First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers to the families impacted by today’s tragic events in Boston. In moments of tragedy, hopefully people can find inspiration in the actions of those who didn’t run away from disaster, but ran towards it in an effort to help. Those individuals truly are heroes.
My family and I attended the Sabres vs Flyers game on Saturday at First Niagara Center. I love going to games, and the crowd atmosphere is generally fantastic. Plus, after the last game I went to (4-0 Islander game in February), I was looking forward to being in an energetic arena as the rival Flyers came to town.
Boy was I disappointed.
I think I can safely say that the fans have lost hope. They just don’t care. Well, I should say the 19,070 on Saturday afternoon just didn’t care. At several points in time, fans tried to start the “Let’s Go Buffalo!” chant, and it never really caught on. As the players took the ice, not a lot of people cheered. There was a lack of interest in the team as the game started, including each time they took the ice. The most enthusiasm I heard all day was when Kaleta pummeled Lauridsen at the start of the game.
It’s tough to gauge how it was on Sunday against the Lightning. I heard that it was a pumped up crowd. However, it’s tough to tell watching on TV. So I’m going to stick with Saturdays game that I experienced first hand.
As I watched the game, I can’t tell you how many people just weren’t paying attention to the it. The individuals sitting next to me left after 2 periods of play. My dad fell asleep during the 2nd intermission. Everyone in front of me was playing on their phones. Specifically, the gentleman directly in front of me was watching MLB game center, keeping an eye on the baseball game. Even Sabertooth seemed to lack interest. He made an appearance in our section, and couldn’t manage to get the crowd cheering.
What’s the point behind all of this?
The fans have lost interest in this team. Even with the team attempting to make a playoff run, they just don’t seem to care.
And who can really blame them? Ticket prices are high. Food prices are high. Merchandise prices are high. Beer prices are really high. Plus, the product that fans are paying high prices to see isn’t really that good. The team has struggled throughout the year. It’s tough to maintain interest when the team isn’t really committing to a rebuild or not.
But I don’t think that’s the problem.
The key to this lies with the Sabres lone goal from Saturday, and the dying seconds of the game. When Ehrhoff scored at the start of the 3rd period, the fans almost seemed shocked. There was some mild applause, some cheering, and everyone sat back down and resumed whatever it was they were doing aside from not paying attention to the game. It was the most lazy cheer I’ve ever seen from the fans following a goal. Especially a goal in a 0-0 hockey game in the 3rd period, against a rival.
Then, as the game came to a close, Buffalo had a 1-0 lead with less than 30 seconds left. I’ve been to several one goal games. The fans are going nuts as time gets close to expiring, and get crazy when the team wins. Not Saturday. The fans seemed surprised as the game ended and Buffalo won. Some fans just got up and left, no cheering at the end of the game. The hallways were still quiet leaving the arena, and there were no car horns honking following the game. I’ve left games where Buffalo has lost, and someone still tried to do the “Let’s Go Buffalo” car horn honk.
What’s behind this?
The fans have none. I don’t think the players have much. However, the fans just don’t belief that this team can win on a consistent basis. Things have been promised to the fans, (namely a Cup in 3 years). That’s not going to happen. Even if the Sabres win, they just don’t seem to care. There’s a certain apathy in the stands.
How can the Sabres re-energize the crowd?
The organization needs to commit to a rebuild. Then, it needs to be a very quick and efficient rebuild. Plus, there needs to be a new direction. However, this all comes back to Terry Pegula. I know, I’m shocked I’m not blasting Regier too. Pegula has been very quiet this year, and refused to comment on the team at the groundbreaking ceremony Saturday.
Terry’s role? He needs to look at this team through honest unbiased eyes. It may involve firing Regier (it should involve firing Regier). He needs to start doing things to better the product on the ice instead of the arena that they play in. Finally, and this is most important, Pegula needs to make a statement. He needs to have that end of season press conference. That alone will at least let the fans know that the owner is concerned about what’s happening to the Sabres, and is willing to do what’s needed to get a winner on the ice very quickly.
The Sabres have had bad seasons in the past, but the fans still remain with the team. For the first time that I can remember, the fans are starting to lose faith and hope. But all is not lost. With players like Miller and Vanek whose time in Buffalo may be done, the Sabres can get some excellent returns for those players, and rebuild quickly. There’s no reason that the Sabres can’t have a solid product on the ice next season. However, they have to commit to it first. And if ownership and front office don’t want to commit to doing this right, they’re going to lose their fan base.
The Sabres fans have had to deal with teams that just barely limp into the playoffs, or just miss the playoffs since 2007. If front office doesn’t do something about this soon, the arena won’t be full much longer.
And it’s just going to keep getting quieter at First Niagara Center.
Follow me on Twitter- @SabresBTB - I live chat during games. And as always, thanks for reading.