-To my regular readers (Mom, at least) I apologize for the lack of notes in recent weeks. The only excuse has been all the travel. October has been a blur with the trip to Europe and the subsequent four consecutive games away from First Niagara Center. The good news: the time away has given me plenty of fodder for this.
-We’ll start with the trip to Europe. It was nothing short of a great experience. It wasn’t only a chance for players to bond, but also for the staff that made the trip. It gave us all more in common and more time to get to know each other. As for specifics, the team visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is something I’ll never forget. That’s the hospital that takes in all the wounded from the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing first class treatment with the goal of getting the soldiers back to America for continued care in two days or less. There are two soldiers that I’ll remember most:
The first was a soldier sharing the room with the Marine that the media was cleared to talk with and photograph (each soldier had to be pre-screened and give the ok for media and photos). He didn’t know we were coming, and quickly agreed to be photographed. After the players left, I was the last one in the room and asked him what happened to him. He was also a Marine and didn’t want to talk about it. I told him no problem, I understand. He said, “No, it’s stupid and I’m embarrassed.” After a minute of small talk, he relented and told me why he was there. “I’m getting my gall bladder out tomorrow.” My response was “stuff happens” and you have nothing to be embarrassed about. What he said next gave me chills. “You have to know, I begged for two years to get on this detail, and I’m there not even there three weeks and my gall bladder has to come out. It sucks. I can’t wait to get right back.” I felt bad for him, but also admired his dedication and resolve. I hope he did make it back, and never sees that hospital again.
The other soldier was from the country of Georgia, and he was unforgettable despite not speaking a word. Several Sabres entered his room with an interpreter. Andrej Sekera
led the way. The interpreter wasn’t needed because nobody said a word, or needed to. This soldier was no older than 20, and had both legs wrapped heavily from wounds. His face lit up when the players entered the room. When Sekera handed him an autographed hat, you would have thought he handed him his release papers. Soon, everyone in the room was smiling. It was contagious. I was one of the first ones out and interviewed Sekera for a broadcast package when he came out. After the interview, we walked past the doorway of the Georgian soldier’s room. There he was with a Sabres cap on, giving us the thumbs up with a big bright smile. It was amazing to behold, and I’m thankful I was there.
-Another highlight of the trip was the exhibition game against Adler Mannheim. The 8-3 win by the Sabres was overshadowed by the crowd at the SAP Arena. The fans in the end zone location near the Sabres bench were the best I’ve ever seen (sorry mad hatters). These fans were on their feet (all three levels), singing, chanting, and cheering the entire game. The pre-game tribute to local hockey hero Jochen Hecht
was great, as was the retiring of Rene Corbet’s number 20 during the second intermission. There was actually one timeout in the 3rd period where the fans took over the entire time without any prodding or video entertainment. It was great, and I’d love to see that in all buildings in the NHL.
-I guess it’s time to address the eel in Finland. I don’t know if it’s a good sign for my career that the consumption of the head of a lamprey eel has garnered the most questions from people on the street. I had no plans to eat an eel when Mark Blaszak (videographer) and I headed out the market in Finland. We just wanted to capture some culture and a look at the food. We were talking with the merchant about the Baltic Herring she had for sale. We were about to move on when she said I had to try this. This was an eel. I’d explain more, but you know the rest of the story. However, there are two questions that everyone is asking me: How did it really taste? Did you get sick? I don’t remember how it tasted, because all I could think about while I was chewing it was “I am eating the head of an eel!” And for the second question, I thought I was going to be ill for weeks. But nothing happened. For those sushi lovers that say no big deal -- or eel -- eat the head and then let’s talk. -The new locker room is amazing. If I were a single player, I’d move in.
-It was great to see Kevin Dineen last week when the Sabres visited the Panthers. The former Portland head coach was well deserving of his shot to coach in the NHL. He’s a great guy, one to root for when not playing against the Sabres.
-I enjoyed reading Scott Miner’s blog about what it’s like to travel for away games. His example was the back-to-back situation after the home opener vs. Carolina and then the roadie in Pittsburgh. The multi-game road trips are a bit different with time for dinner on off nights, and the occasional time to explore. During those times, you become familiar with the cities the team plays in year after year, and develop a sense of belonging. You have to, or the road will eat you up. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but embracing it makes it a lot easier. Speaking of embracing, Scott did have his favorite blankie with him on the plane to Florida.
-Finally, don’t panic. It’s still early.