By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnnist
Allow me to try something a little different here.
Tuesday night’s hockey game wasn’t a thriller by any standard. The shot totals were low, the good scoring chances were plentiful, and the game seemed to be played in a hurry – comparatively few faceoffs, etc.
Even so, there were portions of the night that got me to thinking about random events that came up along the way. For the most part, they aren’t items that had an outcome on the game. It simply was part of the night at the KeyBank Center. Fans consider such moments part of the experience, but reporters don’t touch on such matters too often.
Consider this an exception to that rule.
No more silence
Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of the plane crash in Clarence Center. The Sabres had a moment of silence before the game, which was a nice gesture. I didn’t go to the hockey game right after the crash, although Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News brought back that emotional event nicely in his story on Tuesday.
Anyone who has Clarence connections probably was touched by that event. In my case, a friend of mine used to live in the house that was hit by the plane. His parents sold it a few years before the tragedy. I was only there once, as a few of us sat on the front porch and gobbled some Archway cookies.
Meanwhile, the best man at my wedding lived a block away from the crash site, so I spent a great deal of time on Long St. over the years. His mom was still living there, by herself at the age of 90 or so, when the crash took place. I called her when I heard where the incident happened, and she said, “I was about to go to sleep when it sounded like a bomb went off down the street.”
That’s what I was thinking about when the arena horn sounded in the middle of the moment of silence. My first thought was that it was somehow part of the observance. But no, it was a mechanical problem that popped up a couple of more times before the start of the game. This was a case of bad timing that snapped me right back into the present.
I didn’t take many notes during the game on Tuesday. That’s because there was exactly one penalty, and it was called on one of the Islanders.
Such a situation cries out for a little mischief. Part of me wanted to ask someone connected with the Sabres after the game, “Why was the penalty-killing unit so good tonight?” Then he could answer, “Yeah, we didn’t even give up a shot while short-handed – let alone a goal.” I probably could get away with it at a Bandits game, where the interviews are more informal and laughter isn’t out of place. But the Sabres are a little too focused on the present to think that way, and my sense of humor – especially with people who don’t know me – wouldn’t work so well.
Even so, one penalty is rather rare, even in these days where fighting has almost disappeared and the game is filled with more skill than it used to have. Back in the Seventies and Eighties, a game without penalties was called a “no-hitter” by the officials, who no doubt appreciated the easy night. Is it a better game without constant penalties? Probably so. The guys today are really good at hockey. It’s good to see them play it without interruption, and not sit in the penalty box.
Speaking of unsaid questions, the Sabres’ third goal led to a couple of such unvoiced queries. In the final minutes, Kyle Okposo’s shot dribbled through Robin Lehner’s equipment and crawled toward the net. Lehner was too far away to get to it, so it was going to be a goal.
Then Johan Larsson came along and slammed the puck into the net. He might have made contact with the puck about four inches away from the goal line.
At some level, any goal is appreciated in that situation. Still, the human side comes up. I wanted to ask Okposo, “Are you going to give Larsson some good-natured “grief” for stealing your goal?” And I wanted to ask Larsson, “Have you ever had a shorter goal?”
Again, the answers would have been straight-forward and perhaps not appreciated, so the questions went unasked. In the right situation, an offbeat question can bring an interesting response from an interview subject. But, sometimes you just have to keep quiet.
Something happened in the third period last night that I can’t say I have seen – or more to the point, heard – at a sporting event.
A couple of fans in the 300 section let out with something of a high-pitched chirp. Another fan or two followed. Then more caught on to it, and the original voices did it again. It was actually pretty loud at times.
My first thought was that it sounded a little like cries from a certain type of dog. I tweeted out that it felt as if I were covering the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York. Someone else thought it sounded like birds chirping, sort of like when you visit the Home Depot gardening department in the summer and hear from the residents around the ceiling. I received a tweet from a fan in Section 311 who said they were imitating Ric Flair’s “Whooo!” that the professional wrestler used in interviews.
John Wawrow of the Associated Press had this reaction on Twitter: “Rather than cheer or chant, Sabres fans have resorted to making annoying bird noises. If this is a thing, count me out.”
I have no idea if it is “a thing,” but it was another part of the experience of going to Tuesday’s game. Can’t wait to see what happens on Friday.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)