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#Duffalo: Sharing positive messages in hockey and in life

by Brian Duff @duffersabres / Sabres.com

ON ICE

With two games remaining this week, the Sabres will close out their first 20-game segment under first-year head coach Phil Housley.

After a winless-in-five start (0-4-1), the most recent games have produced a record of 5-5-3.

How different would it feel if they had secured a point or more from: 
-A 3-2 loss versus San Jose at home, in which they led 2-1 after 39 minutes?
-A 1-1- game versus Florida at home after 40 minutes?

Or two points from:
-A winnable game in Montreal, in which they led going into the third period.
-A winnable game in Pittsburgh, in which they led going into the third period.

Four more points seems reasonable.
Six more points would have been ideal.

Well, the latter would have them tied for the final playoff position. The former would have them two points out.

Not to belabor the point(s) but you can see just how easily it could be different.

And that's why Housley has continued to stress how hard it is to win in the league.

It's been really insightful sitting next to analyst Marty Biron this year, watching not only how he processes the game, but what he takes from them moving forward.

After last night, Marty gave me three points of emphasis to keep a close eye on:

1. The power play - last year's No. 1 unit in the NHL - has finally warmed to the task, scoring in three straight games for the first time this season and going 4-for-8 in that stretch. Given the current struggles for depth scoring at 5-on-5, this hopefully could be a catalyst for better things to come.

2. The unexpected pairing of Marco Scandella and Justin Falk. Together for five games now, their Corsi For % took a hit (like everyone else's) against the Penguins, but in the absence of Rasmus Ristolainen due to injury, it's hard to fault this duo's efforts in trying to stabilize what has been a challenging start to the season for the entire corps.

3. The message - a positive one from Phil Housley. For those of us who haven't lived these situations in the room as players, I found it interesting to hear from Marty that the consistently positive message from Housley has clearly been accepted by the entire group. He feels we are hearing different responses from the players after games because of it, and that in the long run, it will be extremely beneficial in keeping the team committed to its style of play and - as importantly - to one another.


OFF ICE

We launched a new monthly feature this week! 

Video: Americans Made: Linus Ullmark

Linus Ullmark was an easy choice for our first installment of Americans Made. He's a highly regarded prospect who is already familiar to Sabres fans, an engaging personality, and no stranger to our production crew…

Video: BBG: Good Goalie Eats

And despite having been around him a fair amount the past couple seasons, it was impressive how much more I learned about him when we sat down a few weeks ago.

For instance, during his time away from the rink, he rarely watches hockey games anymore.

"I used to, but I tended to focus on what the other goalies were doing in the game than the actual game," Ullmark said. "And there would be some plays that I feel frustrated at because I would be thinking, 'What are they doing?' And you start to analyze their game a bit too much, and when I do that, I tend to bring it into my own game and start thinking about stuff that is completely unnecessary for me."
 
If you've watched the video, you probably have a good sense of how driven he is to not only succeed, but find that consistency that every elite player has.

"I was coming from a small town in little Sweden and basically living in the woods, and you start working out with guys like Victor Hedman, and the Sedin twins, and I had the opportunity to also practice some days with Peter Forsberg in his last years," he said. 

"When you see those guys coming into a regular practice and treating it like it was their last or something, you just start to think about it like, 'This is something that I myself need to work on. What can I improve to do the same things they are doing?' But I'm a goalie so I can't do the same things. I can't back-check harder, I can't get the rebounds, and all that stuff. So I gotta think of my own ways to do [things] and develop my stuff in the best possible way."

And that's where two critical pieces of Ullmark's hockey-life puzzle came into play.

"I have two extra fathers as I call them," he boasted. "My two old goalie coaches in Sweden - Magnus Helin and Maciej Szwoch. Growing up and coming into Modo Hockey… it's a big club and you wanted to play there when you were little. But there were things happening in my private life that I couldn't handle, and I was immature, so those two helped me immensely. 

"Every day trying to be a pro. Like whenever I was getting pissed off with one, the other was there to back me up, and vice versa. I have a lot of gratitude to those people."

From the beginning of training camp at HarborCenter in September, Ullmark made it clear that being a better person is where his focus lays. 

"I used to be a very closed-in guy, didn't talk about anything. I just tried to have a smile on my face every day and whenever something bad happened, I'd just trying to dig it down deep inside of me," he admitted.

But that would lead to what he called breakdowns, something he appears to have put in his past.

"Nowadays I'm much more comfortable talking with feelings," he said. "I'm way more comfortable talking feelings with other people - doesn't have to be a teammate, could be a friend, whatever."

Or his wife, Moa Wikman.

Linus and Moa met in high school thanks to an old friend. (Old being a relative term of course, since this happened only six years ago.) At 17, they were in the same class. 

When Moa was playing soccer, Linus watched. And when Linus was playing hockey, Moa watched. From that point on, Linus described their relationship as "a helluva ride" with "never a dull moment."

And this past June they formed an official tandem!

Instagram from @lullmark: Mr. And Mrs. Ullmark ��She's definitely a keeper! ��

"I was excited to get married, yes, but we were also having a discussion regarding it last season and I put it out there just to...get some thoughts in her head," he said. "She wanted obviously to get married. But she didn't know that I would come up with the question."

And he didn't. For a while.

"I kind of put it on ice," he laughed. "Make her think that I didn't want anything, make her think that it wasn't coming this summer. That's what my plan was. I felt a little bad at first then I just kind of laughed at it whenever I thought about it. I just played it off cool, and then the season ended and we got home and I proposed! And she still asks me 'Are you for real?'"

Real is a pretty good way to describe Linus now. 

"I'm a very open person I would say, but I still can be a loner guy. Like, I enjoy just walking outside and looking up at the sky and watching the stars. But also I love to hang out with the boys. That's just how I am," he said. "And I would say that's a trait for me. To be able to relax and not think about anything, just about me or the dogs or my wife."

As our interview was ending, Linus was in a bit of hurry to get to an appointment with Moa. And not too long after, he posted this tweet:

Instagram from @lullmark: Coming in March...��+��=❤️#UllmarkYourCalendar

We will definitely #UllmarkOurCalendar.


LIFE ON THE ROAD

Marty and I are definitely enjoying life with our fabulous crew at the One Buffalo studio for Sabres road games, but...when an open night on the schedule meets an incredible window of opportunity, you need to trust your instincts!

October 29

AND...

November 1

Tweet from @duffersabres: Can you beleive this smile was BEFORE the @astros won the #WorldSeries??? Thank you @thebrianfallon for an unforgettable night!!! pic.twitter.com/2FW2CavpqD

A quick trip to NYC to see one of my favorites perform a really intimate show. And on top of his terrific solo work, Brian Fallon finally gave in and gave us a little Gaslight Anthem!

Watch: Youtube Video

And if that wasn't enough, a Game 7 victory for one of my boyhood teams. I managed to catch the final three outs at probably my favorite Lower Manhattan spot.

Whether you are walking in, or walking out, you always know exactly where you are when you visit O'Hara's.

Tweet from @duffersabres: Where I was when the @astros won the #WorldSeries What an emotional place to be!!!! pic.twitter.com/U9DCOrQXR5


IN THE COMMUNITY

Saturday is our annual Hockey Fights Cancer Night.

For many of us, it's the most important night on the home schedule on an annual basis.

In my last blog post, I shared some stories of the courageous Dave Strader, the Hall of Fame broadcaster who was taken from us October 1 at the age of 62.

As was shared with those in attendance at his funeral, Dave would be the first to tell you that he was able to achieve and be a part of so many unimaginable moments in his life that he lived with absolutely no regrets. He lived an incredibly full life.

It's hard to say those words when we talk about a 16-year-old.

This was Caitlin Burbige on our Hockey Fights Cancer Night one year ago.

It breaks my heart to tell you that she won't be with us on Saturday.

I knew of Caitlin because of my friend and colleague, 21-year Sabres employee and Sabre Store Merchandise Manager Glenn Barker, who was kind enough to share her story, despite his - and others' - immeasurable loss:

I coached Caitlin for the past six years in the game she loved with the Evans Force Travel Softball program. Like all the girls, I considered her another daughter. Caitlin played first and third base, had unbelievable power, and cleared a few baseball fences during tournaments. She had a beautiful smile and attitude that was extremely contagious. 

She was diagnosed with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) on February 1, 2016. In September 2016 she received her first bone marrow transplant from her older sister and was cancer free. Through all the rounds of chemo, surgeries and blood transfusions she was still attending as many of our games as possible. 

In the summer of 2016, as we played in a National Qualifier Tournament to attend the NSA World Series to be held here locally in Buffalo, Caitlin was with us too - even playing soft toss before every game. 

Playing our fourth game of the day on a hot day in June, Caitlin didn't want to leave. Seeing her there brought our team together as we rallied for 4 runs in the last inning and won the game in extra innings. That win propelled our team into the 2016 NSA Fastpitch World Series! And we continued to battle and compete for Caitlin, placing 5th in the 14 & Under division, an amazing achievement for tiny little Evans, N.Y. (Population: Just Over 16,000)!
 
Unfortunately on April 8, 2017, Caitlin's Leukemia returned. The diagnosis shattered Caitlin's family to the point of disbelief. She received another bone marrow transplant in August and things seemed to be going well until she was diagnosed with GVHD (Graft Versus Host Disease). GVHD develops when the donor's immune cells mistakenly attack the patient's normal cells. On October 19, Caitlin passed away, but her spirit did not. 

Our community and team will be honoring Caitlin by renaming our annual Evans girls youth softball tournament to the Caitlin Burbige Memorial Weekend Softball Tournament.

We will also be giving out two Scholarships in her memory through the tournament and Lake Shore High School. 

Caitlin Rose Burbige 1/13/2001 - 10/19/2017


Please think of Caitlin, her family and friends, and all of those in the fight as we continue to battle for all of those affected by this dreadful disease.

 

QUOTABLE 

"I think it's the shame and stigma of addiction that exacerbates the problem. People need to know. Don't be ashamed of it. … Now, to honor Jamie and to know how hard he worked, we don't want it to go for naught. If we can save somebody else, that's what we're going to do." -Ken Daniels

This quote was taken from an article written by Craig Custance for The Athletic. A story about the tragic passing of the 23-year-old son of Red Wings broadcaster, and friend, Ken Daniels.

I encourage you to read it, so we can prevent as many of these tragedies as possible in the future.

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