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by Kevin Sylvester / Buffalo Sabres
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It’s great to see Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht heating up.  Those two players fit into the secondary scoring category that is talked of often.  Of course, the secondary scoring has been there all season and indicates good things for the second half of the season.

Since we are half way through the season here is my report card for the team: A.  Is there any other grade possible?  The team leads the Northeast Division and has nine more points that last season’s midpoint.  Everyone reading this would take that news and run back in training camp. Of course there is nitpicking to be done (better starts) and things to improve upon (power play), but this team has put itself in great position to make the playoffs. 

Mid-season awards for the Sabres:

MVP: Ryan Miller.  No explanation needed.

Rookie of the Year: Tyler Myers.  He could win a few of the mid season awards despite a few recent hiccups.  He doesn’t play like a 19 year old and let’s hope it stays that way.

The “He’s-Better-Than-IThought" Award: Steve Montador.  My expectations were for him to be a tough stay at home defensemen.  He’s tough, but much more mobile than I expected with a hard shot.  He’s even been used on the power play and I like how quickly he takes the shot from the point.  Off the ice, a solid guy with a good sense of humor and big heart.

The I Love The Left Wing Award:
Jochen Hecht.  He has been solid this season after being moved back to the left wing from center. This is the Jochen Hecht of 2007-08 season that scored a career high 20 goals and was great along the wall. 

The Welcome Back And Please Don’t Leave Again Award:
Mike Grier.  Great move bringing him back to Buffalo this season.  His work ethic is second to none and I think he’s one of the smarter players in the league.  Let’s hope he stays here until he retires, preferably with a Stanley Cup.

The Should Have Been An Olympian Award: Paul Gaustad.  The Goose is versatile, able to play any position up front, has great size and toughness, can park in front of the net on the power play, and is outstanding in the face off circle.  It may have come down to Gaustad and Rochester native Ryan Callahan of the Rangers.  Callahan is an excellent skater with 9 goals and 12 assists, but is a –11.  Gaustad has 8 goals and is a +4.  Perhaps his injury factored in. 

How Swede It Is Award: Henrik Tallinder.  He was also considered for the welcome back and please don’t leave again award because it is as if he is a new player from last season.  We can list several reasons (contract year, paired with Tyler Myers, finally healthy), and they’re all factors, but the bottom line is he’s on top of his game and has been rewarded with a spot on the Swedish Olympic team.  Maybe he’ll pick up a thing or two from Nicklas Lidstrom.

The I Knew He Could Play Award: Patrick Lalime. I have never been asked more questions about a player during a chat than the Sabres back up goaltender.  He has played great in his last two starts and relief appearance against the Pens.  I think it was just a matter of confidence, which he got by going to Portland for a two game conditioning stint. Oddly, he didn’t win either game, but played very well. 

The Never Give Up Award: Adam Mair.  He was placed on waivers and that appeared to be it for the Sabres winger.  But no.  He stayed in Buffalo, found his way into the lineup due to injury, and has rarely been sat since playing in 28 games this season and often rewarded with more ice by Lindy Ruff for his hard work. A great example for youth coaches in any sport. 

Best Performance Of The First Half Award: Drew Stafford vs. Pittsburgh on December 29th.  Stafford was back in the line up one game after being a healthy scratch in St. Louis.  The Sabres trailed 3-0 in the second period when the team was awarded a penalty shot.  Lindy tabbed Stafford, and after a lengthy wait due to a video review, he beat Marc-Andre Fleury five-hole.  Stafford would then score the next goal a few minutes later corralling his own rebound for his ninth goal of the season. He wasn’t done. He beat a defender and went hard to the net to set up Paul Gaustad for the game-tying marker. It was awesome and something we need to see more of from No. 21. 

Best Game Of The First Half Award-The shootout victory vs. Calgary on Friday November 13th. The Flames scored at 1:04 of the first period when Daymond Langkow beat Ryan Miller in front for the quick lead.  That’s the last goal the Flames would score until the shootout.  Derek Roy tied the game late in the period on the power play. From there on, it was tight checking and hard hitting. The game had a playoff atmosphere. Jarome Iginla had a chance to win it for Calgary in the shootout, but Miller turned him away. Jason Pominville then beat Mikka Kiprusoff for the shootout-deciding goal and the 2-1 win. 

♦   Nathan Paetsch cleared waivers on Tuesday and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes.  He could stay in Buffalo, head to Portland, or perhaps be loaned to another team to get him on the ice.  He’s a real genuine guy and I hope he finds his spot in the league.  Who knows, it could be here given what transpired with Adam Mair.

♦   Finally, is it too late to wish all of you Happy New Year?  I’m a two thousand and ten guy, not twenty ten.  The latter sounds as if one is trying too hard.
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