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Farewell Reunion Arena

Site of Sabres 1999 finals series sees wrecking ball

Our Ultimate Sports Road Trip tour through Texas had us sailing by the site of the old Reunion Arena in Dallas. Last week demolition crews pulled down the hulking roof of the arena in dramatic fashion, and over the next few months the rest of the rubble will be cleared from the site and the land will be turned into greenspace.

Instantly this brought to mind our first experience in this building. It was June 1999, and we had scheduled a trip to Texas to visit the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and the Astrodome in Houston, an early sojourn in what would be a successful quest to visit all 122 teams in the four major US sports leagues.

As the trip grew nearer, the Buffalo Sabres were making their run toward the Stanley Cup. Incredibly, when June came, the Sabres were in the finals, the Dallas Stars were the opponent, and game two of that series took place exactly when we were down in Dallas.

The next challenge—game tickets. eBay was still in its infancy, outlets like Stubhub did not exist, and there was no public sale of single seats, so basically we put out the word to anyone who could help. That help came from Sabres strength and conditioning coach Doug McKenney, who kindly arranged to get us in the building.

Game day in Dallas was excruciatingly hot and muggy, and we showed up at the arena five hours before faceoff to soak in the entire experience. Crews at the arena were working hard on the massive fan machines on the exterior, trying to keep the building cool and the sheet of ice intact. Outside, the scene was festive. Just about every radio station and media outlet in town had a live broadcast set up, merchandise and refreshment vendors were selling their wares, and, incredibly, we were just about the only people wearing Sabres gear. But we did meet more than few Buffalo ex-pats living in Dallas (Buffalo people seeking jobs and career success elsewhere? Shocking!), and even were invited to be interviewed on a couple of radio stations.

When we stepped up at will-call to claim our tickets, we were relieved to discover that our seats were in the nosebleeds at $100 per, as ticket prices in Dallas topped out at $500, far in excess of the $61 we were paying in Buffalo to sit 18 rows off the ice. As we made our way to our seats, wearing our Sabres jerseys, a fellow stopped by and asked if we were from Buffalo. “I’m John Blue!” he said. Yes, the former Sabres netminder from the 1995-96 season was right above us, having made the drive up from his car dealership in Austin to cheer on his former team. Also sitting next to us were Wayne Primeau’s parents, rocking nervously and hoping their son would put the Primeau name on the Stanley Cup. We were surrounded by other Sabres faithful, all part of the team’s block of tickets, and that made for a fun rooting section.

Buffalo was leading the series 1-0 thanks to Jason Wooley’s dramatic overtime in that first game. Win this one, and Buffalo would have headed home with a commanding two-game lead.

But it was not meant to be. Brett Hull scored the go-ahead goal for Dallas late in the third, and the series was tied. Little did we know as we walked out into the steamy Dallas night that the biggest heartbreak was yet to come, courtesy of Hull.

One more side story from that trip involves the small city of Buffalo, Texas, which is off the I-45 about 100 miles south of Dallas. The sign on the interstate had the word “Buffalo” obliterated by a green star, apparently sanctioned and erected by the Texas D.O.T. We took the obligatory roadside photo, and then made our way into the center of Buffalo to pay a visit to City Hall. A kindly older woman, the city clerk, greeted us and snapped a photo of us in front of the Fotomat-sized building, and explained to us that when the Bills and Dallas squared off in two Super Bowls, the small town had been renamed “Blue Star” for the occasion.

Last week we stopped at the demolition site on the fringes of downtown to take one last look at the building. Has it really been 10 years? All that time, yet “No Goal” is still seared into our collective consciousness.

Taro Sex...

• As of last weekend, here are some ugly plus/minus stats: Clarke MacArthur -9, Tim Connolly -6, Derek Roy -4, Thomas Vanek -3, Jason Pominville -2.

• Did anyone really expect Patrick Lalime to step into the crease in Ottawa last Saturday and smoke ’em?

• Carolina comes to town this weekend, one of the worst teams in the NHL, yet expect a sellout to this pricey gold game. Thanksgiving weekend at the Sabres always plays well around these parts.

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