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Olympics highlight busy 2010

If a newspaper is called "the first draft of history," a year-end review of events perhaps qualifies as the second.

It's often difficult to know immediately if a sporting event will have historical significance, and even more difficult to guess what that significance might be. With that in mind, then, here's a look at some of the dates and events from 2010 that probably will be remembered well into 2011 and beyond:

*January 19: When the Bills went looking for a new coach, there were plenty of big names theoretically available. The list included Super Bowl champions such as Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan and Brian Billick. Owner Ralph Wilson rarely has hired big-name coaches, though, so the hiring of former Dallas Cowboys head coach Chan Gailey was right in character.

Gailey started his Buffalo career with eight straight losses. But the offense eventually showed improvement under quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the team showed only a few signs of collapsing after the poor start. Gailey still must win, of course, but the fan base doesn't seem particularly restless as his first season winds down.

*February 27: Olympic champion is a title that hasn't been given to many Western New Yorkers over the years. Steve Mesler joined that very select group on this date. The Buffalo native was part of the American four-man bobsled team that claimed gold.

If that weren't good enough of a moment, Mesler came back to Buffalo within a month of the triumph and shared the win with his home town -- even taking the gold medal to his alma mater, City Honors High School.

*February 28: Ryan Miller and Team USA had a memorable Winter Olympics. The Sabres' netminder was superb during the Games, leading the Americans to the championship game. Entering that final contest, many had called Miller the best goalie in the world.

Team USA rallied to tie the gold-medal game in the final minute of regulation, but from there the storybook tale had an unhappy ending. Sidney Crosby scored in overtime to give Canada a 3-2 win -- thrilling the largest audience in Canada's television history.

*March 12: Les Bartley is considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of indoor lacrosse. He won 93 games to set the NLL record, with many of those -- plus three championships -- as the coach of the Bandits.

One of the players on those early Bandit teams went on to break Bartley's coaching record. Darris Kilgour notched his 94th win when the Bandits won an 11-10 game in Toronto.

*March 27: Western New York has only had two boys basketball teams win the Federation championship, and one of them came this year. Nichols took the Class A title with a 65-43 win over Jamesville-Dewitt in a game played in Glens Falls. Will Regan of the Vikings ended his career with 21 points and 12 rebounds, going past 2,000 points for his career in the process.

*April 26: The 2009-10 playoff run was supposed to be a long one for the Buffalo Sabres after the team had won the Northeast Division title. That's what made the first-round elimination to the Boston Bruins that much more disappointing.

The Bruins beat the Sabres, 4-3, in Game Six to wrap up the series, four games to two. The series' key moment might have been in Game Four, when Miroslav Satan scored in overtime to give Boston a 3-1 series lead.

*April 29: The Bisons' R.A. Dickey gave up a leadoff single to Durham center fielder Fernando Perez. Then he retired the next 27 batters in a row to lead Buffalo to a 4-0 win. Dickey was called up to the New York Mets later in the year, and went 11-9 with a fine 2.84 earned-run average.

June 3: Buffalo's downtown baseball park, no matter what it's been called, hadn't seen buzz like this in years. Stephen Strasburg turned up on a Thursday afternoon to pitch for Syracuse against the Bisons, and more than 14,000 turned out to see him. Strasburg, one of the most heralded pitching prospects in memory, was worth the price of admission with a 99-mph fast ball that seemed unhittable.

It was Strasburg's last game in the minors in 2010; he was called up to Washington and eventually suffered a severe elbow injury. We'll have to wait to see what happens to Strasburg's career from here.

*June 9: When the Chicago Blackhawks drafted South Buffalo's Patrick Kane first overall, the idea was that he would help the team win the Stanley Cup some day. This was that day.

Not only did Kane contribute to the Hawks' first Cup win since 1961, but he scored the game-winning goal, in overtime no less, in the deciding game. Kane's goal in Game Six lifted Chicago to a 4-2 win over Philadelphia. Kane brought the Cup back to Buffalo on August 13.

*June 23: The major awards in the National Hockey League are always an event when they are handed out, and the Sabres haven't had a huge number of them in 40 years. Therefore, it was a big night when Ryan Miller was named the league's best goalie while Tyler Myers earned rookie of the year honors.

Miller had the league's second-best goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (.929). Myers, who joined Tom Barrasso and Gil Perreault as Calder winners, was an outstanding all-around defenseman.

*July 1: The first day of free agency is always eventful in the National Hockey League. Buffalo had a reshuffled defense when this day was over, as Toni Lydman (Anaheim) and Henrik Tallinder (New Jersey) were lost and Jordan Leopold (Pittsburgh) was signed. No team can afford to lose two of its top three or four defensemen, and it's easy to guess that the lineup change contributed to the Sabres' slow start to the 2010-11 season.

*September 6: Justin Turner didn't run for the bus at the end of the baseball season. He became the first Bison in 74 years to have six hits in a game, as he hit for the cycle in a 16-1 season-closing win in Rochester.

*September 27: On September 19, Trent Edwards had been the starting quarterback of the Bills. He was benched for the following week's game. A day later, the Bills surprised everyone by placing Edwards on waivers. How many opening day starters at QB get cut before the month is out? Edwards was picked up by Jacksonville later in that week.

From the perspective of three months after the fact, the Bills coaching staff made the correct call. Fitzpatrick played well enough the rest of the way to make finding the proverbial "quarterback of the future" less of a priority.

*November 20: Niagara's women's volleyball team capped a fine season by winning the Metro Atlantic championship by sweeping Iona. That led to a date against the defending national champions, Penn State. The Purple Eagles had nothing to be ashamed about after losing that match in University Park, Pa.

*November 25: If something doesn't happen, is it a history-making event? In this case, it is. Buffalo's public schools had staged their championship game on Thanksgiving -- the Harvard Cup game -- for more than a century. The tradition ended on this day, as All-High Stadium was dark. The city teams had been incorporated into Section VI for the 2010 season and made a part of its postseason playoffs.

Endings like that are sad, but the Buffalo teams acquitted themselves nicely during the course of the season under the new structure. Five of nine squads made the playoffs.

*December 18: St. Bonaventure and Ohio played in the Reilly Center on this afternoon. And played and played and played some more. When the game was over, the Bonnies had set a school record for the longest game in history with a 112-107 win in four overtimes. Andrew Nicholson led Bona with 44 points.

*December 26: The World Junior Hockey Tournament opened in Buffalo with three games in HSBC Arena and a fourth at Niagara University. The event is attracting visitors and worldwide attention, and the gold-medal game on Jan. 5 no doubt will be on any list of memorable Buffalo sports events in 2011.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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