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Reports: NHL will examine players' counterproposal, talks will resume Tuesday

The NHL Players' Association, as expected, made a collective bargaining counterproposal to the league today. Union leader Donald Fehr told reporters in New York the NHL is going to examine the offer overnight and talks will resume Tuesday morning.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in Manhattan that the union's offer was comprehensive and he would be in contact with the NHLPA on Tuesday.

---John Vogl

Sabres, Kaleida Health will welcome 2013 newborns with a hockey blanket

Along with a pat on the butt, Buffalo babies born in 2013 will get a spanking new Sabres blanket.

The hockey team and Kaleida Health have teamed up for the “Sabres Newborn Baby Program.” All children born in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo this year will receive a Sabres-themed blanket and a certificate from team owner Terry Pegula.

“Fandom in Buffalo is something that runs much deeper than in most other places,” said Sabres President Ted Black, who will visit Millard Fillmore on Tuesday afternoon to kick off the program. “Even from birth, people here know that hockey and the Sabres are a part of life. This program is a way for us to welcome the newest members of our community and hopefully plant the seed of passion that will grow into a lifetime of embracing the game that we all love so deeply here in Buffalo.”

The gold, hooded baby blankets are emblazoned with the Sabres’ logo and “We Live Hockey” on the back. They also have “’13” to signify the year and Kaleida Health’s “Buffalo Baby” logo.

In addition to the blanket, each baby will receive a “Future First-Round Pick” certificate. The certificates feature the Sabres and Kaleida Health logos, space to fill out the baby’s birth information and Pegula’s signature.

“Over 6,000 babies will be born at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and the Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo in 2013,” said James R. Kaskie, president and CEO of Kaleida Health. “This is a great way to welcome each and every one of them to our team.”

---John Vogl

NHLPA set to make counteroffer when labor talks resume this afternoon

Times Square is full of anticipation. Yes, nearly all of it is for the New Year's ball drop, but the NHL labor talks will resume there, too.

The sides held several conference calls over the weekend after the league made a new CBA proposal Thursday night. The NHL Players' Association is expected to make a counteroffer when the sides meet early this afternoon.

The union's response will dictate how talks go. If they tweak the NHL's offer, there could be quality conversations. If they offer a wildly different proposal, the NHL could again become exasperated and break off talks.

It's been reported the drop-dead date to start the season is Jan. 19, which leaves the sides only about a week or so to negotiate when training camp, legal chatter and voting on the CBA are factored in.

Highlights of the NHL's offer, courtesy of, include:

*50-50 revenue split.

*10-year term, including an option after eight years.

*Six-year limit on contracts (seven if a team re-signs a player).

*10 percent yearly variance on salaries.

*Salary cap of $70.2 million this season, but clubs must come into compliance with $60 million upper limit for the start of the 2013/14 season.

*$300 million in "make whole" payments.

*One "Compliance Buy-Out" prior to the 2013/14 season pursuant to which payments made to the player will not be charged against the team's cap, but will be charged against the players' share of revenues.

*"Cap Advantage Recapture" formula applicable to existing long-term contracts (in excess of 6 years) for years in which player is retired or fails/refuses to perform under his NHL SPC.

*Ability for clubs to retain/allocate salary and cap charges in the context of player trades within specified parameters.

*Adding Dec. 26 to Christmas break, giving players off Dec. 24-26.

---John Vogl

Video: Amerks victorious in return to Buffalo

Cody Hodgson is back on the ice for the Rochester Americans and showing why the Buffalo Sabres have such high expectations for him.

The fans in Buffalo got to see his turnaround firsthand Friday night. Hodgson scored two picturesque goals in First Niagara Center to help lead the Amerks to a 4-1 victory over Lake Erie.

Here are highlights courtesy of the Amerks (video begins at about 11-second mark).

---John Vogl

NHL gives 'comprehensive' proposal to NHLPA, which is reportedly drafting counteroffer

The negotiations between the NHL and its players' association are back on.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed reports today that the league delivered a new offer to the NHLPA on Thursday. Though Daly would not go into details regarding the proposal, numerous reports say the NHL moved on key issues.

"In light of media reports this morning, I can confirm that we delivered to the union a new, comprehensive proposal for a successor CBA late yesterday afternoon," Daly said in a statement. "We are not prepared to discuss the details of our proposal at this time. We are hopeful that once the Union's staff and negotiating committee have had an opportunity to thoroughly review and consider our new proposal, they will share it with the players. We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible."

Reports say the NHL has upped the term limit on contracts from five years to six (teams can re-sign players for seven years), has increased the allowable yearly salary variance from 5 percent to 10 percent and will allow each team one buyout before the 2013-14 season that won't count against the salary cap but will count against the players' share of revenues.

(ESPN has obtained highlights of the full offer.)

The players reportedly have a conference call at 3 p.m., and reports the NHLPA is crafting a counterproposal.

The sides have until about Jan. 10 to create a new collective bargaining agreement before the NHL cancels the entire season. UPDATE: Reports say the league's deadline to start a 48-game season is Jan. 19, with training camp opening at least seven days prior.

---John Vogl

Only single seats remain for Amerks' game in Buffalo on Friday as team will set franchise attendance record

The Rochester Americans are coming to Buffalo for the second time this season. They'll leave with a record.

The Amerks will set a franchise single-game attendance record Friday in First Niagara Center when they play Lake Erie. Only single seats remain.

The Sabres have added and reconfigured seats, primarily in the 200 Level, and will now host 19,070 fans. The number is symbolic of the team’s 1970 founding. Previous capacity was 18,690.

The Amerks' record of 17,898 was set Dec. 28, 2004, when they defeated Edmonton in Buffalo during the previous lockout.

Rochester and Lake Erie will meet for the third time. The first two were wild, with the Amerks earning a pair of 7-6 victories. They scored four straight goals to win Wednesday at home. They trailed, 5-3 and 6-5, in Cleveland on Dec. 13.

“It’s been more run-and-gun games, and both teams kind of fall into that,” defenseman T.J. Brennan said by phone today. “They have a lot of skill, but we have a lot of skill, too. We’ve just been coming out on top.

“That’s not exactly our game plan there. We want to play a little more disciplined and better defensively, obviously.”

The Amerks will hold a morning skate at First Niagara Center at 10 a.m., followed by Lake Erie at 11:15 a.m.  The morning skate for both teams will be open to the public.

Friday’s game will be televised on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel in  Rochester and Buffalo.

---John Vogl

Puck drops for world juniors, Spengler Cup as NHL talks remain non-existent

Pucks are on the ice in Russia and Switzerland. In North America, talks remain on ice.

The first day of the world junior tournament is complete as Finland, Canada, Sweden and host Russia opened with victories in the under-20 competition.

Joel Armia, the Sabres' first-round pick in 2011, had two assists in Finland's 5-1 victory over Latvia. Zemgus Girgensons, the second of Buffalo's two first-rounders this year, has elected to stay with the Rochester Americans rather than play for Latvia.

Mikhail Grigorenko, the Sabres' top pick in June, had an assist in Russia's 3-2 overtime victory against Slovakia. Goaltender Andrey Makarov, signed to a three-year contract by the Sabres in September, served as Russia's backup.

The United States and captain Jake McCabe, picked in the second round by Buffalo in June, play Germany on Thursday.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the Spengler Cup is under way. Sabres captain Jason Pominville, former Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht and their Mannheim Eagles play against Canada this afternoon. Tyler Seguin, John Tavares and Jason Spezza are among the NHLers playing for The True North.

For those who remain interested in billionaires and millionaires fighting, the NHL and NHL Players' Association still do not have negotiations planned, according to Yahoo! Sports. Mike Harrington wrote today about Sabres fans keeping their season tickets despite the lockout.

---John Vogl

Reports: Players vote 'yes' to allow NHLPA to file disclaimer of interest

NHL players have given union executives the green light to dissolve the NHL Players' Association, according to reports. There is no immediate word on whether they will.

During a five-day period that ended this afternoon, players reportedly voted overwhelmingly to allow the executive board to file a disclaimer of interest. That means the NHLPA would walk away from its role as the representative of the players, therefore leaving the NHL without a bargaining partner and open to antitrust lawsuits.

Union executives have until Jan. 2 to file the disclaimer.

In a pre-emptive strike to possible union dissolution, the league filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board last Friday and also filed a class action lawsuit to have the lockout declared legal.

The league has repeatedly expressed confidence that a court will find in its favor regarding the disclaimer of interest. NFL players lost a similar motion last year. NBA players also filed to dissolve their union last year, and they reached a collective bargaining agreement with the league 12 days later.

The NHL has canceled all games through Jan. 14, leaving the sides with about three weeks to secure a CBA or face cancellation of the entire season. No negotiations are scheduled.

---John Vogl

NHL cancels games through Jan. 14; next announcement likely to be season or no season

The NHL has announced the cancellation of more games. By axing the schedule through Jan. 14, it appears the league has also created an official deadline for the 2013 season.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this month teams will need a minimum of 48 games, which is how many were played in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. The league and the NHL Players' Association reached a collective bargaining agreement Jan. 11, 1995, and began playing Jan. 20.

They are apparently going with Jan. 14 this time.

A total of 625 regular-season games — 50.8 percent of the season — were scheduled for Oct. 11 through Jan. 14.

Today's announcement officially wiped seven more games from the Buffalo Sabres' calendar, though a new schedule will need to be crafted if there is a season. The Sabres were scheduled to host Ottawa (Dec. 31), Florida (Jan. 3), Tampa Bay (Jan. 5) and Boston (Jan. 9), while they were set to visit the New York Rangers (Jan. 8), Ottawa (Jan. 11) and Chicago (Jan. 13).

Meanwhile, the polls are slowly coming to a close for members of the NHLPA. The five-day window to decide whether to allow their executive board to file a disclaimer of interest closes Friday.

If the players vote yes -- an outcome that is widely and overwhelmingly expected -- the union will be authorized to walk away from its role as the players' negotiators. Union officials have not commented on whether they will file the disclaimer in the case of an affirmative result. If they do, the players would be free to file antitrust lawsuits.

---John Vogl

Sabres and volunteers keep Hurricane Sandy victims in mind, package hygiene kits to be delivered by LaFontaine, others

The Sabres continue to keep downstate residents affected by Hurricane Sandy in mind. Team employees and 200 volunteers this morning are packaging 3,500 hygiene kits that will be delivered to battered Long Island residents by former Sabres and Islanders Pat LaFontaine, Clark Gillies and Benoit Hogue.

The kits contain products such as shampoo, soap, deodorant, razors, toothbrushes and toothpaste. They will be loaded onto trucks and delivered to Long Island, parts of which were devasted by October's superstorm.

---John Vogl

Sabres players mum on disclaimer of interest, waiting for NHL to engage in talks

Because of lawsuits filed by the NHL and possible legal matters pending for the NHL Players' Association, several Sabres players skating in Buffalo didn't have much to say today about the state of labor talks.

They did, however, say they wish there were actual talks.

"We seem to have this trend where we put a proposal out and there’s a couple weeks where everything goes real quiet, then there’s some commotion again," defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "Hopefully, we get that commotion."

"It’s tough that there’s not much talking going on," forward Thomas Vanek said. "You would like both sides to at least communicate and work on it, so that’s frustrating."

Vanek and Leopold were joined in Northtown Center at Amherst by Buffalo teammates Ville Leino, Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta, Matt Ellis and Tyler Ennis, who has returned from playing in Switzerland.

They are awaiting the results of an NHLPA vote on whether to allow the executive board to file a disclaimer of interest, which would then open the door for antitrust lawsuits. Voting reportedly began Sunday and will run through Thursday.

"I think fans would like to see hockey be played, especially the best players in the world," Leopold said. "Here we are parked on the sidelines again, the second time in seven, eight years, and it’s unfortunate.

"Eventually it will subside and there will be a resolution. Hopefully, soon."

---John Vogl

Spirit of 76: Quick fix with look back at Mogilny's monster year

Sick of all this legalese and need a quick hockey fix? has been doing a series of stories on the 20th anniversary of the 1992-93 season, which it has noted as one of the more fascinating campaigns -- and perhaps even the best -- in recent league history.

Today's subject? The 76-goal season of Sabres Hall of Famer Alexander Mogilny.

Mogilny had 76 goals, 51 assists and 127 points that year playing alongside Pat LaFontaine (who finished at 53-95-148!). And the team thus had some crazy outbursts: There was a 12-3 win over Ottawa in October, an 11-6 destruction of the Rangers on New Year's Eve and a 10-7 win on Feb. 24 over Detroit, the night Mogilny broke Danny Gare's club record with his 57th goal.

It was also the season of the MayDay goal that completed the sweep of Boston in the playoffs. But Mogilny and LaFontaine were both hobbled in the next round and the Sabres were swept in four one-goal games -- three in overtime -- by Montreal. The Canadiens went on to win the Stanley Cup, leaving a great what-if lingering in Sabres history. also did a story as part of its '92-93 package on the LaFontaine line itself. Now, it's obvious the league's official site is trying to deflect attention from the lockout with all this stuff but sometimes that's OK too.

Cue the memory banks and roll the highlight films on Mogilny and LaFontaine here.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

NHL files two lawsuits against NHLPA, which was ready to put dissolution to a vote

With NHL labor talks still going nowhere, the league and its players’ association began a race to the courthouse Friday. The NHL got there first.

The league filed two lawsuits in New York. One was a class action lawsuit to confirm the legality of the lockout. The other was an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the NHL Players’ Association.

The legal moves came because players are expected to vote in the coming days whether to dissolve the players’ association via a disclaimer of interest. The union’s executive board unanimously authorized the vote, TSN reported Friday.

If the players vote "yes," the NHLPA would walk away from its role as the representative of the players. The players could then sue the league for antitrust violations.

“By threatening to ‘disclaim interest,’ the NHLPA has engaged in an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process and conduct that constitutes bad faith bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act,” the NHL said in a statement.

The union has been discussing a disclaimer of interest and decertification for some time. The NBA players’ association filed a disclaimer of interest during the basketball work stoppage last year. A collective bargaining agreement came together 12 days later before anything got to court. NFL players were not successful in their attempt to dissolve the union and end a lockout last year.

“There’s antitrust exemptions within the context of collective bargaining,” Richard D. Furlong, a labor lawyer for the Buffalo firm of Lipsitz, Green, Scime and Cambria, said by phone. “If you don’t have collective bargaining, those exemptions go out the window and the antitrust laws apply.”

By engaging in collective bargaining with the players’ association, the league is allowed to do things such as set a salary cap and impose restrictions on free agents. If there is no party with which to bargain, the owners “could not collude and basically join together to set the price of labor,” Furlong said.

“If you’re not engaged in collective bargaining, it would put the owners in a precarious situation with respect to antitrust laws,” said Furlong, who is a certified agent for Professional Lacrosse Players Association and a former agent for the National Football League Players Association.

Commissioner Gary Bettman scoffed at the threat of union dissolution last week.

“The board [of governors] was completely and thoroughly briefed by counsel on the subject,” Bettman said. “We don’t view it in the same way, in terms of its impact, as apparently the union may. … It’s not something that we focus on.”

Because a disclaimer of interest is less formal than decertification, which can take up to a year, courts have disallowed it as a “sham” negotiating tactic. Still, with the sides no closer after meeting with mediators again this week, the players have the option to at least explore the subject.

Buffalo defenseman Jordan Leopold, who has been serving as a union representative for the Sabres, declined comment.

“The bottom line is that this has been done before by unions within the context of collective bargaining in sports, and it has put the employers back on their heels with respect to the antitrust statutes,” Furlong said. “Bettman probably is and should be worried about this.”

Rather than wait and worry, Bettman and the league beat the players to the courts.

---John Vogl

Labor lawyer on NHLPA disclaimer of interest: 'Bettman should be worried about this'

It's possible the stalled NHL talks could move from a mediator's office to a courtroom.

The executive board of the NHL Players' Association decided Thursday night to allow players to vote on whether to dissolve the union via a disclaimer of interest, TSN  reported this afternoon. If the players vote "yes," the NHLPA would walk away from its role as a representative of the players, who could then sue the league for antitrust violations.

"The consequences are you would not have collective bargaining anymore, so the owners would have potentially some antitrust exposure," Richard D. Furlong, a Buffalo labor lawyer for Lipsitz, Green, Scime and Cambria, said by phone. "The owners could not collude and basically join together to set the price of labor outside the context of collective bargaining. There are exceptions in collective bargaining that would otherwise be illegal.

"So if you’re not engaged in collective bargaining, it would put the owners in a precarious situation with respect to antitrust laws."

Commissioner Gary Bettman scoffed at the possibility of a disclaimer of interest last week.

"We don’t view it in the same way, in terms of its impact, as apparently the union may," Bettman said. "It’s not something that we focus on."

Furlong, a certified agent for Professional Lacrosse Players Association
and a former agent for the National Football League Players Association, said the league should focus on the possibility.

"I think they should be worried about it," Furlong said. "The bottom line is that this has been done before by unions within the context of collective bargaining in sports, and it has put the employers back on their heels with respect to the antitrust statutes.

"Bettman probably is and should be worried about this."

---John Vogl

Sabres' president 'very disappointed' that NHL, NHLPA have not come to agreement, shares fans' frustration

The Sabres, who are losing millions in revenue every week because owners elected to shut down the NHL, share in the pain of local businesses that are struggling because of the lockout. It appears they share in the frustration of fans, too.

“We empathize with the frustrations that small business owners and fans alike from the Buffalo area have in regards to the NHL Lockout,” Sabres President Ted Black said in a Buffalo News story about the economic impact of the work stoppage. "We understand that many businesses have been negatively impacted by the ongoing labor dispute."

The use of empathize rather than sympathize is interesting. The Sabres obviously can empathize in terms of finances (though to a wildy different degree than a small business). To admit to feeling the frustration of fans is very telling -- especially since lockout comments by league personnel are essentially prohibited.

The rest of Black's statement reads: "We are very disappointed the NHL and NHLPA have not been able to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. We continue to have full confidence the NHL will negotiate a fair agreement on our behalf and on behalf of all the other NHL Clubs.”

---John Vogl

One of the greats of baseball writing bets on Fehr

ChassRetired New York Times baseball writer Murray Chass is considered one of the godfathers of reporting on sports labor relations, and was honored by the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2003 (right) as the winner of the J.G. Spink Award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Chass worked closely for many years covering Marvin Miller, the late czar of the MLB Players' Association and the mentor of current NHLPA czar Donald Fehr, so he intimately knows how Fehr operates.

So you should take Chass' column on Fehr posted on his personal Web site today as pretty solid analysis. The headline is "Bet on Fehr, Not Bettman."

Wrote Chass: "Major League Baseball’s annual revenue has soared beyond $7 billion, and baseball is so awash in money that the two sides don’t need to fight over caps and taxes. The N.H.L., meanwhile, remains in the dark ages of labor relations. Bettman has made sure they stay there with no apparent emergence or advance in sight."

Chass' column is a pretty insightful read. Another veteran baseball scribe, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post, wrote an equally interesting column on Fehr last month. 

Memo to hockey: This isn't 1978. Stop fighting the union. You need to form a partnership. By the end of the current labor deal, baseball will have 22 consecutive years without a work stoppage. And the sport has never been healthier (don't talk to me about television ratings either. That's hardly a reflection of the health of the game).

Those that foolishly waste the airwaves with "the employer always wins" rants on this lockout simply don't grasp what baseball has done for nearly two decades. And Fehr was a big part of that. The NHL's turf-war strategy has been flawed from the beginning.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 

MSG to air Sabres' 2003 blowout against Caps that featured dual hat tricks, Peters' first goal

The Sabres rang in New Year's with a night to remember in 2003-04. Miroslav Satan and Maxim Afinogenov each recorded a hat trick during a 7-1 shellacking of Washington.

Andrew Peters added the other goal, his first in the NHL, and the erstwhile enforcer will help viewers relive the game Monday night.

The blowout from Dec. 31, 2003, is next up in MSG's "Classic" series. It will air at 8 p.m. and feature Peters doing commentary.

MSG will reair the Sabres' 1976 victory over Russia on Dec. 24.

---John Vogl

NHL, players' association again fail to make progress with mediators

Once again, nothing is happening.

The NHL and its players' association met with Federal mediators today in New Jersey in an attempt to end the lockout and start the season. And, as you might have guessed ...

"There's nothing new to report," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told reporters. "We don't have a conclusion to the process."

"I can't tell you that any progress was made," NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said. "All I'm going to say is that there wasn't any change in position."

There are no further meetings scheduled.

---John Vogl

Donald Fehr

Bill Daly

Hecht returns to Germany, joins Pominville on Adler Mannheim

Jochen Hecht, who had been skating in Buffalo while waiting for the NHL to start, has returned to his homeland and hometown team. Hecht has rejoined Adler Mannheim, which recently signed former Sabres teammate Jason Pominville.

Hecht, an unrestricted free agent, has an out clause in his Mannheim contract that would allow him to play in the NHL if the lockout ends. The forward played for Mannheim from 1994 to 1998 and helped the team win two German titles.

The Sabres opted not to re-sign the oft-concussed Hecht, but they have a glaring whole at center should play resume. Hecht has repeatedly said he's healthy.

---John Vogl

NHL labor talks set to resume Wednesday, but will 'make whole' even reappear, let alone be an inflated $300 million?

The NHL and its players' association are set to return to the bargaining table Wednesday. As of now, the talks are scheduled to be in an "undiclosed location." A better question than "where" is, What will the NHL bring?

"Anything that we put on the table this week is off the table," Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday after the last round of talks imploded. One of the league's new offers was to increase "make whole" to $300 million, up from $211 million. Bettman said of make whole, "The concept itself is now off the table."

We'll find out soon if that's true.

One of the players' top objectives from the start was to earn the full value of their contracts. Hence, the make whole proposal, which is money from outside hockey-related revenue that goes to the players to reimburse them as the financial system moves to a 50-50 split from a 57-43 players' edge.

When the league introduced the proposal in mid-October, it said the amount needed for make whole was $211 million. As part of last week's talks, the NHL added $89 million in an attempt to make a deal.

"We tried to stretch a little more," Bettman said. "Sometimes you feel like you’re chasing your tail in this process, but we so much wanted to play that we went further than we should have, and when it didn’t get the right response, I started hearing from the clubs why is make whole still on the table?"

The only answer is it will be a necessary component to making a deal. But hopefully the union doesn't walk into Wednesday's meeting expecting $300 million. Using the league's point of view, it doesn't make sense to offer that much.

The majority of make whole was to cover this year's salaries, with the NHL saying $149 million would do it. But that was for 82 games. The league could be headed toward a 48-game season, which is only 58.5 percent of the schedule.

So, to make the players' contracts whole this season, the league would need only $87.2 million (58.5 percent of $149 million). Add that to the $62 million needed for next season, and the NHL's math suggests it requires only $149.2 million to cover make whole.

That's less than half of the $300 million that was offered last week. The way talks have been going, why would anyone expect the NHL to sacrifice more than it has to?

---John Vogl

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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 |

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 |

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 |