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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Chris Spielman

(Born October 11, 1965) -- Fans of the Buffalo Bills will always remember Chris Spielman. They think of his intensity and his drive, and also his heart.

Spielman grew up in Masillon, Ohio, one of the legendary towns in the country for high school football. He was picked as the nation’s top scholar-athlete there, and went on to an All-American career at Ohio State.

The linebacker was drafted by the Lions in 1988, and he was a tackling machine there. Spielman made four Pro Bowls and became the team’s all-time leading tackler.

Spielman jumped to the Bills in 1996, and played two seasons here. He set a team record with 206 tackles. However, his 1997 season was curtailed by a neck injury that forced him out of the lineup.
Spielman started to make a comeback in 1999, but the news that his wife had contracted breast cancer led to his retirement. Stefanie died in 2009. Chris has done some broadcasting and other football-related work since retiring.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Alexei Zhitnik

(Born October 10, 1972) -- Oleksiy Mykolaiovych were the first and middle names of a very good Buffalo Sabres defenseman. Writers and editors were very happy when Mr. Zhitnik decided to go by “Alexei.”

Zhitnik had already spent a season in Russian hockey when he was drafted by the Kings in 1991. After one more year across the pond, Zhitnik arrived in California and made the Kings immediately. At the age of 20, he was an immediate contributor to the Los Angeles lineup and helped them reach the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.

A year and one half later, the Kings needed help at goaltender and through Grant Fuhr - an old pal of Wayne Gretzky’s - would be just the guy to help. The Sabres’ price tag for Fuhr was high, but the Kings paid it. Zhitnik became a Sabre that involved five other players including Charlie Huddy and Philippe Boucher.

Zhitnik stayed a Sabre through 2004. He contributed some offense, but mostly he was a defensive workhorse. Zhitnik played a lot of minutes, night after night, often against opponents’ best lines.
 He left to join the Islanders in 2005, and also played with Philadelphia and Atlanta. Zhitnik finished his career in 2010 after playing two years in Moscow.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jason Pridie

(Born on October 9, 1983) -- It seemed like all sorts of players passed through Buffalo during the Mets’ four years of having an affiliation with the Bisons. Jason Pridie was one such player. He’s certainly had an interesting baseball odyssey.

Pridie was born in Phoenix and set a school record with 13 triples in the high school. He was taken in the second round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2002. Pridie looked like a future star, hitting .368 in rookie ball. He worked his way up to Double-A by 2005.

Pridie’s career took a turn when he was taken by Minnesota in the Rule V draft, but didn’t make the Twins’ roster and was sent back to the Rays. He stayed there through 2007, when he was traded to Minnesota. Pridie stayed there through the end of 2009.

The Mets grabbed him off waivers in 2010. He hit .280 for the Bisons that season, and spent a little time in New York. The next year Pridie played 101 games for the Mets, and also was a Bison briefly. At the end of 2011, Pridie became a free agent.

In 2012, Pridie started with the Athletics. But he flunked a drug test and was suspended and released. The outfielder hooked on with Philadelphia’s organization for a while this past summer, but was later dropped.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Kevyn Adams

(Born October 8, 1974) -- Kevyn Adams’ father was a pilot when he was growing up. It turns out Kevyn has landed in Western New York twice.

Adams and family moved to Clarence when he was four years old or so. He went through school there and played for the Niagara Scenics. Then it was on to Miami of Ohio, and was drafted by the Bruins in the first round of 1993.

However, he was a Maple Leaf when he played his first NHL game in the 1997-98 season. The forward took part in one regular-season game and seven playoff games the next year, when the Leafs met the Sabres in the conference finals.

From there, Adams did a little bouncing, going to Florida, Carolina, Phoenix and Chicago in that order. He won a Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Hurricanes.

Adams retired in 2009 and became a member of the Sabres’ staff. He moved up to become an assistant coach in 2011.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Dick Jauron

(Born October 7, 1950) -- Dick Jauron never revealed much about himself to Buffalo Bills’ fans during his tenure as the head coach. That’s too bad, for his story was an interesting one.

The Illinois-born Jauron moved to suburban Boston at a young age, and was a standout athlete there. The Boston Globe called him one of the 10 greatest high school football players in Massachusetts history. From there it was on to Yale, where he ran for almost 3,000 yards in three seasons.

Jauron went to the Lions in the fourth round of the 1973 NFL draft, and he found a home as a defensive back. Jauron made the Pro Bowl in only his second season, and played through 1980.

His coaching career started with the Bills in 1985, and he worked his way up the ladder through the Bears and Lions from there. Jauron got his chance to be a head coach when the Bills hired him in Jan. 2006. After three straight 7-9 seasons, Jauron got off to a 3-6 start in 2009 when Buffalo decided to make a move. He was fired, and Perry Fewell was named the interim coach.

Then after a year in Philadelphia as an assistant, Jauron was named the defensive coordinator of the Browns in 2011.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Daniel Briere

(Born on October 6, 1977) -- The Buffalo Sabres and Daniel Briere were a match made in heaven. He was never better than he was here.

Briere was born in Gatineau, Quebec, and he became a top junior hockey player. The forward once scored 130 points in 59 games for Drummondville. However, he was on the small side, and was taken only 24th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1996.

It took Briere a while to settle in at the NHL level, and he never scored more than 60 points in a season for Phoenix (formerly Winnipeg). Buffalo traded Chris Gratton to the Coyotes for Briere, and it became one of the best trades in Buffalo hockey history.

Briere seemed to get better and better with the Sabres, capping it with a 95-point season in 2006-07. He averaged about a point per game in the playoffs, too.

But free agency called in 2007, and Briere took a huge offer (eight years, $52 million) from the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s played five seasons with the Flyers. Briere has been good there, even leading the NHL in playoff points in 2010, but he hasn’t matched his old standards.

--- Budd Bailey

HoliMont offers rides on new lift

HoliMont Ski Resort is kicking off its 50th anniversary season at this weekend’s Ellicottville Fall Festival with rides on its new detachable quad chair lift.

 The Exhibition Express quad chair will be running from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. The chair is an upgrade from a fixed-grip quad chair and will reduce time getting up the slopes. Rides are free and open to the public.

 “If you are a ski area, if you aren’t upgrading all the time you are falling behind, said General Manager Dave Riley. “If you want to be a player you have to upgrade your infrastructure.

 The resort will also hold its annual meeting starting at 9 a.m.

 HoliMont opened for the 1962-63 ski season with approximately 12 members and has grown to about 1,350 memberships, which encompasses about 4,000 people because many of the memberships belong to families.

-- Fletcher Doyle

Post Time: Juveniles seek to be toast of Big Apple in Champagne

By Gene Kershner

It’s not your run of the mill field that will be going to the gate in Saturday’s $400,000 Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.

I can’t remember the last time a maiden winner was the morning line favorite in a Grade 1 race that also included a Grade 1 winner.

How often can you consider boxing three Pletcher horses in the same race and have a decent shot at hitting the trifecta?

This is exactly what the NYRA is serving up cold on Saturday afternoon when six of the seven talented 2-year-olds will stretch out to the mile distance for the first time in their careers around one turn at Big Sandy. The Champagne is a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In qualifying race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 3, so the stakes will be high late Saturday afternoon.

The morning line favorite is the highly touted Archwarrior (5-2) who comes off a maiden win during the last week of the Saratoga meet for trainer Todd Pletcher. I highlighted his debut win in a Friday Post Time blog entry in August after returning from a surgical strike down the Thruway to the Spa to see him. He is a large imposing colt by Arch out of a Seeking the Gold mare with the pedigree to handle the longer distances. He didn’t dominate during his maiden victory, and appears that he will be more impressive as the distances get longer.

Pletcher isn’t shy about letting this colt dip his toes in deeper waters. “He’s a big strong colt who has shown us a lot of ability in the mornings, and I thought he backed it up with a good solid effort in his debut,” said Pletcher. “I liked the way he finished the race and the way he galloped out, and he’s trained well since then. It’s an ambitious move, but a move we think that fits his schedule based off what we’ve seen.”

Ironically, Archwarrior is slightly favored over Pletcher’s Grade 1 winning colt Shanghai Bobby (3-1).  Unlike Archwarrior, this colt has been tested, has a graded victory and a non-graded stake under his belt as he will be looking for his fourth consecutive win. Pletcher will look to continue his magic with 2-year olds after winning both graded stakes at Belmont last weekend. Rosie Napravnik will ride the undefeated son of Harlan’s Holiday.

Based on his effort in the Hopeful at seven furlongs, he doesn’t think the one-turn mile will be an issue for Shanghai Bobby. “Even though he was close to the pace, he was able to let horses go in front of him and seemed to settle pretty well. The fact he successfully got seven furlongs and wasn’t desperate doing it was a good indication that a one-turn mile should be well within his scope.”

 Pletcher will also enter Micromanage (5-1) for Repole Stables, owners of 2011 Derby trail horses, Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty. The Medaglia d’Oro colt won his debut impressively at seven furlongs by 5 lengths and Joel Rosario will be in the irons. It’s not inconceivable that the three Pletcher colts could fill the trifecta.

Other challengers include the second (Fortify, 6-1) and third (Bern Identity, 15-1) place finishers from the Hopeful and two other horses who will be invading a NYRA track for the first time. Goldencents (3-1) sports a big speed figure in his debut on the polytrack at Del Mar and Chief Havoc (15-1) ships in from over the pond to run on dirt for the first time for Jeremy Noseda.

This could be a classic case of the “other Pletcher” horse sneaking in and winning the race. Micromanage has been working well and should savor the additional distance. Shanghai Bobby will be there on class alone and I will favor Archwarrior at the longer distances when his long loping strides will be more of a factor.

Don’t be surprised if Goldencents runs a big one also, West Coast trainer Doug O’Neill wouldn’t ship him in if he didn’t think he had a solid shot at winning and sipping the Champagne.

Post Time Outlook – 1- Micromanage; 2 – Shanghai Bobby; 3 – Goldencents

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Paul Snyder

(Born October 5, 1931) -- It’s a familiar story - local successful businessman moves out of his area of expertise and generates controversy and headlines.

No, not Carl Paladino. Paul Snyder was there first.

Snyder was an important and familiar name in Western New York’s business past. He once sold Freezer Queen to Nabisco, and started the Darien Lake campground that had his name attached to it for many years.

Still, he entered the public spotlight in 1970 just before the start of the NBA basketball season by purchasing the Buffalo Braves. He could be a hands-on owner, as evidenced by his firing of coach Dolph Schayes after one game of the 1971-72 season. Snyder later watched the Braves become a good team by the middle of the 1970’s.

However, the franchise fell on hard times after that. Snyder eventually sold a portion of the team to John Y. Brown, whose actions started to make Snyder look good in comparison. Snyder eventually sold all of his share of the team, and the Braves moved out of Buffalo in 1978.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jamie Mueller

(Born October 4, 1964) -- There have been five players in NFL history who played college football at Benedictine College. Jamie Mueller is the one you know about, at least if you lived in Western New York a little more than 20 years ago.

Mueller was a two-time NAIA All-American at the Atchison, Kansas school. One of the Bills’ scouts must have made the trip to the Midwest, because the team drafted him in the third round in 1987.
Mueller was 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, and made the team at fullback. He ran for 354 yards in his rookie year, which became his career high.

The running back stayed in a backup role for the next three seasons, sometimes coming on in short-yardage situations. There was only one football back then, and Thurman Thomas usually got it when the Bills wanted to run.

Mueller’s last season was 1990 when he ran for 207 yards. He helped the Bills reach the Super Bowl that season. His career ended at that point.

-- Budd Bailey

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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