As an avid sports fan in Buffalo, there is really only two professional teams you must attend in person on a regular basis, the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres. Though I do think every Buffalonian should check out the Buffalo Bandits and Buffalo Bison’s games, because they have their own collective and unique feel, but the atmosphere just isn’t the same as with the Bills and Sabres.
October 17th, 2014 started out just like any other day, until I was offered the “tickets”. If you are someone who doesn’t get to sit in the good seats too often at any venue, you know how great it feels to get the “tickets”. I’ve gone to other games and have had decent seats, but these tickets in particular were for the 200 club level, and when you are offered free tickets as exquisite as these were to see the Sabres play, you take them.
For those who aren’t aware, the Pegula era has started in Buffalo. Not only has he owned the Sabres for the last 4 years, he now owns the Buffalo Bills franchise. Both teams have had mild success and heartbreaking moments for the fans over the years, but now with billionaire Terry Pegula backing the teams, there is a sense that everything is going to be alright. Not to mention T-Pegs has a little real estate venture going on out front of the First Niagara Center called the Harbor Center. Things in Buffalo are on the up and up, economically speaking thanks to the Pegula family. #OneBuffalo
After acquiring the tickets, I immediately called my best friend Rob to go with me and share in the experience, as we both do not get to enjoy these opportunities often. Did I mention I got free ramp parking? That’s an excuse to show up just for the game in itself as parking is becoming scarce downtown.
GoPro Video of My Sabres Experience
The Sabres were playing the also maligned Florida Panthers this night. I was curious to see if there would be a good amount of fans that would show up to the game. The Sabres are looking to have one of the worst years in known franchise history, and it’s still what most fans would cringe and call a “rebuilding” year. More like “rebuilding” years…
Getting to the game was rather uneventful and typical; traffic became worse as we got closer to the game. I wanted to film this experience so I strapped my Go Pro to my head once we parked and I headed into the FNC. The weather was mildly dreary, but fans were still crowding into entrances, wearing their Sabres apparel. I was no slouch as I had my Ryan Miller jersey on to represent the team.
Surprisingly no one I approached said anything or even really looked at the camera on my head which was cool. Walked past security and was met by the 50/50 sellers. I find that normally a tell-tale sign of a solid crowd at a Sabres game is if the 50/50 amount is high. I enjoy donating to the cause, so Rob and I bought a few to see if we could hit big.
What is nice about the second floor is the fact that you can watch the pre-game and post-game reports filmed right where you’re walking by. Brian Duff was on the charge as we walked by, and I wondered what he could be discussing before the game.
Sometimes I wish I could be in the booth with the legend Rick Jeanneret as he does his play-by-play, while I perform color, but these seats would do nicely. We were right in line with the opposing goal, so if the action went in favor of the Sabres, we might get to have a great view of few goals.
Approaching our seats, the feel was different. Felt more relaxed and official. When you are in the upper levels, where I am more accustomed to, things are a little more rowdy and fans are more on edge. This section had a classier feel as one for the perks you get for sitting in club seats, the servers come to you.
I sat down to a pretty young woman on my right and Rob sat to my left, we both thought that she was probably a Sabres’ player’s girlfriend as the seat to her right was empty. Looking around the crowd pre-game, the air around the FNC wasn’t that electric as I was accustomed to. It kind of seemed like fans were expected to go through the motions but with little excitement.
As any fan should, I was hoping for a good game as incomparable Doug Allen started into the National Anthem. Fans filed in, filled the seats. The puck was dropped and the action went underway.
Jhones Enroth was in net for the Sabres and Roberto Luongo was in for the Panthers. It was also the first time that the two top picks of the 2014 draft (1st from Florida, D – Aaron Eckblad, And 2nd pick Buffalo, C – Sam Rinehart) played against each other so early in the season, since 1997.
The Sabres looked in disarray. I don’t want to get to much into the game itself but the first period was just a back forth battle of who could play worse it seemed, the Sabres were winning that battle. Fans were still in the game because that there were two more periods to go, but the lack of offense from Buffalo made the first period tough to watch.
The period ended 0-0 and after the first intermission, the FNC crowd seemed to simmer. The start of the second brought a little more bluster to the fans until three minutes in a bad turnover caused Sean Bergenheim to score his first goal of the season. You couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment when things really made it seem bleak, but it was starting to seem like the game was going to get out of hand.
That’s when things got interesting outside of the game. A tall, young, well-dressed man walked down the aisle and sat down to the girl who was next to me. I recognized him as the Sabres defensive prospect and 16th overall pick from the 2013 draft, 19-year-old Russian born Nikita Zadorov.
I could not believe I had been sitting next to Zadarov’s girlfriend the entire time. What were the chances? Now I had to find a way to talk with him and get a picture with him; this was the type of fan experience I had only heard about before from the lucky few.
After another dismal performance from the Sabres in the second period, the second intermission started, and I got my chance. Zadrov’s girlfriend got up to go to the bathroom, (I assume) and so it was just a seat between him and me.
I got up the courage, (cause hey he’s just another guy right?), and asked him if he “was looking forward to getting out there and playing?” He said he was. Then I started in on Ted Nolan being a guy who likes to molds his young players, but Zadorov cut me off by saying, “It wasn’t his decision.” I nodded in agreement and said “Murray huh?” He nodded. I told him I wish him the best and am looking forward to seeing what he could do out on the ice, then asked if I could get a picture with him. He said sure. It felt special to be sitting with a player like that and even recognize him. After I talked to him, some guys behind us asked who he was. I told him it was Nikita Zadorov, and he then asked Nikita to take a pic with his kid. I bet it made that kid’s night!
Honestly, that was the highlight of the game. As a fan, when the third period progressed, I really was hoping for the Sabres to come back and tie the game. They had many opportunities, and towards the end, it looked like they might. I’ve had that experience before where the fans would start piling out, chalking the game up as a loss, and those “fair-weather fans” would regret missing out on the comeback. That is one of the ultimate fan experiences; especially in Buffalo (We take what we can get right?).
But alas tonight would not be that night and Luongo had his 4th career shutout against the team. Fans piled out, and Rob and I sat there as the FNC emptied. The rush to fight traffic doesn’t appeal to me.
I didn’t get to see the victory I was hoping for but as a Buffalo sports fan I was given an opportunity to watch my team in a great setting. The Sabres are on the right path and growing talent from inside the organization. As a Buffalonian, I appreciate what the organization does to give the complete fan experience. I am hoping that will translate soon at Ralph Wilson Stadium and beyond as well.
Buffalo fans come through and continue to support their teams no matter what; it’s an endearing quality and a tribute to the citizens of Buffalo. I hope this trend can continue for many generations.
Keep it Classy Buffalo!