One Awful Homestand
by Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell
One Awful Homestand
Are people actually paying good money to watch this dreck? Apparently not as many people as there used to be, as the Buffalo Sabres raised the curtain on the 2010-11 season, and two of the four games failed to sell out, producing yawning gaps of empty blue seats in the 300 level corners, a rare sight these past few seasons.
If there was any time for this version of the Buffalo Sabres to lay it all out on the ice, it was this past week. The season began with the unfurling of the 2009-10 championship banner, always a goosebump moment and a time for reflection and celebration. Then the puck dropped, and the result was a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers, a game marked by defensive lapses and breakdowns, with a Rangers rookie named Derek Stepan doing most of the damage, netting a hat trick in his NHL debut.
Monday night was the chance to clear the cobwebs. The Stanley Cup champ Chicago Black Hawks were in town with local hero Patrick Kane, and the Sabres took a quick 2-0 lead before some fans had a chance to settle in their seats.
Then disaster struck.
Late in the first period right winger Jason Pominville was hit into the boards by Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, and his head was crushed into the glass. Pominville laid motionless for quite a while, before being carted off in a stretcher, with his head immobilized.
The play had a devastating effect on the Sabres squad, which went into a funk for the rest of the game, only showing a bit of life towards the final moments. “We knew he was talking and moving so that was encouraging,” said teammate Thomas Vanek after the game. “But I thought we battled for the 60 minutes, and just didn’t capitalize on our chances.”
“It was a terrible hit, a hit from behind, but I’m sure he’ll be penalized for it,” Vanek added on the play that sent Pominville out of the game. Hjalmarsson did receive a league suspension for two games, while Pominville is recovering from a concussion and a gash on his forehead that required eight stitches. The Sabres lost that game 4-3.
One could sense a spring in everyone’s step at the arena on Friday, as the Sabres were set to commemorate their 1970 inaugural home game. The famous photo taken at that first game, with founding owner Seymour Knox III dropping the puck for a ceremonial faceoff between team captains Floyd Smith and Jean Beliveau, was aptly recreated, although Henri Richard stood in for Beliveau, while Seymour Knox IV took the helm for his dad, who passed away in 1996.
It was an epic and lump in your throat moment, augmented by the presence of long-time pubic address announcer Milt Ellis. Ellis’ dulcet voice has been a bit hobbled by age, yet still he managed to nail the calls from a perch high up in the press box.
The organization did just about everything right, even passing out souvenir programs that bore the look of those hockey night magazines sold back in the day.
And once again, the team came up small, losing 2-1. Hey, it could have been a 3-0 loss, which would have been fitting since that was the final score at the game back in 1970. Those great Buffalo-Montreal games, featuring end to end rushes, dazzling plays, and amazing scoring chances? Not on this night. Mike Grier seemed disconsolate after the game, having missed at least two glorious scoring opportunities. “We’re not sustaining a forecheck on a consistent basis and that’s the main thing,” he said. “When you’re chasing the puck all night and not making good dumps it won’t make for a good outcome.”
Lindy Ruff was much more matter-of-fact. “We can wallow around in self-pity for one…I told the guys after the second period, guys who are going to play are guys who compete. Compete hard. Guys who are playing the best are going to play. I don’t care who it was. The gig’s up now. You can sit at the end of the bench.”
“We have to win at home,” said Grier.
“Four losses at home is disappointing for our fans. That’s disappointing,” Ruff added.
Taro was enjoying the 40th anniversary festivities this past Friday, but, in the interest of accuracy, offers this critique of the presentation that patrons saw.
Oops #1: The intro description of the 1970 opening night made mention of Eddie Shack, one of the most popular players during those first two seasons. But Shack was not playing for the Sabres on opening night. He was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings about a month into the season.
Oops #2: Some of the thrilling moments in franchise history were recapped, including the Sabres’ 12-6 win over the Wings of the Soviet, played in January 1976. Yet the accompanying photo on the HD board was one taken at the Sabres vs. Central Red Army team, that game played in 1979.
Oops #3: The Sabres white unis were great. In the interest of historical perspective, leaving the names off the shirts would have been appropriate.blog comments powered by Disqus
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