My sister arrived from Potsdam at around four in the afternoon and after some work on her facepaint we set off for Buffalo. We timed things pretty well arriving late enough to be able to park in my preferred lot (it opens late), but early enough to hang around the plaza for a while.
It was a fucking mob scene. I heard on the radio that both sides of the street were filled, but I didn't quite grasp how many people that was until we arrived. People were crowded five to ten deep around the little walkway they'd set up for the alumni to get from their limos into the building so I abandoned all hope of being able to get any autographs. What I did not abandon hope of was getting a few pictures.
Clearly the best place to do this was from a tree near the ropes. Most of the pictures of the alumni were kind of meh, but I did get a good one of the crowd.
After a somewhat uncomfortable half hour in the tree, we decided to go inside and hunt for food. We were kind of undecided about what we wanted so we wandered around until we found Shelby. Conversing with Shelby brought us important information, that Sabres' wives were selling cookies by the escalators. So we bid farewell to Shelby so we could ogle the Sabres' smokin' hot wives, mostly Mrs. Vanek. Let me just say, I can see why they're making a lot of babies. The wives were surprisingly shy so we bought our cookies without much fuss. They were delicious.
Then we set about finding real food. My sister chose two slices of pizza, probably one of the better deals at HSBC because the pizza is delicious, and I got a chicken burrito. I usually get "everything" on things like wraps and burritos because I'm used to getting food at Subway where they try to screw you as much as possible and if you don't order a ton of veggies you're left with a pathetic waste of a sub that even Ethiopian children wouldn't consider to be nourishment. For those that don't know, a chicken burrito with everything consists of two fistfuls of the following; chicken, tomato salsa, peppers, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, peppers, onions, olives, and rice. They are probably pound for pound the best value at HSBC arena because they weigh around eight tons and only cost eight dollars.
After that we made our way to our seats to watch the team warm up in which I snapped many shots of Jhonas "Crazy-H" Enroth.
Even though it was a half hour before the game, the arena was more full than I've seen it for some supposed sellouts. (Thanks in no small part to this guy's effort to single handedly fill as many seats as he could.)
By the time the actual game started, the arena was packed. I mean legit packed, where I had to actually scan the crowd for several seconds before I found ANY empty seats, and I couldn't find groupings any larger than two or three.
For those that are wondering, the back of that guy's shirt said "History Will be Made," and the front said "What if the Flyers had Goaltending?"
The pregame ceremonies were awesome. It was great to see the players get recognized for their hard work by their teammates, and I love the idea behind the 7th Man Award. The introduction of the alumni, split into decades and done alphabetically was chock full of moments of both happy memories and heartbreak.
Each Sabre that was introduced received many cheers, of course with the popular players getting a special rise out of those in attendance.
I think all in all there was pretty close to a hundred alumni there, which is great to see. Any time a team takes a moment to appreciate its history is a positive in my book. You know, unless it's Montreal and it's delaying the start of literally every fucking home game.
Let me just say that I love what the Sabres do before their games. The flag pass is one of my favorite rituals, along with 'Tooth rappelling from the rafters. The coordination of the lighting, the music, and the open video makes it a truly special moment every single time.
No, I don't know how I got this picture to turn out this awesome. Doug Allen sang the national anthem to many cheers and did his usual amazing job. There was a Flyers fan a few rows behind me and ten or so seats away that didn't remove his cap for either anthem. I don't know what his story is, but I figured that probably wasn't a good omen for them.
The game was...well...you all saw it. I didn't take any pictures during the game because I was too concerned with trying to calm myself the fuck down and trying to drown out the Flyers fans two rows in front of me. When they gave the standard safety announcement about rogue pucks, I decided an addition was necessary to the "get to an usher" part, specifically "unless you're a Flyers fan, then cry about it and try to boo Santa Clause." Hey...sense is a luxury.
At one point Briere was digging for a puck along the boards and I yelled, "hit him with your purse Briere" which had most of the section laughing. Surprising since I seem to hear some fan yell that at least once a game. (Usually Jay.)
The rally towels are definitely a good thing, both because I love flailing about obnoxiously, and because I like having something to wring the crap out of while I'm trying not to shit myself when the Sabres are losing a key game. Mine certainly saw its fair share of abuse on Friday.
After Gerbe scored to tie things up, I was a mess with the remainder of the third period. I kept glancing up at the clock nervously. Only eight minutes to go...now it's six. Now 1:08 to go... When the Sabres took possession of the puck with about forty seconds left and were content to play keep away to run out the clock, the building started to come alive.
Everyone figured out what was happening at once and every second ticking off raised the decibel meter. When the time got below five I just lost it. For everything that happened this season, the injuries to Miller, Stafford, and Leopold to it taking over a month to get a win at home to not only roaring back into the playoff picture, but getting into a situation where we controlled our own destiny for the last several games...I just couldn't hold it in any longer.
I'm don't remember if we took this right after they clinched or right after they won. Either way, it's a great picture.
As the teams prepared for overtime I tried to wonder if I would even be mad if they lost. Maybe a little, I decided, but let's look at the bigger picture. Luckily the debate didn't even matter because this happened.
When Vanek scored I about tackled my sister into the daughter (yes she was hot) and mother next to us. High fives were exchanged as the crowd went nuts.
The jersey off the back promotion was cool, which raised another interesting pondering. Do you wash a jersey that probably smells like every minute of 61:16 of hockey or let it sit so that you can bathe in the never ending essence of Sabre? (I think you wash it.)
My sister and I hung around for probably close to a half hour, watching people mill out and continue to yell and cheer as the two of us wanted to live in that building, in that moment forever. Finally though we had to make our way to the exits to partake in the chaos of the lobby, but not before seeing this, which early on I decided was a sign that it was going to be a pretty good night. (I have never seen the Sabres fail to pick up points from the Richard H. Zednik Memorial Decapitation Corner.)
The lobby wasn't too crowded because we were so late in getting out of the arena, but holy shit was it loud.
We took the obligatory Mural-Mel pictures before heading to the store.
The moral of this story is that every time my sister paints triangles on her face, Thomas Vanek scores a ridiculous game winning goal since the only other time she's done it was for the first home win against Washington on November 13th, 2010. The other moral of the story is that the Sabres wait until I'm in the building to clinch things. I was there when they clinched a playoff spot on March 27th, 2010 last season, beating the Lightning 7-2, and they dicked around for a while so I could be there again when they clinched the division against the Rangers on April 6th, 2010 by a score of 5-2.
I didn't want to spend money, but I figured it couldn't hurt to buy something. However, priority number one was tracking down a 7th Man rally towel for my girlfriend. I waited until I scoped a Flyers fan carrying one, figuring they wouldn't have much use for it. Initially the guy was a bit taken aback, I think because he expected to get harassed, but he turned out to be pretty nice and gladly gave up the towel. I wound up looking over a few things in the store before finally settling on this hat.
I also picked up three Sabres DVDs for $1 each and my sister made off with a new Sabres toque.
All in all my sister summed it up as being "definitely worth the drive," (five hours for her, two for me). It ranks up there with some of the best games I've ever seen. This one might top them all because of what was at stake, and how literally every part of the night was picture perfect. It's those type of moments that remind me why I love the Sabres.