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Suffering 101: Your Top 10

Buffalo Sabres awful season ends at last

This past Sunday, yet another sad and somewhat surreal ending to this ugliest of chapters in Buffalo Sabres’ franchise history. Yet another almost full house, full-throated at times, cheering on the team, with the dark realization that it will be at least five months before we see hockey again on this sheet of ice.

The season ended with an exclamation point which framed the entire debacle: Ville Leino on the Sabres’ final shootout attempt, flubbing his shot and having the puck harmlessly knocked away by New York Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson. Just like that the Sabres had lost their record 61st game of the season. Nothing left to do but pass out the jerseys off their backs, give one final stick salute to the crowd, and receive the sparse and tepid applause of the people who had endured so much.

It was a season full of memories, some good, mostly bad, and while many of the names and faces will be long forgotten within a couple of years, other memories will endure forever. Here is our top 10 of the season that was:

1. The preseason brawl: It was only an exhibition game, a “friendly,” in soccer parlance. But back in September at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, it was the Leaf’s Phil Kessel brandishing his stick and swinging wildly at Buffalo’s John Scott. The ugliness spilled over. Suspensions were meted out. When all was said and done, everyone involved felt pretty foolish.

2. Lindy gets his tribute; Pominville, not so much. When the Dallas Stars rolled in to town in late October, former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was given the full hero’s welcome, with a prolonged standing ovation, a tribute video, and few dry eyes in the building. This just two weeks after Jason Pominville got the snub when he and his Minnesota Wild visited First Niagara Center. The snub coming, reportedly, on direct orders of former general manager Darcy Regier.

3. Matt D’Agostini, Linus Omark, Chad Ruhwedel, et al. Did you win any one of their jerseys? These are just three of the names of players who are or will be a footnote of Sabres history, as the team shed almost all its assets and plugged holes to fill a roster that even the elite of the American Hockey League would snicker at.

4. HarborCenter gets better, and better, and better. Even while the team’s fortunes continued to flounder, feel good press conferences were rolled out at a regular clip across the street at HarborCenter. The 716 Sports Bistro, the destination Tim Horton’s, the Marriott flag, the Academy of Hockey, Erie Community College to join Canisius College and the Junior Sabres as their home venue, and more. With all the despair going on with the team, hard to believe that Buffalo will soon be the home destination of one of the most incredible facilities in all of hockey.

5. Ted Nolan gets his contract. Sabres fans who remember the good times of the 1990s Nolan era had to be rubbing their eyes in disbelief when Ted Nolan and his mentor Pat LaFontaine emerged from behind the curtain in November to take the reins of the shambles that was the Sabres franchise. LaFontaine is gone, but Nolan stayed on, and then signed an extension to become permanent coach of the Sabres just two weeks ago. When this nightmare is but a distant memory and the team is on top again, remember this as a watershed moment.

6. Tim Murray, no nonsense. Buffalo fans have rarely warmed up to their general managers. Gerry Meehan was disliked by many, John Muckler will best be remembered for being the foil in the Nolan saga, and Darcy—well, enough said. Yet Murray is endearing himself quickly to a fan base desperate for leadership and answers. He treats press conferences like they are nonsense, almost with the swagger of “I have work to do.” So far, the public likes the look.

7. Pat LaFontaine. What really went down? Perhaps we will never have the whole picture. But it was a piece of drama that Buffalo did not need at that very moment. What a shame that it will take years, if ever, before we see him around town again.

8) Nine goaltenders. Ryan Miller, Jonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth, Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Vinz, Nathan Lieuwen, Matt Hackett, Andrei Makarov, Connor Knapp. All wore the Buffalo jersey this year. Enough bodies to fill a baseball lineup.

9. Dominik Hasek and his triumphant return. He was knighted, handed his sabre, enshrined into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame, and received the adulation of the public who reminisced what it was like when the Sabres were on the cusp of greatness. And yes, the man who once proclaimed, “I am, and always will be, a Red Wing forever,” will have his name and number raised to the rafters next season.

10. Those third jerseys. No need to rehash the nickname team president Ted Black gave to those puppies.

Taro Sez...

Farewell and cheers to Mike Robitaille. One of the true great ones, as a player, a broadcaster, and a human being. Taro sends a chest bump to you.

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