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Okay, Let's All Admit It... "We Love Boyes!"

Brad Boyes

This time it’s different. No?

During the entire Regier tenure, the trade deadline usually meant the same thing. The Buffalo Sabres stand on the sidelines and watch other teams make the splashy moves to bolster their rosters, or sell off their castoffs to load up on precious draft choice slots. Then as the hour draws nigh, the trigger is pulled here in Buffalo, and some token rent-a-player is trucked out for the masses to see and be inspired.

Bob Corkum, anyone? How many Dominic Moore or Rafi Torres Sabres jerseys can you spot in the crowd? Does Danius Zubrus still own a house up in Clarence?

But the minute the news hit the wire a week ago Monday that the Buffalo Sabres had acquired winger Brad Boyes from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a second round draft pick, there was a buzz. The Sabres were excited, the new owner was excited, the fans were excited. This time it’s different.

To begin with, Boyes does not fit the profile of the typical rent-a-player, the kind of roster acquisition who bolsters the team for the remainder of the season and the playoffs, then hits the free agent market at the end of the season for greener pastures. Boyes is under contract for the 2011-2012 season, and will remain a Sabre at least into next year.

Observers were watching closely to see what the team would do in the immediate aftermath of the change in ownership and management. Would the roster be blown up? Would there be immediate cuts of underperforming players? Or would steps be taken to bolster the lineup for a possible playoff run this year?

In the short term, that question has been answered, as the team made but one deletion, waving defenseman Craig Rivet, and one addition in Boyes. The team wants to win now and claim a berth in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

For the most part, Boyes has been off of the radar screen as far as Buffalo fans are concerned. He did play almost two full seasons in the NHL for the Boston Bruins before being moved to the St. Louis Blues, a team that the Sabres don’t play too often, and hardly at all under the old scheduling format when Western teams appeared here but once every three seasons. Boyes put up his best numbers in St. Louis, scoring 43 goals in 2007-08 and adding another 33 in 2008-09. He was rewarded with a contract that runs through the 2012 season, paying him $4.5 million this year and $4 million the next.

Yet over the years Boyes probably spent more time in Buffalo, or at least admiring the city’s skyline while driving through, than he’d care to admit. Born in 1982, he grew up in the suburban Toronto city of Mississauga, the son of schoolteachers. He spent several years as a kid playing roller hockey for the Mississauga Rattlers, then spent a year playing for a low-level junior ice hockey team in Mississauga. He was drafted by the OHL Erie Otters and joined that team in the 1998-99 season. He played in Erie for four seasons, alongside teammate Tim Connolly for part of his stint there, and in 2002 the Otters won the Robertson Cup as OHL league champions.

Boyes achieved the lifelong dream of most Toronto area kids, drafted by his hometown Maple Leafs in the first round (24th overall) of the 2000 NHL entry draft. Or perhaps it wasn’t his lifelong dream, as Boyes grew up a die-hard Ottawa Senators fan. “Actually, I played a bit with Ron Tugnutt as a teen and he was the Senators’ goalie, so it was a natural thing to just follow the team,” he says. “My dad and I would catch one or two games a year up there, but of course, being in Toronto and all, one couldn’t help but follow the Leafs as well.”

So being a Sens fan, does Boyes remember the 1996-97 playoff series between the Sabres and Ottawa, a seven-game thriller where Derek Plante scored that memorable overtime goal against the Senators’ Ron Tugnutt to win the series for Buffalo? “Oh yeah, do I remember,” Boyes laughed. “It was such a great series, and these two teams have had more memorable clashes over the years. Such great fans and great history between these two clubs.”

The trade happened just as the Sabres were beginning a seven-game road swing, and Boyes joined the team last week in New York City. Boyes made an immediate impact, scoring a front-of-the-net, Phil Esposito-style tally in his first game. On Sunday he will make his first home appearance in a Buffalo uniform. “I didn’t spend too much time in Buffalo growing up, but obviously drove through many a time in the years I spent in Erie,” he says. “Of course I got off the plane and joined the team on the road, so this homecoming will be somewhat different than in the past. But the guys are already acclimating me as to the neighborhoods and places to go and what to expect. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of my family friends back home this weekend, not only in Buffalo but in Toronto the night before when we play there.”

Coach Lindy Ruff is happy with the way his newest player has quickly woven himself into his new team. “He seems to like being here,” Ruff says. “The guys like his work. He has been very productive for us so far. Hopefully he’ll be warmly greeted by the Buffalo fans this Sunday.”

Taro Sez…

• You know that mural adorning the skybridge, hovering over the plaza outside HSBC Arena? Tom Golisano’s image as part of that mural has been stricken. The death watch is now on for Golisano’s photo in the 40th anniversary exhibit.

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