Copyright 2019 by Michael W. Rickard II
Everyone has a story about how they fell in love with hockey, but I’d say my story is pretty nontraditional. My love for hockey didn’t start by playing it or watching it on TV. In fact, I disliked playing it on the rare occasions I played street hockey, and I never had anyone explain the rules to me so it was difficult to follow on TV. No, my passion for hockey grew after I started playing EA’s classic Sega Genesis game Hockey ’95.
Friday nights were often game nights over at my brother’s house. With two young kids, he didn’t have much time to get out so relaxation was loading up the Sega Genesis and playing video games with our mutual friend Chris. The games varied from classics such as Mortal Kombat to the flavor of the month, such as Primal Rage or Robocop vs. Predator. However, we had some favorites too, ranging from strategy games such as Dune and Risk to sports games such as the legendary Tecmo Bowl and NHL ’95.
When it came to hockey, I had no idea what was going on, but unlike today’s hockey games where there are controls for respiration (okay, they’re not that complicated), the controls were intuitive, and the game had a fast learning curve (plus my brother Dave was and is a walking encyclopedia of hockey lore). We had to pick teams and with the Buffalo Sabres taken, I chose the Montreal Canadiens, not because I knew of their storied past (I didn’t know icing from offsides, let alone anything about the various teams’ history), but because their red, white, and blue uniforms looked so cool.
Loved the jersey. The team's not too bad either.
From there, I not-so-quickly learned about hockey, enjoying the action on the virtual ice and eventually wondering what the game was like in person. The Sabres were still playing at War Memorial Auditorium (aka “The Aud”) and tickets could be gotten for a steal. We scored some tickets in the nosebleed section, making the treacherous journey up the steep stairs to the Aud’s orange section, sat back, and I was hooked. As good as hockey was on TV, the live experience took things to the next level. Maybe it was seeing someone get checked so hard into the glass that the plexiglass section broke, but I was hooked from there.
Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium.
At the time, season tickets could be had for as low as five dollars a game, an incredibly low price even at the time. While I didn’t get season tickets, I started attending games regularly including the Sabres’ last game at the Aud. In 1996, I went in on season tickets with a co-worker the year that the Sabres moved from the Aud to the newly constructed Marine Midland Arena. And when I say newly constructed, I mean newly constructed. The facility was drafty and obviously thrown together just in time for the season opener (the arena would be touched up eventually). 1996 was an eventful year with the Sabres winning their division title for the first time in what seemed like forever and the arena suffering what could have been a disaster when the Jumbotron fell on the ice. Fortunately, there was no game going on, and no one was hurt.
The first of many names for the arena.
For the next 14 years, I had season tickets until my extracurricular activities led to an extended sabbatical (see my book Laughing All the Way to the Bank Robbery: How an Attorney Survived Prison) from hockey and pretty much everything. While my love for the game remained, I had more important things to focus on, and it wasn’t until this year that I was finally in a position to not only enjoy hockey, but get season tickets again. I’ve also started playing hockey video games again, but that’s a blog for another day.