There’s been a lot of talk lately as the Sabres (and fans) assess their organization. Again, the idea of creating a so called “Hockey Heaven” in Buffalo is pretty vague.
Management thinks that it is making it a great place to play hockey. The idea of selling Buffalo of as a great place to raise a family is fantastic too. The new locker rooms and upgrades to the arena are awesome. However, there’s only so much that management can do on creating a hockey heaven.
In my eyes, Buffalo was already hockey heaven prior to Pegula taking over. To explain this, I’ve got to share my view of Buffalo as already being a hockey town.
Let me take you through a day when I go to First Niagara Center (or HSBC Arena, or The Aud) for a game. Generally, my fiancé and I make a day of it. We both get decked out in our Sabres gear (me in one of my many jerseys) and head off to Buffalo. Now, we generally end up at Galleria Mall. As we walk through the mall, I’d say one out of every five people I see are in Sabres gear, a hat, a t-shirt, a jersey, something identifying themselves as a Sabres fan. Random people come up and say “Go Sabres”, or make a comment about how the team is playing. Complete strangers, bonding over the team.
As the day progresses, eventually we move onto the 190 and head downtown to the game. Generally, we arrive pretty early. As one walks in, more Sabres gear on just about every person you see. Plenty of people in the Sabres store, fans lining up to get into the arena 2 hours early. However, it’s not just all the people there united over the Sabres. There’s something in the air. There’s an excitement, an energy that is unmatched. There’s anticipation of the game that’s about to start.
Once everyone’s made it to their seats, the Sabres eventually come out for pre-game warmups. The fans start cheering, even though it’s only pre-game. Fan’s crowd around the player entrance hoping that just one player will high five them. Everyone crowds around the glass, getting pictures of their favorite players for the Sabres.
Then comes the lull prior to game time, more people come to their seats. The lights go down, and the pre-game festivities begin. The Sabres fans go crazy cheering well before Ryan Miller leads the team onto the ice. The fans start cheering as soon as the lights go down. After the anthems, the fans generally start the “Let’s Go Buffalo” chant as soon as the puck drops and the arena is rocking. Pending on the game, the fans keep the energy going. Buffalo scores, and the fans go crazy. Strangers high-five each other, some even hug, as they cheer for the Buffalo Sabres.
At the end of the night, everyone hopes for a Buffalo win, but if not, life goes on. The fans will be back, and very quickly as well. Regardless of the outcome, Buffalo Sabres fans will always come back, to generate that electric energy in First Niagara Center.
Even when not at the game, people bond over the Sabres. In local bars, at home watching the game, the Sabres become a way of life. Everyone seems to know when the game is on, or who did what during the game. Bars erupt when Buffalo scores (some even have goal lights they turn on after a goal). Families celebrate when the puck goes into the net.
Plus, this season proves this even more. Despite the fact that I have written a lot about Buffalo rebuilding, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback to that... We are all (myself included) still rooting for Buffalo to win. Regardless of what may happen in the playoffs, or what the standings say, at the end of the day, we want to see Buffalo win. That’s as simple as it gets.
To help create this hockey heaven, its more than just making the arena nice and bringing in players with nice lucrative contracts. It goes beyond that. What really makes Buffalo hockey heaven is the atmosphere the fans create. Get on the opponents... Create an atmosphere for the Sabres that is fanatical. An environment that makes opponents think “Man, I don’t want to have to play in Buffalo, regular season or the playoffs...”
But what’s the common element in all this? The city of Buffalo, and all of the fans of the Sabres, complete strangers, that unite to cheer for the Buffalo Sabres. The fans who create this phenomenal atmosphere that one experiences walking into the arena. The fans create the playing environment on the ice for the players, and the general electric energy inside First Niagara Center, night in, night out. At the end of the night, we all go back to our separate lives, but for the few hours that we are all engrossed in the game; the 18,690 fans at the arena, the fans in the bars, on their couches at home, and watching on their computers, unite together in a loud voice bellowing “Let’s Go Buffalo!!”
To me, that, is Hockey Heaven.