CALGARY -- Greetings from high atop -- and I mean high -- the Scotiabank Saddledome for tonight's Sabres-Flames game. This is a 27-year-old place that has seen better days (tiny, tiny concourses, people) but has plenty of history too. There were Stanley Cup finals games here in 1986, 1989 and 2004 and, of course, the 1988 Winter Olympics.
It was here where Katarina Witt stole the hearts of the world in women's figure skating. And my recollection is pretty clear that she stole the heart of News columnist Donn Esmonde, who watched from the press section and then famously wrote that she was "Kat" to him.
The weather here is a stunner. It was in the low 40s and sunny today. Not what I expected. I'm going back to the arctic tomorrow in Edmonton, where it's not going to get past about 6 degrees. Found some terrific wild mushroom soup and spaghetti with kobe beef meatballs last night at a place called Joey Tomatos. I'd link you the menu but can't find a Web site. Hmmm. Spent today atop the iconic Calgary Tower, which was made most famous when it was topped by the Olympic flame for those two weeks in 1988. Got some great shots from up there of the Rocky Mountains and Saddledome itself (left).
Now for the press box. OK, for the most part I have no fear of heights. Flying doesn't bother me. Going up tall buildings in elevators doesn't bother me. But I had heard plenty about this thing before making this trip.
There are catwalks above the scoreboard -- yes, above the scoreboard -- that take you from the writers side to the broadcast/team personnel side. So good thing I don't need to talk to any scratched players or Darcy Regier tonight. And I'll politely turn down any radio requests.
To get in here, it's an elevator ride to the top of the building, a double set of stairs up to the top corner and then a long catwalk into the booth (left, click for a bigger view). Once you're in here, it's fine. It's much like the view you have in a place like Montreal or Boston. But let's just say I was walking a little stiff on that catwalk -- and looking straight ahead.
Now for the hockey part. The scratches are the same for the Sabres (Shaone Morrison, Chris Butler). Derek Roy joins Tim Connolly on the injured list meaning there better not be any injured forwards tonight or Butler is back on the frontline tomorrow in Edmonton. The Sabres have to be watching the Boston-Florida game closely. The Panthers are tied with the Sabres with 32 points (as well as two games in hand and two head-to-head wins) while the Bruins are eight points ahead in eighth place and also have two games in hand.
Frankly, the standings don't mean much to me right now. This team is 1-4-2 in its last seven on the road and has not won more than two games in a row at any time all season. That's how you get to 12th place in your conference. They said all the right things this morning but I want to see how they respond mentally to the Roy injury.
Stay with me here. It's a late one on MSG with Mark Jeanneret (Rick's son) at the mic. I'm holding on tight up here.
BREAKING NEWS ALERT: Tyler Myers is a scratch for the Sabres with the flu. Shaone Morrisonn is in. The Flames are not starting Miikka Kiprusoff in goal. It's Henrik Karlsson. No idea why.
Now Kiprusoff IS in goal. Game sheet said Karlsson was starting. Must have just been a typo.
Sabres starters: Sekera-Weber on defense instead of Myers. It's McCormick-Gaustad-Grier up front. Goal: miller
Flames starters: Jackman-Kostopolous-Moss-Giordano-Sarich: Goal: Kiprusoff.
10:53 p.m.: We're under way.
17:40 left: Flames lead, 3-1. Old friend Ales Kotalik burns Miller with a quick snap shot high over the glove. His first in 10 games this year. I had a long talk with him this morning and he seemed to be struggling mentally. Cheap plug alert: Read comments from Kotalik in Tuesday's paper. He loved playing for the Sabres. Just didn't produce enough two-way hockey in his final couple of seasons for Lindy Ruff's liking.
13:12 left: David Moss pots a rebound of Tim Jackman's shot after Jackman beat Gerbe down the boards. Flames simply tougher than the Sabres in the last two periods of this one and, remember, they're 14th in the West and dealing with daily rumors that coach Darryl Sutter is getting fired. Flames lead, 4-1.
7;15 left: Working on up-against-deadline print story. Sabres will be 1-5-2 in last eight on road.
3:05 left: Kaleta scores to make it 4-2.
It's over: A 4-2 loss. Lousy effort last 40 minutes.
It's over II: (OK, so that's what happens when you push the button to run downstairs. It was a 5-2 loss as Tom Kotsopoulous scores on a 5-on-3 at the horn. Buffalo's NHL-high sixth 5-on-3 goal against of the season.
17:34 left: Sabres dominated the first two shifts and didn't capitalize and now the game is tied. Olli Jokinen gets the goal, beating Sekera to the rebound of a Robyn Regehr shot and dumping it into an empty net. Game tied, 1-1.
17:20 left: We're stunned sitting here watching the 50/50 jackpot growing as it's constantly listed under the scoreboard. Kind of odd. What's the number at now: $47,425. Yep, $47,000 plus. Wow.
13:23 left: Much looser period so far on both sides. Weber off for high sticking so Flames to the power play. Couple good stops by Miller and the Sabres just failed to connect as Grier didn't convert Rivet's second terrific pass of the night. Before this penalty, Weber had a good shot from in tight on Kirprusoff and then did a beautiful job breaking up a 2-on-1 after a Niedermayer turnover.
12:41 left: Tanguay for hooking in the Buffalo zone kills the power play.
12:02 left: Sekera for interference as the Flames break down after Cory Sarich wipes out Ennis trying to cut in along the boards in the Calgary zone. So it's 4-on-3 for 40 seconds.
10:00 left: Bad news out of town as Boston gets the tying goal in the final 10 minutes and wins at Florida in a shootout, 3-2. So the Sabres are temporarily 10 points out of eighth and the Panthers pull one ahead of Buffalo alone in 11th. Three-point games are why the eight-point deficit heading into tonight is really that much more.
9:38 left: Miller with back-to-back solid saves on Iginla. Shots are 17-11 for Calgary -- 11-4 in this period. Flames were kind of sleepwalking through the first period. Not so in the middle frame. An observation: I have been in plenty of arenas where fans wear jerseys. I don't think I've ever seen so many jerseys in one place as the Saddledome. EVERYBODY is wearing one, mostly the red version. But I've also seen an Atlanta Flames one and some of the new gold Heritage classic togs the Flames will wear outside for their Feb. game against Montreal in McMahon Stadium.
7:30 left: Rene Bourque for hooking. An iffy call against Leopold.
6:40 left: After a slew of sloppy puckhandling by the Sabres, the Flames break out on a 2-on-1 but Curtis Glencross fires it off the post after a perfect feed by Brendan Morrison. Had Miller beat on the glove side.
3:47 left: Great shift by the Hecht line ends in disaster. They had two or three great chances but had been on the ice nearly a minute. Flames break out in 2-on-2 and Hecht loses Iginla, who pots great pass from Tanguay. Montador had him. Hecht has just been brutal in so many areas this year. Flames lead, 2-1.
End-2nd: Flames hold their 2-1 lead and it's 20-19 in shots for Calgary (14-12 for the Flames in a much looser second 20 minutes).
9:08: We're under way.
16:23 left Bouwmeester for holding for Calgary. This is the first game Myers has missed in his career after playing 117 straight. Both Calgary papers did stories on him today and he had oodles of family members at the morning skate. He came here Friday from Buffalo to spend Christmas with his family. What a shame.
13:10 left: Not many whistles, not many blog chances. Shots are 3-2 for Buffalo. Kiprusoff made a great save on McCormick and Montador found a post. The defense pairs without Myers are Weber-Sekera, Leopold-Montador and Morrisonn-Rivet. The lines are what we saw this morning: Ennis-Niedermayer-Vanek, Stafford-Hecht-Pominville, McCormick-Gaustad-Grier, Gerbe-Adam-Kaleta.
11:49 left: Stafford comes out front to Kiprusoff's right with a great move around Matt Stajan and slides one home along the ice for his 10th of the season. Sabres lead, 1-0, and have controlled much of the play. Replay showed it went in off the skate of Anton Babchuk.
9:27 left: Miller stops an Olli Jokinen shot high off the collarbone and that hurt. Last thing Sabres need is another injury to him.
8:39 left: Babchuk goes for holding Adam, who broke in around him after a terrific lead pass from Rivet.
6:00 left: The power play was up and down all year with Roy and was particularly bad on the road (26th with just 7 goals all season). So it's no shock it's been pretty lousy here so far. Leopold and Pominville are on the points of the first unit with Stafford-Ennis-Vanek up front.
2:59 left: Leopold for holding Jarome Iginla, who beat him down the rink chasing an iced puck. Came a few seconds after Ennis just failed to tap home a Vanek pass into an empty net. The captain's rush on Leopold has this crowd going for the first time tonight.
End-1st: Sabres lead, 1-0, through one. Shots are 7-6 for Buffalo. A solid road period. One giveaway by Weber and virtually no other mistakes in the zone. Couple nice saves by Miller. Couple chances for more goals for the Sabres. Minus Roy and Myers, can't ask for much more.