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New 'professor' to lead Amerks

ROCHESTER -- Darcy Regier and Ted Black were both freely tossing around the "Sabres University" moniker today in Blue Cross Arena, and Black went one step further when he introduced Ron Rolston as the "first professor at the University of Sabres." That's otherwise known as the new head coach of the Rochester Amerks.

It's an out-of-the-box hire when you're putting a coach with no pro experience in the AHL, but Rolston has a combined 20 years with the US National Development Team and as an assistant in major Division I college hockey. And he's not unfamiliar to Regier, who said he met Rolston several years ago in Lake Placid through Jon Christiano, the Sabres' director of pro scouting, and has followed his work since with the US program.

"I personally believe you have to be in the forefront of whatever business you're in," Regier said. "In our case, we have for a number of reasons strived to find advantages outside of conventional wisdom. ... I recognized that we first decided to come back to Rochester, the reference to University was largely about doing things differently, taking more responsibility for the players' development and also demand the player take more responsiblity for his own development.

"When we started to look at the model and started to look at potential coaches who could fill that and believed they could fill that type of a model, Ron to me was right at the forefront. He was our first 
choice."

Rolston said he's been watching Terry Pegula closely since the Sabres owner donated $88 million to Penn State to start a hockey program and build an arena last fall.

"There's not many organizations I'd want to work for in terms of their philsophy, core values, their beliefs in how they want to run things," said Rolston, 44. "Buffalo was certainly at the top of my list in terms of organization, in terms of clear vision on where they want to go, in terms of what they believe in, the values they have and philosophy they have for players at every level. To me, it was extremely enticing."

Regier said the Sabres approached USA Hockey for permission to talk to Rolston and interviewed him last week in Buffalo. 

"I feel very strongly that he is the only best candidate but we are going to learn from him," Regier said. "He hopefully will learn from us and it will point to championship teams in Rochester and Buffalo."

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

 

 

Sabres get their (unknown) man for Rochester

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle is reporting there is an 11 a.m. news conference tomorrow at Blue Cross Arena to announce the Sabres have named Ron Rolston as the new head coach of the Rochester Amerks.

What's that you say? Ron Who? That was my reaction too.

Rolston, 44, has never been a pro coach so this seems like a risky hire on the surface. But he's hardly a neophyte either. He has been the coach for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program the past seven years and has been an assistant coach at big-name college programs such as Lake Superior State, Clarkson, Harvard and Boston College. The Sabres want to continue to develop young talent and Rolston certainly appears to have the resume to do that.

Rolston is the older brother of longtime NHL player Brian Rolston.

He interviewed earlier this month for the head job at Western Michigan University. He has twice coached the U.S. team in the World Junior Championships, winning a bronze medal in 2007.

5:40 update: Philadelphia Flyers star James van Riemsdyk has tweeted his congratulations to Rolston.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

 

Ice chips: A new look for Jets

110722_logos_news The Winnipeg Jets apparently won't be releasing their new uniforms for a few more weeks, but they unveiled their new logos Friday afternoon and they're a pretty big change from the old look that dated from their WHA days and changed only slightly until their NHL departure in 1996.

The main logo, a jet flying over a maple leaf, is at the far left. It was inspired by the logo of the Royal Canadian Air Force. There is also an alternate logo that features the leaf over the wings of a jet and an alternate team script patch.

I still maintain this team missed a major PR opportunity by not having all of this finalized by the NHL draft. And now we sit here still with no jerseys? Yes, you took care of your 13,000 season tickets. But how about merchandise, merchandise, merchandise?

---Former Sabres player and longtime Rochester Amerks head coach Randy Cunneyworth has landed back in the NHL as an assistant for the Montreal Canadiens. Cunneyworth, whose most recent NHL gig was as an assistant in Atlanta, was the head man in Hamilton last season. He's the ninth AHL head coach from the 2010-11 season to move to a top job or assistant's role in the NHL for 2011-12, a list that also includes Kevin Dineen's move from the Sabres organization as the top man in Portland to the head job in Florida.

Still awaiting word from the Sabres about a staff in Rochester for the coming season. That's expected to be the big club's next big announcement, barring a deal with defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.

---Islanders GM Garth Snow admitted today he's had talks with embattled former captain Alexei Yashin. Really? Now 37, Yashin has spent the last four years in the KHL after the Isles bought out the final four years of Yashin's 10-year, $87.5 million contract signed in 2001. They already have him on the books for a $2.2 million cap hit for four more years. Guess they'd like to get something for that. Yeesh.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)



 

Around the boards: Enroth, other contract chatter

EnrothYou take a few days vacation and of course the Sabres do a lot while you're gone. Here's some thoughts to unclutter my mind:

---No question the Sabres wanted Jhonas Enroth (left) to return as their backup goaltender. There were some Internet reports he was looking at the KHL, which would have been utterly foolish for him to do, and an even more foolish tweet from his brother, Mattias, that tried to pressure the Sabres. (Seriously? For an RFA goalie with little leverage who did a great job but won only nine games? If I'm Enroth I tell my brother in no uncertain terms to can it.)

So yesterday's announcement of a two-year deal is yet another solid summer signing for this club, which has overpaid some free agents (who doesn't these days?) but is clearly way better than it was when it finished the season in the playoffs against the Flyers. (Enroth's deal is for $1.35 million total at a cap hit of $675K per)

Now the Sabres can head into the season knowing they have a solid tandem in net, something they really haven't had since Marty Biron left. And it's thus paramount for Lindy Ruff to keep Ryan Miller's workload light. My goal would be 60 games in the regular season for Miller with Enroth getting 22. That's a low total for Miller based on previous seasons but he's not 24 anymore either. He just turned 31 on Sunday! And the plan here is to be playing hockey deep into May and maybe June, right? 

Enroth can play. We know that. Ruff has to play him. One other Enroth note: Mattias tweeted yesterday that he and Jhonas celebrated the deal with ice cream. Ooooooooooook. 

---A four-year, $11-million-plus deal for Andrej Sekera? Really? The numbers, especially offensively, were pointing Sekera's way in arbitration but this one is all about potential. Are the Sabres getting the guy who can be maddening to the point where Ruff needs to scratch him or the guy who was a monster for that one small stretch last season or for Slovakia in the Olympics? It's a risk worth taking if it pans out. But the money ups the ante. Sekera isn't a kid learning on the job anymore with that kind of contract.

---Speaking of money upping the ante, I'm baffled by all the people suddenly raging that Tim Connolly was picked on in the media during his time here. How many of you heard the boos in HSBC Arena, at times late in the year every time he touched the puck? He was a $4.5 million player who suddenly became a penalty killer and didn't score a goal for 29 straight playoff games. What exactly are people supposed to write? How many Paul Hamilton between-periods interviews on WGR correctly said Connolly was pretty much useless but also pointed out he might have been the hottest guy going in the NHL until his 2006 concussion?

Then there are those who say some of the criticism of Connolly got too personal. There are both sides to that argument. But the lightning rod was a recent Toronto Sun column that described Connolly as "Soft. Sullen. Difficult. Loner. Spoiled brat. Silver spoon kid. Entitled. Not a team player."

Repeating: That was written in the TORONTO SUN. And both readers and other media outlets are leaving out the next line too: "And one more thing: Supremely skilled." Pretty important omission.

Last point on Connolly: Criticism of a player is not because there's a lack of cooperation with the media. The only time I asked to speak to Connolly in the last four years where he failed to show up was on this year's locker cleanout day. He was generally never at his locker after games and practices and generally always willing to come to it for interviews when asked to by the team's PR staff. He should have been there anyway but it's not like he refused either. There's no connection. Plenty of players who are great with the media get criticized harshly too.

---What is this team going to do about its salary cap issues? The Sabres have yet to sign Marc-Andre Gragnani and are already about $3.5 million over the cap. They don't have to get down to it until the season opener and it's widely assumed the roughly $5 million of Ales Kotalik and Shaone Morrisonn will be stashed in Rochester. But that's still only going to leave a few hundred thousand dollars of space to start the season.

I figure the Sabres have to be looking at wanting a cushion of $3-4 million, not perhaps $600,000. There has to be a deal coming. Has to. And maybe one bigger than we think. Here's one thought: Brad Boyes better not be house-hunting. Month-to-month lease, dude.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Photo: Getty Images

Report: Lalime to retire

Sabres backup goalie Patrick Lalime is set to retire, according to a report on the Canadian all-sports website RDS.

Lalime basically relinquished the backup job to Jhonas Enroth in the second half of last season, finishing the year 0-5-0 in seven appearances. Still, he was a key figure in the locker room, and had a close relationship with starter Ryan Miller.

Lalime, 37, played 444 games for five teams over 12 NHL seasons, posting a 200-174-48 record with a career 2.58 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.

"It's never easy to make the decision to move on," Lalime told the website. "I enjoyed each of my seasons and I feel privileged to be able to realize my dream of playing in the NHL."

Lalime will serve as an analyst for RDS, a French-language network. He will work 15 Ottawa Senators games, one of his former teams, and contribute to other shows.

"It's a challenge I look forward to meeting," he said. "I remain associated with the hockey world and I'm really pleased that RDS gives me the chance to share my knowledge with the fans."

Lalime spent three seasons in Buffalo, appearing in 47 games with the Sabres.

His expected departure won't change anything for the Sabres' plans regarding their backup goalie. Enroth is a restricted free agent and General Manager Darcy Regier said Tuesday the two sides are having productive talks and remain optimistic a new deal can be reached by the end of the week.

Among other items Regier touched on Tuesday:

- Winger Jason Pominville is healing well after surgery to repair a sliced tendon suffered when he was cut by a skate blade in the team's playoff series with Philadelphia. Pominville will be ready by training camp, Regier said.

- Coach Lindy Ruff is out of town this week, but is expected to continue interviews for a new assistant coach next week when he returns. Regier is also interviewing head coach candidates for AHL Rochester, and hopes to make a decision within two weeks.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Sekera's deal for four seasons

Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera's new contract with the team covers four years and is worth $11 million. The contract is front-loaded, as the 25-year-old Slovakian defenseman will receive a $3 million signing bonus this year.

"I'm really happy everything came together," Sekera said by phone from his offseason home in Slovakia. "When you see the team, how it’s built, and what changes were made and you see the ownership working and doing everything to help you be a winner, I’m pretty sure every single guy on the team is very excited about next season."

Sekera scored three goals in 76 games last season while posting career highs in assists (26), points (29) and plus-minus (+11). But he played in only two games in the playoffs due to an upper-body injury.

"I want to build on the last season that I had. I want to become a better player, a complete player," he said.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Ryan Miller autographed stick among Borrelli raffle prizes

As we lead up to the third annual Tom Borrelli Memorial Golf Tournament on July 27, many of us at The News are selling raffle tickets to raise money for the Borrelli Award and Scholarship Fund.

TomborrelligolftornlogoTickets are $5 each or three for $10. A great lineup of prizes include: a Ryan Miller autographed goalie stick; a Jim Kelly autographed football; a Dan Marino autographed mini-helmet; a framed Masters print from Augusta National; a Buffalo Bills golf bag and a $50 restaurant gift certificate.

The drawing will take place at the golf tournament on July 27 at Holland Hills (participants do not need to be present to win). 

If you would like to purchase tickets, email me at kmcshea@buffnews.com.

We've been fortunate that a number of people have taking a block of tickets to sell to their own group or organization -- if you are interested in doing so, send an email as well.

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

Jeanneret's schedule: 57 games

The Sabres have finalized their broadcast schedule for the 2011-12 season and the verdict on Rick Jeanneret's reduced role is this: Jeanneret, Harry Neale and Rob Ray will call 57 games while the tandem of Kevin Sylvester and Danny Gare will call 23. The team has not indicated the broadcast arrangements for the opening two games of the season in Europe.

Sylvester and Gare will do one home game (Feb. 24 vs. Boston) and 22 road games. Their trips will include the seven-gamer from Jan. 14-31 and the five-gamer from Feb. 25-March 5. Here's the list of the games that will be worked by Sylvester and Gare:

Nov. 5 at Ottawa
Nov. 18 at Carolina
Nov. 25 at Columbus
Dec. 3 at Nashville
Jan. 6 at Carolina
Jan. 14 at NY Islanders
Jan. 16 at Detroit
Jan. 18 at Chicago
Jan. 19 at Winnipeg
Jan. 21 at St. Louis
Jan. 24 at New Jersey
Jan. 31 at Montreal
Feb. 4 at NY Islanders
Feb. 16 at Philadelphia
Feb. 24 Boston
Feb. 25 at NY Rangers
Feb. 29 at Anaheim
March 1 at San Jose
March 3 at Vancouver
March 5 at Winnipeg
March 17 at Florida
March 19 at Tampa Bay
March 23 at NY Rangers

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Kassian, Adam give their thoughts on Rochester

LEWISTON -- Nearly all of the players at the Sabres' development camp this week will play in the AHL. Buffalo has moved its affiliate from Portland to Rochester, and Zack Kassian and Luke Adam weighed in.

Kassian: "Everyone's really happy about that. It's a good place. Before when they were there, the fan base was great because they're all Buffalo fans. That's a good thing. It's close. If you get a call-up, you don't have to fly and the drive is only an hour away. It makes it a lot easier on the prospects and a lot easier on the scouting staff and coaches to watch you play."

Adam: "It's nice for travel for call-ups up and down. At the same time, I don't know much about Rochester the city. Portland was beautiful. It was a great organization there, and you can't say enough great things about Portland. But I've heard a lot of good things about Rochester, so there's definitely excitement to make the move."

The Sabres' campers will scrimmage from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. today and Sunday in Niagara University's Dwyer Arena.

---John Vogl

Who is the Sabres' top prospect?

LEWISTON -- The Sabres' organizational depth has improved in recent years, with several high-profile prospects. Who would you consider the top prospect? And who will end up with the best NHL career?

---John Vogl

Regier speaks at Sabres' camp

LEWISTON -- Darcy Regier caught up the media on testing day at the Sabres' development camp, and the Sabres' general manager also said he has caught up with the agent for Andrej Sekera.

Sekera, a restricted free agent, has filed for arbitration. Regier said he's had positive chats with Sekera's agent, giving an impression the defenseman may not reach the hearing, scheduled for July 25.

Regier also said he expects to name a coach for Rochester in two weeks. It will be someone from outside the organization, and Brian McCutcheon is not a candidate.

To hear Regier's chat -- which also featured comments on Zack Kassian and Tyler Myers -- click the audio below.

---John Vogl

AHL goaltender among Sabres' trio of signings

LEWISTON -- The Sabres' prospects are on the ice for the third straight day at Niagara University, while the organization remains busy off the ice. The Sabres have announced one-year deals with three players, including goaltender Drew MacIntyre and Rochester-area native Derek Whitmore.

MacIntyre, 28, led Montreal's AHL team in Hamilton to Game Seven of the Western Conference finals last season. He went 11-9 with a 1.95 goals-against average in the playoffs after posting regular-season numbers of 24-11-3 with a 2.37 GAA. He could compete with Jhonas Enroth for the backup job in Buffalo but more likely will split time with David Leggio in Rochester.

Whitmore is back in the Sabres' organization after recording 27 goals and 20 assists in Portland. The former Amerk returns to his hometown following the Sabres' affiliation switch.

Colin Stuart, who played three games with Buffalo last season, had 16 goals and 28 assists with Portland.

---John Vogl

Summer camp roster and schedule

The Sabres opened their annual summer development camp today at Niagara University's Dwyer Arena with a 75-minute on-ice session and the public workouts begin Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. The schedule, which is subject to change, looks like this: 

Wednesday and Thursday, 9:45-11:45 a.m
Friday, 9:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, scrimmages from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Forward Tyler Ennis is the lone Sabre regular still eligible for camp and is attending. So is center Luke Adam, who played 19 games in Buffalo last season. Finnish winger Joel Armia, the team's No. 1 pick, is not currently at camp but could arrive later in the week. Gregg Sutch is still sidelined with the broken wrist he suffered during the Memorial Cup.

The full list of campers:

Goalies: John Cullen*, Nick Eno, Connor Knapp, Michael Houser, Nathan Lieuwen

Forwards: Luke Adam, Steven Beyers*, Riley Boychuk, Daniel Catenacci, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Cedrick Henley, Christian Iasckson, Colin Jacobs, Justin Jokinen, Zack Kassian, Jacob Legace, John McCarron, Brad Navin, Jonathan Parker*, Steven Shipley, Kevin Sundher,  Shawn Szydlowski, Corey Tropp, Phil Varone*, Geordie Wudrick*, Matt Zarbo*

Defensemen:  Mark Adams, Nick Bailen*, Alex Biega, TJ Brennan, Nick Crawford, Corey Fienhage, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Alex Lepkowski, Drew MacKenzie, Matt MacKenzie, Brayden McNabb, Mark Pysyk, Drew Schiestel.

The asterisks denote camp invitees who are not currently Sabres property.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharington) 

Sekera files for arbitration

Monday's signing of defenseman Mike Weber leaves the Sabres with three unsigned restricted free agents in defensemen Andrej Sekera and Marc-Andre Gragnani, as well as goaltender Jhonas Enroth. Players have until 5 p.m. today to file for salary arbitration and Sekera's agent, Allan Walsh, has just tweeted this his client, in fact, is going to go the arbitration route.

Walsh followed that announcement with another tweet that read: "Filing for arbitration on Sekera is a continuation of the process in the CBA as both sides continue to negotiate a longer term contract."

Sekera made $1.25 million last year in the final year of a two-year, $2 million deal and had a cap hit of $1 million. Given the fact the Sabres just gave Weber a raise from $550,000 to $900,000 -- plus a $100,000 signing bonus -- Sekera is obviously going to want more than simply his qualifying offer of last year's $1,250,000. Not to mention the big bucks Buffalo just paid to Christian Ehrhoff.

Sekera, 25, scored three goals in 76 games last season whils posting career highs in assists (26), points (29) and plus-minus (+11). But he played in only two games in the playoffs due to an upper-body injury.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Weber's toughness

The Sabres re-signed physical defenseman Mike Weber to a two-year deal.

Here are some links sampling what the 6-foot-2, 211-pounder brings to the Sabres' lineup -- toughness and the ability to get underneath the opposition's skin, for better or worse.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1HSwvpkyXE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1HSwvpkyXE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSKGd0AVkYc&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR7vaLO08Sg

---Miguel Rodriguez

 

A quiet day on the frenzy watch

It's been a relatively quiet day in the NHL and it will probably stay that way through the July 4 holiday. Let's review what we learned today: 

When you woke up Saturday, the Sabres had the highest payroll in the NHL. They slipped to No. 2 later in the day when the Capitals signed Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal.

Tim Connolly's days in Buffalo are over but his big paydays are not. Two years and $9.5 million from the Leafs. OOOOOOOOOOOOOk. 

The Toronto Sun got both a scout's view and Lindy Ruff's view on Connolly. No new ground broken here for anyone who's been reading in Buffalo the last few years but a solid presentation for Leafs fans.

Ex-Sabre Clarke MacArthur told the Sun he'd love the chance to play with Connolly.

Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox, who said the Sabres' free-agent spending spree was "ridiculous", said Connolly will be an upgrade for the Leafs. 

Still, Cox gave it up to Sabres fans for finally having an owner willing to get in the game.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

More reflections on Brian Spencer

In the process of working on my Spotlight cover story about Brian Spencer, I spoke to 19 people for their recollections of a complex man. He was respected as a teammate, but still treated with a considerable degree of trepidation.

"He was a hard man to understand," his Buffalo Sabres teammate Rene Robert said. "He was very unique, but I loved the guy dearly."

Here are some comments, in narrative form, that didn't make it into the story ...

New York Islanders teammate Terry Crisp: "If you were looking for teammates that would be the first to stand up for you, the first to start stuff or back you up, Brian Spencer was one. He would lead the charge or cover your back.''

Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman: "He was a very strong role player, a self-made player. He was fearless. You always had to expect the unexpected. Those guys aren't easy to play against."

Crisp on public death of Spencer's father: "Everybody knew the story. Everybody knew what happened. But it was just one of those unwritten rules that it was never broached, never brought up. That was his private life. You leave it alone."

Fort St. James native and former Sabres forward Larry Playfair: "He knew the cop who killed his dad, and he would say that before he died he was going to make it right and take care of that cop."

Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Dave Keon: "He was a complicated guy who had a tragic end. His upbringing and what he was thrust into, it was all something that at times was a little overwhelming for him."

Sabres equipment manager Rip Simonick: "When he came to Buffalo, he was a very likable guy. He would just take over the locker room. But when it came to common sense, he was a guy who could be trapped easily."

Maple Leafs teammate Darryl Sittler: "When I learned he was charged with murder, it shocked me and everybody else. But at the same time you knew Brian lived on the wild side of life at the time, and you're bound for trouble when you hang around those kinds of people."

Crisp: "There was total non-belief. This can't be the guy I played with, can't be the guy I sat and had a beer with, can't be the same person who would do that. But when you get past that hurdle, you think 'Lord, what happened along the line? Could we have done something?' You question what went wrong, and then you come to the conclusion there was nothing we could have done differently. That was just the road he was going down."

Islanders teammate Gerry Hart: "To this day, I know Brian didn't do it, wasn't involved in it. ... The prosecution had a very weak case. It was all circumstantial evidence. But Brian was associated with some of these shady characters, and that implicated him."

Charles Burton, Florida state prosecutor for Spencer's murder trial: "If I didn't believe in my heart Brian Spencer was guilty, I wouldn't have prosecuted the case."

Roommate, lover and accuser Diane Delena: "If I took myself outside of this thing and look at it, to me it looked like a fateful situation. Somehow we were thrust together and this thing took on a life of its own. I never believed ... I just didn't know these sort of things happened."

Sittler: "He was trying to go forward with his life, and I suggested through the Maple Leafs Alumni or some of the players that he knew that we would help him any way we could. I told him he should not go back to Florida and have his stuff shipped up to Toronto or Buffalo. A month later, I heard a newsbreak that he'd been shot and killed in Florida."

Sittler: "I was shocked when I heard it, but my first reaction was that somebody had planned it. I have no evidence to substantiate that other than my gut feeling." 

Former Riviera Beach detective George Mamak, lead investigator of Spencer's killing: "Just happened to be a crime of opportunity, two white guys on the side of the road with the cabin light on."

Simonick: "He would stand up until he was killed on the spot, which is what happened."

Hart: "A lot of guys stuck their necks out. We had to raise a lot of money to get him out on bail. We all shared in the frustration and the defeat of Brian not being able to take that opportunity and run with it."

Burton: "I remember not being surprised. Spencer had the chance to reconnect with people he hadn't seen in years and could've had a lot of opportunities. So what does he do? He lives his life the same way, being in a place he shouldn't have been."

---Tim Graham

Brian Spencer's life too twisted for Hollywood

Brian Spencer's life sounds like an overdone movie script. His nickname was "Spinner" because he churned mayhem around the rink. He was an overachiever, surmounting an isolated British Columbia childhood and marginal skills to play nine NHL seasons.

He began his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, served as alternate captain for the original New York Islanders and skated a regular shift for Buffalo Sabres' 1975 Stanley Cup finals team.

Away from rink, however, is where fascinating drama continually unfolded for him. I looked back on Spencer's turbulent life and returned to some unanswered questions in a story on the cover of our Spotlight section.

When a 21-year-old Spencer made his "Hockey Night in Canada" debut after being summoned from the minors to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the CBC affiliate back home showed a Vancouver Canucks game instead. Spencer's father drove 90 miles to the station, took hostages, forced it off the air and died in a shootout with Mounties.

Spencer played his entire career under the cloud of his father's nationally infamous death. He left hockey, drifted to South Florida and got rung up on drunk-driving charges like they were two-minute minors.

Then came another colossal whammy. Spencer was acquitted of first-degree murder in 1987, avoiding the electric chair. Eight months later he was murdered in the street. Spencer was 38 years old.

Although the comments ended up on the cutting room floor of my piece, I asked Hollywood producer Mark Ciardi for a cinematic opinion on Spencer's storyline. Ciardi specializes in true sports stories that defy plausibility.

"That would be tricky," Mark Ciardi said of a film about Spencer's life. "I probably would have to keep stating "This is a true story!' over and over again to remind the audience.

"Nothing shocks me anymore, but that's a remarkable story. It's almost too crazy for the screen, too unbelievable."

Ciardi produced "Miracle" (about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team), "Invincible" (about a bartender named Vince Papale, who makes the Philadelphia Eagles in an open tryout) and "The Rookie" (about 35-year-old high school baseball coach Jim Morris, who tried out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and pitched in the majors).

Yet Spencer's tale is too unfathomable -- and too sinister.

"The tough thing with a story like that, for sports stories you have to bring to the whole family," Ciardi said. "Ours tend to be more about inspiration, uplifting people. I like to find redemption.

"That's dark. And pretty wild. Maybe too wild."

---Tim Graham

Connolly heading to the Leafs

Well, this should be interesting. Outlets across Canada are reporting that the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to sign free agent center Tim Connolly to a two-year deal for $9.5 million -- or $250,000 more per year than the reviled two-year, $9-million extension he got from the Sabres in 2009 at the trade deadline.

If Danny Briere and Chris Drury got booed in their returns to HSBC Arena, imagine the reaction to Connolly, a player most fans had tired of, wearing a Leafs sweater.

Acquired in 2001 as part of the deal with the Islanders for Michael Peca, Connolly was the Sabres' senior member last season. He had 13 goals, 29 assists and a minus-10 rating last season -- then extended his goalless streak in the playoffs to 29 games with two assists before getting knocked out of Game Six with a separated sternum on a hit from behind by Flyers captain Mike Richards.

Of course, the Leafs probably don't care about that lack of production. They haven't made the playoffs since the lockout and will be hard-pressed to do it next season.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

It's over: Richards to Rangers

The Brad Richards Derby has reached the finish line. Several outlets are reporting that Richards has signed with the New York Rangers, and the New York Post is saying the deal is for nine years and $58.5 million. SportsNet in Canada said Richards is getting $50 million over the first five years in yet another heavily frontloaded deal.

Richards was the best player in a weak free agent class. The Sabres opted against it and you can't blame them. He's a 31-year-old coming off a concussion and a season with a non-playoff team. It was a risk. We'll see what the Rangers get out of it.

And now we see who pays Tim Connolly. The Stars? The Leafs? 

It's called stupid money, folks. 

Stupid money update at 12:15 p.m.: TSN is now saying the deal is nine years, $60 million.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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