Copyright 2019 by Michael W. Rickard II
The Sabres' first season ran from 1970-1971, never mind....
The Internet needs another hockey blog like the music world needs another (insert name of musician you hate) album. Nonetheless, this is the Internet where the rules of supply and demand are irrelevant when it comes to the production of blogs. Join me now as I take a look at life as a Buffalo Sabres fan and hockey fan in general.
Fans getting ready for the festivities.
It’s a pleasant early fall evening in downtown Buffalo and the city’s hockey fans are excited. The Sabres have made some big moves over the summer, including re-signing Jeff Skinner to an eight-year deal and hiring Ralph Krueger (an unconventional choice for a coach if ever there was one) after the listless tenure of Phil Housley. Like most seasons, fans are optimistic but they know they’ve been burnt too many times before by promises of a new era to bet the farm on the team’s chances of making the playoffs, let alone winning their first Cup.
While the National Hockey League doesn’t resemble the sports entertainment of the National Football League where the referees seem to control the game’s outcome as much as the players, there’s plenty of hyperbole used to reel in the fans. This season (2019-2020) is being billed as the team’s 50th anniversary despite the fact the Sabres’ first season ran from 1970-1971. Rumor has it that season ticket sales were down so someone came up with the idea of a golden anniversary. Buffalonians are known for loving a good party so I’m going with the notion that most fans weren’t bamboozled, but are just going along for the ride.
"Strictly Hip" warm up the crowd.
Speaking of rides, there’s much to be said for the team’s 50, er 49-year history. While the Sabres have never won a Stanley Cup, there have been some memorable moments through the years and even during the Sabres’ worst years (many of which occurred over the last few years), the fans still support the team. Tonight, it’s time to celebrate and the Sabres start off with a pre-game concert featuring “Strictly Hip,” a tribute band to the Tragically Hip, the legendary band as synonymous with Canada as hockey is. With Buffalo, NY bordering Canada, it’s practically a suburb of the Great White North and everyone knows who the Hip are.
The festivities begin with the Sabres bringing in 15 of their greatest team captains as they walk the red carpet into the arena for a special ceremony. It’s a nostalgia-fueled walk of fame and the fans are eating it up. The Sabres organization has managed to round up quite a selection from yesteryear, no matter what era you started watching hockey.
Once inside, everyone seems to have one of the team’s new 50th anniversary jerseys. The Sabres’ jerseys haven’t always been anything to get excited about, dating back to the black and white Satanic goat of the 1996 season or the infamous Buffalo Slug (aka Buff-a-slug) design that’s still mocked today. This one actually looks good and although it’s only available in white, the gold trim is a good reminder of the Sabres 50,, I mean 49 years on the ice.
"The Voice of the Sabres" Rick Jeanneret
Longtime announcer Rick Jeanneret is on-hand to emcee the ceremony as the Sabres honor some of their greatest team captains. A pre-game ceremony shows the team’s origins and some of the highlights in its early years. This continues throughout the night as players reminisce on their time on the team as well as some of the greats who played for Buffalo. Like other teams, Buffalo may not have won Lord Stanley’s Cup, but they’ve had some extraordinary players ranging from the French Connection to Dominik Hasek to Pat LaFontaine.
As for the game itself, the Sabres dominated the New Jersey Devils with a 7-2 score, which in some respects didn’t even show how much the Sabres outplayed their opponents. The Buffalo Sabres looked excited to be on the ice and many fans felt this was one of the best starts in years. It’s hard to argue with them on this.
Where things go from here is anyone’s guess. With 82 games in a season and a lengthy playoff series where anything can happen, Sabres fans hope the team won’t dig themselves into a hole during the first half of the season and find themselves making a Sisyphean effort to make the playoffs. As always, fans hope this will be “the year” and you can bet I’m one of them.