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Sabres Thanksgiving

Two wins highlight one forgettable November

Heading into last week’s two-game Thanksgiving homestand, the Buffalo Sabres had little to give thanks for—they were reeling from five straight losses, most of which one could categorize in the ugly part. Falling at home to the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-1? Yeah, nothing gets much lower than that.

But last week the Sabres managed a turnaround of sorts, pulling off back-to back wins against two of the elite teams in the NHL, the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Best of all, they did it with the efforts of the unlikeliest of players, Drew Stafford and Maxim Afinogenov, two forwards who have been in Lindy Ruff’s doghouse. And how about Paul Gaustad, lighting the lamp twice against Pittsburgh and winning a key faceoff with seconds left in the game to end the Penguins’ threat.

So are the Sabres back?

Following the Penguins game, Ruff compared the effort of the past two games to the team play which opened the season. Gaustad had been wondering if he would ever score again, and was relieved that he was finally part of the scoring sheet. “I’ve just been playing and trying to do as much as I can,” Gaustad said. “If it’s hitting, it’s hitting. If it’s scoring, it’s scoring. If it’s winning draws, it’s winning draws. I’m just trying to do my job.”

The team’s winning ways were short lived however, as losses to Monreal and Nashville now have us hoping against a forgettable December.

Reflections on Milt Ellis: Last week, the Sabres inducted a person into their Hall of Fame who was heard by many but seen by few. Milt Ellis was the long-time public address announcer at Memorial Auditorium for hockey back to the days of the AHL Bisons, and continued in that position until shortly after the new arena’s opening in 1996.

In this era public address announcers are expected to serve as pompous, obnoxious, over-the-top cheerleaders (see any Bandits game or some NBA arenas for example); in contrast, Milt’s smooth, almost soothing, straight-up, no-nonsense delivery was classic, one of the constants during the era of NHL hockey at the Aud.

Ever a humble man it truly surprised Ellis that the Sabres would honor him with an induction. “An announcer?” he said. “No way…I’m flattered that the only other announcer [in the Sabres Hall of Fame] is Ted Darling.”

And when he was asked about today’s generation of “homer” PA guys, Ellis said, “I could give you a smart answer and say ‘Next question.’ To me hockey is a very classy sport. Why knock it down a step by not giving a straight delivery.” Well stated, Milt.

He said his favorite memory was the epic 1994 playoff marathon in game six of the Devils series. “Talk about cardiac! One overtime is exciting enough, but four of them one right after the other—it was tough.”

When Ellis put down the mike in 1997, he knew that it was time. And he did it with a mindset that was classy and understated. “I knew there were plenty of announcers in Buffalo that would love that job,” he said. “I know that it sounds corny, but I thought that if I got out of the way then that would give one of those guys a chance to do what I was doing.”

Thanks, Milt, and believe us: You belong in that Hall as much as all the other inductees.

Something to think about: We were in Montreal to witness the jersey retirement ceremony of Patrick Roy a couple of weeks back. With some time to digest the moment in the rearview mirror, it had us thinking. Has the time come for the Sabres to do likewise with Dominik Hasek? Both were all-time greats who left their respective teams for glory elsewhere while being viciously reviled in the cities where they played their greatest hockey.

It’s been more than seven seasons since Dom left for Detroit in a trade that he forced so he could play for a team that he believed had a better chance to win. Is that too short a time for the wounds caused by his departure to heal? As a two-time Hart Trophy winner, it’s only a matter of time before the number 39 sits in the rafter with the other retired greats. But are we as a city ready to celebrate his career in a Buffalo uniform yet? If the scene from a recent Saturday night in Montreal is any indication, we lean towards yes. What do you think?


■ The yawning gaps of empty blue seats in the uppermost corners of the 300s have now spread to all four corners. What should have been a sellout last Wednesday before Thanksgiving, one of the biggest party nights of the year downtown, fell a few hundred seats short. Have the Sabres overreached on single ticket pricing?

■ In the building Monday was Tom Callahan, Buffalo area native and now the radio voice of the Nashville Predators. We first met Callahan in Elmira, where he had a previous stint with the UHL Elmira Jackals as their broadcast announcer and media relations representative.

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