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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Hockey Pages: “Burning Up the Ice” by T.A. Chase and Devon Rhodes

Burning Up the Ice by T.A. Chase and Devon Rhodes lives up to its name in a few ways. This book not only deals in hockey, but there’s also curling! To ice sports meet up in one book—SCORE! There’s a wonderful, melt-the-ice hot romance in play. I dare say by the time you’re done with the book that you may never look at a Zamboni the same way again.

I need to give a disclaimer upfront. I’m friends with T.A. and Devon and my husband and I have a nod in the book’s dedication and we even make a brief cameo on page 79 (which we didn’t know about until I bought the book and started reading it). Trust me when I say this is no way skews my opinion of the book. If you’re collecting a shelf of gay hockey romances like I am, you need this book on that shelf because this is a great one.

burninguptheice_exlarge_PNG-210x336Burning Up The Ice starts simple enough. NHL’er, and Norris Trophy winning defenseman, Olivier St. Pierre is back home in small town Canada to rehab from an injury. Unfortunately, one of his home rinks has shut down and he’s having a hard time finding ice time that’s away from the prying eyes of the media who are eager to get the real story about his injury (because, yes, there’s a story there). He ends up at a rink run by someone who watched Olivier grow up and escape their small town. Ethan Campbell hasn’t been treated well by the sport, having been told he was too small to play. As an adult, he was much happier in the world of curling. Olivier doesn’t do anything to make Ethan like hockey more since, on his first visit to Ethan’s rink, he manages to insult Ethan’s family and curling.

So how do these two end up together?

Thankfully, T.A. and Devon wrote a nice, slow build for these guys. They start out prickly towards each other, grow into something closer to friends and eventually figure out there’s much more there. It’s one of my favorite build-ups in the books I’ve been reading for PuckBuddys. Ethan and Olivier are so tentative, it’s fun to watch them get a little further along each time they’re together. Plus, there’s how they talk about the other when they’re with other family and friends that’s also wonderful.

Not only does a relationship start, but Olivier reignites Ethan’s love of hockey. It happens slowly, but surely as Olivier goes through his rehab. These two end up healing each other in certain ways and it’s a nice addition to the budding romantic side of their relationship. Among the best scenes highlighting this is the shoot out the two end up doing to help settle a disagreement.

It was great that T.A. and Devon didn’t use Olivier’s rehab has just a device to bring the guys together. It works into the fabric of the story in every way. A favorite scene happens between Olivier and his cousin, Julienne, when he goes out to the pond where his love of hockey started. Olivier and Julienne skate around, talk, it’s a lovely family moment, taking place outside, just playing the game. In fact there are a several tangents to the main romance that give this book a great depth.

Of course, it’s not all easy sailing, eventually Olivier’s rehab will finish and he’ll rejoin his team in Chicago. What does that mean for this new love? As always, I offer no spoilers, except to say the ending was every bit as satisfying as the rest of the book.

I can’t say enough good things about Burning Up the Ice with the swoon-inducing romance, the hockey and curling action, a sizzling dose of sex (especially on the Zamboni) and excellent characters with Olivier, Ethan and their friends and family.

Jeff: Now let’s shift gears and welcome T.A. Chase and Devon Rhodes for the interview section of this post!

T.A. Chase (left) and Devon Rhodes

T.A. Chase (left) and Devon Rhodes

Continue reading

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It’s Showtime!

Celebrating the Team Behind the Team on the Ice

It’s here! It’s finally here!

Rock The Red (Wide)

 

After nearly six months of pretending to be interested in the World Cup and bluffing our way through Major League Baseball (“how many games in a playoff series?”), hockey officially returns to Washington as the Men in Red hit the ice Thursday in their season home opener at Verizon.

There’s a lot new this year – and as fancy-stats Peter Hassett points out at RMNB, perhaps a lot to look forward to as well. New head office, new coaching staff, new system, and a bunch of promising new players (although this is the only context “new” can be used to describe Brooks Orpik.) That adding to stalwarts like Ovi and Nicky, Fehr and Ward, MoJo and Holtbeast, and we may just have something here.

There may be no promises in the NHL, but there is one iron-clad guarantee we can think of when it comes to Capitals hockey: the Verizon Center fan experience will continue to be one of the most polished and most exciting to be found anywhere in professional sports. And you’ve got the team at the Capitals’ Game Entertainment crew to thank.

Holtby Spotlight

Think about it: even before you take your seat, you’re immersed in an entire fan experience. You chat up a Red Rocker, light displays come up and down almost like magic, and the music and the cameras fit seamlessly with the action on the ice. Mites chase pucks, a video rallies a quiet crowd, or sends another one to its feet and somehow a new graphic hits the board featuring that great Cap score of just a few minutes ago.

The game is still the draw, but the entire Capitals experience is a sensory overload that makes a game all the better.

Other than the Red Rockers – or “Ambassadors in Red” as they’re known – the entertainment team generally prefers to remain behind the scenes. As in past seasons, this year we hope to pull back the curtain a bit on all that stuff that you never think about, and introduce those responsible. We’re starting, appropriately enough, with one of the guys ultimately responsible for what happens in Verizon: Tyler Hines.

Hines, 27, is the Captial’s Game Entertainment Manager. A graduate of Georgetown’s Sport Industry Management program, he began with the Caps as an intern and rapidly rose within the ranks.

We spoke with Hines this week about how it all works, and what we can look forward to this year.

Q: We know what the players do during off season. How do all the members of the entertainment team spend their off-season?

A: First and foremost, we spend a ton of time on the Red Rocker auditions. The whole process – recruiting and finding the girls and the auditions themselves – is a lot of fun. We get to pick our squad as far as what we want our ambassadors to look like for the season. This year we had 67 girls come out for the auditions. The first day is mostly fun, and the second day is when we get to know them, their backgrounds, and see their advanced dancing skills. From there is a long process to cut the team down to our 20 ambassadors this year.

Tyler Hines and dad

Tyler provides this pic of him and his dad.

Q: So, just who’s part of the Caps entertainment team?

A: We’re all over the spectrum; upward of 50. We have video producers, artists. We have a control room downstairs, a director and a technical director very much like in a broadcast studio, who feed out to all the boards in the arena. We have graphics people who can build on-the-fly graphics in addition to the pre-produced graphics – they’re upstairs with me watching the game live. We have a disc jockey whose been with the team close to ten years. We have sound engineers, spot-light guys, camera guys, and of course the Red Rockers.

Twes-signhen down on the ice in the penalty box we’ve got Wes Johnson our PA announcer, and he’s accompanied by an assistant, Byron Hudtloff, who doubles as our PA backup. He reads prior to the warm-ups as well as being our liaison to the off- and on-ice officials. When they skate over and read the penalties or the goals to the officials, it’s Byron collecting that information, relaying it to our entire team so we know what to do. Wes doesn’t wear a head-set; he’s totally focused on what he’s saying. So when I’m speaking and directing Wes, I’m actually talking to Byron and Byron directs him.

Q: Where are you?

A: So I’m up in 412. Our DJ is up there, our sound engineer and our video engineer. The four of us are watching the game and right in the mix; all I have to do is watch and talk from there. But the crew is all around – the video control room downstairs, the cameras, the spotlights, Wes and Byron, the Red Rockers – we’re all over.

Q: When do you start rehearing all this?

A: The best way to describe it is how Mike Wurman [Director of entertainment and TV production] put it – it’s like riding a bike, you never really forget, you just have to get back in the rhythm of it. All of us have been doing this for a few years now. Of course, there’s always new people coming in, just like any sports team. We just find our rhythm. But the games are our practice – you can’t simulate a game when you’re not in a game.

We’ve had four preseason games that just wrapped up, and of course there were bumps and bruises along the way. But we ironed those out and hopefully by Thursday we’re back in our rhythm. If you’re a new person coming in, you feel it out for a game or two and then hopefully you’re mixed right in. Now, we do have rehearsals; we’ll rehearse pretty much all day Thursday before the opener. But again, you can really only practice the pre-game portion. Once the game starts, you can’t control any of that.

Washington-Capitals-Anthem

Q: What does a game night script look like?

A: Yeah, the game night script…I think we’ve done a pretty good job combining all the outputs into one document for everyone to follow at the same time. First, it tells us our timing – both real “Earth” time, and game time. Honestly that clock on the board tells us way more than real-life time. In pregame, it’s counting down to puck drop. During the game it dictates our TV time outs. The intermission clock is 18 minutes long and we have 18 minutes of content to fill. Honestly we only care what the real time is at the very beginning. After that, our clock is the game clock on the board and on the script.

Q: How often do you deviate from the script?

A: Quite often, and that’s something we’re proud of. That’s something I learned from Mike right off the bat – you can’t be beholden to the script because then the show is static. Our major features lie within the TV timeouts each period, and we script those in blocks, so that we can move entire TV time outs at any point based on what’s happening in the game. So if the Caps go on a run and we need a pump video, we can go to that and move entire segments. Same goes if they’re down and we need a rally, or if there’s a fight on the ice – we’re going to stick with the action. We’re not going to go to something else when fans really want to see if Michael Latta is winning this fight. [Ed. note: Yes. Yes he is.]

wABPmrm

We want to be fluid – some places don’t have the luxury of that. When I talk with people around the league and other sports leagues, it all depends on your management whether you’re going to be allowed to do that. We’re lucky here in that we can, and that’s exactly what our fans and management want us to do.

Q: What’s it like to get a quiet crowd up on their feet, or rally up the fans?

A: Definitely rewarding. We try to stay within ourselves and not try to take over because at the end of the day, fans are there to see a hockey game. Our job is really to foster their excitement. So if they come and they’re excited about the team, all we have to do is continue that wave. The tougher thing is if the team is not performing well; it’s up to us to kind of shake that off the fans in some respect and get them going in other ways, but for the most part Caps fans want to be excited anyway; all we have to do is get that going.

New York Rangers v Washington Capitals - Game Five

Q: What new elements can you tell us about.

A: Ooh, that’s a tough one…

Q: OK, what can you tell us about what might be coming?

A: Perhaps no surprise here, but we will be spending a fair amount of production time celebrating our 40th season. We’re hoping to look as deep as the Capitals can go into the past every night and have some kind of tribute to the past every single game this season.

Q: And of course you’ve got the Winter Classic coming up.

A: Definitely. It’s such a big production – obviously the Caps aren’t handling it all themselves, the NHL and the Caps and Nats Park are all coming together to make this happen. I know that some of our crew are going to cross over but nothing’s set yet in terms of who will be serving in what roles. Honestly I’m not sure where I’m going to be yet. But I can say we’re going to be so excited to be there.

Q: How do you decide what elements to include; what makes the cut and what gets dropped?

A: We’ve got so many talented people in our production group. We sit together and brainstorm through ideas, and talk ideas soup-to-nuts. It might be a meeting where we’re going to come up with new ideas. Everyone throws out their ideas and we put them on a big board and then later, you take each idea, going step by step and decide which ones you want to see more developed and which ones aren’t quite baked yet. Usually whoever pitches the idea – if we like it –they’ll go and flesh it out.

 

Sometimes an idea that sounded good initially doesn’t have a lot behind it and it goes away. Sometimes ideas that were pigeon-holed for whatever reason might turn into something else entirely that we really need; we’re not going to realize that until we actually start trying to think it through in a real-world setting. I can tell you there’s already a few ideas this year where that’s happened. For example, we had a video meant for a specific player. As we started building the video, we realized that this player can’t really be who he is without his teammates, so now it’s a team-based video. That’s pretty cool to watch something like that evolve.

Q: You mentioned the Red Rockers; what can you tell us about the squad this year?

A: 13 new faces out of a squad of twenty, so that’s a lot!

Michelle Dee

Michelle Dee

It’s a younger team than we’ve had before. We just finished our photo shoot and everybody did a killer job – the photos are going to look awesome and we can’t wait to get those out. They’re from all over the DMV area; one girl is from Pennsylvania. She’s so committed that she wants to commute 2-3 hours every day to be part of the team. We’ve also got a new coach, Michelle Dee.

She was on the squad for three years previously. She works for DC city council during the day and is just awesome.

 

Disclosure: Craig’s colleague at work is a returning Red Rocker, Caity. SHE’S GREAT!

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Red Wings Fly Into New Season

Perhaps the headline is more wishful thinking than reality.

The Red Wings preseason was not kind to the team. Out of eight games, only three were winners. Three other games were regulation losses and then there was one OT loss and one shootout loss. All of this went down against very competitive teams like Penguins (one win, one loss), Blackhawks (one win, one loss), Bruins (two losses), and Maple Leafs (one win, one loss). Even worse, the last three pre-season games were all losses. And who do we meet in the season opener on October 9? The Bruins.

Red Wings logo 1I have to admit, I expected more to go down in the Red Wings off season to change things up. The past few seasons have not been great. Looking back since the last cup win in 2008, the post season stats a far from stellar. For 2008-09 we were back in the finals and that time the Penguins took home the prize. Since then, the Wings have been out in round one or two:

  • 2009-10: Out in round two to the Sharks in five games.
  • 2010-11: Out in round two, again to the Sharks but in seven this time.
  • 2011-12: Out in first round to the Predators in five.
  • 2012-13: Out in second round to Blackhawks in seven (after barely getting out of round 1, taking seven games to defeat the Ducks).
  • 2013-14: Out in round one to (look, here I am naming them again) the Bruins in five.

Looking beyond playoff performance, it’s been a challenge even to get into the postseason. Last season we scooted in as the wild card. It was similarly bad the year before (although in 2012-13 it wasn’t called a wild card slot). You have to go back to the 2010-11 season to find Detroit clinching the division.

I could try to dissect this whole thing by looking at years of stats and performance, but I admit to being a more casual fan than that. I expect team management to work on this sort of thing.

As I said above, I expected things to go down over the summer. When Pittsburgh, a team that’s been having better seasons than Detroit (even while not winning a cup), up and fired their head coach among others, I was braced for the same thing to happen in Detroit. Or to see some significant shifts in the roster. Or both. None of that came to pass.

Don’t mistake the last paragraph to imply that I’m not a fan of what’s in place. Mike Babcock is a great coach, the winningest in Red Wings history. Plus he’s got a couple Gold Medal hockey teams under his belt, too. I also love to watch so many of the players on the roster, both individually for their skills and how they play together. But what is happening these past seasons where the Wings can’t maintain a streak, narrowly get themselves into the post season and can’t even get to conference finals? More importantly, what’s being done to change the pattern?

Jimmy HowardI do appreciate that the team seems optimistic this season. In a Wings press release from October 6, Goalie Jimmy Howard, who has publicly remarked that he’s expecting a much better season for himself this year, said “We’re a pretty underrated bunch of guys right now. I don’t think a lot of people are expecting too much out of us this year but we know what we’ve got in this dressing room, we know what we’re capable of and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

Maybe Detroit will find their wings and fly. I do love a good surprise. Here’s hoping it’s a season full of them courtesy of the Red Wings.

Jeff’s regular PuckBuddys beat includes the Red Wings and reviewing fiction that features gay hockey players. In addition, he’s the author of the Hat Trick series, which chronicles the romance of Simon & Alex, two hockey players who fall in love during high school. Hat Trick 2: Playing the Rebound was published in July and he’s at work on the third installment. Another hockey romance short story, Rivals, will be out from JMS Books this holiday season. You can follow him on Twitter at @hockeyguynyc.

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Tripping to Victory – Sheathed Sabres

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Back on Wednesday Buffalo played their final pre-season home game against the Capitals of Washington D.C. Entering the game were numerous players projected to start the season in Buffalo including Moulson, Ennis, Stafford, and Stewart. They were followed by probably starters in Grigorenko, Reinhart, Mitchell. The defense itself had their own share of potential starters as well as projected starters. The likes of Zadurov, Benoit, McCabe, Strachan teamed with Gorges and Myers.

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As a whole the defense played smartly. They kept the lowly Capitals, who were without many of their star players, to twenty-three shots on goal. Individually their mind unraveled. Constant miscues were abundant in both responsibility and skating. Defenders twisted their legs around falling over while trying to defend. They weren’t deked out of their shoes, merely couldn’t execute skating backwards nor could they execute the timing to go from skating backwards to skating into an offensive player. Zadurov was the main culprit of this illness that afflicted the Sabres’ D that night. Somehow he managed to find himself ill half a dozen times, carelessly gliding on the ice belly down. Enroth was unfazed by these distractions, clearly the jester Neuvirth put the defenders up to the task of distracting the starting goalie. Be it for increase playing time during the season or just due to forgetting which team he plays for, Enroth got the better of that clever former Capital by stopping all but one shot he faced securing him the starter’s gig and beating a hapless Cap attack paired with Sabres D futility. Somehow Neuvirth managed to convince elder D statesman, Tyler Myers, to join this Barnum and Bailey act on the ice. Oh the pre-season, what a folly of comedic genius you are.

Number 51 lapsed time and time again in his duties as a D-man. While in Buffalo’s zone defending, Zadurov consistently didn’t mark nor pick up his man leaving open what could have been a dangerous slapshot from Ovechkin (had the Caps actually cared about the game and played their starters). Instead just their D,E, and F lines had opportunities. Though Washington never managed to convert any of the opportunities off of Zadurov’s blunders, thanks in a high part to the back-checking of the offense. Zadurov seems to require a few more years of conditioning before he has a serious shot within the NHL. He possess the potential yet lacks the necessary vision of a quality defender. A couple more years of dedication at a slower level should acquaint him with maturity and responsibility. In his defense he looked overzealous to prove himself. Patience padwan.

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Only one D-man was impressive that night, a 6-1 swirl over visiting Capitals. This player kept with the play, not once overstepping his bounds – chains of defense. He forced turnovers, created passes from great lengths, giving the offense a jump against the cowering Capitals. Jake McCabe was doing all he could to earn his own starting position. With Pysyk out McCabe is a similar player to fill Pysyk’s role. He’s a former member of the US National development program as well as a former Badger (University of Wisconson). He signed a three year entry level contract with the Sabres towards the end of the prior season. He immediately joined them playing seven games all in April. He started the day after he signed the contract. At that time the Sabres kept many of their top D prospects in Rochestser including Pysyk and Ristolainen. McCabe had seven games to taste the NHL without competition. This season he has not that luxury.

McCabe has been displaying all the signs of keeping up with the NHL game, especially during the pre-season. His best talent for the Sabres are his long passes. They are rarely intercepted, landing deftly upon the blade of a mate. He keeps a good pace and never overstretches his jumps into offense. Defense is sound in his mind and stature. As for his defensive attributes; he isn’t the hardest of hitters yet he is able to play a physical close game. He can dislodge the puck from shooters as well as keeping them to the side, forcing bad angle shots. He hounds offensive players like a basset hound does an escaped criminal. Look for Mr. McCabe to be a mainstay with the Sabres while Pysyk is out. Beyond that time-frame he’ll sure to see significant time with the Amerks if for nothing else but to see him play top minutes against the stiffest competition the AHL has to offer.

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The player – the only offensive layer i’ve kept an eye on has been the fringe Zac Dalpe. Last Wednesday night he lacked that ingenuity that caused me to spot him out of a sea of blue a couple games ago. Rather this game he looked lethargic, like your family does after an extensive Thanksgiving meal. His break-away speed only came out in bursts like solar flares but never consistently. Though he typically feigns at physical contact he seemed more timid this night. Preferring speed over close proximity he skated from the center of the ice towards the boards. The vulcanized rubber and him parted often at the hands of defenders. There never appeared any creation of space by him except when he shyed towards the corners for a time-out. Sure the game was played closed (despite the score) but he never frolicked assertively at the defense and goalie like he had previously – like I was accustomed to witnessing. As the play moved towards the corners Dalpe remained a couple sticks distance from the puck, soft play offensively. He requires some more finesse, the ability to not be afraid of being hit, and to be more direct/stoic in the face of challengers.

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With all that being a regression of his offensive acumen, his defensive shell hardened! The wanderlust skater found a groove while defending. Hounding every white jersey that night which happened to stray away from the boards and towards the center of the ice. #20 ensured no success would be had while he patrolled the central strip. His shrewdness displayed the focus of Nolan’s work ethic and defensive responsibilities. Dalpe was calculating in his movements, gliding about, never in a place for more than a moment. He kept passing lanes from being open too long. The pace of the game continued to move because of him. Despite him and his line’s lack of points they kept the momentum of the game in favor of the Sabres, the final tally reveals so. Many a points were had after his shift was over and the team transitioning from defense to offense. On the night he was an even player for ten minutes and fifty-seven seconds while managing three shots on goal, one hit, and a takeaway in fifteen shifts. Clearly Nolan kept going with the hot line in the offensive zone. In the greater picture their success was in part due to the back-checking, pace, and movement of the minor lines such as Dalpe’s.

Mr. Dalpe is a fringe player to make the team come this Wednesday. Should he pass waivers and be with the Amerks he could truly shine as well as see call-up action a third to a half-way into the season. He’s more developed than other younger players with a similar style like Varone. So long as he can manage defensive responsibilities with his offensive talent while not being afraid of being physical, he could be a star penalty killer. Think of a player in the mold of Kirk Maltby but with more goals. Dalpe has potential for twenty to thirty goals in the NHL with a third of them possibly coming from the penalty kill. In the AHL I believe the hope is he gets accustomed to the physical aspect of hockey. After a few hits and getting back up he’ll realize that the hits only keep on alert and don’t hurt so much.

In recent news – Reinhart looks poised to start the season in Buffalo along with Zadurov. Don’t expect them to stay for long however. Neither should make it past game nine. I think they need more work (above for Zadurov reasoning). Grigorenko who’s surprised this pre-season has been sent to Rochester with the expectation (mine) to dominate then replace Reinhart or dominate all season long and get playoff experience with the Amerks (perhaps a trophy!). McCabe and Dalpe are expected to be in Rochester (should Dalpe clear waivers). I’ll be sure to monitor Dalpe closer while he’s in Rochester as well as stay abreast of the defense.

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Unsheathed Sabres

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Last Friday night the Sabres matched up with their cross-border rivals infamous for their blue Maple leaf logo. These teams, regardless of their records,seem to bring forth such disdain for the other. From the moment the Maple Leafs walked into the stadium a bitter intensity covered the ice like cirro-stratus clouds cover Buffalo throughout the winter threatening snowstorms.

The Maple Leaf fans threatened to take over the entire stadium. Many of them probably traveled fewer than the eighty miles it takes me to trek from Rochester to every home game. Kessel, Bozak, Phaneuf jersey’s were as prevalent as Moulson, Miller, Vanek, Ennis jersey’s that night. Strangely a Karlsson jersey made it into the game and an un-named LA Kings jersey happened to make it onto the jumbo-tron. How peculiar.

My seats against the back wall in the 300’s had plenty of Leaf fans within spitting distance. All-in-all the Canadian fans occupied about fourty percent of the stadium based on the eye test. The fans kept the tight, heavy hitting game congenial. The same was not true for the players on the ice.

From the onset of the puck drop the players kept a hard, physical, checking game intact. The named players for the Sabres got their shot at Toronto first. Moulson-Ennis-Stafford, Hodgson-Reinhart-Gionta, Foligno-Mitchell-Stewart almost all of them are expected to make the opening day roster while Flynn-Schaller-McCormick got action this night; only McCormick of them is expected to make the opening day roster. Reinhart, Foligno, Mitchell, Flynn, and Schaller were out to prove their meddle. For defense Pysyk was out (inj) so McCabe saw time with Myers. Weber with Ristolainen, and Zadurov with Meszaros.

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The players were physically inept for the first period. Not only were they continually knocked off pucks, they also couldn’t knock any Toronto player off the puck either. Their hits were brushed aside like silly thoughts to Randy Carlyle’s genius. Toronto kept possession for much of the first, admittedly in their two thirds of the rink; managing only six shots on goal. All three goals of theirs in the first came from Buffalo’s focus on hitting the player rather than going after the puck.

Chris Stewart was the only Sabre to respond in kind to Toronto’s hard-hitting ways as the first period unfolded. Stripping the puck, being in the face of every Maple Leaf jersey he saw (only the glass prevented him from cross-checking Toronto fans in the first two rows), and scoring two goals to Toronto’s three. The rest of the Sabres tried too hard to be physical at the cost of playing sound hockey. Their pass-heavy plan failed due to its inconsistent passing and lack of fluid skating. They were left vulnerable to Toronto’s pounding. Many a times a Sabre received the puck while standing still. Buffalo was slow, passed slow, hit slow, skated slow for the first twenty minutes. Only Stewart’s line (Foligno, Mitchell) kept pace with the enemy.

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Something happened after the first intermission. Buffalo, blue and beaten after twenty minutes which must have seemed like its own sixty minute game, emerged from the dressing room blue and golden. Physical and open became their style of play. They dictated the tone of the remaining fourty minutes. Delivering hits, playing with intensity and speed, the game became a true competition of grit and prowess. Neuvirth, Weber, and the rest of the defense not named Myers or McCabe were the only obstacles preventing the Sabres from imminent victory. Neuvirth was personally responsible for at least two of Toronto’s six goals. He never got high to stop those shots – congrats Toronto for proper scouting. Toronto shot high on him all night converting twenty seven percent of the time. At least four of the six goals were high. Weber on the other hand was not just slow but lacked eyes on a developing play. He looked as lost as a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car along the 90. Like that deer, he had no reason for being on the ice being responsible personally for two of the oncoming cars’ goals. His pairing mate Zadurov just didn’t back him up nor adjust to meet Weber’s inefficiencies. Toronto skated in with ease while those two were drawing blanks for eyes forgetting if they were deer or hockey players.

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Since I am focusing on D-men this season Meszaros, whom pleases me as a signing, and Ristolainen had their own miscues. They were as porous as sand. Sure they kept Toronto to twelve shots in two periods but they allowed the Leafs to get far too close to Neuvirth for anything but a goal. Those four D-men were catalysts for Toronto’s twenty-seven percent shot ratio, four percent higher than the feared and dangerous Penguins or Capitals PP% for all of last season.

Highlighting the defense, the combination of Myers-McCabe were on fire! From the get-go they were melting the ice. Their physical play, their focus on stealing the puck, their speed to play defense from an offensive position on the ice was a major catalyst in Stewart and Mitchell having a prominent role in the first period. Kudos to Foligno for being the anchor-weight on that line! Those two players (Myers-McCabe) kept the Sabres as close to winning as possible. Myers even managed to demonstrate a physical intensity. In the third period after a cheap shot against him while in the corner he got into a scrum. Though his attempt at a fight lasted only five seconds before he fell over, he Carrick through their gloves down and fought. Officially his attempt at a fight was ruled as a double minor for roughing.

All-in-all the Sabres showed their grit and prowess to attack in a physical game while trailing. As there are expected only three forward positions open for the regular season according to Bill Hoppe of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com. Mitchell, after Friday’s performance, is a strong contender for one of them. In my view Dalpe made a strong case for inclusion into the roster based upon last Tuesday’s game. The test gets tougher with tonight’s tilt in Toronto (try saying this sentence three times fast). Only Reinhart, who’s presence has been questionable on the ice despite knowing he is in the lineup, of the nine seen as competing for the last three forward positions will not be facing Toronto in Toronto. Defenders Bagnall, Petrecki, and Strachan, will get in on the pre-season play and opening day roster availability. The defensive spots are harder to acquire. Weber, who is expected to play, may be making a roster spot easier to acquire.

Side note: On the physical violence of Friday’s game – I saw nothing over-the-line from either side. None of the three official fights (and certainly not Myers’ attempt at a fight) appeared to be staged nor did any appear to be a scrub VS a star. Even the McCormick-Phaneuf non-fight was not a scrub VS star as Phaneuf was taking liberties with some line-mates of McCormick and with McCormick himself. The hits, ‘finished-checks’, and overall physicality of the game did not appear beyond the context of the game itself. Neither team allowed for cheap shots. Those shots that did occur either the players or the refs took appropriate actions. Friday’s match was a testament to how refs should handle the more physically dominating games – be them in an open or closed system. The refs took immediate action to cheap shots often assessing penalties, players themselves did their best to quell cheap-shots immediately. My first star of the game goes to every referee on the ice that night!

P.S. I am a proponent of fighting in the NHL but only when it occurs in the context of the game and especially when liberties are taken against any players. Players should be able to defend themselves appropriately, team-mates should be able to stand-up for one another while playing hockey. Emphasis on being able to play the game of hockey.

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Sabres’ Golden Future

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The Sabres won their first game already and are .500. Too bad its the pre-season where those kind of stats are irrelevant to the playoffs. Fortunately it’s the preseason and those things matter for fans and management alike. So the Sabres finished in last place a season ago but that was a prior season when Tim Murray was so painfully sick he up-chucked nearly the entire roster. Murray’s purge led to his subsequent binge of draft picks and free agent signings. Those acts make for an exciting pre-season for fans, management, people, and probably players alike!

After watching a practice on Saturday and attending their win versus Carolina last night a great deal of my focus this season will be on the defense. The defense will be the litmus test for subsequent seasons, in my opinion. The Sabres have a burgeoning defense. Fan favorite Myers, soon to be if not already a favorite Gorges (if for nothing else than spurning Toronto and CHOOSING to play in Buffalo), and of course young twin towers in Ristolainen and Zadurov. The later is perhaps a couple years in the works but the best promise according to many scouts. My favorite defender though is Mark Pysyk. Aside from good looks and charm – never having met him – he is my player to watch. He has the ability to shut down the opposition which he demonstrated in his time with both the Sabres last season as well as the Amerks.

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He has a skill I highly value in my defensemen (in any sport); the ability to play offense while on defense and defense while on offense. Some may liken it to transitioning simultaneously from defense to offense or from offense to defense but it’s actually a more subtle skill though comparable. If one is familiar with world football think gay friendly Philip Lahm of Deutschland. Much like Lahm I believe Pysyk to be the teams keystone on defense. He will be able to transition this latent ice-capped volcano to erupt like Mount St. Helens.

Pysyk suffered an upper-body injury in the first minute of play during Tuesday nights contest against the mighty Hurricanes. As a result Nolan adjusted all night his defense pairings. As a whole the defense did not use their space well nor did they transition from one side of the rink to the other with much vigor. Their play was admirable marked by highlights from none other than Tyler Myers. His defense is noticeably better already. He starred in both the open game more akin to his skill set as well as the closed game corresponding to the mentality of the Sabres. Myers allowed his body to get some work in! Meszaros’s highlights are mentioned here. He is a player I am incredibly happy we signed. I have liked his play since he first came into the league despite him being a Flyer for a few seasons. I firmly believe Meszaros will do so well for us and us for him!

With all this defense talk my star of the game is a forward, shockingly. It came out of nowhere and surprised you just like Zac Dalpe did to me Tuesday night. At practice on Saturday he wasn’t even on my radar in Group A. Overshadowed by the likes of Pysyk, Reinhart, Ristolainen, Zadorov, and by promising players in Carrier and Samuels-Thomas (look for them to shine wherever they play!!!), was Dalpe. Only drills were had in practice. Come game time Tuesday night he was the one player I couldn’t help but observe. Speed abound he had while being everywhere on the ice.

At 24 yrs old 6’1″ 195lbs he wasn’t doling out hits nor did he shy away from them either. He used his body as needed to strip the puck (my kind of player). He had the best pace of all the players on the ice including his former franchise in Carolina. I couldn’t help but be astonished with his positional play. Offense went to defense which turned to offense with each twist and turn of his sound frame. All I saw was #20 skating everywhere. Only when he was on the bench and not moving was there a name with that number – Dalpe. Never had I heard of him, impressive he was though.

No doubt playing against former friends aided his drive. Coach Nolan though gave him plenty of respect to prove himself. Zac played a minute and a half on both the PP as well as the PK – he shone on the PK in the first period. Nolan rewarded with the second most ice time by a forward despite Dalpe winning only 33% of his faceoffs. Clearly that is a skill he’ll have to work on.  He was at 45.9% last year in 55 games with the inept Vancouver Canucks.

While researching for this article I found out his history. He’s a native of Paris, ON. He played last season with Vancouver, his childhood team. Zac signed with Buffalo in a one year deal over the summer. I have already mentioned his speed, like Speedy Gonzalez.

31506In addition he has energy, shoots well, passes well, and is very versatile. He can play center or on the wing – the Sabres might require him on the wing despite performing well with Stewart. The critical side has him not being assertive (physical contact) while his defense needs some polishing. Even as he is I forsee him playing on either the 3rd (most likely) or the 2nd line and garnering short-handed goals. The Sabres could use some PK threats (a lost thought in hockey). He has the skills and qualities I look for in a player. I hope he performs well-enough for a contract extension as I see him being a talent. Be it in Buffalo or my hometown Rochester – where he purchased his truck (9:40 mark) – the waves of barley atop his head, the two spheres of a calm night’s sky below those golden stalks will be a heart-warming sight come game time.

 

 

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