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For two bloggers, home is where the Sabres are

When it comes to being a hockey fan there is nothing like the zeal of the newly converted.

Kate Holzemer grew up in Minneapolis, a city that is no stranger to winter sports, but she was primarily a baseball fan. She didn't discover hockey until after moving to Western New York in 2001 to take a job playing viola with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Seven years later, in addition to performing with the BPO, Holzemer is a confirmed Buffalo Sabres fanatic as well as a blogger. Holzemer pours out her passion into a blog called The Willful Caboose (http://willfulcaboose.wordpress.com/).

Heather Bermingham grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and says, "Hockey was not on my radar for most of my life."

Then Bermingham met a Buffalo guy who was living in Alabama. His passion for the Sabres lit a spark in her. Eventually they married, moved to Buffalo in 2000, and Bermingham is now a Sabres blogger, too. Her site is called Top Shelf, a tribute to the Rick Jeanneret expression (http://topshelfcookies.blogspot.com/).

It might sound like Holzemer and Bermingham are competitors, but the hockey blogosphere is more community than competition. The two have become the best of friends.

"Kate was one of the first people to leave a comment on my blog," said Bermingham, a 30-year-old Town of Tonawanda resident who works as a classroom aide with emotionally disturbed children.

"We started e-mailing each other . . . and it's translated very well to real life."

Hockey didn't quickly take hold of Holzemer when she arrived in '01. Neither did Buffalo.

"I had a hard time when I first moved here making this feel like home," she recalled. "I felt kind of lost, like I was not exactly part of the community."

In the 2006-07 season the Sabres got on a roll that carried them to the Presidents Trophy and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Holzemer decided to come along for the ride.

"I started tagging along with friends to the games and it was so helpful," she said. "I felt so connected to the town and the people here. In a lot of ways everything sort of changed after that."

She took up writing the Willful Caboose soon after. (The title is an inside joke that resists easy explanation.) Blogging and getting comments from her readers has only deepened her sense of community with other Sabres fans.

"All sports blogging is doing is connecting," said Holzemer, a 33-year-old Buffalo resident. "We're just talking about sports in the way you would sitting at a bar. The comment sections of blogs are incredibly important."

Holzemer doesn't pretend to be a hockey expert.

"My reaction to the Sabres is very emotion driven, and I think that that emotional reaction is far more interesting to certain readers than my thoughts on how Thomas Vanek needs to shoot the puck more often," she said.

A Willful Caboose sample:

"You guys, I am madly in love with a little show called 'The Hockey Academy' on the NHL Network. The other night, Robin and I were sitting on the couch watching CNN and making plans to stockpile weapons for the upcoming apocalypse when we realized that watching the news was making us crazy. . . . I flipped over to the NHL Network in search of less stressful programming -- and that's when we discovered the hockey equivalent of a glass of red wine and a Xanax. . . . I can't quite explain my love for this show except by saying that I find it to be infinitely soothing."

Holzemer says her bosses at the Philharmonic are aware of her Sabres blogging and don't seem to have a problem with it.

"A ton of BPO players are absolutely obsessed with the Sabres," she said. "We have a complicated system for relaying the scores to each other onstage."

Holzemer and Bermingham attend several games a year together. Last summer they went to Ottawa for the draft.

Bermingham's writing also crackles with fan passion. For one thing, she really likes Henrik Tallinder. A lot.

She writes frequently about her fascination with "Hank," but not in the Puck Bunny sense (that's the uncomplimentary term for female fans who drool over male players).

"I love defense," Bermingham explained.

"I think the most exciting thing in hockey is a good penalty kill. I also think he's a beautiful skater -- very graceful and smooth. And he always comes across as very pleasant and personable."

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>Game video goes live

NHL.com this week rolls out a new product for streaming live games online, called NHL GameCenter Live.

This is a subscription package that allows fans to watch up to four live games simultaneously in what the league calls "TV-quality streaming video."

Blackout restrictions apply, so a Sabres game that's being televised would be blacked out online live. However, GameCenter Live subscribers get access to a complete archive with no restrictions.

The package costs $19.95 per month, or $159 for the complete season. However, the NHL is letting you sample it for free this weekend, from Friday through Sunday.

It was either Steven Hawking or Don Cherry who said that all sports viewership is a space-time continuum. Visit NHL.com this week and decide for yourself where watching up to 40 hockey games a week online fits into your lifestyle.

e-mail: gconnors@buffnews.com

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