That’s the great thing about plankton. It pretty much keeps to itself. -Jimmy McGinty
The Replacements is my favorite “bad sports movie” of all time. You know the kind I’m talking about; that movie with predictable plot, awful action scenes, and storybook ending that somehow keeps you watching at 2AM. Maybe it’s a few likable characters, maybe just a line or two you want to hear, but no matter how many inconsistencies or “things that would never happen in real life” you see, you’re not going to bed ’till it’s over.
Tonight I think I figured out why.
At halftime of the replacement players’ last game, coach McGinty is asked what they need to overcome a 17 point deficit to win.
“Heart. Miles and miles of heart.”
Now tonight Wikipedia told me that’s a quote from “Damn Yankees”, but that little tidbit is irrelevant to me. What struck me this time is how often that term comes up when talking sports.
Heart. Everyone has one, but somehow that term has evolved into a style of sorts. “Heart” is going the extra mile, giving that extra effort to be better then your opponent. It is the “we want it more” and “we deserve it” all rolled into one. Players that have heart should win over other teams that do not, fair is fair, right?
We see players with that hard nosed, hard working style and say they have “heart”. Paul Gaustad plays with heart and we love him for it. Adam Mair plays with it too, and it’s enough to let me look past some dumb penalties and appreciate what he brings to the ice. A player like Thomas Vanek doesn’t seem to show heart because of his style of play, even though he will stand in front of a 90MPH slapshot for the chance to tip it just enough to score.
So with all that judgement riding on heart, it must mean Goose and Mair are the two best players on our team, right?
Well… not exactly. The truth is every team plays with heart, every player tries as hard as they can to win, and there is no secret to success. Hard work, talent, and good planning wins games, no questions asked.
Buuuuuut, there always seems to be that little grey area we all know and love: the intangibles.
Intangibles are what the reason we have this blog, and the reason we all watch sports. That unexpected bounce, stroke of luck, or prayer that turns the tide and changes everything. If sports were without these bounces there would be no Super Bowl XVII next weekend, and we certainly wouldn’t spend most of our lives discussing things as trivial as Denis Wideman’s power-play points winning a fantasy hockey championship for you back in the day. (Unless that one’s just me…)
So while everyone seems to play with “heart”, what I think what the term comes to represent are those brief chances of luck that can change everything. Good things come from hard work, and when those bounces go your way they are the best of things.
Getting back to the point, do I think this Sabres team can turn it around? Yeah, I do.
Watching a movie like “The Replacements” puts things in a pretty good perspective, especially when you’re in the middle of the All Star break. That movie showed a group of lesser players beating a better team that lacked “heart”. The truth is that good teams win because they are talented, even when bounces go against you. Good teams are supposed to overcome those unexpected bounces and play to their ability at all times, regardless of opponent, injuries, or any mitigating factor.
Have we seen that as of yet? Yes, but not consistently. Thursday night against Dallas was an example of a team grinding out a win, the Flyers game back in December (12/22) was a flash of their comeback ability, and last Friday against the Thrashers was an example of a team firing on all cylinders.
Of course, each one of those games has a subsequent letdown attached. The Sabres went on a ten game winless streak after that game in Philly, and screwed the pootch in Toronto after the Thrashers game. They haven’t been able to destroy our hopes from Thursday because they don’t play again until next week.
But what happens that Wednesday night on the peninsula will say a lot about where this team is heading. At present they are out of excuses, getting healthier, and running out of chances. Playing with “heart” is not the question (at this point I’ve obliterated the term anyways), but you can’t help but wonder if they play like a team that wants to make the playoffs.
At this point, that’s all I can ask for.