Sabres looking to gain respect
Posted: Tuesday June 08, 1999 02:20 PM
By Jim Kelley, CNN/SI
Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek, who's been battling groin strains for much of the season declared himself as fit as he expects to be and as focused as he can be.
"This is my only focus last couple of days and it will be my only focus the next one or two weeks to do everything to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo. I don't really what people say, what other people think, it is not most important for me. The most important thing for me is to do everything to win four games in the next couple of days."
There is pressure on Hasek to have a larger-than-life series vs. the Stars. It represents the best chance the Sabres have of winning. Hasek has been through something like this before, carrying an obscure Czech Republic team to the gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. There has been some concern as to whether or not Hasek is healthy enough to do that, but the fact that he's put his focus on winning at all costs indicates that he's put his health concerns behind him.
The Sabres are not loaded with Stanley Cup experience and those who've been there don't have a ring to show for it.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is trying to turn that into a positive, noting that having had the experience of being close enough to touch the club and not finishing the job is an added incentive to succeed.
"I was there in '96 with the Florida Panthers and it was a great experience," he said. "I think everyone who goes through that wants to try and get back at least one more time."
Ruff was an assistant coach with the Panthers then. He never played for the Cup in his 12 years as a player. Current Sabres Stu Barnes and Rhett Warrener were a part of that '96 run. Joe Juneau went to the Cup last season with the Washington Capitals. Former Sabre defenseman Mike Ramsey, currently an assistant coach with the Sabres went to the finals in '95 with the Red Wings, who lost in four games to New Jersey.
One of the side aspects of this series is big money, big town hockey vs. a small market club on a budget.
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said he didn't feel like he was carrying the banner for small market teams, but acknowledged that there was a difference in financial philosophy between the two teams.
"I think you can have a good team without spending $50 million. I will say it's becoming more difficult. With the respect to the small market teams I do believe it has been something that has been gaining momentum as we have gone through the playoffs that we are and we are being told that we are being recognized by other hockey clubs as a successful small market hockey club -- and that is OK. I think that is good for our market place. It is good for hockey and in particular it is great for a lot of Canadian situations."
That the Sabres are not favorites despite having the fewest losses in the playoffs does not bother them, but not being expected to compete does seem to draw a response.
"I didn't see anyone bring out the Stanley Cup when they [the Stars] won," chided Ward when asked if perhaps the Sabres weren't getting much respect in this series given that the Colorado-Dallas Western Conference final went seven games and was thought by many to be a classic series.
"Whatever people think doesn't matter to us, I don't think. We have said all along we really don't care what goes on outside our room. It is not anticlimactic for us whatsoever. We are excited to be here. We have earned the right to play for the Stanley Cup.
"Nobody has handed us anything. Nobody gave us a free ride. We beat three very good hockey teams to get here, so, this is what it is all about."
Warming to the task, Ward took his argument to another level, one that seems to be the underpinnings for the Sabres approach to playing this series.
"Whatever peoples' perceptions are of the way things have gone, that is up to them," he said. "For us it is an exciting thing that we have worked toward the entire year and for most of us, we have worked our entire lives to get a chance at this. We are excited and that is all we care about."
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