Sabres – Amerks shifting amidst loss

The Sabres came into the city of Winnie the Pooh with ten wins in their last 13.  They played like Eeyore.  They were out muscled and out hustled.  Ted Nolan would have no excuses for the terrible play.

USP NHL: FLORIDA PANTHERS AT BUFFALO SABRES S HKN USA NY

While Hodgson and Meszaros were ultimately benched for the majority of the game their dismal play offered more ice-time to newly recalled forward Mikhail Grigorenko.  He played admirably in a 5-1 loss winning 53% of his face-offs, a key feature which caused Hodgson to be benched with less than five minutes of game time under his waist.

Sabres Mikhail GrigorenkoGrigorenko was the first of the significant Amerks to receive the call up.  Though he was sent back down to the AHL today he will likely be called up again soon.  The Amerks play tonight and Friday while the Sabres do not play next until Saturday.  Mitchell’s foot injury is unlikely to have healed itself by Saturday’s game.  Grigorenko could see a continued look in the coming month.  He just needs to focus on what is at hand.  He says resentment no longer fills his thoughts about playing in the AHL.  His actions will speak for him.  Can he keep up his good play with the Amerks?  He’s done well thus far, 19 points, 27 games, -2 on the AHL equivalent of the Buffalo Sabres.

The defensive core has weaknesses, aside from injuries.  Meszaros is not the player he used to be nor is he able to not just help the Sabres but help himself (he may be masking a head inj).  He is on a one year contract.  He has demonstrated thus far that he isn’t worth a roster spot on any team playing poorly any time he’s on the ice.  With the young players getting more playing time with other teams, Spurgeron, Brodin, Klingsberg, to name a few, Meszaros may need to contemplate taking his game to the land of the diminishing ruble or another league.  He isn’t washed up or a has-been… yet.  He has done nothing to stem the growth of those ideas.  His play is just poor, incomplete passes, misses on defensive assignments, non-existent in the offensive side of the game either.

Sabres Meszaros1Meszaros’ poor play and diminished ice time is a clear sign that the door is open for certain Amerks D to display why they should be in the NHL.  Pysyk, Ruhwedel, McCabe are all front runners, each having spent some portion of time with the Sabres in the past.  Yet of the three Pysyk has been the worst stat wise for the Amerks while Ruhwedel has been the best.  Ruhwedel and McCabe are positive in the +/- at +1 with Pysyk at -7.  Ruhwedel (15) has more points than Pysyk (7) while McCabe (7) is tied.  Chad Cassidy will need to turn the Amerks around.  Leaning on these three defensemen should be the mantra going forward.

From the Sabres to the Amerks a monumental shift needs to be realized to leave the basement.  What that shift is may be well unknown to the parties involved.  The onus resides with the players.  They are the focal point by their coaches and management.  If there was any more of a sign that management and coaches are tired of poor play, lack of work ethic, lack of dedication, the Sabres traded away Luke Adam to Columbus for D’Amigo (Binghamton native) in what is just a start of a momentum shift.

Sabres DAmigoD’Amigo is a hard-working player known for his commitment and dedication to hard-work.  D’Amigo’s entrance and Adams’ exit is clear indication that all levels of the Sabres’ organization is to be altered.  D’Amigo was immediately placed with the Amerks however do not be surprised if he plays a handful of games with the Sabres throughout the course of the year.  Though it’s unlikely he’ll replace Hodgson, he could see some call up time should Stewart be moved or benched.  He’s just a stitch to heal the wound, an AHL player with low-line NHL potential.

If Ted Nolan being at the helm and Tim Murray pulling the strings was not enough of a sign that hard-work, ethics, determination, a team approach, old-style hockey (in terms of preparedness in body and mind) is the future of the Sabres then perhaps the blatant benching of Meszaros and Hodgson along with the trade of Luke Adam will stir the rest into realization.  These two are not yes-men.  They will not praise you or stroke your ego undeservedly.  They care little about your potential.  You are not their meal-ticket to fame and fortune.

I go out on a limb here to say this:  They don’t care about fame and fortune.  They are not glitz, glamor, and the nightlife people.  They are hard-working folk who care about competency.  They do their best while striving for better.  Their mystique is about improvement, growth, commitment, dedication.  They are rock-solid and true.  They are the type of person that can be counted upon.  Can the same be said of the players?

Sabres First Niagara

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Mr. Freeze

Because Eugene O’Neill told us to stop with “The Iceman Cometh” nonsense….

The NHL’s ice truck rolled into Nats Park this morning, under just the type of delightful balmy winter weather we’re hoping to avoid on New Year’s Day.

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The ice truck turns off South Capitol Street on its way to Nats Park.

A nice crowd of reporters and camera crews were on hand to greet the NHL’s ice man, Dan Craig, an Alberta native and veteran of many outdoor rink installations, and his 53-foot mobile ice plant. The 22-wheel truck left Toronto last Wednesday morning for its nearly 500 mile trip to Southeast DC.

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Joining Dan Craig for the photo op were Caps alums Peter Bondra and Sylvain Cote. This particular truck built the sheets for last year’s Winter Classic at the Big House (18° f) and the Kings –Ducks Stadium Series tilt last January at Dodger Stadium (80° f). I’m no good at math or weather forecasting, but if we take the mean from those temps, that puts us right around 50°, the high end of Bill Daly’s sweet spot for an ideal surface.

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Left to Right: Sylvain Cote, Dan Craig, Peter Bondra

Craig said his crews would begin the hard work starting later this week: positioning the truck, running the pipes & hoses, installing the deck, cooling trays (that circulate the 3,000 gallons of glycol coolant) then finally the boards. They aim for nearly 2 inches of ice come puck drop. A typical arena rink’s ice is 1 – 1.25 inches thick, but the rigors of outdoor play requires a deeper surface.

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Dan Craig shows off the ice truck’s refrigeration plant to reporters

The surface will be built up in wee increments during the evening hours, when the temps around the ballpark start to drop. Water is added slowly in a fine mist, and each inch of ice requires 10,000 gallons of water, DC tap water, to be specific. After Craig’s team builds up the sheet, it gets 350 gallons of water soluble paint, lines and logos.

The surface will be under 24-hour monitoring ahead of puck drop with special sensors placed in various spots around the ice. If one spot gets too warm, more glycol is pumped to it. They hope for a uniform 22° across the entire sheet.

Rain is forecast for this Friday, so it’s obvious that Craig and his crew already have their eyes on the weather.

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EPIX Road To Winter Classic First Preview: The Power of Family

Producers at the EPIX channel, the folks producing and airing this year’s Road to the NHL Winter Classic, have released the preview clip of the series today. It’s the first of many to come, we hope, and it’s a beaut.

On the surface it may just look like a father, mother and son’s first family trip to the National Zoo, but it’s very much more, as Coach Trotz makes clear in the first few moments.

For those unaware, Barry and Kim Trotz have four children. (The Post’s Alex Prewitt has an amazing profile of the family here and you are commanded to read it.) Our take from when Trotz was named bench boss is here. The youngest, Nolan at 13, was born with Down syndrome. Which means, among many other things, that the only home Nolan has only ever known was Nashville, Tennessee. Moving a family after years in one location is wrenching enough; it can be even harder on children with special needs.

Barry and Nolan Trotz at the zoo

Barry and Nolan Trotz at the zoo

“He was sort of a lightning rod for our family,” Trotz says in voice over as the family take a wintery visit to the zoo. “I used to be hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey hockey. Before I was probably a lot more controlling; I wanted to control everybody, and everything. And I realized you can’t,” he tells the camera.

One of the things we value the most about these Road to the Classic series is how it lets us enter the private lives of those we watch so publicly. A few years back, we loved watching Coach Boudreau and his boys Andrew and Brady head to Tyson’s to pick out a Christmas gift, or argue with Haagen-Daaz, we’re still not quite sure.

This is obviously a very different moment in some ways. But perhaps in the ways that matter most, it’s very much the same: father and son, enjoying the day in each other’s company. Nothing more basic than that.

You can view the entire segment below:

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#EmbraceTheSabres

#EmbraceTheSabres is in full swing. Winners of eight of their past eleven the Sabres host Florida tonight. Last time these two teams met was about a week ago in Sunrise where the Panthers mauled Buffalo much like the real animals would, a 0-4 loss. The Sabres are coming off an average game on Tuesday against Calgary.

Sabres Minimalist logoThe flames managed to get burned this go around. Buffalo circled the wagons after falling behind three to two despite holding a one zero lead at one point. The Ennis, Moulson, Girgenson line were responsible for a come from behind victory. Much credit though is due to their defenders in Myers and Gorges. Responsible for keeping the likes of Giordano and the rest of the Flames’ top line from tying the game Myers and Gorges kept their legs moving. Their teammates demonstrated immense resolve so credit deserves to be upon their shoulders accordingly.

Within the third period the Sabres opened up their game, when behind, to attack more. The Flames opened their game to begin the third, daring the Sabres to follow suit. The Sabres did, their passes were connecting to proper targets within the final period as opposed to the first two. As a result they came from behind to win. Buffalo needs to keep an open game against the Panthers tonight. Ristolainen and Zadurov will need to play a bigger role in the offensive zone in order for the Sabres to keep this #EmbraceTheSabres winning streak going.

Passes will be a key feature to this game. So long as the Queen City can continue to improve their passing percentage they will keep the game close. Face-off wins will be a stat they need to improve but against a pliable Sun Belt hockey team passes will be key.

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Buffalo’s Future Is In Their Character.

With a bit more than a quarter of the season behind us the Sabres have stepped out from the shadow of last season.  They have competed for wins in seven of the previous ten games heading into tonight’s match-up versus the Calgary Flames.  Though Buffalo is still a bottom dwelling team, thanks to a 3-13-2 start to the season and the league’s worst PP% of 7.5 success rate, there has finally been some settling of the dust.  Nolan, who once sought line combinations, has found players to complement one another.  For offense the line of Girgensons, Moulson, Ennis have connected.

Sabres Minimalist logoOther lines still encounter interchanging players though Hodgson and Foligno seem to be continually paired together as does Mitchell and Gionta.  The defensive pairings remain remarkably quite stable despite the perceived pressure from prospects in Rochester that have served time with the Sabres before in stretch-runs like Pysyk and McCabe.  The tandems are Gorges-Myers, Ristolainen-Zadorov.

Then there is Mike Weber and whichever D is not suffering from some sort of injury.  He has been paired with Meszaros, Strachan, and Benoit this year.  While Weber has slowly become a steady, as well as consistent, ice warrior his compatriots not so.  Meszaros has been prove to give the puck away either by being stripped or worse passes to the opposition.  He has executed these plays in dangerous areas like the defensive zone.  Benoit is just as poor as Meszaros but in a different realm.  He lacks defensive responsibilities not pertaining to grit and physicality.  Strachan resides in a similar vein.

While all three are serviceable D-pairings they just are not ample suitors with Weber nor anyone else.  All three seem necessary for the moment to provide depth in case of injuries, maintenance days, or even Nolan’s plan of how to play against different teams.  None are long-term solutions.

What the Sabres ultimately demand is for Pysyk or McCabe to get their act together in Rochester.  A permanent call-up would then take place for Weber’s partner, perhaps even to move Weber into the seventh D roster spot.  Weber has great utility by being able to be combined with any of their other defenders.  At least for the rest of this season Pysyk and McCabe will be kept in Rochester for playing time in hopes they make good for next season in Buffalo.  Meszaros, Benoit, and Strachan are all on one year contracts making them highly likely to not be in a Buffalo uniform (or Amerks for that matter) next year save for something astounding on their part or disastrous on the side of the prospects in Rochester.

Jhonas-EnrothBehind the players are the goalies. Enroth and Neuvirth were both expected to compete for the starting gig.  They still are though Enroth has a slight edge in many journalists’ minds.  For being this early in the season the stats indicate no clear ‘starter’.  The only minds that matter though are Murray and Nolan.  Enroth has started eight of the past ten games during the winning streak with a victory in six of those games.  Though Enroth may look like he is the number one net minder in the Queen City, Nolan seems to enjoy letting a goalie play for long stretches before allowing a different goalie to play for long stretches.  With Murray open to opportunities of moving either goalie neither is secured.

Mr. Murray also is open to talks about his other players, notably Chris Stewart.  While Stewart fits the mold of a Murray-Nolan player, big and physical, he lacks the characteristics of a Murray-Nolan inspired athlete, heart and determination.  Unquestionably Stewart is a good player and a second line producer.  That production though just isn’t with the Sabres.  He’s not internally committed to this team or its core group of players.

Sabres First NiagaraThe Sabres do have a core group of players that won’t move despite the actions of the open lipped Tim.  These are players that not only fit the mold but the character of a former Jack Adams award recipient back for his second stint as head coach.  The entire line of Moulson, Girgensons, and Ennis are staples.  Girgensons, the leading NHL All-Star vote getter, is their prototypical player (leading by 400K).  Ennis might seem like he’s worthy of being traded but despite his stature he possesses the requisite heart and drive.  Gionta, Foligno, Kaleta, McCormick all have multiple honorable characteristics of heart, soul, dedication, leadership, team-work, or physical play.

Following them on the defensive side is Gorges and Weber.  Ristolainen continues to prove himself and will remain a staple for hopefully many years to come.  Zadorov is reminiscent of Ristolainen though earlier in his development.  Those two make a fantastic couple (on the ice of course)…  Myers on the other hand is a wild card.  He possesses good skill, a tall frame, and long reach.  He has been slow to adopt the more physical and bold style of Nolan though yet he has adopted more defensive responsibilities under a new helmsman.

Every player not mentioned, well the jury is out.  They need to prove themselves committed to a new style based more on positional play, based on drive in practice, and internal motivation.  For charming Ted if you want to play you need to prove commitment to the team consistently.  What matters most to him is character, a word lost to those self-indulgent stars (or believe them to be stars).

First Niagara Sabres

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This Is Going to Be Epix

Tuesday evening, ahead of puck drop for the Caps v. Canucks game, and exactly one month until the Winter Classic at Nats Park, a couple hundred Capitals Club Red 365 members attended a town hall at Verizon Center to hear about preparations and planning for the big New Years Day tilt.

Verizon Town Hall

Briefing the crowd were NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and sports TV impresario, Ross Greenburg, who will be helming the production seen later this month on Epix. Greenburg claims 51 Sports Emmys and if that wasn’t enough hardware for his mantle, he’s won 8 Peabodys (big boy broadcast awards). John Walton moderated the evening.

Bill Daly John Walton Ross Greenburg

Greenburg’s last Winter Classic effort was Caps v. Pens [Haagen-Daz, sack grabbing, Hendy’s stitches , Eric Fehr as Santa, and “F*ck you, Geno”]. This year’s production is in very capable hands. He sees the city as very much a character with plenty of nice places to shoot and stunning backdrops. While his crews have already been taping some elements, Greenburg says the production begins in earnest for his staff of 30-40 and 8 cameras, this Friday. He employs “the best shooters in sports TV” as well as 7 or 8 local camera operators and techs because of their familiarity with the city. Camera crews will be embedded with the teams in both cities.

2015 Winter Classic logoGreenburg’s cameras will be given their typical extensive access, inside locker rooms, training rooms, ice level and in homes. Four edit rooms working round the clock will cobble together the episodes, turning around some of the action in just a day. Greenburg doesn’t expect to see a replay of last year’s unseemly spectacle of coaches (Carlyle and Babcock) kicking crews out of locker rooms. He said that as a directive from the NHL, teams must grant complete and total access to be considered for playing in the Winter Classic; 100% cooperation makes it a good show.

He wants viewers to see to see story arcs that closely track players and coaches over the course of four episodes. Greenburg cited Humangus Big Bryzgalov as a good example of getting a close look at a player, I think describing him as “weird.” The lack of a natural rivalry between the Caps and Hawks didn’t seem to bother Greenburg, and he wonders if we may see one develop over the next 4 weeks.

Greenburg says the story lines will develop. He’s met with players and coaches already and sees Coach Trotz and his family life, as the father of a child with special needs particularly engaging. Greenburg saw Ovi up close and personal in 2010 and said he expects to see a different player this time, one far more mature, and he hopes to showcase the captain’s role as a mentor to the younger players.

capitals-2One story line may be the weather, as we saw in 2010, with the game being pushed back into the evening. Daly says they’re flexible on puck drop and that NBC is cooperative and has a decent window to get the game in. The ice truck arrives in DC mid-month, one of two state-of-the-art mobile sheet machines that move around the country for the outdoor games. “Weather is the wild card,” Daly said, and that anything above 50 Fahrenheit won’t be an issue. He wants a clear day, no rain. Despite daytime temps in the 80s for last year’s Dodger Stadium game, the cooler nights helped make the sheet, Daly believes, the best yet for an outdoor game.

Greenburg got some criticism from the 2010 24/7. Through league brass he heard that Ted wasn’t all too thrilled about how he looked on camera, thinking that the lighting made him look like Darth Vader. But remember, the Caps were in the midst of a serious losing streak that December, and none of us were looking like Princess Leia during those dark, dark days. Greenburg’s response to Ted, “Dont worry, we’ll put more lights on you. But do me a favor, WIN!” And then the Caps blew up the Death Star, the Ewoks danced and we lived (mostly) happily ever after. Until Adam Oates.

One element that won’t make the final cut is a Caps watch party at Nellies, DC’s gay sports bar. One of Greenburg’s producers told us that was in the mix but the shoot was waved off by Epix brass. In its place they ended up shooting a bunch of dumb ass Hawks fans swilling cheap booze and beers at some dumb ass Chicago sports bar. Must See TV? Musty TV. On the plus side, expect to see Loud Goat featured during the series. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Another letdown was the announcement that there won’t be an alumni game ahead of the Classic. Boo! We expected to be a house divided for that tilt, Team Locker v. Team May, but we’ll be denied. Maybe we try to organize a guerrilla pickup game on the Mall? With wagering, of course.

The episodes air December 6, 23, 30 and January 6. Don’t get your hopes us for Liev Schreiber as the narrator; HBO owns him. But we are promised top-tier talent to handle the voice duties. Daly tells us that announcements for game entertainment and celebrity attendees will be made in the coming weeks. Is Winter Classic party now.

Caps Winter Classic Ovi

 

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How Anze Kopitar Helped Me Battle Cancer

By @SpencerLAKings

The realities of getting older. Honestly, I felt pretty much the same as I did when I was in my 20’s and 30’s.

I worked out at least 4-5 per week. I had ridden my bicycle 3 times from San Francisco to Los Angeles over the last several years. I still worked crazy hours but always made time to spend as much time as I could with my amazing 2 boys. My oldest son was in 8th grade, going through the struggles of puberty, and my youngest, was just starting 5th grade.

We were all rabid LA Kings fans, and were eagerly looking forward to the first game of the season – scheduled for October 8. That day was not only my birthday, but also the day when the Kings would raise the Stanley Cup banner for the 2nd time in 3 years.

LA Kings 2014 banner Mark J. Terrill AP

I had been a practicing physician in the same community, and at the same hospital for over 20 years. After 20 years, the hospital was like my second home and I pretty much knew everyone who worked there.

I had seen my primary care physician for my routine annual exam and he had recommended a screening colonoscopy.

I scheduled the procedure for Friday, October 3. I never imagined that I would have any problem. I was getting older, but still way too young, I thought, to worry about anything of significance. Both of my grandmothers had died of colon cancer, but not until they were in their 70’s. And my older brother had had several non-cancerous polyps removed a couple of years earlier.

I was asleep for the colonoscopy. When I woke up, the nurse told me that the doctor wanted to talk to me before I left. Before he arrived, I fiddled through my chart and found the pictures he had taken during the colonoscopy. My heart just stopped in disbelief. I saw a picture of a mass in the proximal colon that looked pretty ugly. Although, this was not my specialty, I could tell that something just didn’t look right.

The doctor finally came in and seemed pretty uncomfortable (it’s always a bit uncomfortable and intimidating, I guess, taking care of other doctors, particularly, when you may have bad news). He told me he found something, and had done several biopsies. He told me the results would come back in a few days and “to enjoy my birthday and not to worry.”

Right. Not to worry.

The procedure was done on a Friday and the results of the biopsy would not come back until the following Tuesday. The days waiting for the results of the biopsy were probably the hardest days of my life. I would wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning in terror.

I couldn’t really have cancer, could I? That’s what happened to other people. If I did have cancer, would I emotionally be strong enough to go through the treatment?

Would I not see my children grow up? Would I not see them graduate from High School? And get married? And have children? How would the kids take the news? What would happen if I broke down in front of the kids?

My thoughts were dark would not stop. I felt I was in a nightmare, and I couldn’t wake up.

Finally, after 4 days of waiting, I got the news. On October 7, 2014, the day before my birthday, I received the call. I had colon cancer. The actual words, which I will never forget, were “you have an invasive adenocarcinoma of the colon”.

I honestly don’t know what happened the rest of the day. Other than I walked around like a zombie, still stuck in a nightmare.

KopitarI went to see one of my best friends at the hospital who also happened to be a colorectal Surgeon. He was Serbian, and we always talked about the Kings and particularly, Anze Kopitar. Anze apparently is a pretty common name in the Balkans, and he had several cousins by that name.

He told me about the surgery and how after the surgery, the staging would be clear and we would decide if I needed to have chemotherapy.

I asked him if colon cancer was going to kill me. He said no. Colon cancer had a high cure rate, particularly if found at an early stage. I guess there was not much to do other than to hope for an early stage.

The next day, on my birthday, while driving to the first LA Kings game of the year, I told my kids that I had a “little tumor” that had to come out and that the surgery would be done as soon as possible.

I tried as much as possible to sound upbeat. I told them I would be fine. I was worried because they had just seen my brother in-law die of lymphoma. I wanted them to believe that their father would be ok.

I wanted to believe that I was going to be ok. Fortunately, I was strong enough the have the conversation with them without breaking down.

Opening night at Staples seemed pretty much like a blur. I remember the Stanley Cup descending from the rafters, much like Cher coming down on stage during a concert. I remember the banner going up. And I remember, the Kings getting whipped by the Sharks. But that was not unexpected. It was only October.

Kings banner 2014 b AP Photo  Mark J. Terrill

The colorectal Surgeon scheduled the surgery for the following Monday. I would be a patient at the same hospital where I had worked for more than 20 years. Because I was very visible at the hospital, the surgeon asked me if I wanted to be admitted under a different name, – an alias. Using a different name, at least would give me some privacy and confidentiality from everyone who worked there. . And depending on the findings of the surgery, I didn’t know if I wanted a lot of visitors walking into my room.

On Sunday night, the day before the surgery, the surgeon called to speak with me. After he answered all of my questions, he asked me if I was watching the hockey game. I told him I was. I was trying to distract myself as much as possible before the surgery. He said, “Koptar scored his first goal of the season tonight”. Let’s admit you to the hospital under the name ‘Anze Kopitar’.

Kopitar cup  Bruce Bennett Getty Images North AmericaLos Angeles really is a weird hockey town. Every game is sold out at Staples and there are tons of crazy hockey fans throughout the city. It is, however, such a large and diverse city, that you may go an entire day without running into another hockey fan. So for many people at the hospital, the name Anze Kopitar was less known than mine

So on Monday morning, my ex drove me to the hospital where my brother and sister were waiting. I was admitted under the name of Anze Kopitar, with a diagnosis of Colon Cancer.

I had the surgery.

In the recovery room, I remember the surgeon coming in and telling me that everything looked good and the cancer appeared to be confined to the colon. The next day when the final pathology came back, I was ecstatic, grateful and relieved to be a Stage 1.

My kids visited me the 2nd day after surgery. They kept staring at my armband, perplexed that a famous hockey player’s name was written on it.

And, at the end of the day, I had made it through this nightmare, and I was still alive.
And God willing, I will be alive a while longer.

It still is very early in my recovery and I’m not quite sure how this experience will change me. Hopefully I will become a more empathic physician. Hopefully I will become a better father, a better son, a better brother, and a better friend.

Hopefully, my experience will be of some comfort to others in the future.

Hopefully, when I wake up in the morning, the day will mean a bit more now than it did before.

And the trivial things of life will be just that – trivial.

And whenever, I see Anze Kopitar skating down the ice and scoring a goal, it will
always have a very special meaning.

Note: Since being diagnosed with Colon Cancer, I have experienced first hand all of the stigma and misinformation that goes along with that diagnosis. The most common question friends have asked me is “do you have a colostomy?” The answer is no. And rarely is a colostomy required in the treatment of colon cancer. Screening is not only important, but it is life savings. It’s painless and in many instances can prevent cancer from occurring. For more information, visit ccalliance.org or fightcolorectalcancer.org

Kopitar celebrates

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