Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hey Now, You're an All-Star Pt. 2

During our earlier All-Star discussion I said that I think the game is kind of a non-event and that I'm not sure most of the players really care that much. However I did also say that I think it is a big deal to first time All-Stars. So please allow me this moment to gloat about celebrate Buffalo's three starters in this year's game, all of whom will be playing in their first All-Star game.

First up, le petit Daniel Briere. Danny, despite oodles of talent, heard over and over that he was too small to make it in the NHL. The Phoenix Coyotes put him on waivers during the 2000-01 season. When he cleared waivers, he thought about playing in Europe but decided to give it one more go in the NHL, determined that if he didn't make it in the NHL, it wouldn't be because he gave less than everything in him. Danny led the team with 32 goals the next season but the Coyotes had already given up on him. He was dropped to the fourth line before being traded to Buffalo for Chris Gratton. Now Danny is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league, capable of being absolutely breath-taking on any given night. Last year he had 58 points in 48 regular season games and 8 goals and 19 points in 18 playoff games. This year he's leading the team with 49 points in 42 games, good for 13th in the NHL. (Thanks, Phoenix!)

Then there's Ryan Miller. Ryan had a pretty good pedigree coming into the league. He had a very good career at Michigan State where he set the NCAA record for career shut-outs and won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's most oustanding player. Despite those successes, he had a hard time adjusting to the NHL game and there were many who thought he just wasn't tough enough mentally to make it at the next level. After losing a regular season game in front of family and friends in Detroit early in his career, Ryan broke down and cried all the way through his post-game press conference. He had a difficult time putting goals behind him, much less losses, almost obsessing over the mistakes he made. But he kept plugging away and has somehow managed to adjust that mentality. Now when he has a bad game he's almost guaranteed to follow it with a great game. He is, for my money, one of the best breakaway goalies in the league. On the rare occasion that a puck gets by him on a breakaway or during a shoot-out, Buffalo fans are secretly a little shocked. The fragile kid is now a young man with nerves of steel and ice in his veins... except when he called his dad after the All-Star announcements last night and they both cried.

And finally, there's Brian Campbell. Dear, sweet Brian Campbell. Brian was a 6th round draft pick and one of the biggest whipping boys in the organization for the past few years. Fans just pounded the poor guy, admittedly with some justification. He was a healthy scratch 29 times in the season before the lockout (a number he has burned in his memory). In the three seasons before last combined he had 17 goals, 57 points, and a -30 rating. But God bless him, Brian kept plugging away. So far this year he has 5 goals, 26 points, and a +17. I don't know what exactly happened, but geez, did it happen! Brian was always a decent offensive talent and an amazing skater, but he's like another player in his own end - always in position, a solid penalty killer, and the guy most responsible for holding the defense together while Henrik Tallinder was out with a broken arm. All that and he's a total blast to watch. Atleast once a game there's a shot of him on the ice with a huge grin and a "holy crap I can't believe I'm getting paid for this" expression on his face. Fans across Buffalo are happily eating crow.

I'm sure there are more stories like the above in the NHL than there are Crosbys and Ovechkins - guys who are destined to be All-Stars from the second they set foot in the league - and every once in a while it's probably good to remind ourselves how hard our boys have worked to get where they are. It's not as easy as they sometimes make it look. So despite my slagging of the All-Star game itself, congratulations to everyone who made it! And go Sabres! :-)


Jordi said...

Awww stop - now you're making me feel sorry for Miller!

Paige said...

Let's Go Buffalo! This year, the cup is ours. It's hard not to brag when your team is THIS good!