Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Ice Bowl Blog

1 p.m. EST Hockey outdoors live from Orchard Park, NY on NBC!!

I am excited and nervous that the Buffalo Sabres have been selected as hosts for the NHL's Winter Classic outdoor game. If you live in/grew up in what you feel is an underrated gem of a city/region and worship at the church of heartbroken sports fandom, then this is an opportunity to share the city's charms and passion.

Right now the snow is pouring down and it's expected to get heavier. The wind is gentle right now, but the meteorologist NBC's broadcast is employing says that it's gonna get stronger and the temps are supposed to drop into wind chills of the low 20s. Bob Costas said that's what you expecte in Buffalo in January. That's the first shot at Buffalo weather, but at least he said with a type of appreciation for what it adds to the environment.

I'm guessing that we're going to get at least 20 American Gladiators commercials, so far just one. But we just started the second commercial break.

1:16 EST I am hoping that at least 100,000 casual sports fans tune in and fall in love with hockey today. Perhaps the cheapening of the college football bowl season by the viral proliferation of the bowl games, will push casual sports fans to NBC's telecast (HD, if they're lucky). It does look great in HD. And I love seeing the Sabres classic blue and golds. If the Sabres win, I can't see not getting one of these Ice Bowl classic throwbacks.

So far Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby (the marketing focus and phenom) and winger Colby Armstrong and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller have been interviewed on TV. I am surprised that Miller talked, given that goalies are weird and often stay in mental cocoons on gamedays. But Ryan gets that this is a chance to be hockey ambassador.

One thing I'm not going to blog about ... how many times Crosby's name is mentioned or times he's shown on television. That might lead to carpal tunnel and/or a busted laptop.

1:20 p.m. Ronan Tynan, Irish tenor and HUGE Sabres fan, is about to sing God Bless America. I love this guy, even though he's a Yankee fan. Btw, I love "O, Canada." Kick me out Dick Cheney, but the Canadians have a better national anthem.

1:24 The game is about to start.

1:25 Colby Armstrong scores for the Penguins 21 seconds in. At least Crosby got the point for my fantasy team. As Ed Olczyk noted, the puck seems to be moving much slower on the ice because of the snow. It's not real hockey, which the purists have bitched about. But honestly, I don't care. Spectacle is a good thing sometimes.

1:32 OK, it's a real game. Now I just want the Sabres to start playing better and scoring and winning. They are 0-2-1 in their last three. And now they're killing a penalty.

1:36 Ryan Miller starred in an Amp energy drink commercial doing a Yo Momma slam battle with another goalie, sorta 8 Mile style. It wasn't bad. I hope Ryan's goaltending matches his performance in that commercial and the Sabres should be fine. Some shots on net would be nice, too.

1:43 They're taking a break to Zamboni the ice surface. Excellent idea. The ice is snow-covered. It's not really professional hockey right now. It really is more like pond hockey. I really like overusing the word really. During the last sequence Max Afinogenov, one of the fastest players in the league, looked like a regular skater circling around the net.

1:48 Each team seems to be settling in much more comfortably to the conditions. The players are skating up and down more smoothly and the teams are running plays. The Sabres recently took a long shot just after crossing the blue line. Good play. With the snow on the ice there's liable to be a weird bounce on a long shot.

1:49 Sabres killing their third penalty of the first period. Whatthefuck? It was a good call, but why are the Sabres being so undisciplined?

1:53 Ice doctors are still working on filling in a divet. It's slowing down the action, obviously, and the telecast. I hope any casual fans don't get bored with the slowdown. This is NOT hockey, but I still feel like it's worth it. This break is into it's fifth or sixth minute. We're now getting to listen to Mike Emrick talk about a week-and-a-half-old football game. We're back!

1:56 Great save by Miller on the deflected flutter shot. Four on four. I hope it's as exciting in the snow as it is on the smooth ice.

1:59 Sabres blow their first power play with missed shots from the point and broken sticks. Post has save two for the Sabres. The Sabres just missed a goal. I can't type fast enough.

2:08 The first period is over. I loved it. I wouldn't want to watch this every game; it's too slow, it's extra sloppy, it's not hockey, per se. But for a once-a-year celebratory event this is great. It's a too-often-minor-league-acting sport showing that it knows how to create spectacle. I am soooooo not close on the American Gladiators commercial prediction. I am sad. I am looking foward to this new show.

2:29 Sabres scored. They look great to start the second. Fast fast fast. Tim Connolly is sick creative. Some great hitting in this game. Btw, good to see the Sabres score. They'd scored only one goal in the last two games. They needed to get one to stop pressing.

2:40 Sabres are owning this period. Brian Campbell just delivered a crushing hit. Sign him now, Tom Golisano!

2:45 Another Penguins member getting interviewed, this time the coach. Why not Lindy Ruff, who is funny and smart? Well, maybe our coach would rather focus on the game than the television? I couldn't argue with that. The Penguins coach just said "puck" but it sounded a lot like "fuck."

2:52 So close. The Sabres continue to own this period. Thomas Vanek drove hard to the high slot and good things happened. He needs to live there. Max Afinogenov is still the fastest player on the ice.

2:54 Interference! Not called. Sabres still almost scored. Vanek's line is playing strong and fast. One weird thing about listening to Mike Emrick call the game is that he correctly pronounces Jaroslav Spacek's last name (SPA-check). Sabres announcer Rick Jeannerett pronounces it SPA-chuk.

2:59 I wanted the doughnut. The Sabres went almost the entire second period without giving up a shot. And they never gave up a good one. NBC analyst Darren Pang smartly pointed out that the Sabres cycling system of offense will struggle with the slow ice. The passes are slowed or held up by the snow dusting on the ice surface.

3:20 Third period starts. Each goals has been scored within the first 90 seconds of the start of a period, when the ice has been cleanest and fastest. Need to watch while typing. Quick scoring opportunity for the Penguins. Good glove save by Ryan Miller. Nice to see that he didn't get rusty during the no-work second period.

3:37 Not blogging much. Too into the game now. The Sabres need the two points. Good to see a strong game with lots of scoring opportunities and two finesse teams playing so physically.

3:53 I think NBC is doing a good job so far. Mike Emrick, Darren Pang and Ed Olczyk are bringing an energy, intelligence and enthusiasm to the telecast. I hope that everyone gets to watch this in HD, btw. The colors are brilliant. I worry that the last ice doctoring will kill both teams energy. Doesn't seem to have, though.

3:56 Action picking up. Jochen Hecht just did an amazing reach behind/spin around to clear the zone. I guess this "journeyman" German is worth having been re-signed. The flakes are HUGE on television, which means that the skating is slow. More ice doctoring. SNORE. I give credit to teh NHL and NBC for making sure that the broadcast team knows a lot about how the ice has been created at Ralph Wilson Stadium. They have insights to share during these breaks about why things are happening and they explain it. It's not so much to to ask broadcasters to know about stuff is it?

4:17 Overtime is about to start with the Sabres getting a 4-3 man-advantage for two minutes. I feel good. The Sabres closed the third period looking great with lots of scoring opps. There should be more space and more room to work with the slower ice.

4:20 Some great shots and saves on the power play. Early whistle just robbed us of a scoring chance. Vanek at least is off the ice; he needlessly extended his shift on the power play. Go Campbell whose with Pommer at the point. The Sabres are getting shots through, but no rebounds.

4:22 18 seconds left until the teams change sides during the first overtime (teams are changing at the halfway mark of OT so each team has the wind advantage/disadvantage). Pang and Olczyk point out that the Sabres should have pinched in closer on the PP and taken higher shots. I can't disagree with that.

4:23 The snow is soooo thick on the ice that you can see the puck trace a path in the ice as the players skate with it. About three or four rock back in my seat and scream "oooh" moments in the last minute of game time. Ty Conklin has looked very good in net for the Pens.

4:27 SHOOTOUT in heavy snow. This could end quickly or go on for hours. My friend Robbie says that Miller is the league's best breakaway goalie; I agree that he's great in these situations, but the Sabres lost their last shootout two games ago against the New Jersey Devils.

I am hoping for Vanek, Connolly and Afinogenov. Doesn't look like they bothered to clean the ice. It's Kotalik along with Connolly and Afinogenov.

• Kotalik scores on a raised wrister glove side. Miller standing up against Christiansen. Stoned on a forehand deke move. Miller at the angle.

• Connolly sweeps in and shoots it right into Conklin's chest with a forehand. Letang a D man comes in and beats Miller high on a backhand. Miller bought and flopped and left the upper 2/3 of the net open.

• Afinogenov stoned. Crosby ... scores and wins, Miller was unsuccessful in going for the poke check. Everything was great about this event, but the score. The fucking shitty part is that the Sabres are 0-2-2 in their last four.

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