Perched above netminder Patrick Lalime’s stall is a bit of motivation for the Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s the pigeon of the game,” Adam Mair revealed.
Proudly displayed, with a Sabres logo on each wing, is a stuffed turquoise bird that currently serves as a unique incentive for the team.
Awarded following each game to the player who had the biggest impact on the night, the bird has become quite popular around the Sabres locker room.
Ales Kotalik received the inaugural pigeon following his two-goal performance against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 17 as Buffalo claimed a 5-2 victory.
Lalime earned the second award Saturday night as he stopped 35 shots in Buffalo’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Thrashers- with the pigeon making its first road trip of the season.
“We put him in his coop, his little cage, and took him to Atlanta,” Mair said, as the bird held a dual purpose as both a motivational tool and a good luck token.
But while Kotalik and Lalime have each enjoyed the bird for a few short days the original pigeon – “the head pigeon” according to equipment manager Dave Williams – is none other than Jaroslav Spacek.
“When I signed here two years ago, I was in the plane and Danny Briere [said] they needed a fourth player to play cards with them,” Spacek said. “They couldn’t find anyone so I said, ‘Okay let’s go pigeons… Let’s play cards.’ That’s how it started everything.”
Spacek continues to use the pet name for his teammates and has affectionately been referred to as ‘Pigeon’ ever since.
But it was Williams who decided to take the nickname to the next level by ordering a bird on Ebay last week, beginning the unusual tradition for the bargain price of $9.99.
“It flew in all the way from California,” Williams said. “Original feathers and everything.”
The team still has to make a few adjustments to the rules.
“It’s a group decision,” Mair said regarding who determines the winner each game. “It’s usually pretty obvious who wins it, but if there’s a discrepancy, it’s the equipment staff and the training staff who decides… or maybe it's the previous pigeon.”
“It’s a work in progress," Assistant Equipment Manager George Babcock retorted.
The bird will continue to be awarded after each game, and placed in the locker room stall of the winner. According to Spacek, the team is keeping tally of the winners and whoever receives the most ‘pigeons of the game’ at the end of the season will keep the stuffed animal for the summer
“Last year we had the tomahawk in Chicago,” Lalime said, who spent 2007-08 with the Blackhawks before signing with Buffalo as a free agent this summer. “You always have something to make it interesting and have some fun with it as well.
“It’s a fun thing that we do and it really shows the character we have in here,” Peters said. “We’re a bunch of 25 goofballs that just love to play hockey.”