Niagara Gazette

November 28, 2013

MROZIAK: From snow to sports, what makes me thankful

BY MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It was both laughable and frustrating to see some of CNN’s coverage of this week’s wintry weather which, if you were to believe the longtime network, was absolutely paralyzing for us here in Western New York.

On one hand it’s hurtful to our region because it paints an ignorant picture for those who might consider bringing business here from out of town but then think twice, believing they may as well be coming to Siberia. 

On the other hand, the wintry weather is one of the many things for which I’m thankful this Thanksgiving. For all the slagging we get about our winters, it’s more an inconvenience than a catastrophe. When we get a few snowflakes, we go out and play in them. Our houses are still standing, unlike other natural disasters where families have to pick up the remains of their once-standing shelters. 

Take that into consideration, and I’m thankful to be living in Western New York. Of course, with this being a sports section let me share what makes me thankful in local sports..

• I’m thankful for the diversity in teams in our region, not just in terms of teams but in terms of affordability. Since having kids I gained an all-new appreciation for what it really costs to take a family to a sporting event. If you cannot afford to bring the youngsters to one of the big league teams in Buffalo, or simply don’t want to put up with the crowds, you have your choice of teams up in Niagara County ranging from Niagara University sports to other smaller but still competitive teams including baseball’s Niagara Power or soccer’s FC Buffalo and Empire Revs. 

In the latter case, the soccer clubs, many locally produced players continue to represent the region on those teams, long after getting their high school diplomas.

• I’m thankful for the intensifying rivalry between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. It has actually reinforced a sense of pride in me for being from this region. Just like the exaggerated weather commentaries from cable network news reporters, the pokes and jabs we get from Toronto sports fans can actually be unintended compliments. 

We take our knocks, but keep standing and thriving. We have a spirit and passion among the fans here that just cannot be duplicated by the corporate suites and obscenely expensive tickets in the bigger city up the QEW. Deep down inside, I think they know it too.

• In relation to that rivalry, and all other local sports rivalries, I’m thankful we don’t take them too far. 

One of the sports I follow in my spare time is soccer and one of the clubs I follow is Polish first division side Wisła Kraków. One of the unfortunate legacies of Wisła is their bitter rivalry with crosstown foes Cracovia. Rival fans have been known to stab each other in the streets. It’s a beautiful game followed by some ugly people. I’m thankful fans back here have the sensibility to keep a tighter grip on perspective.

• I’m thankful for the coaches and administrators who work hard to keep kids on the field, court or rink. It’s unfortunately too easy in this day and age to become cynical when thinking about the younger generation, thanks in great part to the news reports about the bad eggs. In my less than one year here, I’ve had the chance to watch some young talents who are not only great athletes but good kids. 

Don’t look down upon our young. One day, when you have finally become too weak or sick to care for yourself, you will need to look toward them.

• I’m thankful that I can still play hockey at the age of 43. It’s sometimes tricky to make the drive all the way down to East Aurora, where my team skates on the former Winter Classic rink once used by the Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Still, there are people who are unable to enjoy a simple pleasure like this for a couple of hours, many of them due to illness or another condition that simply makes them unable to play. Any time I can step on the ice, I am blessed and very, very lucky.

I wish you all a blessed and safe Thanksgiving.

Follow Niagara Gazette sports editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter at @MrozGazette.