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What's New at the Arena

Taro passes out hat tricks, goals, and penalties

Much has been made of all the new things fans can expect to experience both inside and outside the First Niagara Center on game night.

Thousands of emails and suggestions were sent in to the Sabres. Sports blogger convocations, fan forums, listening tours, all to garner feedback as to how to make a Sabres game more pleasing for the patrons. New ownership has paid attention; team president Ted Black has listened and responded.

Couple that with ongoing neighborhood additions and enhancements to the Canalside and Cobblestone districts. While progress has been excruciatingly slow, bit by bit, market-driven additions are falling into place to cater to the arena patron.

One month into the new season, our intrepid and legendary Taro Tsujimoto critiques some of the changes on Sabres game night and passes out his scores.

First Niagara Center—the new marquee. Unveiled just a couple of weeks ago, the new signage high atop the arena is dazzling. The backlit LED lighting, bold and clean, makes a great statement to passersby on the Thruway and adds to the Canalside vibe. Now how soon can we get the Skyway pylons and the façade of the nearby Connecting Terminal Elevator floodlit as well?

Score: Hat trick!

The pregame intro. The purpose of the pregame entertainment is to get the fans revved up. Get the fans into a hand clapping, foot stomping mood. The Sabres latest montage is anything but. Reminiscent of that lame video of that kid in Lackawanna eating breakfast then going off to Erie Basin Marina to play pond hockey from a couple seasons ago, this incarnation has another young kid running through the streets of Eggertsville with a flag, around Hoyt Lake, past City Hall, and to the arena, being joined by more and more fans. Crowd-deadening piano music accompanies the montage; then cue up random and disjointed highlight reel goals. By the time we get to “Street Fighting Man,” the audience is in snooze mode.

Score: Penalty.

Concessions. There have been vast improvements to the food, the variety of items, and the addition of point-of-sale facilities throughout the arena in just about every area that was once dead space. The many new concession canopies are colorful and inviting. Prices remain reasonable, at least compared to stadium prices; if you ever go to a Yankees or Cowboys game, you will learn what real pain is.

The best food item which can be found through the venue is the signature roast beef on weck sandwich. Red Osier stands abound, and the carvery in the Pour Man’s Aud Club draws long lines. Let’s face it: Chicken wings are our gift to the world but have now become a ubiquitous part of the landscape everywhere. Beef on weck is uniquely Buffalo, and props to the First Niagara Center concessionaires for making this taste treat a central part of game day fare.

Score: Goal!

Canalside. Critical mass? Going back to the Aud days, pre- and post-game libations and food meant either Pearl Street Brewery or pointing the car back to the ’burbs. No more. Yes, our dazzling, jaw-dropping, world-class destination ECShack at Canalside might be closed for the winter. Yet with a new German brewhouse set to open on Mississippi Street, the rest of that block replete with bars and restaurants, food trucks parked along Main Street, a new restaurant set to open at the Naval Museum, and the Sabres setting up a venue on the plaza named “Tailgate” for pregame drinks and entertainment, fans now have more choices than ever. Critical mass? We’re waiting on shovels in the ground for more places, but the future looks promising and the pieces are falling in place for a true entertainment district around the First Niagara Center.

Score: Goal!

Game night presentation. If 1,000 people made suggestions for music genres and song bumps, the game night team probably plugged in 995 of them. Music at the arena is a mish-mosh, lacks a theme, is disjointed, and does little to enhance the mood of the fans and get them clapping along and building energy and vibe. Who are the staffers who do the awesome work at Bandits games, where fans get to sing, chant, and raise the energy and decibel level? Hire them! (Brownie points for cueing up RJ’s call after each Sabres goal.)

Score: Assist.

Banners in the rafters. Franchises that take this task seriously hang banners to commemorate team championships and to remember the greatest of the great who wore the uniform. Yet now we have three new banners recognizing special corporate sponsors. Bob McAdoo of the Buffalo Braves, one of the greatest players to ever wear a uniform with the name “Buffalo,” still awaits his enshrinement. Labatt’s Blue? Name hanging proudly.

Score: Penalty and game misconduct.

The Donovan Building. We’re hearing that work will begin shortly, along with the new canals that will extend the Commercial Slip to Washington Street. Work was to have begun in 2004. Then 2007. Then summer of 2011. Remember those “Canalside, Coming 05.28.11” banners? Hah! While we’re at it, how about some new permanent fencing and cleanup along the Main Street perimeter, directly across from the Metrorail platforms?

Score: Double minor for delay of game.

The Center’s creaky freight/press elevator.

Score: Penalty. ’nuff said.

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