Tag Archives: Sabres

(Next Door to) Where it all Began

Sunday, March 17, 2019: Buffalo, New York

Buffalo Sabres 4, St. Louis Blues 3 (SO)

It wasn’t the first time I watched the Buffalo Sabres play at home.

But it’s been a while.

A long while.

So long ago that the were still playing in the Aud.

The Hockey Wanderer origin story comes out of Western New York.

An Elementary-school kid, less-than-ideal family life, bouncing around from school to school, who found a new obsession to help keep his mind off his troubles: the Sabres.

I watched the games on TV, I read about them in the Buffalo News. I listened to them on the radio where the play-by-play calls fired my imagination was fired and WGR-55 gave me the mistaken impression that “Sabre Dance” was a team jingle rather than a seminal piece of 20th century modern music.

And I will never forget the Christmas present I received when I was nine years old: tickets to the Sabres game four days later against the Detroit Red Wings.

The public skates on the site of the old Aud.

I remember the view of the ice from the cheap seats at the Aud. I remember that Danny Gare scored one of the Sabres’ goals. And I remember that the Red Wings scored with three seconds to go to tie it up. (I have double-checked the date and score and the four-decade-old memories are correct.)

As it turned out, I didn’t really see the game.

It wasn’t until the next year that my fourth-grade teacher deduced I was nearsighted, and quite dramatically so. I was basically taking in a white blur, surrounded by the Aud’s gold seats.

My dad never took me to another game in Buffalo. Having his car broken into during the game probably put a damper on the occasion for him. It was a cold ride back to Niagara Falls in late December without a passenger window.1My mom took me to a game at the Aud a few years later. A 7-3 rout of the Leafs. So the Sabres are undefeated in home games I attend.

The French Connection.

Anyway, life took me away from Western New York by middle school.  I’ve remained a fan, even though my other ties to the area are gone. I’ve seen the Sabres play far more often in Hartford, then later in San Jose.

But it was time to go back again.


Not that it’s the same home — the Aud is long gone.

As for the two-decade old Marine Midland Arena HSBC Arena First Niagara Center2The sequential name changes to the Sabres’ arena tell a tale of consolidation in the banking industry, much as the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark did for telecom. KeyBanc Center, much of the local commentary about it is about how much of a dump it is.

Given those low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised, though my impressions may have been favorably influenced by good seats I picked up inexpensively on StubHub amid the debris of another blown season.

The arena’s surroundings appear to be rounding into shape, taking advantage of the waterfront location to create a pleasant public space.

The well-lit atrium.

The large, glassy atrium at the entrance offers a better transition between street and seat than I am used to. There appeared to be a wide variety of food, but I didn’t try any after sating myself before the game.

But some of the griping is justified. The seat was uncomfortable. My knees were jammed into the seat in front of me, and my chair looked like it has seen more than a few wet clean-ups.


The weird thing was, it was a great hockey game. I mean it shouldn’t be weird, but this is the Buffalo Sabres, a team sportswriter John Vogl recently and correctly described as being in the midst of an eight-year-long tire fire.

But the Sabres went against recent form and came to play against a tough opponent in St. Louis. They held possession on offense and passed successfully. They were willing to fight for the puck in the corners, and they were willing to get physical, most notably on a third-period shift when every non-goaltender on the ice landed at least one solid check against the Blues, generating a rousing ovation.

Maybe I’m their lucky charm.

St. Patrick’s Day eyesores.

It was a 5:00 start on St. Patrick’s Day, and the Sabres celebrated for their drunken fans with special practice jersey that was a dog’s breakfast of Irish tropes.

Home and away:

I’m used to being among many Sabres fans attending games on the road. Here in Buffalo there were a truckload of Blues fans.

My wife will be happy to read this:
There were no fights.

Game wrap ups here, here and here.

Can’t Go Home Again

Dec.  7, 2014: Hartford, Conn.

Hartford Wolf Pack 4, Binghamton Senators 2

This was my first visit to what I knew as the Hartford Civic Center for 22 years. It was disheartening.

The last time I was there it was because I made a point of seeing a Hartford Whalers game on a trip home. The team had five more years left before nefarious manipulations ended its Hartford run, but I already had a sense that the team’s future was precarious.

About my relationship with the Whalers: it’s complicated.

Always have been a Buffalo Sabres fan, and will be as long as they remain there. But I moved to Connecticut before fifth grade, and my life as a hockey fan became entwined with the Mighty Whale, from games at the Civic Center (many, but not all, against the Sabres) to “Hockey Night in Hartford” on Channel 30.

I’m not looking it up, but in all the years, the Whalers and Sabres shared the five-team Adams Division, which had four playoff spots, I don’t think they both made the postseason in the same year.

So it was pretty easy to adopt the Whalers as my second team, enjoying their triumphant, parade-worthy run to the second round (I attended game three in Hartford) in 1986, (damn you Claude Lemieux) and their division championship the next year as the Sabres were busy, um, rebuilding.

Anyway, to me the Civic Center scene meant buzzing crowds, big-time players, and games that meant something. It had atmosphere.

Everything that was lacking at what is now known as the XL Center.

A small gathering at the former Civic Center.


The year after the Whalers were moved, the New York Rangers moved their farm team into the arena, and there it has remained ever since. The Wolf Pack is in its 18th season in Hartford, matching the number of NHL seasons the Whalers spent there. (But don’t forget the WHA!)

The arena is visibly the same. And in all honesty, the quality of the AHL game wasn’t bad. But the whole experience was as flat as a four-day old cup of soda.

There was a group of rowdy fans that chanted semi-obscenely behind one of the goals. They tried. There was all kinds of the blaring loud music Kevin Dupont refers to as audioporn blaring from the P.A. system. But it echoed off the sea of empty seats.

Many more empty seats are hidden behind the curtains.


There’s a big problem with AHL hockey. The team isn’t really set up to win. Winning’s nice, no one complains, but the team exists to serve the needs of the big-league team, and if those needs weaken the AHL team, so what?

Even if I lived in Connecticut I don’t think I’d ever attend another Wolf Pack game.

I doubt the NHL will return. The league doesn’t have that much class and good sense.

But there is a silver lining for Connecticut hockey fans.

There are three Division I teams in the state. Two of them met in the 2013 NCAA final.

The third, UConn, joined the powerhouse Hockey East conference this year. Given the deep support for UConn sports in the Nutmeg state, I won’t be surprised if the halls of the former Hartford Civic Center buzz and its rafters rattle with cheers from fans watching high-level hockey that counts for something.

Worth Every Penny: Thanks to the Boy Scout leader who offered their extra tickets to me and others standing in line. 

Henrik Tallinder, top, wearing #7, staring down the prospect of retirement.

Bloodlines: The Wolf Pack dressed two Bourque brothers and a Vaive, all sons of well-known NHLers.

Where Have You Gone, Hank Tallinder? To Hartford, where the former Sabre was playing on a professional tryout deal.

He looked like a steadying influence on defense, but the Wolf Pack cut him loose a week later.

Game Report: Here and here.

More photos here.