| Youppi & Sabretooth (Photo: Getty Images) |
The wake-up call came at 5 a.m. at the hotel in Toronto.
By 6:30 a.m. the team was on the bus and heading to the plane.
It was a pretty quiet ride for the most part as everyone slowly geared up for the day – well it took me a while to regain my senses anyway.
For Harry Neale it was a different story.
Armed with a cup of coffee in-hand, the Sabres’ color commentator seemed unaffected by the lack of sleep as he got on the bus.
“What is this about, Nathan?” He asked Gerbe as he filed into his seat, handing him a newspaper. “You leave Boston College and now it’s ranked No. 1,” he laughed citing an article in the Toronto Globe & Mail.
We boarded the plane at 7 a.m. and after a few hours arrived in Chicoutimi, Quebec – the closest airport to Roberval, and about a 90-minute drive.
Rick Jeanneret may have summed it up best as we pulled down the runway.
“There are two things you’ll find in Chicoutimi,” he said. “Hockey players and snow tires.”
And a lot of fans.
More than 200 people waited at the small airport as the Sabres got off the plane.Jason Pominville
, Derek Roy
and Maxim Afinogenov offered to sign autographs with Lindy Ruff and James Patrick.
They greeted the kids outside who were chanting for Buffalo and talked with a few fans.
Pommer was the first to get back on the bus, laughing and holding up the tie he had on earlier from his suit.
“There was a fan out there asking for some souvenirs or pins that he could take with him,” Pominville said. “I told him all that we had were our personal effects and the next thing I know he ripped the tie almost off of my shirt! He was so excited.”
"I told him to give it up," Ruff said. "It must have been a Hugo Boss tie or something... he held on pretty tight."Erin Pollina
| Rick Martin (Photo: Getty Images) |
The Sabres are on the ice here at the Benoit - Levesque Arena in Roberval, Quebec. I'll admit I wasn't expecting much on the drive in. From the outside, the arena looks stuck in 1974. But inside, it's a great little hockey barn.
Kraft foods and the local government combined to infuse over $300,000 for improvements to the rink. Money well spent. New boards, new glass, netting, scoreboard, renovated dressing rooms, and even a new Zamboni. It looks great. The seating is cozy on both sides, and the low ceiling is decorated with tournament and team banners from all of the youth teams that have marked up the ice over the years.
The fans were chanting and singing "ole,ole" while the Canadiens were practicing and dancing during the flood from the Zamboni. The place is packed with school kids, their parents, and plenty of bag lunches to go around. They are quiet now that the Sabres are on the ice, but also glued to the pre-game skate.
I was talking with a few players as they watched Montreal. Despite the early wake up call, early flight, and 90 minute bus ride, they are enjoying the welcome and excitement surrounding this pre-season game. You can see it on their faces. It's also a juggling act for some as they are trying to make the team and face the same evaluation from the team as they did last night in Toronto.
Patrick Lalime will start tonight in goal and see his first action in the Blue and Gold. I should actually stay close to him as he speaks French and I don't. I've already confused two ushers and one security guard.
Back to the ice. Nathan Gerbe
and Tim Kennedy will also make their first pre-season appearances. It should be a thrill for them to face a storied franchise such as Montreal, which is celebrating its 100th season.
Be sure to check out Sabres TV here at Sabres.com for exclusive video and reactions from the team on this trip to Hockeyville. Kevin Sylvester
| Blueberry Pie (Photo: Google Images) |
One of the great things about traveling is experiencing the local culture. Food is a big part of that
Anytime someone comes to Buffalo, they need to have wings and also get pointed towards a good beef on weck. So I asked Marie-Claude our interpreter (thanks goodness she's here!) if there were any local specialties we could try for lunch.
She said the wild blueberries are a specialty here in Roberval and they make some mean pies. I'm not a huge blueberry fan, so I asked if there was anything else. She told me about the tourtiere, a pot-pie type dish that has been perfected over generations.
It has potatoes and meat ( either pork, beef, chicken, or all three) mixed with seasonings and personal touch from the chef.
That's what I'll be going for. I'm sure Matt Gould or Erin Pollina will be willing to try the blueberry pie.
It's a tough job, but we have to do it. Kevin Sylvester
I just had a run-in with the mayor of the Ice Village - one of the main hockey attractions in Roberval.
The “Village Sur Glace” is made up of two outdoor rinks, a walkway, a skateway and more than 300 huts built on the Lake St-John each winter (usually from early January through March).
And according to Marie-Claude, that includes Mayor Jacques Dion – a volunteer in Roberval who was instrumental in the project.
Originally built to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the town, the “Village Sur Glace” is also one of the reasons Roberval was awarded Hockeyville.
According to the CBC video (see below) more than half of the 11,000 residents of the city skate at the outdoor rinks on a given weekend.
“We didn’t want to present an arena, we wanted to nominate the Ice Village as a great place to play hockey, free for everyone and a place that reunites families and brings everyone together,” Marie-Claude said.
We didn't quite dine on the items mentioned in my previous blog. We ended up at an adjacent mall for logistic reasons and dined at a chicken and rib joint. It was the only option, unless we wanted a liquid lunch and this is a business trip.
Sabres great Rick Martin was interpreting for Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regeir at a nearby table. I then asked him to do the same for us, and he simply said "get the combo platter!"
Martin is one of the greatest guys you'll ever meet. You hear that about a lot of people, but you will not find anyone to give a contrary opinion on Martin.
Anyway, I remember Lindy telling us after the morning skate to get what is called poutine. It's french fries with gravy and cheese. What could be better than that?
It actually is delicious, but we barely put a dent into it. It's a very heavy dish. I also couldn't see eating it on a regular basis, so I'll save it only for trips to Quebec.Kevin Sylvester
|Buffalo Sabres in Roberval (Photo: Getty Images) |
Puck drop is just over an hour away. I will drop to keep the running blog tonight as long as I'm able to remain in my current position in the "press box". It's not really a press box. It's more like the upper corner of the rink.
We are tucked in the balcony next to a support beam. It reminds me of some college games in the SUNYAC league. There is a hefty crowd outside the arena, some waiting to get in, but most are here to celebrate the big win for their small town and watch the game on the giant screens outdoors.
It's a similar set up to the party in the plaza, which we all hope return this spring.
All the big wigs are here in town for the game. I just saw commissioner Bettman arrive and mingling with some fans. NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly is also here. Credit goes to both sides for working together to have a program like this. Of course, this all began through Kraft Foods sponsoring a reality program/contest on CBC.
This would be cool to have in the states too, but that would be like having two Winter Classics in the same year. It would lose its charm.
One final thing. I am expecting this to be loud - Twelve hundred Montreal fans that may be getting their only chance to see their heroes in person. Should be fun. Kevin Sylvester
Here is the Buffalo Sabres lineup for tonight's game. For those of you watching on the NHL Network
I have also included jersey numbers. The game is also being aired on WGR 550 AM
.LW - C - RW
(40) Gogulla - (41) MacArthur - (21) Stafford
(24) Darche - (19) Connolly - (29) Pominville
(42) Gerbe - (9) Roy - (61) Afinogenov
(17) Gragnani - (58) Kennedy - (25) Mancari
(5) Lydman - (10) Tallinder
(34) Butler - (33) Card
(4) Weber - (38) PaetschGOALTENDING
(53) DennisErin Pollina
|Canadiens Fan in Roberval (Photo: Getty Images) |
Matt Gould and I just returned from the celebration outside the arena here in Roberval and are amazed at the emotion of these fans.
With the help of our translater, Marie-Claude, we talked with several local fans who are just in a daze.
It's like a dream come true for most of them who have rooted for the Canadiens since they were little. People are on the roofs of their houses across the street just to see the game on the big screen.
Then when the teams took the ice, all you had to do was look at the faces of all in the building and you could see exactly what having the NHL in their remote community means.
I was standing next to Marie-Claude at that moment, and she was overcome with emotion. She told me she can't believe the Canadiens are going to play at her home rink and that she was standing that close. I am trying to think of an equivlant in our community, but since Sabres training camp and regular season morning skates have been open to the public, there are plenty of chances to see your favorite team.
Not the case up here.
You may be saying big deal, they are Montreal fans, who cares. But they are hockey fans and seeing their passion and excitement reminds me how cool of a job this really is.
I probably won't be thinking that on our nearly two-hour bus ride back to the Chicoutimi airport to catch a two-hour flight back to Buffalo... but let's live in the moment.Kevin Sylvester
Last night Jochen Hecht
was the captain, with Jaroslav Spacek and Ales Kotalik serving as the alternates.
Tonight, Tim Connolly has the C on his left shoulder. This is a big year for him as he is coming off of hip surgery that sidelined him at the end of last season.
You may recall that he didn't practice, but played when he could handle the pain. He really tried to fight through a very painful injury. He's in the final year of his contract and if he can stay healthy, can be a force for the Sabres.
The alternate captains tonight are Derek Roy
and Jason Pominville
I was just informed by Matt Gould that the game is now being carried live on MSG for those of you trying to watch in Western New York.Erin Pollina
|Philip Gogulla (Photo: Getty Images) |
The first period is in the books Montreal 1, Buffalo 0.
The Sabres are playing better in their own end tonight than last night in Toronto. The comparison is probably moot since most did not play last night against the Leafs.
One of the few who did is Philip Gogulla, and the more I see of him the more I like. He's got a big frame at 6'2", but could use some more weight at only 176 lbs.
I like the way he skates hard to the net and is not afraid to go behind the net or into the corners to fight for the puck. He also threw a good check on Montreal defenseman Chad Anderson near the end of the period. Gogulla played if from Germany and that's where he played last year.
Perhaps Portland is in the plans this year.
Here is a question from Jake in Dunkirk, NY:"What are your initial thoughts of [Nathan] Gerbe in preseason action. Do you think he and [Tim] Kennedy could play on the same line down the road?"
Gerbe has been impressive so far tonight and in camp. He's got all the tools and the work he's put in off the ice shows in his body that can handle the battles down low that he has found himself in. He's been playing with Roy and Afinogenov and created some scoring chances.
As for Kennedy and he being paired together in Portland, there's a good chance for that. They're friends from being college foes and have stuck together on this road trip. They both skate hard and play tough.
However, Gerbe will likely be on the top line in Portland, and I could see Kennedy on the second. Kevin Sylvester
The Habs have netted two short-handed goals late in the second period for a 3 -0 lead on the Sabres.
Andrei Kostitsyn and then Tomas Plekanec with his second of the night. The first was solid as Kostitsyn came down the left wing and beat Lalime clean.
The second by Plekanec is one that must have been tipped or took a bad bounce because Lalime was completely surprised that it lit the lamp. It may have deflected off of Connolly'stick.
I expect to see Adam Dennis in goal for the third period. Kevin Sylvester
I was checking out NHL.com's coverage on the event during intermission and came across a great feature story on a local grocery store. It really shows how excited - and dedicated- some of the fans are around here: Erin Pollina
A good start to the third period as Derek Roy
netted the Sabres first goal of the night on his first shift of the third. It looked from my vantage point, which is not great, that he put it off the skate of goaltender Marc Denis. Drew Stafford
did a nice job of parking himself at the left post which allowed Roy to get a clean look at the net.
This will be my last post of the night, but want to mention that we'll have a complete video review of the days events here in Roberval at Sabres TV here on Sabres.comKevin Sylvester
The Sabres closed the gap to 3-2 with a wrist shot by Nathan Gerbe
beating Marc Denis. Less than 10 minutes remaining in the game.
We are heading to the locker room soon... I will post later tonight when we are back in Buffalo.Erin Pollina
The Canadiens held onto the lead to defeat the Sabres on Tuesday night, but I'm not sure it would have mattered to the fans in Roberval if they had not.
I think everyone on the trip was impressed with how genuine the excitement was in this town and the level of appreciation to hold such an event.
It's refreshing to see fans react that way to the game and even nicer to see the players respond to it.
Pominville continued to talk about the schools he and Patrick Lalime went to in Roberval following the game saying "just being able to see the kids with a smile on their face just made our day. It was a fun event to be a part of. If they ever did it again, I’d be the first to come back.”
He may not be the only one.
Overall, Hockeyville was a great experience and as Lindy Ruff remarked in his post-game comments has in a way come full-circle with the Winter Classic.
"We've done it big, we've done it small," he said, "but both events were tremendous."Erin Pollina