Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Intro to Sabres Fandom

Dating a girl who is new to hockey, I thought it would be a good idea to do a big primer to explain some of the history, great moments, and in-jokes we fans have with the Sabres organization.

The Beginning:
Buffalo had always been a passionate hockey market but they lacked an NHL team.  The Buffalo Bisons, who played from 1940 to 1970 were one of the bigger draws in the American Hockey League, the farm league of the NHL.  Thus in the 1970-71 season, Buffalo was awarded an NHL team along with Vancouver (the Canucks).  The first owners, Seymour H. and Northrup R. Knox wanted to respect both the traditions of hockey, and the city of Buffalo.  The Knox brothers commissioned a name the team contest, ultimately choosing Sabres because it is a weapon both offensively and defensively strong, and a symbol of leadership.  The Knox brothers also mandated that both the Canadian and American national anthems be played at every single game regardless of opponent as a symbol of respect to the game's heritage.  The Sabres are the only NHL team to play both anthems at every single game.

Gilbert Perreault and the French Connection:
The Buffalo Sabres and sister expansion team the Vancouver Canucks were set to compete in a lottery for the first pick in the 1970 NHL draft.  When the roulette wheel stopped spinning, it appeared to have landed on the number 1, securing the pick for the Canucks.  Sabres Coach/General Manager Punch Imlach requested that league president Clarence Campbell check again and it was found to have landed on 11 instead.  Perreault, a longtime wearer of the number 11 continued to wear it throughout his NHL career in honor of the roulette wheel choice.

The Sabres would draft Rick Martin and acquire Rene Robert from the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1971 to play with Perreault creating the most famous line in Sabres history.  Known as the French Connection, owing to the fact that all three players were French Canadian, the three would become among the most prolific scorers in Sabres history.  Perreault still holds virtually every offensive team record .

Taro Tsujimoto:
In 1974, Sabres Coach/GM Punch Imlach grew annoyed with the tedious process of drafting players by phone and decided to play a prank on league President Clarence Campbell.  Lifting a common Japanese name from a Buffalo phone book, Imlach drafted the imaginary Taro Tsujimoto from the equally imaginary Tokyo Katanas (roughly Japanese for Sabres).  The pick was later changed to be an "invalid claim" in the NHL's records, but Tsujimoto is still listed as a draft pick in the Sabres media guide.  Though the event is over thirty years in the past, 'Taro Says' signs still crop up from time to time at HSBC Arena.

1974-75, The Bat, and The First Finals Appearance:
The 1974-1975 season would see the Sabres reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in their history to meet the Philadelphia Flyers (note: now impossible due to changed conference alignments).  In Game 3 of the series, warm weather in Buffalo would produce a blanketing fog within the arena.  At one point during the game Sabres center Jim Lorentz would spot and kill a bat flying through the arena.  The Sabres would win the game, but go on to lose the series in six games.

Farewell to The Aud:
For years, the Sabres home had been the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, sitting a scant block from where HSBC Arena now sits.  The Aud no longer exists, but Sabres fans will always remember it fondly, from its homey atmosphere to its notoriously steep orange seating.

In 1996, Buffalo said goodbye to The Aud and hello to HSBC Arena as the home of the Buffalo Sabres.

The 90s, Ted Darling, and Rick Jeanneret:

Ted Darling was the original voice of the Buffalo Sabres from their inaugural season until 1991 when his worsening Pick's disease finally forced him to relieve himself of his television broadcasting duties.  Rick Jeanneret who is the longest tenured announcer in the NHL and had done the radio broadcasts since the 1971-72 season eventually took over both in 1996.  Jeanneret, weary of the travel of a full NHL season now takes a vacation for about seven games each year when the Sabres go on their long roadtrip, playing several Western Conference teams.  Jeanneret is widely regarded as the best announcer in the NHL, and considered family by legions of Sabres fans.  His famous calls are numerous and have only grown bigger over the years.

May Day:

On April 24th, 1993, Brad May scored the game winning goal in overtime against the Boston Bruins in game four completing a 4-0 sweep and securing the Sabres first playoff series win in ten years.

Back to Where Jimmy Hoffa Is:

On April 27th, 1994 the Sabres were locked in a brutal 0-0 game with the New Jersey Devils in the fourth overtime.  The Devils led the series 3-2 and the Sabres needed a win to force the deciding game seven.  In a game that saw Dominik Hasek make 50+ saves, Dave Hannan finally clinched the win for the Sabres.  Unfortunately the Devils would win game seven and move on.

Are You Ready Legion of Doom, Plante Beats Tugnutt:

On April 29th, 1997, Derek Plante would trickle a shot by goalie Ron Tugnutt of the Ottawa Senators to win game seven in overtime and advance the Sabres to play the Philadelphia Flyers, nicknamed the Legion of doom.

The Dominator, the 1999 Cup Finals, and No Goal:

Dominik Hasek played for the Sabres from 1992 to 1998 becoming the most dominant goalie in the NHL at the time, and one of the greatest to ever play the game.  Hasek was known for his remarkable flexibility and unorthodox style.  He had no technique to speak of, but due to his unequaled athleticism he could make saves that other goaltenders simply could not.

Hasek almost singlehandedly led the Buffalo Sabres to their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1999 as a seventh seed from the Eastern Conference.  They met the heavily favored Dallas Stars, the number one seed in the Western Conference.  Behind Hasek, the underdog Sabres actually won the first game, and were tied with the Stars at two games apiece after four in the series.  Dallas won game five, and game six went into the third overtime.

At the time it was illegal to score a goal if an offensive player's skate entered the crease before the puck did.  In the third overtime, Brett Hull scored the series clinching goal with his foot in the crease.  The NHL refused to review the play despite protests from the Buffalo Sabres as the Stars celebrated on the ice, a fact that left players and coaches alike feeling puzzled and cheated.  The NHL would later maintain that Hull's prior shot, rebound, and regaining of the puck constituted a single possession and Hull's skate was legally in the crease, an explanation mainly offered to save face as this occurrence had been called differently throughout the season.  Later, a guilt-ridden and embarassed NHL would recind the crease rules prior to the following season.

As far as Buffalo is concerned, the goal didn't count, the 99 finals hasn't ended and we're ready to resume play any time Dallas is to fairly determine a winner.

Unfortunately, despite his often heroic efforts and Finals appearance, Hasek will also be remembered for his feud with Sabres coach Ted Nolan, ultimately getting the coach fired before the 97-98 season, and injuries during following playoff years in which his dedication and durability would be questioned.

The Early 00s, Ownership Issues, and Tom Golisano:
In the early part of the decade, the Sabres future would come into question as the owners, the Rigas family, were a major player in the Adelphia communications scandal.  The NHL would remain committed to finding an owner willing to keep the team in Buffalo and eventually Paychex founder Tom Golisano would step up to the plate.  While Golisano's ownership style has been somewhat detached, Sabres fans owe him a world of gratitude for keeping the team in Buffalo, slashing ticket prices, and most importantly refusing to sell the team to anyone not also commited to keeping the team in Buffalo.  As of right now, the Sabres are merely weeks away from being put in the hands of billionaire New York native and longtime Sabres fan Terrence "T-pegs" Pegula.

Post-Lockout Success and the Cup that Belongs in Buffalo:
The NHL would lockout for the 2004-05 season, and not play any games.  In the 05-06 season the Sabres would start slow, but eventually roar into the playoffs with the third most points and fourth seed (due to Ottawa winning the division) in the Eastern conference.  Experts were torn over whether to pick the fourth seeded Sabres, or the bigger and supposedly tougher fifth seeded Flyers in their first round matchup.  And then these happened:

That hit was really my first moment of Sabres fandom.  I had grown up in Rochester and Syracuse without cable TV so I had only seen maybe two or three Sabres games until that point.  With the NFL so visible on network TV, I became more of a Bills fan than a Sabres fan until I went to college.  But being at Clarkson and being exposed to hockey changed everything.  And then about a half hour later in that same game...

The Sabres would go on to crush the Flyers in six games, winning the fifth and six games 3-0, and 7-1.  They would go on to face the top seeded Ottawa Senators, a heavy favorite.  Game one ended with the Sabres tying the game in the final minute and winning in overtime 7-6.  It was straight up retarded.

Buffalo would take a two games to none series lead and find themselves in overtime once again.

The Senators would win game four and the series would head back to Ottawa.  An overtime powerplay looked like it would give Ottawa a great chance to pull within a game of the Sabres.  But then something happened, and Rick Jeanneret's voice will live on in the minds of Sabres fans.

The Sabres would advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the second seeded Carolina Hurricanes.  The series was back and forth, but Buffalo defensemen started dropping like flies.  Game six saw three Buffalo defensemen out of the lineup, but the Sabres still prevailed.

Unfortunately, Jay McKee would come down with a staph infection, and Buffalo would be left with two starting defensemen and four minor leaguers in game seven.  It eventually caught up with them as a 2-1 lead heading into the third period slowly flitted away into a 4-2 loss.

The Sabres would head into the 2006-2007 season as Cup favorites though, and the team was one of the most exciting in Sabres history.  They could outscore anyone, and frequently came from two and three goals behind within minutes to bury teams.

The Sabres won their first ever Presidents Trophy with the best record in the NHL, but the 06-07 playoffs started with a bit of a whimper as the Sabres struggled to defeat the eighth Islanders four games to one.  They had similar struggles in the second round as the New York Rangers successfully executed a strategy of not trying to score, ever and tied the series at two games apiece.  The Rags seemed headed for a 3-2 series lead as they held a 1-0 lead in game five for fifty-nine minutes and fifty-two point three seconds.

The best part is when Rick Jeanneret realizes he hasn't actually said anything and no one listening to the radio knows why the fuck he's yelling and follows it up with "Buffalo SCOOOOOOORRRREEESSSS!" The shots of the plaza are also awesome. You can see the passion that Buffalo has for its hockey team.

The Sabres would cruise to a 7-4 victory in game six, but eventually meet defeat at the hands of the Ottawa Senators in 5 games.

July 1st, 2007:

July 1st is when free agency begins for the NHL, and was poised to be a big day for the Sabres as their two superstars, Danny Briere, and Chris Drury both had expiring contracts.  Management went after Drury hard, snubbed Briere, and those pulling the purse strings scuttled a Drury contract that was all but signed.  As a result, both players wound up leaving and the team hasn't been the same since.  Drury has been injured this season and is one of the worst contracts in the NHL for the Rangers, and Briere has been productive, but disappointing in Philadelphia.  Neither player has achieved what they did in Buffalo.

The Modern Era:

After 7-1-07, there hasn't been much to report.  The Sabres barely missed the playoffs in the 07-08 and 08-09 seasons, then won the division in 09-10, but exited the playoffs after a first round loss.  This season they sit in 10th place, 6 points out of a playoff spot with time running short.

Some Key Players:

Rob Ray:
Rob Ray was an enforcer for the Sabres from 1989 until 2003, helping the Sabres set the NHL's all time single season record for penalty minutes in the 1992-1993 season.  He is credited with being the reason behind the NHL's Rob Ray Rule which penalizes players for removing their jersey during a fight.

Ray is currently an analyst for the Buffalo Sabres often giving insight and comic relief from between the benches during games.

Lindy Ruff:
Lindy Ruff was a Left Winger and Defenseman for the Sabres from 1979 to 1989.  He was remembered for his gritty style of play.

Ruff now terrorizes opponents from behind the benches as the Buffalo Sabres head coach, and the longest tenured coach in the NHL.

Matt Barnaby
Nicknamed Matt the Rat for his underhanded style of play, Barnaby was with the Sabres from 1992 to 1999 amassing his fair share of penalty minutes in that time.

Despite playing like a cockbag, Barnaby is known as one of the friendliest players off the ice and currently works as a hockey analyst for ESPN and owns a construction company with Rob Ray while still residing within Buffalo.

Alexander Mogilny:
Alexander the Great played for the Sabres from 1989 to 1995 and was the first Russian hockey player to defect to the NHL.  Upon getting off the plane and taking his first steps on American soil, he famously asked Sabres GM Gerry Meehan, "Am I free?"

Mogilny's single season Sabres record of 76 goals in the 92-93 season still stands.

Dave Andreychuk:
Andreychuk played with the Sabres from 1982 to 1993 and for the 2000-2001 season amassing most of the Sabres power play records.

In 2004, he finally won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning after 22 years in the league.

Patrick Lafontaine:
Though Lafontaine was only with the Sabres from 1991-1997, his number hangs in the rafters as one of the all time greats, and a Rick Jeanneret favorite.  His 95 assists and 148 points in the 92-93 season still stand as Sabres records.

Unfortunately Patty Lala's career was cut short due to concussions.


Toronto Maple Leafs - The Maple Leafs are generally thought to be the Sabres main rival because of the proximity of the cities, but the Leafs have been terrible for so long, it isn't much of a rivalry anymore.  The only remnant is the dickbag Canadian fans that flood HSBC Arena for Maple Leafs games only to act like assholes.

Ottawa Senators - The Senators are the Sabres main rivals these days owing to the fact that both teams have generally been good, and have met in the postseason a few times.  There was also this incident:

Senators goon Chris Neil hit Sabres captain Chris Drury with a late blindside elbow.  A pissed off Lindy Ruff put the Sabres fighting line of Andrew Peters, Adam Mair, and rookie Patrick Kaleta on the ice against Senators Superstars Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley with the instructions to "go out and run 'em."  It took three Senators and a linesman to pull Mair off of Spezzas face and the Sabres ended up winning 6-5 in the shootout.

Carolina Hurricanes - The rivalry with the Hurricanes is based solely on the 05-06 conference finals, and more on their end than ours.  The backstory is that Hurricanes fans are shitty, and no one likes hockey in the south so they often found their building filled with just as many Sabres fans as Canes fans.  The ticket office famously started checking area codes of ticket purchasers to try and maintain a home ice advantage.

Philadelphia Flyers - This rivalry has cooled a bit in recent years, but their meetings in the 70s, 80s, and 90s were brutal.

Players we hate:

Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes - Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe trophy (Finals MVP) in 2006 and doesn't deserve it one bit.  He.  Fucking.  Blows.

Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes - Staal is a whining diving piece of shit from Carolina who eats babies.

Andrew Ladd, Atlanta Thrashers - When with the Hurricanes, Ladd took a hit from Marc Andre Bergeron and made no effort to avoid falling on Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson, injuring him for the rest of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators - He's a ginger and he looks like this:

Dany Heatley, San Jose Sharks - When with the Senators, Heatley was a notorious Sabre killer.  Some fans also consider him to be a real killer as well as a drunk driving incident resulted in Heatley getting in a car accident that killed then teammate Daniel Snyder.  As the Snyder family has forgiven Heatley, so have I.

Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers - When with the Senators, Emery was probably the worst goalie to lead his team to a Cup Finals appearance not named Cam Ward.  Thankfully, he lost.

Jarkko Ruutu, Ottawa Senators - Just a cheap dirty fuck.

Adam Mair doesn't like him either.

Sean Avery, New York Rangers - Such a cock that there's a rule named after him in which players are not allowed to be dickbags and distract a goaltender.

Scott Gomez, Montreal Canadiens - Injured Ryan Miller torpedoing the Sabres 2008-2009 season and causing them to miss the playoffs.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins - Crosby is the best player in the league and basically the face of the NHL. While many fans accept this, they're sick of him being talked about all the fucking time. And he looks like this:

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins - The biggest player in the league and one of the dirtiest.  Possible caveman/wildebeast.

Johnny Boychuk, Boston Bruins - Fuck.  Boychuk.  Took Vanek out in the corner and then stepped on his leg, slicing tendons in the 09-10 playoffs.

Ratings and Fanship:

The Sabres have the best American fans in the NHL.  The game is a whole different animal in Canada and I respect those fans for their devotion, even sad pathetic asshole leafs fans.  The Sabres are routinely one of the top teams in attendance, the only team willing to tell NBC to screw off on their policy of barring the showing of playoff games outside the arena and always run their Party in the Plaza anyways.  Buffalo was also the top market in terms of television ratings up until this past season when they were surpassed by Pittsburgh.  (However Buffalo doesn't have the benefits of having the most recognized player in the league, the most nationally televised games and two cup finals appearances.  By all means, Pittburgh should have been on top a long time ago, but their fans are just inferior.)

The southern markets, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Phoenix, and to a lesser extent, Anaheim and Los Angeles generally suck and don't deserve hockey teams.

Some of the Many Sabres Inside Jokes:

Thomas Vanek, UFC Champion - A wonderful WGR bit.  (Note WGR links not working for me)

Call of the Chara - Another WGR bit.

Marty Biron - Marty Biron was a goaltender for the Sabres from 1995 to 2007.  He had lovely blue eyes and he talked a lot.

Wacky German Backhand - The name given to Sabres forward and Mannheim, Germany native Jochen Hecht's tendency to score weird angle goals with his backhand.  Credited to someone on the Sabres Junkie forums.

Vanek's Slapshot - A Twitter hashtag #vaneksslapshot created by @NickMendola

Atlas - Nickname given to Vanek by The Goose's Roost for his tendency to carry the team at times.

Derek Roy and the Stanchion of Doom - A weird OT goal against the Thrashers on 1-1-10

Jordan Le-oh - I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, saying ay-oh, I'm Jordan Le-oh.  Credit to Shelby of Puck Over the Glass.

The Population of Pominville - A famous Rick Jeanneret call.  The population of Pominville is said to rise each time winger Jason Pominville scores.

No One Caresolina - Coined by Phil of Black and Blue and Gold because there are no hockey fans in North Carolina.

Top Shelf, Where Momma Hides the Cookies - Said by Rick Jeanneret whenever a Sabre snipes the top of the net.  Most associated with Danny Briere.

Going to Sabres Games:
I've been to thirty-three and counting Sabres games over the years and have watched or listened to (radio) 175 straight games and counting so I've amassed a healthy appreciation for being in the arena.

I figure that hockey should be fun, so win or lose, I always try to keep that in mind when at games, trying to find some way to amuse myself. There were the times I wore Christmas Lights...

Hugging Vanek's photo...


Face Painting...

Fake Tattoos...

I really owe a lot to the Sabres.  My family doesn't do a lot together anymore, and never really did, but they all root for the Sabres, and they've all been to Sabres games with me.  I've met most of my friends through the Sabres whether it was through online forums, through blogging, or at games.  They are a bigger part of my life now than probably anything has ever been, and I can do nothing but thank them for it.

There you have it, a fairly extensive and exhausting compilation of what it means to root for the Buffalo Sabres.  I hope you enjoyed, and I welcome new fans everywhere into the fold.

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