There are many moments over the course of a team’s history that defines their legacy. In an ideal world all of those moments will be joyous and treasured forever and passed down from generation to generation, in hopes of continuing the traditions that made the team great in the first place. Stories of yesteryear will be sacred and told with such grace and elegance that the utter thought of them sends chills up and down your spine and makes hairs stand up on end. For some hockey fans that is what it’s like. For others though not so much.
Picking a favorite team in any sport is tough work. You need to be careful as to not root for a frontrunner in fear of being called a bandwagon fan. You don’t want to jump right in and like the worst team just to avoid the branding of a bandwagon fan because that could lead to years and years of misery. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones that inherited your father’s, and his father’s, and his father’s favorite team. You could just pick a team because of the logo or colors. Or as in my case you choose your team because it just makes sense.
Where I grew up hockey was certainly the fourth popular of the four major sports (Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey). I didn’t grow up skating on a frozen pond playing hockey from the moment I woke up until I was summoned home for dinner. I never remember watching it on tv let alone going to a game live. It was always all about the other three sports.
It wasn’t until my early adult years that I learned about the greatest game in the world. I remember being “introduced” to it by a close friend of mine. We would watch some on television and go to the local arena for some minor league games. I was hooked. All I wanted to talk about or read about or even think about was hockey. I wanted to know everything there was to know about hockey (that process is still going).
First things first though I needed to pick a team to follow. I grew up in Upstate New York where it was a popular choice to like the Rangers, Devils, and even the Islanders. That wasn’t for me. I tried to latch on watching some of their games on television because that was all we had but it didn’t seem to work. I was a free agent fan looking for a team to pour my heart and soul into.
I don’t remember the exact day or even the other team they were playing against but I do recall watching a Buffalo Sabres game and hearing the golden voice of Rick Jeanerette for the very first time. I thought to myself how insane he sounded and how excited about the game he made me. He made face-offs sound exciting. It was that point that I decided that I was going to be a Buffalo Sabres fan. I was already a Buffalo Bills fan so it all made sense. Why not like a hockey team in the same city as your favorite football team? I had no idea what I was in store for. I had endured four straight Super Bowl losses so how difficult could it be? Can’t be as heartbreaking as that right?
Rewind to the summer of 1999. The Sabres were in the playoffs for the third consecutive year. After a relatively decent regular season (37-28-17, 91pts), the Sabres were a team to be reckon with once the postseason began. The quest for 16 started with the sweep of the Ottawa Senators, a 4-2 series win against the Boston Bruins, followed by a 4-1 series win against rival Toronto Maple Leafs. The Sabres won the Prince of Wales trophy and were headed to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in their existence. Next up would be the reps of the Western Conference the Dallas Stars.
In what would be tremendous finals, the Stars had the Sabres on the brink of elimination. Up three games to two, the Stars were in Buffalo for a possible Stanley Cup Clinching game 6. The game was so good and so close that it took three overtime periods. Each team had their chances but nobody could capitalize until IT happened. Everyone in the world knows what the IT is that I am referring to. “No Goal”. I don’ think I need to elaborate any further. The footage is as heartbreaking today as it was almost 14 years ago.
Another instance that has defined my time as a Sabres fan came the following year in the playoffs once again. The Sabres were taking on the Philadelphia Flyers. This time it wouldn’t be a series ending goal that would be the subject of controversy, but it was a game deciding goal. John LeClair shot the puck on net in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quaterfinals, that appeared to go in for a goal. After video review, it showed the puck actually going through the net on Hasek’s left side. Sending the decision to the review booth there was clear evidence that the puck went through the net but the goal was upheld and the Flyers won the game and eventually the series. This was dubbed as “No Goal II” in Sabres lore.
This next event had nothing to do with a single game but perhaps has something to do with the fate of the franchise. It was the summer of 2007. The Sabres were coming off a President’s Trophy winning season and set a franchise mark for wins (53) and tied for most points (113). Two of the key players on that team, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, were set to become free agents. There had been dialogue and a potential gentlemen’s agreement on a contract earlier in the year with Chris Drury but nothing was ever drawn up or signed. Long story short neither were re-signed and both headed out of town, Drury to the Rangers and Briere to the Flyers. That was a huge loss for the team.
After losing Drury and Briere, 40-goal scorer Thomas Vanek was offered a contract by the Edmonton Oilers which he accepted. The difference between Vanek and the other guys was Vanek was a restricted free agent, which essentially means a team can sign him to a contract but the team that owns his rights has the ability to match the deal or take draft picks as compensation. Which made this even more difficult was the size of the contract. The Sabres were looking at either matching the deal which would be in the $7million a year range or let him go to the Oilers and receive 1st round picks for the next four years. The Sabres chose to match the deal and were on the hook for Vanek and his contract. It was something they needed to do after losing two other stars, but one can’t help but think what could have been done with those picks if they had chosen that route.
This is just a small sample of some of the more memorable moments during my time as a fan.
Not everything has been terrible. I still pour my heart and soul into a team that loves me back just a little, but we now have an ownership group that is committed to winning and has done so much for the team and the Buffalo area that has made me excited for the future. I have never second guessed my decision to be a Sabres fan and couldn’t be happier to be a part of one of the greatest fanbases in the National Hockey League.
You can email me a firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @jginderthw