It was tough being off for 12 games, but I didn't find myself preparing for last Saturday night's game against Boston any differently than I have always done. I went down for the morning skate, felt the ice, checked my gear, made sure everything was ok and then did the same old thing I do during the day. Right before the game, it was exactly the same thing ... just trying to stay loose and not worry about anything else but playing the game.
After such a long break it felt good to be back on the ice with the guys. Game time is always fun. It doesn't matter if you're playing or not, there's always a good atmosphere. It had been a while for me though, especially considering the Olympic break, but it was just exciting to get back in to the routine and back on the ice. Sometimes you do forget the little things that can happen during the game.
Going in to the game, there wasn't really a whole lot that I felt uncertain about or “rusty” at. There are a few things to adjust to: playing the puck behind the net; and the speed of the game. Right from the beginning and even in warm-ups, the things that I like to do are rebound control and stealing the puck. Even though Boston got two quick goals, I still felt really good and ready. The main thing was to keep everything simple, not to beat myself up and not make things complicated. That seemed to work out for me.
Our team had spoken about the fact that Boston is a very aggressive team that likes to buzz around the net in the offensive zone. They tend to take a lot of chances, so I knew that I would have a busy game.
Playing two games in less than 24 hours, we didn't actually get in to Boston until close to 2:00 AM. I knew that their team was just waiting for us, that there were going to need to be a few adjustments made and, for part of the first period, it was. But we responded well, weathered the storm a little bit and then took it upon ourselves to play a good game.
To be honest, I didn't even really realize they had had so many shots in the third period. I don't usually look at the shot clock too much, but at one point, I did look up to see how much time was left in a couple penalties. I noticed that the shots were up in the 30's but it didn't feel like that. The guys did a wonderful job making sure that the shots I was getting weren't as dangerous as sometimes they can be. Sometimes you get 20 shots and they're all dangerous, while other times you face 40 and a lot of them you just have to feel the puck.
Despite the amount of shots, it felt no different than in any other game. I was excited because it had been a while since I had played, but you got to always play your role. Some nights the guys will play extremely well and you won't be asked to do much. Other nights, you're asked to do a little bit more and that's the same for everybody in the locker room. There wasn't a better feeling because I had a lot of shots and made the saves, it was just a great feeling because we won that night.
With a heavy couple of months ahead of us we have to make sure to take care of ourselves. I think the guys here all understand that. Our schedule isn't going to get any easier. We're not going to practice a whole lot, and sessions seem to last for 20 or 30 minutes on the ice. I usually take a lot of shots just to get the legs going. It already feels like a playoff atmosphere in HSBC Arena, so I think that says it all right there. The adrenaline and being mentally focused is what's going to help us go a long way.
------------------------------ Ales Kotalik
March 2, 2006
I was really surprised when I got the call to replace Patrik Elias in the Olympics. I didn't really expect that anything like that would happen. They basically just called and asked if I wanted to join the team in Torino. To me, it's one of those opportunities that you just don't pass up.
The Olympic Winter Games are such a big event and when you look at the hockey tournament specifically, I had the chance to play with and against star players. I mean, some of the best players in the world are competing in that tournament. This was a chance for me to be a part of something important and to be on the same team with some of the best players in Czech history was great. I was just happy to be a part of the team.
It was a little hard to figure out how I was going to get my gear to Torino. I was already overseas in the Czech Republic when I got the call. I did get a little bit lucky though. An employee for my agent was scheduled to fly out to Torino that day, so he drove down to Buffalo and picked up my equipment. He just checked it as his baggage. So although there was a bit of a mess for 48 hours, it all just worked out for me in the end.
When we first got into Torino it was late at night and things were quiet in the Olympic village. Your schedule during the tournament is pretty grueling. There wasn't any time for anything else but your sport. I was going in and out so much for practices and games that I didn't get the chance to see any other sports or partake in the festivities. I just ran out of time.
Going into the first game against Italy was a great feeling. I tried to play my game and just play like it was any other game. I always try to be focused and ready for each game no matter what level I'm playing at. It was an important game for us. Getting the chance to play, and winning, there couldn't have been a better feeling to start my tournament.
Winning a bronze medal was great. When it's given to you right on the ice and you're wearing it right there, that's what you usually always watch on television. You see other teams and athletes getting medals and it's a big deal, but being a part of it yourself is very different. You kind of have the feeling that you are finally a part of something special, that the medal is yours because you played for it and earned it. It's a great experience all around and I know that in the future, when I look back, I can say that I was a part of something special.
------------------------------ Daniel Briere
February 10, 2006
A few days ago, I had my first full-contact practice since the injury. It was definitely exciting to be back and to feel like a part of the team again. The first step I took on the ice, the first time I practiced with the guys, every little step makes a difference but I still don't feel 100 percent. I'm headed in the right direction but it was definitely great to get back out there.
Although JP and I had the same symptoms and the same surgery, we really faced two completely different injuries. I had an inflammation in the pubic bone whereas he didn't. He had a much bigger tear whereas I had two smaller ones. You can't really compare two players or people when it comes to an injury like that. It's important to go by what your body tells you although JP was kind of my guinea pig as I sent him in before me. In fact, that's one thing that helped me a lot, seeing him and the kind of rehab he was doing. Every day I would ask him can you do this, can you do that, how long before you start doing this or that. JP really helped me through this entire process.
While I was out, for the first couple weeks, I wasn't allowed to do anything. Slowly after that, in the first week when I could get back to moving, I spent some of my time biking. There was a lot of exercising in the pool. The first ten days after I was allowed to start working out again, the majority of my training was in the water. It's a hard workout but at the same time I didn't get the full body effect. There is no pounding on your body in the water and I think that really helped my recovery.
Outside of rehab, I spent a lot of my time at the rinks watching my three boys play hockey. With all of them playing, especially on the weekends, it gets to be really busy, but I love it. My parents where there to watch me when I was growing up, so it was great that I got the chance to be at all their practices and games for almost an entire month. For that first month, I wasn't allowed to travel with the team but I couldn't do much with them anyways. We have a great physical therapist here in Buffalo, so I stayed back, and worked a lot with him.
Since we don't really know what caused the injury, there aren't really any exercises or precautions I can take to prevent re-injuring it. There are a lot of studies being done on the sticks, skates, ice surface, and even the training we do, but we still don't know what could've caused it. The one thing I do know is that the mesh they inserted during surgery should keep that area strong and I should be fine for a while. At least on that side anyway.
I am definitely excited to get back to playing. The toughest part of being injured is knowing that you could be out there. Watching from the stands, you almost feel like you're letting your team down a little bit. At the same time, I know that I have to be smart because I am so close to coming back at full strength. The Olympic break is coming up too and I have to decide what is going to be best for me.
I've never had to deal with an injury like this before, an injury that has taken me out of the game for so long. A few times I've injured my shoulder, but after a couple of weeks you can come back. With this, the surgery and the time I missed before, we're looking at over a month and a half and that's where it's frustrating. I've never had to stay out that long before.
It was tough watching the team play against teams like the Islanders, Senators, and Flyers because there's not much I can do. I came to the rink every day, talked to the guys and tried to be positive, but I think that they helped me more than I helped them, especially in the first few weeks. Now that I'm back on the ice and practicing with them, it's a little bit easier to stay positive and show my support.
Regardless of the injury, it was still exciting to watch the team win some really tough and important games. It made it a lot easier for me to stay positive and gave me motivation to come back as soon as possible. When the team is winning, everyone is more relaxed, there is a lot less pressure and you feel less responsible for missing so much time. It's harder watching the team when they are not playing well and you feel a little bit responsible for not being able to help them out.
With the Olympic break coming up, and not getting the chance to play before, I think it should help make it easier for me to come back. Everybody will be off for two or two and a half weeks, for me it will be almost two months, so I think everyone will be off their game a little bit at the beginning. That should ease the transition from practices to games hopefully. Next week or the week before we come back, I know our team's going to have some tough practices, a lot of game simulations with players against players and I think that that's going to help a lot. Overall, the Olympic break will benefit me in the sense that it's going to give me more time to heal, to be closer to 100 percent and with the harder practices it will help prepare me even more to get back in action.
January 3, 2006
I was really excited when I got called up and to be honest, it was a little bit unexpected. I had only played 10 games in Rochester this season because of a couple of injuries, so I didn't really think I would be coming up to Buffalo. When I got the call I was definitely excited and called my family right away. They were all very happy for me.
I was just sitting at home, watching television when Sabres general manager Darcy Regier phoned me to tell me what was happening. Amerks head coach Randy Cunneyworth had kind of given me a warning to be prepared for the call, but said it wasn't for certain. I was just waiting all day and was a little bit anxious.
It's been great playing with Jason Pominville
, Thomas Vanek
, Derek Roy
, Ryan Miller
and Paul Gaustad again. We all played together last season in Rochester. With the team we had then, the chemistry was really great. To see all those guys up here, it makes my time with the Sabres even better.
Those guys all deserve to be in the NHL. Each one of them really works hard and had a great season with Rochester last year. Pominville was excellent this year in the AHL this season before he came up. With them all doing so well and the team winning, it's made my time up here phenomenal.
I'm really just glad to be in Buffalo right now, seeing those guys again and seeing that everyone is pretty happy.
Being from Welland, Ontario, I always try to get my parents, sisters and girlfriend to come to Buffalo for almost every game. Other family members that go to the game sometimes don't let me know. They just come down to support the team, so I don't always know how many members of my family are in the crowd. My first home game - versus the New York Islanders on December 26 - I think I had about 20 people that I knew of at the game.
Before coming to Buffalo, my season in Rochester hadn't been the smoothest. The broken jaw I suffered in the first part of the season was obviously a negative for me, but I think it helped me in a way. With the injury, I got to skate really hard every day and practice with the team without any pressure. It's really hard to breathe with a broken jaw, so when I came back I felt like I was in pretty good shape. When I hurt my rib that was another little downfall that it took me a while to recover from.
------------------------------ Ryan Miller
December 7, 2005
Not playing hockey for about five weeks now has really made me miss the game as a whole. Not being able to take any shots was probably the most frustrating thing about being out. I'm so close to being back that I'm getting pretty excited.
Throughout the weeks off, I did a lot of bike riding and skating since this was an upper-body injury. My focus had to be on my lower-body strength until I could get back into full-contact practices.
Tuesday was my first time being back for a full practice and I was really excited. You never really think about how much you'll miss the game until you can't play.
Thursday, I'll be looking for the confirmation that I'm ok to play and I think that if I do get cleared, I should be ready for this weekend.
When it came time for the team to travel while I was injured, I was able to convince the coaches to let me go with them on the trips. I wanted to be with the guys and still feel a part of the team. I didn't want anyone to forget about me, be gone for a month, come back and have to figure out what was going on. I just wanted to stay in the loop and have some fun. Plus, I don't really know a lot of people in Buffalo right now, as it's only my first season here.
For the two road-trips I did miss, I didn't really do a whole lot of constructive stuff. I tried to spend the majority of my time at the rink, but when I would get home all I wanted to do was rest and relax. Because of the thumb, I couldn't play video games or my guitar, so most of my time was spent just watching TV or movies.
Overall, my thumb seems to be getting better and better each day. Usually after practice it aches for a while, but when I'm on the ice, I don't think about it. It's not going to be an issue for me at all when it comes to playing my game.
With the way the team has been playing, I just want to get back into the swing of things and make a push for where we want to go, the playoffs.
------------------------------ Ales Kotalik
November 22, 2005
Last year, I spent the lockout playing in Czechoslovakia, which was a lot of fun because I had the chance to be around my family and friends. Most of that season, I had problems with my knees so it made me anxious to get back to playing in Buffalo. I think that the NHL is really the greatest league in the world and it makes me happy to be back again.
My wrist shot and slap shot are probably my greatest strengths as a hockey player. I always had an "ok" shot and it seems to be working well for me this season.
Just like everything else, practice is what helps me stay consistent with my shooting. I worked on control a lot this summer, and make it a point every practice to try to work on with the coaches. As time goes on, I seem to be working more and more on shooting.
It's nice to have a good shot, but you really need somebody to recognize it and know when to use it. I'm lucky that our coaching staff gives me the opportunity to use my shot to make things happen for the team.
When I am practicing the wrist and slap shot, I usually shoot from the spots where I most commonly shoot during games. Right now, it would seem that the left point is my best spot. I've scored eight out of my 10 goals on the power play with that shot, so all the hard work seems to be paying off.
Even though I look for the left-point shot on power plays, I don't feel pressure from my team or the coaches to score. They create so many other plays that it makes it easy for me to find a teammate if the shot isn't there.
Lately, it seems like our opponents have been expanding their penalty kill so it's harder to get a shot off. As a result, it's opening more spaces in the slot for my teammates to make things happen in front of the net.
Both my shots are relatively the same in strength. At least I try to keep them both as strong as possible. You need a little more time to execute the wrist shot, so I prefer a slap shot, especially during power-play situations. However, in game situations, I tend to use more wristers than slappers.
Being back on a winning streak really does feel great. The atmosphere in the locker room is better, and everything is more loose and relaxed. When we were losing things seemed to get a lot tighter.
I really think that our team can play against anybody, but that each game will be tough. As long as we stay focused, we'll keep winning. I don't want to spend too much time worrying about how other teams are going to play. I like to focus on our strengths and the fact that we have the ability to win against anyone.
------------------------------ Daniel Briere
November 14, 2006
It's never easy playing back-to-back games like we did this past weekend. You hate to use the excuse of fatigue in a loss, but we're a team that relies a lot on our speed. When you get into the second game, you don't think as fast or push as hard. It's especially tough when the team you're facing didn't play the night before. Ultimately, there are no excuses. We played ok in the first period against Ottawa. Early in the second, we made a few bad decisions that turned the game around for us.
Ottawa is the kind of team that doesn't need a lot of shots in order to win the game. I think it's important for us to give teams like that less room especially when we're playing them five-on-five. For us, I think it's mostly mental with Ottawa. We just give them too much respect and back off too far. They have good sticks and scorers, and it's critical for us to take their space away.
When we face back-to-back games in the future, we have to find a way to get ready during the day. On the second night, you don't have much time to prepare. You wake up in the morning and it's pretty much game time right away. I like to visualize the goalie I'm going to face and the defensemen that I'll be up against for most of the night. I think the team as a whole could do a better job at that.
I know I haven't played well in the last two weeks and it's probably had an effect on the team. I'm not the only one that's struggling right now, but I can't control how the other guys are playing. I can only control my game and what I'm going to do. It all has to start with Chris Drury and myself. We have to lead the team by example and I don't really think we've done a good job of that in the last couple of weeks.
Leadership is about showing the other guys that you want it, and that's where I think Chris and I could help. We need to show a little more passion and emotion for the game: The team needs to get more fired up because this stretch is critical for our season and we realize that.
Helping the team stay positive and focused comes back to being prepared, visualizing and just knowing your opponent. I think everybody should do it and I don't know if they do. If you want to improve your game, you have to know who you're going to be facing so you're prepared for whatever happens on the ice. The fact is you're always going to hit some tough stretches.
We're not the first team that this has happened to and we certainly won't be the last. It all comes down to hard work. Early in the season we got a lot of accolades and maybe thought we were a little better than we actually were. Sometimes our work ethic is just not there, and bad habits follow that are hard to get rid of. These are the little things that we're trying to work on so that we can get back on track. With the team that we have, we'll be able to climb right back up to the top of the ranks.
Three years ago our team hit a bad stretch that ended up destroying our season. This little slump has put us in the middle of the pack, but we'll get back on track and then back on top again soon. I'm not worried about that. We just ask our fans not to get discouraged because this is only a rut that we will be out of soon.