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2011: The Year in Sports

A half dozen memorable moments in local sports

2011 was another interesting year around these parts: the Sabres changed ownership, and the goal of winning multiple Stanley Cups became the new focus. The Bills? Well, how about a terrific 5-2 start that had everyone in the city “shouting,” followed by a depressing slide that is still unfolding as the season winds down. Over at the ballpark, the parent New York Mets handed our Buffalo Bisons a roster that gave us little to cheer about. Plus, injuries that ravaged the pitching rotation early. As for our local college teams? Let’s not even go there.

Personally, our Ultimate Sports Road Trip adventures were capped with a memorable journey to Europe, where for 11 days we traversed Germany by rail, catching Bundesliga soccer and following the Sabres to Mannheim and Berlin. Did we mention the side trip to Helsinki? Good times. Kiitos Suomi! Danke Deutschland!

Eight years and counting at the Artvoice sports desk—thanks for reading, and thanks for your support. Happy holidays, and see you at First Niagara Center and Coca Cola Field in 2012!

Our top stories in 2011:

Bisons Fans Watch the "Teufel Shuffle"

It couldn’t have been scripted any better. It was mid-August and the Toledo Mud Hens were coming to town to play a set against the Buffalo Bisons. Detroit prospect Shawn Teufel was called up to AAA and got a pitching start against the team that his pop, the Bisons’ Tim Teufel, manages.

The elder Teufel was hoping for a perfect storm—that his son would pitch a gem against the team he manages, then leave the game and have his guys come back and win the game for Buffalo. As it turned out, Shawn did his part, pitching six innings of shutout baseball, scattering three hits and getting seven strikeouts. As for the Bisons? Not so good, as they went down 4-0 to the Mud Hens, chalking up yet another loss in what turned out to be a dreary season.

Talking to both men in the clubhouse after the game, it was evident that the elder Teufel was the one who had the jitters about the entire spectacle, while the son took things in stride. “It’s a good feeling that I helped the team win,” said Shawn. “And beating Pops a little bit, it was fun,” he added with a wry smile.

Tim Teufel hadn’t coached his son since his high school days, and standing in the third base coach’s box and watching Shawn pitch was all a bit surreal. “I was nervous all day. This was only the third time I had seen him pitch,” said Tim.

The Bisons front office, classy as always, did their part, flying in Shawn’s mother to watch the game. “My mom? Well she was rooting for me and the Mud Hens,” Shawn laughed.

Ouch. Send that airfare bill to Toledo.

#7 - Forever in Our Hearts

Many heard the horrible news on March 13 via Tweets and social networking sites: Buffalo Sabres legend Rick Martin was dead. The famed member of Buffalo’s French Connection had succumbed to a fatal heart attack while driving his car in Clarence early on a Sunday morning.

The Buffalo Sabres were playing an afternoon game that day against the Ottawa Senators at home, and it was a somber crowd and team that assembled at the arena. It seemed like everyone had their own Rick Martin story. He had touched so many lives. Just weeks earlier he had skated onto the ice at the arena with his linemates Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert, surprising new owner Terry Pegula as the franchise raised the curtain on a new hockey era.

But the show went on. After a long, poignant moment of silence in a hushed arena, a tired Buffalo Sabres team played with the energy and raw emotion of the day. Tyler Ennis scored twice and was awarded the game’s first star, but the goal everyone remembers was Nathan Gerbe streaking down the left side, then hitting a blistering slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle for the game-winner. “As soon as it went in, I knew it was vintage Rick Martin right there,” said Coach Lindy Ruff. Many a veteran reporter also recognized the Martin-esque goal, and Gerbe was swarmed by the media in the locker room. “This is such a loss for all of us in the Sabres family,” said Gerbe.

Following the game, all the Sabres assembled at center ice, and raised their sticks towards the #7 banner hanging in the arena’s rafters. Rico is gone but will never be forgotten.

A Somber Canadian Crowd Heads Back up the QEW

No, we’re not talking about the typical Leafs game ritual, where fans painted in blue and white and waving their silly tinfoil Stanley Cups head home after yet another loss to the Sabres. This was far bigger.

The World Juniors U20 Ice Hockey Tournament came to Buffalo for two weeks, and Canadians iterally took over our city, filling the bars, restaurants, and hotels and showing off their patriotism and pride.

The Canadians wanted to reclaim the crown which they felt was rightfully theirs, having been upset in the previous year’s tournament by Team USA in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. That retribution would come in the semifinals, where they easily dispatched the Americans en route to a berth in the championship game.

There they met Team Russia, which showed surprising resiliency in getting to the final game. They came back late in the quarterfinals to beat Finland, then hung on against Sweden, a team many felt had a chance to take it all.

A packed house and sea of Canadian red and white packed the arena. For two periods, it was all Team Canada. After two it was 3-0, and most were getting ready to sing “O Canada” to the heavens at the post-game medal ceremony.

But Russia had other plans. They got a goal early in the third, then another, and by the middle of the period they had tied the game. Momentum was clearly shifting. At 13:22, a feed from behind the net right out in front gave the Russians their first lead. They would cap it off with an insurance goal with under two minutes remaining, and the most epic collapse in the history of the World Juniors was complete.

Do you believe in miracles?

The Lads From Bedlington

When Buffalo Bisons owner Bob Rich quietly took the reins of a ninth-tier professional soccer club in his ancestral home of Bedlington in the United Kingdom, few here took notice. That changed when a soccer match was planned: a “friendly” between the semi-pro FC Buffalo squad and the Bedlington Terriers. The stage was set for June 29 at All High Stadium. The venue, which normally attracts 200 to 300 spectators when Buffalo hosts a game, was full almost to capacity, as the Bisons marketing machine and the FC Buffalo core spread the word that a something special was about to happen.

The event did not disappoint. It was all FC Buffalo on the pitch; the locals cruised to a 5-1 victory and claimed the “Bedlington Cup.” But the visitors were feted and welcomed everywhere they went, from youth soccer clinics to appearances at local bistros to their participation at the Bisons Independence Day game at Coca Cola Field. Bedlington manager Keith Perry summed it up best: “We come from a mining community of hard workers not unlike you people here in Buffalo. It’s a close-knit community, and we have felt the love and support everywhere we have gone in your wonderful city.”

Bill Belichick Gets His Comeuppance

For Bills fans, this streak was getting old and tiresome: 15 games and counting, loss after loss to division rival New England Patriots. On a sun-drenched September day at the Ralph, that all about changed.

Down by seven and heading into the fourth quarter, the Bills capped a drive with Fred Jackson’s one-yard run to tie the score; then a Drayton Florence interception and 27-yard runback gave Buffalo the lead. The Patriots tied the game with a little over three minutes left, leaving Buffalo’s fate in their own hands.

The Bills scored an apparent go-ahead touchdown with about two minutes left, but video review took away the score and instead put the ball at the one-yard line. The task was simple: Run three plays, wind the clock down to three seconds, and kick the winning field goal.

But Patriots coach Bill Belichick had other plans. He threw tantrums on the sidelines, disrupted and distracted, did all he could to throw off Buffalo’s rhythm. The Pats took an unnecessary roughness penalty, then the Bills took a false start. The sideline tirades continued, and Belichick was warned to behave.

The histrionics were all for naught. Rian Lindell kicked the winning field goal as time expired. Bills 34, Patriots 31. The Boston anthem, “Sweet Caroline,” was mockingly played over the PA as jubilant Bills fans left the stadium. For one day, Bills Nation dreamed what it would be like to host the AFC Championship game right here in Buffalo.

Abby Wambach and the USA Women - Oh So Close

The eyes of the world were on Team USA and Team Japan on July 17, as the two women’s squads faced off for the Women’s World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany. A packed house of local star Abby Wambach’s supporters watched at a sports bar in Rochester, hoping Team USA could become the first women’s team to capture three World Cup trophies.

Everyone expected the USA to prevail, and Wambach’s header in extra time seemed to seal the deal. But the resilient Japanese came back yet again to tie the score. This one would go to penalty kicks.

That five-round duel was pretty much sealed early on. The Americans could not find the net, and the Japan team scored three times. Team USA settled for second place.

In defeat, Wambach—recipient of two individual awards for her stellar play—showed grace and class, referring to the suffering of the Japanese people from the devastating earthquake earlier in the year. “I feel sad,” she said. “We should be applauding Japan though. This is very tough for us to take because we came so close, though I think that Japan has suffered so much and needed to win more than we did. I’d like to think that this win can bring a little hope and joy to the Japanese people.”

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