Site hosted by Build your free website today!
Sabres Central

Sabres start off New Year with a bang
By Rick Anderson
January 4, 2003

Sabres rookie goalie Ryan Miller comes up big in third period action, stopping a Hurricanes flurry of action as the Canes Erik Cole storms in.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

It could be worse for the Buffalo Sabres. At least they are getting paid for their services on the ice. The Ottawa Senators, who the Sabres play Saturday night in Canada's Capital, haven't gotten their pay checks this year. The Sens, who are leading the NHL with 53 points and sporting a 24-9-5 record, host the Sabres in what has been billed the "Bankrupt Bowl." It is a direct clash in how a small market team manages its money. Both the Sabres and Senators have been having problems financially and up until last year, the two teams were often referred to as "twin franchises" for more reasons than one.

This week it was revealed that the Senators could not meet its payroll when a refinancing deal fell through and team owner Rod Bryden had to issue IOUs to the players instead of checks. Instead of getting upset and allowing this to affect their game, the Senators went out the next night, and blasted the Atlanta Thrashers 8-1 on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Sabres appear to be moping and brooding all year over the ownership and financial problems and allowed that to distract them from putting more than 3 wins together in a row. In fact, they suffered through two horrifying stretches where they were winless in 12 games and until they broke a 7-game losing streak Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes, went 10 games with only one win.

Realizing that the Sabres could be getting IOUs instead of direct deposits in their bank accounts, they finally came out and put forth an offensive effort against the Hurricanes, beating last year's Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Finalist 6-3 before 13,757 fans. It was a long time coming for the Sabres to show any kind of offensive spark.

It could be that the Senators were putting the Sabres snivelers to shame. The Sabres were finding and using every excuse in the book this year to explain away their terrible play, while the Sens kicked it up a few notches and slaughtered the Thrashers. They still haven't gotten paid for that game either and Saturday night they plan to show up the Sabres one more time for good measure at the Corel Centre. This year the Sens are 3-0 against their "twins" and are licking their chops at the opportunity to inflict even more pain on the team that has dominated them the last few years.

Dumont gets hot

J.P. Dumont, fighting the flu, came on big time against the Canes by scoring two goals and helped the newly created line he was playing on accumulate 7 points. Stu Barnes centered the line (and also scored a goal) between Ales Kotalik and Dumont and the line was clicking to the Canes' dismay.

"I don't think he's been playing well and I think that goes hand-in-hand with him being sick,'' Sabres coach Ruff said. "He was our best player in the first two periods from hitting standpoint and an emotional standpoint and he got rewarded.''

Ryan Miller was starting his second straight game. He lost an overtime thriller to the New York Islanders on New Years Eve as Jason Blake scored the only goal of the game 1:36 into overtime. The Canes were able to get to Miller a lot quicker than the Isles were as Rod Brind'Amour was able to get one past the Sabres rookie net minder 8:52 into the game, tying it up at 1. Then there was a sudden flurry of 4 goals in the second stanza as Bates Battaglia and Jeff O'Neill's goals sandwiched Sabres goals by Curtis Brown and Miroslav Satan. Brown's goal was a shorthanded talley.

In the third period, the Sabres opened up the flood gates as Barnes, Dumont and Satan all scored to put the game out of reach of the Canes. Miller ended up making 25 saves compared to the Canes Kevin Weekes who made 28.

"He's come in and made some huge saves at key points of the game,'' lauded Barnes about Miller. "That certainly gives the guys out in front of him a lot of confidence.''

Sabres tie loss record

By losing 7 straight games (the NHL doesn't officially recognize the overtime loss to the Isles as a defeat as the Sabres get a point), the Sabres tied a franchise record. The week started with a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild last Saturday. Marian Gaborik had a goal and two assists as he had the Sabres heads swimming and kept them off balance.

"Gaborik is the one guy we talked about," described Ruff. "He's a hell of a hockey player. He's a guy you can't let get a step on you. We gave him a dandy (opportunity). He doesn't miss many of those. Just check his stats."

On Monday, the Sabres traveled to Washington and suffered yet another 4-3 setback. Dainius Zubrus came back into the lineup after a hand injury and scored a goal and an assist as the Caps out hustled the Sabres and handed them their 6th consecutive loss.

Zubrus, who was out of the lineup for 12 games said, "The only good thing that may have come from this injury was that I was able to work out. Four weeks of good workouts -- I got to come back in better shape than when I left.''

After Biron allowed some goals that were very stoppable, Ruff called up Miller from the Rochester Americans of the AHL. Miller started his first game in a couple months as he shutout the Isles during regulation. While with the Amerks, Miller had a 12-10-4 record and a 2.27 GAA. He made 25 saves and looked brilliant on several of them during the regulation. However, Blake, who was stonewalled by Miller when the Isle had a breakaway earlier, got a pass from Kenny Jonsson and flipped a backhander over Miller in the sudden death to pierce Miller's bubble.

"Kenny fortunately hit me in the middle and I thought I had the defenseman beat and I was going to go to the net, but he stopped me once before on a breakaway so I just threw it on net," described Blake.

Miller was expecting a deke from Blake and was playing that when Blake surprised him.

"I thought he was going to cut," said Miller said. "He made a nice shot. It was more of a chip shot. I'd like to have it back."

Hamister gets one week extension

Mark Hamister was granted a one week extension by the NHL to finalize his purchase plan. This came after he met with over a handful of New York state legislators Friday. Hamister also got the backing of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, which represents more than 150,000 union workers.

Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner was glad to grant Hamister the extension.

"After the conference call with Messrs. Hamister and Berman, we have agreed to extend their exclusivity period - the period during which we will not discuss the sale of the franchise with anyone else - for another week," Bettman said. "We look forward to continuing to work with them in completing the sale."

New York Assemblyman Robin Schimminger from Tonawanda and others believe that Hamister's request could be realized because HSBC Arena is situated in an Empire Zone and a Community Renewal Zone. Because of that, the arena should qualify for money set aside for the Empire Zone.

"The HSBC Arena is located within the Empire Zone," said Schimminger. "And as a right, companies that operate in such a zone are entitled to certain benefits. And it may well be, through the context of that Empire Zone program, that benefits may flow from the state to the Buffalo Sabres."

The state legislators on hand to hear Hamister's pitch were impressed.

"Having listened today to Mark Hamister's presentation, it is clear to me the "ask' that is being sought of the State of New York is proportionate to the benefit that the Buffalo Sabres team brings to the State of New York," acknowledged Schimminger.

While Hamister seems to have won several battles he was fighting, including getting the word from Erie County Executive for a new $7 million parking ramp, one battle that he may not win is getting the city of Buffalo to forgive the $500,000 annual rent the Sabres pay the city.

Sabres Talk

Dumont was one of the players the Sabres were counting on to supply offense this season. Instead, he has almost a non-entity until Friday's game against the Canes. He is hoping this will reignite his scoring touch.

"I thought he was our best player in the first two periods from a hitting standpoint and an emotional standpoint," lauded Ruff about Dumont. "He got rewarded at the end of the night for the work he put into it."

"We're not big guys, but with our speed we're strong enough to make things happen,'' said Dumont. "Of course we're not going to kill anybody with a body check, but we're going to finish our checks and win some battles.''

Barnes talked about the new line of Dumont and Kotalik.

"You never know with line combinations and stuff, but it was certainly fun playing with them," admitted Barnes. "I don't think we'll be a fancy line. I mean Al and J.P. made a pretty fancy play on that one goal - but other than that I think we're a line that's just gonna go out and work hard."

Miller was happy to get his second NHL victory under his belt.

"I was really into the game going into the third period," described Miller. "I was still a part of the game, but then I just sat back and watched the boys take control. It's great to see them do what they like to do - get shots on net and get rewarded for it."

Ruff, who will probably start Miller in his third straight game said, "He made three or four real good saves for us in the second period when they had us hemmed in and we turned the puck over. Those are the saves we need."


Copyright 2002 Sabres Central, all rights reserved