Sorting Out the Goaltender Situation
by Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell
It’s all that everyone is talking about. Three goaltenders, all with NHL credentials and all capable of starting in this league, each has contributed mightily towards the Sabres’ success this year, and in a pinch, any of these guys could be called upon to lead this team. Yet step into the Sabres dressing room, and there are but two of those oversized goaltenders cubicles, a reminder that when it comes to hockey teams, three can be a crowd.
So how are the three goaltenders assessing their goalie competition, and their role with the team? Predictably, Miller and Biron expressed unequivocal support for their fellow netminders. For Noronen, disappointment at his limited role and hope for better things in the future.
The affable Biron (pictured above) was thrown into the starter’s role in early November after Ryan Miller was sidelined with his broken thumb. Even while offering reassurances that he was fine and getting better by the day, his first few starts were shaky ones, including consecutive losses against Montreal. But then Marty went on a tear, beginning from mid-November on, he posted 13 consecutive victories, smashing a franchise record in the process. Most of the wins were heart-stopping one-goal contests, some won in overtime and one by shootout. Biron shrugged off any notion that carrying three goaltenders presents a problem. “It’s not about that, it’s about winning games. Everybody’s got a role, everyone’s been asked to contribute. Mika’s held up when called on, Ryan’s been playing incredibly well.”
Although some might label Miller (pictured above) “the anointed one,” Miller earned the starting job with a strong training camp and a solid winning season playing in Rochester during the NHL lockout. Miller played every minute of the first month of the season going 6-4 and looking solid in net before his injury. Since returning to action on December 19, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. Says Miller, “The thing about these three guys here we’re all good people, we support each other no matter what role we’re put in. When I went down for 18 games Marty stepped right in and did well, I know Mika is frustrated right now but during my down time when I came in to do workouts both of them really gave me encouragement and that’s what this team is about.”
Perhaps the forgotten man on this squad, Noronen (pictured top right) got his first real start in Boston on November 19, and responded with a gem of a performance, turning away 20 Bruins shots in a 3-2 Buffalo victory. The following game against the Rangers, Noronen suffered a slight injury and was pulled during the shootout, a game that New York subsequently won. While supportive of his two teammates, Noronen expressed frustration at the situation he finds himself in. “I’m still hoping that something happens soon and that we get to two. Now I just take it day to day,” said Noronen. “Marty is playing great and hopefully he keeps doing well.”
Coach Lindy Ruff provided an update going into the New Year, stating that the team will continue carrying three goaltenders in the future. “We were fortunate to have the depth at this position when Ryan went down. Marty put together a terrific run, and had Mika not strained his groin when he did, he would certainly be seeing more action.”
Of course, every time another team runs into goaltender problems, fans on talk radio and message boards begin speculating as to which goaltender the Sabres will trade, and what can we get in return. And when the NHL trade deadline comes in March, will the team be trading a goalie to add a proven scorer to the lineup for a possible deep playoff run? One thing is for certain—GM Darcy Regier is not known for making moves cavalierly or recklessly. Lastly there is the buzzword that is resonating up and down the halls of HSBC Arena: “Chemistry”. And more than anything else, it is that ingredient which has carried this team in this emerging magical season. Stay tuned!
One would think that racist slurs being mass chanted at games would be a thing of the past. Try telling that to the fans of the QMJHL Chicoutimi Sagueneens, who taunted Moncton Wildcats (and former Sabres) head coach Ted Nolan with continuous epithets at a game in December. A member of the Ojibwa tribe, Nolan had to endure disgraceful tomahawk chops and a barrage of racial profanities throughout the contest. The Sagueneens issued an apology on their Web site. NOT good enough, Chicoutimi!
High fives to our Sabres Olympians… F Chris Drury was named to the US Olympic squad for his second appearance. D Teppo Numminen and D Toni Lydman will lace up for Team Finland; F Maxim Afinogenov gets the nod for Team Russia; and F Jochen Hecht makes his third Olympic appearance for Team Germany.
A busy 2006 coming up for the Ultimate Sports Road Trip as brand new venues open for the NBA Charlotte Bobcats, MLB St. Louis Cardinals and the NFL Arizona Cardinals. Adding to the mix is a visit to Oklahoma City’s Ford Center, temporary digs for the NBA New Orleans Hornets. Check for updates at our website, www.thesportsroadtrip.com.
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