The Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning played a hockey game on Tuesday night. At least I think it was hockey. Everyone had skates on and the ice was frozen. They managed to combine for 39 shots on goal. Steven Stamkos scored. Attendance was 19,204.
That’s it for the factual portion of this post. Tuesday night’s game mostly felt like nothing. An exasperated, snarky Ron Rolston didn’t have any answers for why his hockey team seemed disinterested in playing the game. While I enjoy this new, saucy version of Rolston, the whole thing seems fairly pointless. Answering questions by saying, “That’s a good question” is a terrifyingly accurate portrayal of what this season boils down to. Why aren’t the Sabres any good? Because they’re not any good.
This is a nice contrast with what I watched after the Sabres’ 2-1 loss in Tampa. The United States Men’s National soccer team played a World Cup qualifier in Mexico against El Tri. The final score was 0-0, a draw which gives each squad a point in the six-team, 10-game Hex. For the Americans, the tie was practically a win.
This is that area of sports where it’s clearly not about the score. Soccer critics look at a 0-0 draw and argue that nothing happened, but that fails to understand the enormity of away points in Mexico. The draw moves the U.S. to 0-13-2 in World Cup qualifiers in Mexico. The last time they got a point was in 1997.
Estadio Azteca, the site of Tuesday night’s game, is notoriously difficult place to play for any opposition. The rival United States team, for example, gets cups of urine and vomit thrown at them. The States got its first win at Azteca ever last summer. So, yes, last night was a big game for American soccer.
Here’s the nice thing about last night’s game: it actually felt important. It felt gritty. It felt like it meant something, and in the grand scheme of things it does. I was nervous the entire game. I worried. I swore. I complained about the LASERS the Mexicans were shining into the eyes of goalkeeper Brad Guzan and other American players. And when they won, it was awesome. It’s the most fun I’ve had watching sports in a while.
This is the difference between simply reading a box score and seeing the game come to life through the numbers. Knowledge can make a 0-0 draw monumental, just like a line score full of zeroes in baseball can be perfect. The draw was full of frantic soccer and close calls and great defense from a makeshift American lineup. A Mexican lineup full of talent got blanked by an American side missing keeper Tim Howard and many of the mainstays fans have come to rely on. It was intense, and the final whistle was sweet, sweet relief.
The anxiety and excitement I felt watching the Americans survive at Azteca was the perfect juxtaposition for what I’ve felt (or haven’t felt) watching the Sabres this season. The numbers get tallied but the emotion is absent. Things happen without any real purpose. It’s sports at its bare essentials. A start time, a score, and a calendar to fill out.
I don’t need shouting and screaming. I don’t need to jump up and down on a Tuesday night in March. Sitting in a press box for a few years makes it easy to remove the emotions of watching a game from your experience. The problem this year is that it’s necessary to do that just to make it through these Sabres games. There’s no sense of building anything with this team. There’s not much sense in anything, really.
It’s a bummer. When will it change? I have no idea. But that sure is a good question.