3. Jack Eichel's OT Goal vs. Carolina
When Jack Eichel scored the first overtime goal of his career on home ice with one second left the clock ice against Carolina on March 12, he gave everyone in the building a Sabres moment they will never forget.
Video: CAR@BUF: Eichel slips in OT game-winner before buzzer
The look on RJ's face in the now-viral video pretty much sums it up.
Here is how I remember it: When the Sabres win, I do a postgame interview from the bench on the videoboard with one of the three stars. If a game is close or goes to overtime, the team I work with huddles up around a monitor in the hallway between the locker room and the bench to watch the final minutes. And once we win, everyone springs into action - quickly deciding about which player to interview and what type of questions to ask.
That game was special, because I really didn't need to ask Jack anything. I still remember his huge smile as he skated across center ice. He was on such an emotional high from the goal and the win. He almost looked as if he wanted to say, "Did you just see that?!"
Of course, we all saw it, and we all shared in his pure excitement. Jack will score many more overtime goals, but only one can be the first.
2. Being the "Voice of God" at the NHL Draft
When the Sabres hosted the NHL Draft in June, it was a very special time for our team and our city. The hockey world brought a buzz to the area surrounding the arena, HarborCenter, and Canalside, which was looking particularly bright and welcoming in the gorgeous WNY summer weather.
On the first night of the draft, I had a front row seat to the action as - get ready for it - the "voice of god." (That actually my job title for the night!)
At the draft, the "voice of god" reads a short biography about each selection as he hugs his family and makes his way up to the stage for a photo op with his new team. For example, when general manager Tim Murray announced that the Sabres had selected Alexander Nylander, people in the arena heard me say, "Alexander Nylander led all Ontario Hockey League rookies with 75 points in 2015-16 to capture OHL and Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year honors."
Players never forget their draft night, and I loved having the opportunity to be a small part of it for this group of guys and their families. Whenever I hear about a player from that draft year 2016 doing good things for his team, I always feel like I played a small role in their road to the NHL.
1. Hockey Fights Cancer Night
Our annual Hockey Fights Cancer Night is known for the moments that leave us inspired. During this year's celebration on Oct. 7, I was thrilled to see Matthew Eggers of Grand Island enjoying the game in a suite with some of his friends from Camp Good Days. The 7 year old has been through a tough fight over the last year and a half, but as his Twitter bio says, he's winning.
It's certainly hard to argue with that when you look at a current photo of Matthew next to a photo of him from last year. Sabres fans might remember when he and Jack Eichel led a group of Carly's Club kids out onto the ice for a ceremonial face off at the 2015 Hockey Fights Cancer game. It's great to see him and his dad around the arena from time to time.
To me, seeing Matthew doing so well is a perfect reminder to be grateful for everything we have as we leave 2016 behind, and enter the New Year hopeful and optimistic about the future.
Happy New Year, Sabres fans! Can't wait to see you in 2017.
3. A Bills Game and a Bite to Eat with the Coach
This technically happened in December of last year, but hey, close enough! The Sabres were in Detroit and on this particular Sunday, the Bills were playing. Soon after landing in Michigan, the broadcast crew took to the MGM Grand Detroit's restaurant for a bite to eat, have a drink or two and watch the Bills game.
Now this is common practice for us on the road during football season. But what is not always common is who joined us. Coach Dan Bylsma sat down with the gang and proceeded to have a great back and forth about many things, including the mindsets of Buffalo sports fans.
The conversation itself was fun to listen in on as Sabres.com's Jourdon LaBarber, a Tonawanda native, spoke of how he always feared imminent doom around the corner even while enjoying a great game. Dan spoke of how you can't always expect the worst to happen - otherwise you keep willing it to happen. How else is a coach supposed to think, right?
It was a fun afternoon and early evening, in which Dan Bylsma took a moment to let us all know that we are also part of his team. We are all "One Buffalo."
That evening eventually ended with Brad May and me at an old concert theater in Detroit, meeting a crazy bunch of guys backstage after their show. Only to find out this LA-based rock band was managed and looked after by a crew of Buffalonians. Of course, they are also huge Sabres fans. Displaced Sabres fans are indeed everywhere and I can't wait to keep meeting you all in 2017.
2. "The Eichel Tower"
January 26 in Ottawa: Jack Eichel scored his second of the night and the eventual game-winning goal. On that night, I decided to go with a goal call I had been thinking of for Sabre star rookie forward Jack Eichel since he had been drafted and signed by the team.
Video: BUF@OTT: Eichel puts Sabres ahead with second goal
"Eichel Tower" just seemed to fit in my mind for a player whose heights seemed limitless as he burst onto the scene out of the draft. The way he can skate and shoot the puck, Sabres fans hope he towers over all others and leads the team to the playoffs - and eventually a Stanley Cup.
So when Jack scored that second goal, knowing it may be the game winner I said to myself "Just let it go and make the call." Little did I know that it would inspire a young Sabres fan so many miles away to tell his dad, "We should build an Eichel Tower."
The game itself is for the fans, especially the younger ones like C.J. Gworek. We all recall our favorite players growing up. They were icons, stars on blades who could make you jump for joy off your couch on any given Friday or Saturday night. While there are always critics of some things play-by-play announcers come up with, it's always overshadowed by the younger fans (and in this case C.J's dad), who see the joy in the call and what it means to his son, a young Sabres fan, to construct and maintain The Eichel Tower.
1. Adopt-A-Pet Event
Video: Adopt-A-Pet Event
Highlight No. 1 for me, without a doubt, is a community moment: Sabres day at SPCA of Erie County in Buffalo.
Being a many-time doggy daddy and rescuer - and at the time, without a canine pal in my life - as soon as I saw the Sabres were having an awareness/fundraising event at the Erie County SPCA, my fiancée and I knew we had to attend. Both of us are dog lovers and felt we, at the very least, needed to help raise awareness to the need for people to adopt/rescue an animal that was in need of a loving home.
As we left for the event, I mentioned to Brenda, "We may not be coming home empty handed, you know." She smiled back and we knew that, perhaps that evening, our lives would change.
As we arrived early to the event to meet with the great people at the SPCA, we were given a tour of the facilities and shown the puppies that needed to be rescued. Well, I took one quick look to my left and saw this adorable tan and white puppy come bouncing - and I mean bouncing! - out from the group. My heart knew right away and I said, "That one please."
I felt I could not get the words out fast enough. There was just an immediate something about the little 8-week-old guy that I knew had come to into my life for good. We were handed "Kibbles" and I passed him to Brenda, who immediately fell in love with him and began to cry tears of joy.
Kibbles, soon to be renamed "Bandit" has found his forever home.
After some playtime in a busy and loud atmosphere, Bandit fell asleep in Brenda's arms and were soon on our way home with our new family member. Turns out, on that night, we were not five minutes from the shelter when the car broke down.
We had tiny Bandit covered in a blanket and waited for Brenda's dad to pick us up and take us home and then have the car towed to the garage. Bandit was calm as can be through the whole event, and having him in our lives now bring us calm and happiness after a long or busy day, as his big brown eyes and wagging tail greets us every time we are home.
All of this great joy into our lives thanks in great part to the Buffalo Sabres and the partnership they have and care about with the Erie County SPCA.
Happy New Year!!!
3. Kraft Hockeyville
There are 21,335 people in Marquette, Mich. After spending a day there in October, I imagine nearly all of them love hockey. Our trip for the Kraft Hockeyville, USA preseason game against the Carolina Hurricanes was memorable for many reasons: the antique charm of Lakeview Arena, having Doc Emrick on hand for an exhibition game, a two-point game from Jack Eichel.
But what stood out the most, in my opinion, was the passion the people there had for the game of hockey.
When our bus arrived there in the morning, we were greeted by a large crowd of people waiting to meet the Sabres players and coaches. Many of them were wearing Sabres gear, which is impressive because Marquette is definitely a Red Wings town. What was amazing was that the entire crowd actually followed the team into the rink to watch their morning skate. They cheered for goals scored during power-play drills as if that night's game had already begun.
I spoke to a few of the locals during that skate, and what I found was that every one of them had some sort of connection to the game. One man who had brought his son told me about how his grandfather worked as a chemist and used to be brought in to check the pH levels of the cooling coils at the Palestra, the predecessor to Lakeview Arena.
Another told me about how he used to play hockey at Marquette State Prison, where Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings once played an exhibition game against prisoners.
The morning after the game, a few of us took a walk by Lake Superior while we waited for the team to begin practicing at Lakeview Arena. A couple who jogged by us must have noticed we worked for the team, because they turned around to come and say how thankful they were that the Sabres had come to their town.
Video: CAR@BUF: Marquette holds Kraft Hockeyville USA parade
I think I speak for everyone when I say we were just as happy to be there.
2. A Conversation with Ryan Miller
Interviewing Ryan Miller was probably (definitely) more fun for me than it was for Ryan Miller. There was some good timing involved: We were in Vancouver in October, exactly 10 years from the Sabres' historic 10-game win streak to open their 2006-07 season. Since I talk about that season at least once a week anyway, I figured why not make the most of the anniversary and look back on that winning streak with the former Sabres goalie?
The conversation with Miller went well. We talked about the "October Surprise" storm that coincided with their winning streak, talked a bit about the team's mindset entering that year after their surprise run in the 2005-06 playoffs, and even spoke a bit about Buffalo in general. What stuck out to me, just as it did when Miller returned to Buffalo for the first time last season, was how genuinely he cared for the city he spent 11 seasons playing for.
That was an easy and fun article to write, and I hope it's not the last time I get to look back on that 2006-07 season.
1. Eichel's game against the Rangers
As I write this, I'm only minutes removed from walking off an elevator for Sabres practice at HarborCenter and being greeted by a group of what could've been anywhere between 100 and 1 million children, all chanting "We want Eichel!" in unison. It was both endearing and terrifying, but it was also a perfect example of what Eichel has already become to this market in his season and a half in the NHL.
I imagine there were some of those same "We want Eichel" chants in the 21 games after Eichel went down with a high-ankle sprain on the eve of the season opener in October. The team did well to win games in his absence, but there's no doubting the unique energy in KeyBank Center any time the puck touches his stick with any semblance of space.
Eichel scored a goal and an assist in his first game back, a 5-4 Sabres win in Ottawa on Nov. 29. It'd take a special effort to top that in his first home game of the season, and that's what Eichel gave to the hometown crowd. He scored to tie the game with less than eight minutes remaining against the New York Rangers, and then he scored the winning goal less than two minutes later.
Video: Eichel powers Sabres to 4-3 comeback win in Buffalo
The team has had its highs and lows since then, but the energy in the arena when Eichel scored those goals was a reminder of just how exciting games can be downtown when the Sabres are rolling. It might have been the loudest I've heard any building this season - including the building I'm writing in now with 1 million chanting children.
Even in the toughest of times, this job gives you never-ending days to remember. To narrow it down to three seems unfair to the other 362 days, but that is our dilemma as 2016 comes to a close.
3. Hockey to Lacrosse: A Cross-Country Flight
When thinking of it in the context of days, or in this case one specific day, it would be hard to have a "fuller plate" than I had on June 4.
The NHL Scouting Combine was again at HarborCenter, in advance of the draft which would follow in three weeks across the street. I had the good fortune of not only being able to do my day-to-day job of building out video features for Sabres.com but also the opportunity to freelance with/for my old friends at NHL Network.
The day began at the rink around 7 a.m., and as I hopped back and forth between the two gigs, I was assured by NHL Network producer Chris Collins that we would be done packaging segments (for a show that would air in the days ahead) by 12:30-1 p.m.
It was a complete success with memorable interviews with the top picks, and spotlighted GMs (namely Jarmo Kekalainen of Columbus who would not commit to selecting one of the Finns available in the top 3. And wouldn't you know it, he drafted Pierre-Luc Dubois out of Quebec!).
So with my hockey duties done, the real fun began.
I drove from Buffalo to Toronto to catch a 5 p.m. flight to Saskatoon where the Bandits were playing Game 2 of the NLL Champion's Cup Finals, and I was slated to do color commentary on the radio with the legendary John Gurtler.
Making it in plenty of time to loiter at the airport, the only thing that mattered now was the flight departing and arriving on time. It was a 3-and-a-half hour trek, with a two-hour time change to the good, meaning I should arrive around 6:40. The arena is a 10-minute drive away.
Incredibly, it ALL worked out. And less than 2 minutes before the anthem began, I plunked myself down - in a dimly lit broadcast booth with the on-field game presentation antics at a fever pitch - to the left of Gurts, who simply completed his sentence, turned and delivered a question to me as if I had been there for an hour.
And off we went, right down to the game's agonizing conclusion in the final seconds, as the Bandits ultimately fell short of their goal, 11-10 in a thriller.
As always, decompressing with the crew, which in lacrosse encompasses SO MANY awesome people, was just the topper on a career day from a workload standpoint. A day I'll cherish forever.
2. O'Reilly: An All-Star at More Than Hockey
January 26 in Ottawa was the last game before the All-Star break in Nashville. After managing to sneak in a Jack's Mannequin: Everything in Transit 10th Anniversary show in D.C. on the 27th, it was off to Music City from the 28th to the 1st.
And one of those days in particular stood out from the rest: Our day with Ryan O'Reilly and his family at the studios of Black River Entertainment for his intimate acoustic recording session.
Video: BBG: The Music Man
The video tells the story. I mean how could it not have been awesome to just sit there and watch it all unfold?
But the great takeaway for me was just watching how proud his family was of him.
Those are feelings we should all be so lucky to feel.
1. Eichel's Return
At the end of the day, it comes down to game days. And given how this 2016-17 season came to a crashing halt before it even began with Jack Eichel's ankle injury, it made Tuesday, Nov. 29 that much more impactful.
From the playfulness of his teammates drawing attention to his participation in the morning skate to scoring on the team's first power play in the first period that night, it was a day built around Jack.
Video: EICHEL: Pregame Interview
Video: BUF@OTT: Eichel records two points in season debut
Video: Jack Eichel on the postgame show
Cheers to many more "times like these" for you as fans, for Jack, and for the Sabres in 2017!
3. Scouting Out Vegas
I have the privilege of traveling a lot for this job and one of the most memorable trips didn't happen during the season. As part of a conference this summer, I went out to Las Vegas for the first time. Yes, I had a lot of fun with some co-workers, but one of the highlights of the trip was being able to check out T-Mobile Arena, the home of the NHL's newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights.
My photo here probably doesn't do it justice, but it's a really cool, state-of-the-art facility. It looks like a great place to both see a hockey game and to just hang out. There are lounges and bars everywhere, and for hockey fans, the sightlines to the ice seemed to be pretty great too.
(I also got to ride shotgun in a stock car at 160 miles per hour on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a few laps and rode the roller coaster at New York-New York, but I figured we'd keep this one somewhat-hockey related.)
2. NHL All-Star Weekend
When people talk about great cities to watch a hockey game in, I don't think Nashville is ever mentioned enough. It's a fun town with a growing hockey fanbase (there's a reason why we're hosting a Road Crew party there next month), and being there for All-Star Weekend last January was quite the experience.
We even got two great Beyond Blue & Gold episodes out of the trip.
Video: BBG: Ryan O'Reilly: All-Star
It was really warm outside that weekend down in Music City and there were still tons of people rocking All-Star jerseys of Predators players up and down Broadway. The 3-on-3 tournament was way more entertaining than I expected it to be, but as you know if you've ever read #Duffalo, some of the top things you take away from any trip have nothing to do with hockey.
Case in point: While hanging out after Friday's Media Day, Duffer, Michelle Girardi Zumwalt and I, as we tend to do on the road, started looking up nearby concerts. That's when I saw that Jewel was playing, looked at them and asked, "Do you guys want to see Jewel?" And there was no debate. We were going to see Jewel.
We asked some of our friends at Black River Entertainment about the venue - 3rd & Lindsley - and they had nothing but high praise for it.
The next night, we zipped over from the Skills Competition to the venue (they weren't kidding about what a cool and intimate spot it is - it can seat up to 250 and the total capacity is 500). And after Chance McCoy of Old Crow Medicine Show (They wrote "Wagon Wheel!") finished his set, Jewel took the stage.
She entered from stage left and proceeded directly to the microphone at the center of the stage. Grasping the mic stand, she began to sing an extended version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" a cappella. I think we all left our jaws on the floor, in awe of the confidence and poise that radiated from her stage presence. And also in awe of just how good it was. Then she started to take requests and entertained solo for the remainder of the show.
This was also only two weeks after David Bowie's death, so as an encore, Chance McCoy's band came back out to back her in a performance of "Heroes." It's hard to put into words what that show was like. Maybe the most suprisingly great concert I've ever attended.
1. Hosting the 2016 NHL Draft
What a labor of love this turned out to be. It was a massive undertaking by everyone in our organization to pull this one off and based on the results and feedback, it seemed like everyone enjoyed their stay here for that weekend in June.
Video: Fan Reaction to the 2016 NHL Draft
Being on the inside, you get to see first-hand how hard all of our staff worked that week and all of the hours that were put into it - everyone from the top of the organization on down that helped to make it successful. It really was an all-hands-on-deck operation. On my end, I worked very closely with our Broadcast team, our Creative Services Department and our Media & Content division over at Pegula Sports and Entertainment, and I couldn't ask for a better crew.
Video: 2016 NHL Draft Recap
When you look back on it as a whole, it makes you proud to be able to work with such talented people.
Video: Alexander Nylander: Behind The Scenes
It was a lot of fun to be able to give you, the fans, some behind-the-scenes looks at how we were preparing for the event. For the entire month of June, we had all-out pre-draft coverage too.
Kris Baker provided you with his Top 30 prospects and co-hosted an all-new series with Brian Duff that we called "Prospect Avenue." This allowed us to try and look at who the Sabres might take with the eighth overall pick in a new way (check out the nice things they had to say about Alexander Nylander back then).
Video: Prospect Avenue: Forwards at 8?
Video: 1-on-1 with Alexander Nylander
We had features on how the city was preparing, on players looking back at their draft years, how the prospects were enjoying their time in what turned out to be a mostly gorgeous weekend weather-wise, and lots more.
Video: How Is Buffalo Preparing for the Draft?
Video: Gionta Looks Back at 1998 NHL Draft
Video: Top Prospects Take Batting Practice
I hope you enjoyed everything we were able to put together this year, and as always, thanks for checking out our site for news, videos, features and anything else we may come up with (like the dramatic reading of "All I Want For Christmas Is You"):
Video: A Dramatic Holiday Reading with the Buffalo Sabres
Really looking forward to 2017 and everything it may bring.