independent league team. Both buildings sit on the harbor that opens to Long Island Sound.
We had gotten poor reports on this arena, so we were a bit surprised to find freshly deco- rated and carpeted concourses, themed concessions areas, and a sparkling and bright seating bowl. Here in Bridgeport there is no center ice scoreboard. Instead a series of dot matrix boards and small video panels line the sidelines just under- neath the roof.
The Sound Tigers are wholly owned by Charles Wang, owner of the New York Islanders, and local fans in Bridgeport are quick to grouse that the Islanders do little to support their minor league property. No promotions, no players, and nothing to gener- ate excitement in the commu- nity. The result is clear, as the team is near the bottom of the league in average attendance. On the night we attended, a Saturday night no less, about 2,000 fans were in the building, and that included two busloads of patrons who had made the trip from Wilkes Barre to see their Penguins in action.
Although the arena is locat- ed right downtown, Bridgeport is not exactly your hopping type of nightlife action city. They pretty much roll up the sidewalks once it gets dark out- side, so even with a gleaming and shining nice new venue, Bridgeport is not exactly hock- ey nirvana.
With Bridgeport and Wilkes Barre/Scranton in the books, the Ultimate Sports Road Trip is closing in on yet another milestone – completing all the arenas in the AHL. Still remain- ing are Chicago, Iowa, Quad Cities and Rockford. Wouldn’t it be cool to just head out to the Midwest and knock these off all in one fell swoop? Hey, that’s what makes road trip planning so much fun!
‘Till next month! For more information about
the Ultimate Sports Road Trip, check out Peter’s and Andrew’s web site at www.thesportsroad-
The “Stadium Guys” continue their AHL tour
Photo courtesy “The Stadium Guys” Plenty of empty seats on a Saturday night in Bridgeport, Connecticut, home of the Sound Tigers.
By Brian McFarlane
Buffalo hock- ey fans will never forget Brett Hull’s tainted goal. It ended the 1998- 99 NHL season, a season in which game officials stopped play over 200 times to seek video help in determining goal crease vio- lations.
Incredibly, on the one occasion when officials should have sought help and called for a review of a possible winning goal for the Stanley Cup, they neg- lected to do so and the sea- son was over.
Who can forget the Dallas Stars dancing around the ice holding the Stanley Cup while the Buffalo Sabres were left reeling, crushed by the defeat?
Writing in The Hockey News, then editor-in-chief Steve Dryden called it “a mystifying conclusion,” and added, “The NHL left pieces of their credibility on the ice.”
Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals between Buffalo and Dallas was in triple overtime when the Stars’ Brett Hull shoveled a bouncing puck past the Sabres’ Dominik Hasek, ending the second longest Cup final game in NHL his- tory.
But should it have ended? Buffalo fans have been screaming “We were robbed!” ever since. Hull’s foot was clearly in the crease when he slipped in the winning goal. NHL Director of officiating Bryan
Lewis and his c o l l e a g u e s looked at the goal and allowed it to stand.
“The debate seems to be: did Hull have or not have possession and control of the puck?” Lewis said.
“Our view was yes, he did. He played the puck from his foot to his stick, then shot and scored.”
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff and millions of others were outraged by the swiftness of the decision. Ruff could not understand why there was no official video review of the series-ending goal. “I tried to get Commissioner Gary Bettman to answer the question and he just turned his back on me,” Ruff said. “It looked to me like he knew this was a tainted goal.”
Buffalo fans were baffled and bitter. They howled that Hull’s goal was tarnished and they demanded proof that it wasn’t. But they did- n’t get it.
“What a gutless move!” Buffalo’s Joe Juneau snarled. “Everybody will remember this one as the Cup that was never won in 1999.”
As for Hull the hero, he shouldn’t even have been on the ice. Nursing a torn liga- ment in his left knee, a groin muscle ripped apart and other aches and pains, he was told his season was over after game three in the series. But he refused to believe it.
So there he was, limping through the second longest finals game ever played
until he ran out of gas. “Hull is done. He can’t go
anymore,” assistant coach Doug Jarvis told head coach Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock agreed and replied: “I won’t play him anymore.”
But two other Stars went down and the coach was forced to send Hull out for one last shift. He limped toward the Buffalo net, got his stick on a loose puck and lifted it in.
The Dallas players leaped off the bench and mobbed him. They were allowed to swarm and celebrate. There was no public announce- ment that the goal was under review, as was always the case in that era. Confusion reigned. Grudgingly, the Sabres lined up to shake hands with the victors, even while the vic- tory was in doubt.
“I couldn’t have played a Game 7,” Hull would later say.
“No one knows how much grit it took for him to be out there,” coach Hitchcock marveled.
Rosie DiManno, writing in the Toronto Star, stated: “The gallant Buffalo Sabres will go to their graves believing they were robbed and jobbed by that 2-1 defeat at 14:51 of triple overtime. Who can blame them?”
Coach Lindy Ruff should have brought all his players back to the bench to await an official announcement (of the goal’s legality), or to force one from the officials. He should not have allowed his players to participate in the hand-shaking ritual that declares the series over. But
It happened in hockey
continued on page 15
By Greg Gardner I find the differences between
having an average goalie and a great goalie, regardless of age, comes down to concentration. Young goalies don’t have to be the best technically, they just have to avoid distractions and concentrate on stop- ping the puck. Older goalies tend to feel more pressure and seem to get ahead of themselves, when truly they need to stay in the moment and concentrate on one series at a time. How does one stay in the moment while there are hundreds of distractions? Here is a simple technique of managing a hockey game by breaking down the games into smaller intervals.
Concentration is the “ability to focus on the task at hand without being distracted by irrel- evant stimuli” says sports psy- chologist Scott McFadden. He talks about concentration as the total mental and physical involvement in the game being played. It is impossible to stay 100 percent focused on the puck during the whole game without burning out. In fact, relaxing a little at times will allow the goalie to regroup and focus on the task at hand. Therefore, the game should be broken down into four zones of concentration as follows:
Zone 4: The offensive zone: far blue line down to goalie line (10 percent concentration level)
This is a low priority area. Allow yourself to physically recover and mentally recoup from the previous series. Calmly stand in the crease and watch the puck and look for possible breakdowns.
Zone 3: Between the far blue line to the Red Line (25 percent concentration level)
The puck has now exited the offensive zone and a rush may ensue. Goalie needs to mentally
prepare himself for upcoming shot.
Zone 2: Between the red line and near blue line (75 percent concentration level)
The series has now entered “your” side of the ice and a shot could be dangerous. A goalie
should be set and prepare for a series. The goalie should already be aware of what kind of rush it is (a 3-on-2, a 3-on-3 etc.) and be narrow- ing in on the puck and setting his angle correctly.
Zone 1: Near blue line to the net (100 percent concentra-
tion level) The goalie now simply needs
to follow the puck and be in a good position to stop it: Total focus only on the puck, feel the play develop, shut out self-talk, no scoreboard, ready for any- thing.
A lack of concentration can cost a goalie the game, while a focused goalie can make all the difference. The goalie that is concentrating makes the game look easier and is able to come up with that big save when he or she needs to. The four-zone technique is one way to help develop one’s concentration level and make a 60-minute game shorter.
These suggestions should aid a goalie’s development. If you have any other questions about these training methods or future goaltending clinics, contact Greg directly at [email protected] or by phone, (716) 286-8758.
Greg Gardner is an assistant coach with the Niagara University Men’s Hockey Team, and is a goalie consultant for goalies all over Western New York. Greg is the owner of Gardner Goaltending and can be found online at www.GARDNERGOALTEND-
Goalie concentration aids: How to manage a hockey game By Stephen Marth
On March 18, Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant held “A Night with the Tough Guys,” honoring ex-Sabre Rob Ray as he was inducted into the “Tough Guy Hall of Fame.” The event, in addi- tion to honoring Ray, helped raise money for charities such as People Inc., Women’s and Children’s Hospital, as well as the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Fund and the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.
There were many local faces in attendance, ranging from Buffalo Bills Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, CBS broadcaster and former Bill Steve Tasker, and local boxer “Baby” Joe Mesi. Professional wrestlers and boxers from the 1960s such as The Destroyer, Dominic DeNucci, Billy Red Lyons, Carmen Basilio, and Angelo Mosca also were at the event, representing athletes from an overlooked era.
The night revolved around Rob Ray and his prolific career as an NHL enforcer; from his days as a junior hockey player on the Cornwall Royals of the Ontario Hockey League, to the day he was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round of the 1988 amateur entry draft with the 97th overall pick.
Ray has had many interesting moments in his 15-year career as an NHL player. He scored on his first shot in his first NHL game, and used his quickness as well as his fists to help his team win by whatever means necessary. He currently sits sixth on the NHL’s all-time penalty list, with 3,207 career penalty minutes. While his statistics might seem like he was a fighter at heart, Ray claims he wasn’t until he donned a Sabres jersey.
“I know for a fact that I did not play tough all the way through, but when I got up here they more or less said that’s the way you’ll have to play,” Ray said. “If you want to fulfill the dream and play in the NHL, then you had to do what they told you. That’s what they expected from me, and I had to change my ways. It was a hard craft to learn, but you know, you learned it.”
Ray has been in the middle of many fights, ranging from his annual fights with Tie Domi, to fighting an actual fan. In a game versus Quebec in 1992, a drunken fan ended up on the ice and charged for the Sabres’ bench. Thinking quickly, Ray took matters
into his own hands, battling the man on the ice until police arrived.
“This guy sat there and he stared,” Ray said in an inter- view after the game. “We were kind of wondering ‘what this guy is going to do?’ As soon as he jumped, we threw him off. He came right back, so that’s when we took some
force to him and tried to slow him down and get him out of there. By that time the police came and took him away.”
Ray perfected the art of ripping off his jersey during a fight. The practice led to the “Rob Ray Rule,” which calls for stiff penalties on fighters whose jer- seys are not secured.
“Back then, guys used Velcro sleeves...they’d have stuff sprayed all over them so you couldn’t hang on,” Ray said in an interview with The Spectrum. “A couple times the jersey came off, and I realized when that hap- pens and your shoulder pads aren’t there, they have nothing to hang on to. I ended up using the shoulder pads that were Velcroed to your jersey so I didn’t have the straps to hold them on
... and without a T- shirt or anything, they have no lever- age. They have no way of keeping bal- ance, and you’ve got them in a pretty vul- nerable spot. Trust me, it took a lot of time, and a lot of trial-and-error to come up with some- thing that actually worked for you.”
Ray’s finest hour came in 1999, the year the Sabres faced the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Finals. The NHL awarded Ray the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his leadership and humanitarian contri- butions in the Buffalo and Western New York area. Ray said his commitment is due to one simple reason.
“This is my town, this is where I live now,” Ray said. “This is where my wife is from; it’s where my family is … it made me comfortable early in my career. My father told me when I left home, ‘Whatever you do,
always surround yourself with good people, and good things are going to happen.’ And so they have.”
After playing for 14 seasons as the Sabres’ main enforcer, Ray was traded to the rival Ottawa Senators for future considerations in 2003. Ray only played 11 games in two seasons with the Senators. Now retired, Ray covers the Buffalo Sabres as a sideline reporter for MSG Network and co-hosts “The Enforcers” on Time Warner Cable with ex-Sabre Matthew Barnaby.
While Ray might not play for the Sabres anymore, his legacy still lives on each and every game. As fans watch him report on the current team, they still remember “The Razor” that enter- tained them for 15 years, on and off the ice.
Slicing with “The Razor”
Photo by Stephen Marth
Photo by Joe Valenti Rob Ray is a classy guy on and off the ice.
By Adam McGill Buffalo State College: Kyle Fenner
Fenner, a confi- dent and gifted run- ner with unparal- leled work ethic, anchors the Buffalo State College men’s distance team. The 6-foot-3 junior from northern Syracuse has a long stride while running which gives him deceptive speed. In his first outdoor meet of the season he posted a team best in the 3000-meter steeple- chase and the 3000- meter run. Fenner is the cream of the crop for the men’s team, and this outdoor season he has the ability to dis- tance himself from the local competition. LaVonne Barfield
At 5-foot-6, Barfield doesn’t look like the prototypical long and triple jumper because she lacks the ideal size for jumpers desired by most coaches. However, she happens to be the strongest jumper on a deep Buffalo State women’s track and field team. She has great speed that allows her to build more momentum and get more distance in her jumps. At her opening outdoor meet her best jump was recorded at 5.17 meters, but since it is only the beginning of the season expect her jumps to get bet- ter and better as the season continues. Barfield is from Rochester and in her junior year has already established herself as one of the team’s most reliable field stars. Erie Community College: Anna Bogdanets
After an amazing fresh- men season with the Kats last year, Anna Bogdanets is quickly becoming one of the best female distance runners in Western New York.
Bogdanets races in the 3000-meter, 5000-meter and 10,000-meter runs for ECC. It seems that every race Bogdanets participates in, she finishes first, which is steadily propelling herself to a spot as one of the best runners in ECC track and field history. In the 2008 NJCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, Bogdanets had two top five finishes for ECC in the 3000 meter and 5000 meter runs. The Kenmore West High School graduate has an
innate will to win could establish her legacy even more this year. University at Buffalo: Daniel Schichtel
The sophomore business major is one of Buffalo’s best and most diverse athletes. Schichtel plays soccer in the fall, runs indoor track in the winter, and now runs outdoor track in the spring. The Eden,
N.Y., native is running outdoor track for the first time in his young career, but has already shown a great deal of potential. Schichtel’s best indoor time for the 200-meter dash was 22.74 seconds, but in his first career outdoor meet he ran an impres- sive time of 22.69 sec- onds. He was also named to the 2008 All- Academic Mid- American Conference Indoor Track Team, which only honors 22 men and 22 women each year. Schichtel will prove to be a mon- umental addition to the outdoor team and will only getter better as the season wears on. Jessica Cooper
Nicknamed “Thick Chick” by her team- mates and peers, Jessica Cooper is one of UB’s best jumpers. Cooper, a sophomore who majors in English,
is originally from Long Beach, Calif. (perhaps the reason why she remains in the sand). She is a very tal- ented long jumper and triple jumper with a natural ability to lead. Cooper is only 5-foot-7, but has the speed to allow her to carry herself into the pit when she jumps. She will be a big point-getter for the team this outdoor season and, as a sophomore, should be a fixture of the university’s field team for years to come.
Local track and field shining stars
Photo courtesy Buffalo State Athletics The Buffalo State men’s distance team is led by juniour Kyle Fenner.
Photo: Paul Hokanson Daniel Schichtel is a key addition to the team.
By Don Lockwood Erie Community College
baseball coach Joe Bauth won his 600th career victo- ry on Thursday April 3, when the Kats defeated Herkimer County Community College 8-2 in the first game of a double- header.
Bauth’s career record of 600-318-2 and winning percentage of .654 both are first all-time in Erie Community College histo- ry. He is also the 33rd active coach with 600 or more wins.
Bauth has won the Region III title four times (1998, 2000, 2003, 2005) and the Western New York Conference three times (2004, 2006, 2007). His teams have made the post season fifteen-straight years after the school had missed the postseason five years previously. The Region III title in 1998 was also the school’s first since 1977.
The Kats have been in the Region III final four eight straight years.
Bauth wins 600th game
Photo courtesy ECC Joe Bauth, a Lancaster native and former coach at Cheektowaga Central, just won his 600th career game at Erie.
Photo: Buffalo State Buffalo State long jumper, LaVonne Barfield.
By Brian J. Mazurek The last of the area horse
racing tracks will open for the 2008 season when Fort Erie Race Track, located just across the Peace Bridge in Canada, will open its gates on Saturday, May 3 with post time slated for 1:05 p.m.
The picturesque track will conduct an 80-day season with the season finale sched- uled for Tues., Oct. 28.
After the weekend opening on Saturday and Sunday, May 3-4, the track will be open for racing with a Sunday through Tuesday schedule for the year. There are also several Saturday cards planned for July 19, Aug. 30 and Oct. 25.
There’s a buzz in the air at Fort Erie as horses have already hit the track to begin training. “This is a great time of the year,” racing secretary Tom Gostlin said. “We’re looking forward to another exciting season racing and we expect to have over 1,000
horses stabled here through- out the meet.”
The biggest day of the year is set for Sunday, July 13 when the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel in Canada’s Triple Crown, will be run. This race attracts attention from all over the racing world and is by far the highlight of Fort Erie’s season.
Along with the Prince of Wales, the $50,000 Daryl Wells Sr. Memorial Stakes for three-year-old and up colts and geldings and the $50,000 Ernie Samuel Memorial Stakes for three-year-old and up fillies and mares will be contested on July 13 as well. Both with be five-furlong affairs on the turf.
The Rainbow Connection Stakes will be run on Aug. 17 for three-year-old and up fil- lies and mares who will be tested over five furlongs on the turf.
On the May 3 opening day,
there will be $1 hot dog and soda all day with live music.
Old Fashioned Day, with giveaways, live music and $1 hot dogs and soft drinks, will be held on Monday, Sept. 1. Saturday, Oct. 25 is Breeder’s Cup Day, and Fort Erie will hold a handicapper’s contest.
There are also several “Family Fiesta” Sundays scheduled throughout the season.
Robert King Jr., who is the defending jockey champion at Fort Erie with 106 wins, is expected back with runner- up Chad Beckon, who had 73 victories, likely to return to ride as well.
Mark Mournier, who had 46 wins to top the 2007 train- ers standings, is supposed to have a strong stable again and will be challenged by veteran Nick Gonzalez, who notched 34 victories.
Besides racing, Fort Erie Race track has slot machines that are open daily.
Fort Erie Race Track ready to open in May
By Brian J. Mazurek
Forgive the management at Northfield Park near Cleveland if they ban the song “Shuffle off to Buffalo” from being played on the public address system.
Once again, a top-notch driver at Northfield Park has backed his bags and moved to Buffalo Raceway.
The “Buffalo Shuffle” has included the likes of Keith Kash Jr. and his powerful sta- ble, Ken Holliday and his highly competitive barn and driver/trainer J.D. Perrin.
Now in 2008, it’s 39-year- old veteran Ray Fisher Jr.’s turn to move east as he decid- ed leave Northfield Park and split his racing duties at Buffalo Raceway and at The Meadows near Pittsburgh.
“It all has to do with the slots,” Fisher said of leaving the Buckeye State. “I live right near Northfield Park (Macedonia, Ohio), but the bottom line is money. The purses just aren’t there at Northfield. It’s a nice place to race with great people but until the people in Ohio real- ize they need slots to support racing, the trend will be for owners, trainers, drivers and horses to leave and go where the purses are bigger.”
Fisher was literally born to drive and intends to drive every day of the week. And we are talking both mechani- cal and animal horsepower.
The current plan is for him to race Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday after- noons at The Meadows (with a post time at 12:15 p.m.) and drive at Buffalo Raceway on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday
evenings and eventually Sunday afternoons.
When looking at that daunting schedule, including racing twice on Fridays, it looks tough but something Fisher absolutely thrives on and loves to do.
“I can’t wait for Fridays, it is my best day of the week,” Fisher stated. “I love the dou- ble duty. As soon as I get done at The Meadows on Friday afternoon, I hop in my rig and head to Buffalo Raceway, which takes about three hours, and race there at night. I love it.”
Living in Ohio, Fisher said he could make either Buffalo or The Meadows in less than three hours from his home and driving to Pittsburgh or Buffalo isn’t that bad.
“I stay in great shape. I go to a gym seven days a week, I eat right,” Fisher said. “I love canned tuna and chicken. I am not a fast-food junkie as one might suspect with the schedule I keep.”
When asked about driving on the five-eighths of a mile track at The Meadows and then a few hours later testing the challenging Buffalo Raceway course, Fisher said it isn’t too difficult.
“On any five-eighths mile track you have to be patient. And with Buffalo’s long home stretch, it’s almost like racing on a five-eighths mile track
because you have to be patient as well.
“If it was Northfield’s half- mile track, it’s a quick half and has a short stretch so there is a lot more activity in the early stages of the race,” Fisher added. “That would take a little
adjusting.” Through the beginning of
April, Fisher is currently the second-leading driver at Buffalo Raceway with 26 wins in 127 starts with a UDRS of .353 and nearly $100,000 in earnings. He trails Jim Morrill Jr. for the top spot. At The Meadows, Fisher has 207 starts with 11 wins, 18 seconds and 20 thirds for over $132,000 in earnings.
“I’ve raced against Jim Morrill for years at Yonkers and the Meadowlands and he makes me a better driver just by racing against him,” Fisher said. “Morrill doesn’t need a whip. He knows how to make a horse go faster without using a whip and if they ever took the whip out of racing, he’d be just as good, if not better.”
As far as his first two months at Buffalo, Fisher said: “I think I am holding my own. I never win enough for my liking. I am my own worst critic. If I finish second, I’ll always question what I could have done differently.”
Fisher added that he never sets specific goals for himself.
“I just want to do the best I can.”
For now, Fisher is putting plenty of miles on his odome- ter, and he’s enjoying every mile he races at Buffalo Raceway and The Meadows.
Ray Fisher Jr. latest driver to “Shuffle off to Buffalo”
Photo by Paul White Ray Fisher Jr. is shown driving home another win at Buffalo Raceway recently.
Spring turkey hunting
Wild turkeys are hunted in both the spring and fall in many areas, but I think that spring brings the best and most excit- ing hunting. The spring sea- son coincides with the birds’ mating season during which male turkeys can be lured by hunters imitating the mating calls of the hens with the help of a turkey call. Calling a gobbler into shotgun range is one of the most exciting experiences a hunter can have.
In order to accomplish this you must understand that wild turkeys have many different ways that they use to communicate. The most commonly used calls by hunters are the gobble, cackle, yelp, cluck, cutting and the purr or whine. If you want success during the spring, you must learn sev- eral of these calls. I think the most important is the kee-kee run, the yelp and the cluck in that order.
You can learn these calls the easiest on a box caller or on a strike caller. Don’t get
discouraged with just one call; there are literally dozens of calling devices. If you’re a begin- ner you might want to use a push-bu t ton call; it’s the eas- iest to use. But just like any- thing else, its personal pref-
erence and trying a combi- nation of several calls may even work for you. It is important to remember that a hunter must develop an understanding of which call is appropriate for certain circumstances. Subtle varia- tions in the volume, rhythm, and pitch of a turkey’s call can be as important as the type of call. Take the time to learn prior to going hunting.
At a minimum, a prospec- tive turkey hunter should learn several of the most common calls and become familiar with the circum- stances in which they should be applied. For example, the Yelp, the Lost Call, the Purr, and Cluck are good starters. Also a well-placed turkey decoy or two can be helpful in areas where the woods are fairly open and especially when you’re setting up in or at the
edge of a field. A decoy not only helps lure the gobblers to particular spots but also attracts the bird’s attention away from you, the caller, and toward the decoy. Be careful when using decoys because another hunter can easily mistake them for the real thing. Generally, it’s best not to use them in heavily hunted areas.
It’s also important to know that turkeys can dif- ferentiate colors, and hear and see extremely well. So with this in mind, while hunting you should be cam- ouflaged from head to toe, including a facemask or face paint. You should also make yourself as comfortable as possible so you can sit com- pletely still for long periods. Bring a cushion to sit on, and even if you’re hunting out of a blind you should remove any leaves or debris so you won’t make noise when have to change posi- tion for a tricky shot.
Once you learned to “talk turkey,” you&rsquo