On Sunday, March 13, the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs played at Tim Hortons Field, the home of the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Hamilton, Ontario, for the 2022 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic. The Leafs might have been entered the game as heavy favorites, but it was the Sabres skating home at the end of the night with the 5-2 win, their first ever in an outdoor game. The Sabres improved to 20-32-8 on the season.
Heritage Classic Was A Spectacle
Back in September of 2021 when this game was announced, I wrote an article previewing it and said that no matter the outcome, this game was going to be a spectacle – and I’m comfortable saying that rang true yesterday. The pregame ceremonies and intermission performances provided fans both at the game and watching from home with plenty of memorable entertainment, and it all added to making the event a special one.
Lindsay Ell, host of Canada’s Got Talent, opened festivities by singing the national anthems of the United States and Canada, not to be outdone a few moments later in the pregame puck drop, which saw 18-year-old defenseman Artur Cholach drop the puck alongside Wayne Gretzky. Cholach, who plays for the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), took off his team’s jersey to reveal a Ukraine national team jersey, to thunderous applause from the crowd. A sixth-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 draft, he is a native of Novoyavorivsk, Ukraine, and stood alongside Gretzky, who also has Ukranian roots.
The rest of the game saw performances by popular musicians Alessia Cara and Willow, who performed in front of crowds of lucky fans down near the ice. As far as presentation and execution go, this game was an excellent showing of both.
Sabres Finally Win First Outdoor Game
Coming into Sunday’s Heritage Classic, the Sabres had played two previous outdoor games, losing them both in extra time and holding a record of 0-0-2 in those games. With their win over the Leafs, however, they finally broke that losing streak and won their first-ever outdoor game, improving to 1-0-2 in such games.
One of the heroes of the game was Vinnie Hinostroza, who posted the eighth three-point game of his NHL career, scoring two goals and one assist in the Sabres win. He scored the game-winning goal (GWG) 5:16 into the third period that put the Sabres up 3-2, putting the puck past Leafs goalie Petr Mrazek’s blocker. Other standouts for the Sabres were youngster Peyton Krebs, who scored two goals of his own, and Tage Thompson, who added one goal and one assist to his breakout season. Goalie Craig Anderson made 34 saves for the Sabres in net.
On the Leafs side of things, Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 45th goal of the season, but that wasn’t enough, as the Leafs ultimately dropped the game, their fourth loss in their last six outings. Matthews also got into a late-game scuffle with Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, which led to offsetting cross-checking penalties for both players. It was announced on Monday, though, that Matthews was suspended two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for his cross-check, while Dahlin received no extra punishment.
Sabres Becoming ‘Brothers in the Locker Room’
The postgame interviews that Sabres players gave following the 5-2 win said it all: these young men are becoming brothers in the locker room. Dahlin said as much himself when asked about Dylan Cozens standing up for him during his back-and-forth with Matthews. “We care about each other,” Dahlin said after the game. “We have something really good going on. Everyone wants to win together, and it’s fun to be a part of for sure.” (From ‘Sabres victory in NHL Heritage Classic ‘sign of character’’ NHL.com, 3/13/2021)
Despite trailing for the majority of the hockey game and skating with a 2-2 tie into the third period, the Sabres scored three straight goals to pull out the win against a talented Leafs squad, showing true resolve in the face of adversity. This was their fourth win in their last six games, all against teams that currently sit in a playoff spot: two wins against the Maple Leafs, one win against the Minnesota Wild, and a win against the Vegas Golden Knights. These are games the Sabres are supposed to be losing, but aren’t. Head coach Don Granato says he hopes that it’s a sign of growth.
“Time will tell, but I think it’s more a sign of character,” Granato said. “The guys’ will is just strong. I think it’s always been strong. But here’s a little more conviction with the will. The belief is a little stronger. And the determination is a little higher.”
Granato also cited the 41-year-old Anderson’s play and leadership as a reason for the Sabres’ recent success. Anderson has won four of his last five starts in goal, posting a 2.81 goals against average (GAA) and .913 save percentage (SV%) during that span. His win in the Heritage Classic was also his third in outdoor games, his two previous wins coming in the 2014 Heritage Classic and the NHL100 Classic in 2017, both as a member of the Ottawa Senators.
“This game is a mental battle,” Anderson said. “We all know how to play hockey. We get to this level because we’re elite athletes. We’re elite at what we do. The difference between winning and losing is such a fine line that there’s such a mental battle that you have to stay within yourself and really stay focused.”
The Sabres are 4-6-0 in their last 10 games, and have won their last two games. After Sunday, they improved slightly to 27th overall in the NHL standings. Their season won’t get any easier from here on out, as the next week will see them take a swing through Western Canada to face the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, and then make their way through the Metropolitan Division’s best in the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York Rangers.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15