The crowd slowly filed into the old but refurbished arena last Tuesday night, eager for the main event. They had been anticipating it for months and after a long process, the big game had finally arrived in Marquette, Michigan.
Most of those fans had been in Lakeview Arena before, some back during its glory days of the eighties and nineties where the thin tin roof held in the noise of the raucous crowds that made opposing teams nervous to face Northern Michigan on the road.
However, Lakeview had seen better days since then. The roof was rickety, the compressor didn’t work properly, the Zamboni needed to be upgraded and then there was the smell. It was the foul stench of sweaty hockey gear that lingered around the rink, surrounding it like an invisible cloud that was inescapable no matter where you ventured.
Improvements to the arena had been needed for years, but money is hard to come by in an isolated small town located in the heart of the Upper Peninsula. To be able to complete all of the tasks that the city hoped to accomplish, it would take years unless it received a massive donation to speed up the process. Last April, that’s exactly what Marquette got.
I can recall several years ago interviewing CBC Analyst and “Battle of the Blades” contestant Brad May. He was in the twilight of his career with the Anaheim Ducks. I was in the dawn of my career as an NHL reporter. May was about to visit Buffalo for the first time in several years — perhaps the first time ever as a visiting player. We talked about those great Sabres teams of the mid-to-late 1990s (Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!) and all the great players he once counted as teammates.
Of course, it didn’t take him long to mention Dominik Hasek.
I figured that I’ve had written this by now, but here it goes: Dominik Hasek has announced his retirement from hockey. The Czech goalie last played in the KHL in the 2010-11 season. Apparently he was looking to come back to the NHL. It would be convenient to say that the lockout cost him that opportunity, but more than likely time had simply run out.
Hasek’s fire was rivaled only by his athleticism. The combination made him one of the best goalies of his era, one of the best of all time, and one of the most likely to still be playing in the NHL at age 47. He was simply remarkable.
You wouldn’t have been out of bounds if you had wondered, after the first half of the National Hockey League season, if Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula was going to ask for a refund.
After all, $189 million isn’t supposed to buy you last place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Isn’t supposed to buy you 20-24-5. Isn’t supposed to buy you a 12-game road losing streak. Isn’t supposed to buy you howls from the faithful at the First Niagara Center calling for the heads of coach Lindy Ruff or GM Darcy Regier or trades of Ryan Miller, Derek Roy or Drew Stafford …
Eleven days ago, Boston’s Milan Lucic delivered a bull-rushing charge of Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, a devastating hit that resulted in a concussion, whiplash and an immediate need for retribution. The Sabres should’ve pounded Lucic when the hit occurred in the first period – yet they failed miserably. Ask Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad, the poster boy for a cowering effort who, afterward, pointed the finger toward his own face. Ask Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, who spoke to reporters and vowed his team will “deal with it differently in the future.”
Well, that “future” is today, as Boston visits Buffalo. A season-shifting opportunity is knocking upon the Sabres’ door, and it’s Lucic on the other side, pounding his Fred Flintstone-sized fist. The burning question: Is Lucic knocking as the grim reaper, someone who will kill Buffalo’s team unity? Or can the Sabres kick him to the curb like a pestering solicitor, and earn the defending Stanley Cup Champions’ respect as they battle atop the Northeast Division?
Turns out that’s the million-dollar, well make that the $64 million, … awww, what the hell – make that the $189 million question they’ve been asking about the struggling Buffalo Sabres since the start of the NHL season.
OK, “struggling” is sort of a misrepresentation. Sort of. At 12-8-0, the Sabres are still tied atop the NHL’s Northeast Division with the Boston Bruins (whom they will face in an epic rematch Wednesday night) and fifth in the Eastern Conference.
This week I’m going to try something different. I’ll address a topic in the NHL and then a topic in college hockey. Respectively: a cheap shot and the rise of a powerhouse.
Saturday night in Boston, Bruins winger Milan Lucic plowed into Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller and sent him flying, knocking Miller out indefinitely with a concussion. On Monday the NHL announced that Lucic would not receive any disciplinary action, its decision based on a lack of intent on Lucic’s part.
Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff was outraged by the hit saying that if Lucic wasn’t suspended that it would be “fair game on goaltenders.”
Just hours after the ruling, Ruff was proven prophetic as his backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth was run over by Montreal Canadiens forward Erik Cole.