Posts Tagged ‘NHL’


Q&A with Sabres’ President Ted Black

Sabres' President Ted Black

Sabres' President Ted Black

Originally posted 5/25/2011 by Amanda

After he was named as team president Ted Black said he wanted to be in touch with the fans and was open to interviews from fan sites. Amanda took him up on that offer. A few weeks ago we posted a thread for our members to ask questions which we then posed to Mr. Black, here is the complete list of questions submitted and the answers given. We would like to thank the Sabres’ Ted Black and Scott Miner for their willingness to engage Sabres fans through this Q&A. References to being part of a team can get corny and sappy (I seem to indulge in large servings of each on this site) but the way ownership has engaged the fans, listens to them, responds to them and encourages them to be active, to help create traditions that are unique to Buffalo really makes it feel like the Sabres are all “our” team.


How did you get involved in hockey?


I never played hockey. That may turn off some purists and I respect that perspective. That said, I have been intimately involved with the business of hockey since 1999. I got my start when I met Ken Sawyer at a Christmas party in 1998. He had just left the NHL and I helped him with a couple of projects. In September 1999 he asked me to consider working with him at the Penguins. As Woody Allen said, “the key to life is showing up.” And in my case, I showed up at a Christmas party.


Do you see similarities in the markets of Buffalo and Pittsburgh? What are the differences?


The people are similar – proud, kind and passionate. With regard to hockey, I believe Buffalo is a stronger market because hockey is so entwined with the fabric of the community. It is part of who we are and extends to men, women, kids, grandparents, dogs and cats. In Pittsburgh, football enjoys the same cultural significance.

Drew from Buffalo

– As you no doubt have discovered, we fans of the Sabres have taken your “Hockey Heaven” comment to heart, and many of us feel there has not been a more apt description of our little city. If you could, please briefly explain what elements of our team, community, and fandom prompted you to give us such a great new label!


Hi Drew, thanks for taking the time to ask a question. When I uttered the phrase, “Buffalo is Hockey Heaven,” I spoke from my heart. Our team is not miles away from a Cup. The pieces are here. It might not happen next year, but it will happen. No city deserves it more. No city will cherish it more. And no city will celebrate it more.

Ross in Perry, NY

– First of all, I’d like to thank you for you willingness to listen to fan suggestions! The changes you and Mr. Pegula have made so far are fantastic! I’m curious to know who your favorite hockey team and player was growing up? Also, if you were to wear a current Sabres player jersey to a game, who’s would it be?


Thanks Ross. Listening to fans (customers) is the foundation of any successful business and talking with all of you is one of the reasons I love my job and this city. My favorite team was the Penguins and favorite player was Mario. I am blessed that ML and I became and remain friends and we stay in touch. He is a better person than he ever was a hockey player. As for the Sabres, I have an affinity for Nathan Gerbe. I love his heart and hustle on the ice and he is a good person outside the arena. The fact that my youngest son shares the same first name probably helps too.

Jim, aka Milo (Kyiv, Ukraine)

– Let me echo many others in thanking you and Mr. Pegula for what you have done so far, and what you seem poised to do to improve the team we love in the off season. (Let’s go deep into the playoffs first, of course!) Will the Sabres play more weekend afternoon games? Does the team have any say in the scheduling of these games? Those of us in Europe have to choose between sleep and watching games – it’s nice to get a few where we can have both!


Hi Jim. So glad to see that the Sabres Nation extends into several continents. With regard to afternoon games, we are looking into it. The first draft of the schedule has not yet come out, but I am looking to minimize the number of back to backs. Given the popularity of the party on the plaza it would be cool to do some afternoon games with outdoor parties on the plaza. We will consider family friendly times on weekends. We do have a say in the process and the NHL works hard to accommodate the teams, the networks and the arena scheduling conflicts for concerts and other events. For those of you in Europe, thanks for your support and we look forward to bringing Hockey Heaven to Finland and Germany in October.

Emily in Budapest

– Those of us that reside of out of the Buffalo area and rely on Center Ice to see the games have to miss pre- and post-game coverage, which is really unfortunate. Is there any way that it could be streamed online as well? I know that MSG has certain broadcasting rights, but it would be really nice to be able to see both shows–especially the pregame since its triumphant return. Thanks for everything you’ve done so far, and I’m really excited for the future of the Sabres with you and the Pegulas at the helm.


Hi Emily. You raise an interesting idea. I had not considered streaming the pre/post but I will look into it. You are a great example of one of my favorite sayings “all of us are smarter than any of us.”

Bill in Grand Island

– I’d like to know what ownership’s philosophy is on building a Cup contending team. What positions are most important? What do the Sabres lack now (assuming we don’t win the Cup this year). Is it going to require a long and extensive rebuild?


Hi Bill. Great question and a difficult one to fully know the answer to with absolute certainty. This and other teams will evolve. As we sit here today, I would say that the team is built around a world class goalie and a core of very talented players that can and will form the nucleus of a Cup champion. Going into the off season, it seems like the Sabres, along with most other teams, are looking for more help at center, strong 2-way players and depth in defense. We are not rebuilding. The window to make a play for the Cup is over the next 1-3 years.


Fans are leery of the “status quo” approach that has been the mantra of the Sabres for the past few years. There are a few players that have been here for several years that fans are extremely frustrated with. Can we expect to see moves and acquisitions in the offseason that will markedly improve this team? How active will the team be in the free agent market?


The status quo is our enemy. Look around. If you accept it, you cease to improve. This off season will be interesting. There are not a lot of big-name free agents. My personal belief and hope is that we will see a lot more teams making trades in and around the draft.


Does Mr. Pegula want to have a say in the player personnel side of the team? What will the decision making process be like under Mr. Pegula?


Terry does not have “final say.” I know that sounds weird. I don’t have “final say.” Darcy does not have “final say.” We have a flat management team and there are and will be many voices and points of view taken into consideration. In the end, we will do whatever we need to do to win the Cup. That is the reason for the Sabres existence.


Since a belief in winning is important, will the team weigh that factor when looking to acquire players? Or is it something the team thinks it can inculcate into arriving players?


Belief in winning is important. However, belief without hard work and deeds is an empty pursuit. We want players who will work hard and do the “million little things,” to be a champion.

Sean in Calgary

– As has been said countless times, thank you so much for what you and the Pegulas are doing. This truly is a dream come true for this fan base. The fact that you are doing a Q & A with our beloved website is an unbelievable gesture and I can’t express how exciting it is for us to feel this close to the organization. I have a curious question from one of your many out of town fans. I would just like to hear you address the attitude change expressed by people within the organization since the ownership change. Obviously there are the exciting physical changes to the makeup of the arena and infrastructure of the franchise, but how have the players, management team, and staff reacted to the changes? Have they said much regarding the contrast between the Golisano ownership and the current owner? I know as fans, for many of us it feels like we have our Sabres back after a few underwhelming years, and I am curious how strongly people in the organization have mirrored that idea of a fresh attitude. Just a humble fan that doesn’t have the access you do, curious about the inner-workings of the club.


Hi Sean. Thanks for the kind words. We have only been on the job for 10 weeks. The fan support has been humbling. With regard to the changes, I am very proud that the culture seems to have rejuvenated our team and staff and, to a degree, transformed the outlook of the region. There is such a cool vibe in Buffalo right now. It is one of confidence. It is one of pride. Come to Buffalo over the summer or for a game in the fall. It is a great place. So much to do within an hour�s drive. With regard to the prior owners, they were tremendous caretakers of the franchise and I can only hope to leave a similar legacy.


Do you plan on making a serious push for the next opportunity for the USA to host the World Junior Championships (in 2017 I believe)?


I wish we could host the WJC every year. We will aggressively pursue these opportunities because Buffalo is Hockey Heaven. We not only love our Sabres, we love the sport. Not many NHL cities can say that.


Will the team be looking to create a new practice facility?


With regard to the practice facility, the Sabres practice outside of HSBC about a dozen or so times a year, so it really doesn’t make sense for us to build an arena for such limited use (kind of like building a parking garage for Easter Sunday church attendance). If we could partner with other entities that were otherwise building a facility I would want to consider possible synergies. You will hear lots of rumors about this and other aspects of our business because we are open to considering what is possible – regardless of what is probable.


Several of our members were curious about the relationship between the Sabres and their AHL affiliate Portland. Are the Sabres pleased with the current situation, and do you think the Rochester option will ever be visited again?


The Sabres-Portland relationship has produced the last three AHL Players of the Year. That is historic. As a former alternate Governor of the AHL, I also know that the sands of time – and affiliations – shift. Portland and Rochester are awesome AHL cities. Hockey must continue in both cities and the Sabres have a vested interest in seeing the sport grow in Portland, Rochester and everywhere in between.


Have you attended a game in Portland? How was the experience with the fans and the players, and what can you tell us of the atmosphere?


I have not attended a game in Portland. Terry drove to see the Pirates play in March. He said it was a great atmosphere. As I mentioned above, they have an amazing track record there.

Andy in Cleveland

Are there any plans to get an ECHL affiliate?


Hi Andy. I don’t know if we would have an affiliation with the ECHL in the traditional sense. In my experience, that has more relevance to the AHL team.

Brian in Potsdam, NY

– Have plans been discussed about the future of the scouting department? Are we moving away from the so called “video-scouting” idea? How does management feel about drafting and developing European and Russian born players? Have any plans for the development of youth hockey been discussed within Buffalo and the Western New York region? What position can the organization take within the community?


Brian- that change is in our “wheel house.” As Terry said during the first press conference and since, there is no salary cap on scouting. We will not move away from video scouting. And by the way, “video scouting” is not the devil. Our video software and proprietary tools are cutting edge. We will continue to grow this asset while augmenting it with “boots on the ground”. That will be the model going forward. With regard to the origin of players, we are not xenophobic – we want any player, from any country who will help us win the Cup. Lastly- youth hockey is immensely important. It connects generations and is our future. Hey, I am a hockey dad also. Those kids and their parents (men, women, boys and girls) are our past, present and future. No way will I ignore them. I want more kids to play.


How will the draft operate? Will the team be looking for specific help (position, size, etc.) or go with the best player available? What does management view as the main organizational needs?


Hmmm. Draft question. I don’t have an answer for you. Darcy’s guys are working on it and we will have some updates from them in the weeks ahead. Their record is pretty good in finding talent.


Buffalo has some great hockey programs Niagara University Purple Eagles, Buffalo State Bengals, Canisius College and also the Junior Sabres. Is it getting easier to look in our own backyard for quality NHL caliber players?


A big reason why Buffalo is Hockey Heaven is the collegiate, juniors and youth leagues. Buffalo has a lot of home grown NHL talent and is home to many former NHL players. We want to be an incubator of hockey talent.


Golisano changed the franchise’s mentality about signing prospects – he made it a high priority and it was rarely a problem. Will this stay the same under Pegula?


We will try to sign any player who helps us win a Cup (or Cups).

Frank in Niagara Falls

– First I would like to thank you for being so open to us and taking time to listen to our concerns and ideas. It is a welcome change from the past. My first question to you is being that Pittsburgh has been in two Winter Classics, has there been talk of any kind about the Sabres being involved in another Winter Classic game, being that the original one here drew such great ratings along with a great scene in Ralph Wilson Stadium.


Hi Frank. The on and off line community populate “Pegulaville.” I would love to have our Sabres involved in the Winter Classic again. Same for an All Star Game (we are, however, getting to play Europe Games). We have only been on the job 10 weeks and have not yet attended an NHL board meeting. I will advance these discussions – anything that elevates the City of Buffalo is good for us.

Dennis from Hamburg

– Are the Sabres still planning to do Variable Price Seating for Sabres home games? I would also like to thank you and Mr. Pegula for the great job you have done so far.


Hi Dennis. I have a good friend from college who lives in Hamburg. We will continue variable pricing with some tweaks.

Peggy in Massachusetts

– In addition to select nights where college students can get discounted tickets, would the Sabres consider having a family section at HSBC like other arenas? That section could offer discounted tickets for adults with children ages 14 and under. Maybe a corporate sponsor could subsidize it. Thank you for listening to fans. Much appreciated.


Hi Peggy. I was in Boston with my son this weekend and love Massachusetts. We hope to be sold out much of next year. We need to balance this with the need to grow our fan base and to keep the games affordable for students and families. We will do our best to do so. Our average ticket price is 23rd in the NHL.

Bill from Grand Island

Can the team bring back the mad hatters’ section? This was a section in the 300�s similar to Nashville�s �cellblock 303�. They really helped to create a great atmosphere in the building. HSBC can get fairly quiet at times.


Bill – I did not live through the mad hatters phase. Hey, fans can start or renew any tradition they want. If we try to script it, then most likely it would not be effective. I do think the 300 section is loud. I sat up there for a few games this year.

“Better Days” from

I greatly respect how new ownership has taken strides to preserve some of the “tradition” of the Buffalo Sabres. One tradition which the team always had was to play a game on New Year’s Eve, and it was called “Tux and Pucks.” Some people would dress up, and the Sabres would do special things during the game. It seemed unique to Buffalo, and had the feel of something like what Detroit or Dallas has in the NFL on Thanksgiving Day. Would this be something that you would be interested in bringing back?


Many have asked for Tux and Pucks. I will work on it when the first draft of the schedule comes out. I am also hoping we can start other traditions like playing an afternoon game the Sunday of the Bills bye week (October 23) so sports fans can maybe do some hockey tailgating. I will know more when the schedule draft is in hand.

“Better Days” from

Back when Buffalo Memorial Auditorium was open, I recall going to one or two “Sabres Carnivals.” Basically, they were events held during the regular season where fans could interact with the players in several ways…..players would appear on the various levels for meet and greet/autographs sessions, and would play various games of chance with the fans on flooring set up on the ice. Kids could even shoot pucks at a real goalie! I remember there being tours of the locker rooms, and one on occasion, I was able to have my picture taken with the Stanley Cup, which was “visiting” the Aud. I think the Carnivals were a great way to get the community into the building and have fun with the team, and the little kids really had a great time. The tickets were not very expensive and it was a great day out. Is this something you would consider bringing back to HSBC Arena?


Several of the 10,000 fan suggestions asked for the return of a carnival. We are discussing internally more ways for fans to interact with the team, but I don’t have anything to share right now. With a new locker room space that will be tops in the NHL I am sure we will offer some tours next year. Stay tuned.

Jonathan in West Seneca

Last time I was at a game was Jan 1 so it may have been fixed by now. I went into the Sabres store to buy a Lafontaine Jersey only to find no retro jerseys for sale, including the French Connection. I was informed by the store�s staff that they were no longer being carried by the store. I was very disappointed to learn this. Can this or has this been remedied yet?


Jonathan – I will discuss this one at our next department meeting. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Carl from Newport News, VA

� Would it be possible to run 10 minutes clips of old games during the playoffs or at the beginning of the season? Possibly this is something that could be transferred to DVDs and sold to help raise funds for the Sabres Foundation. For decades the Sabres used to release season highlights. It would be great to see this happen again.


Carl – I am not sure what the current NHL restrictions are on DVD sales. I know at one time the league controlled such distribution and I am pretty sure we would not be permitted to distribute outside of our territory to Virginia.

Tom from Pennsylvania

The Sabres used to store old game film in the basement of the Aud. Were these films ever transferred to a different location or are they lost for good? The “MSG Vault” has full Rangers games shown on TV on occasion.


Tom � Unfortunately, many old Sabres game tapes were either recycled (taped over) or, as you surmised, discarded when the team moved from the Aud. This is such a loss of our rich history. We are in the process of contacting other teams and television entities to see what we can recoup.

Mike from Depew

I too would like to thank you for all the hard work you and the rest of the new front office have put forth in making the Buffalo Sabres a class organization. I would first like to ask if any thought has been put into possibly honoring the 1998-99 Buffalo Sabres team that won the Eastern Conference Championship. I think that the organization missed a great opportunity to honor them two years ago for their 10th anniversary, but I do think they deserve a special night. They certainly weren’t the most talented team in Sabres history, but they were full of heart and had a great desire to win. I think that honoring the ’98-’99 team would set a great example for the current team as well. Also, has there been any conversation regarding making a bid for either the NHL Entry Draft or the NHL All-Star Game?


Hi Mike. Our current philosophy is to honor all former Sabres as we did this year for the 40th anniversary. As wonderful as it is to make it to the finals, we probably won’t single out teams that finished in second. I don’t mean that to disrespect those teams or the players, but championship rings, parades and specific team reunions are best saved for folks who win the Cup.

Kyle from Lockport

have you or Terry been to a Bandits game yet? If so, what did you think of the experience? If not, I highly recommend you getting to a game, particularly a playoff game if you can.


I am ashamed to say that I have not. Since my family is still in Pittsburgh, I have been back and forth each weekend. Kim Pegula and their kids have gone and they love it.

Aaron in Atlanta

Is there any chance of the team erecting an outdoor rink at Coca-Cola Field for outdoor games and public skating next winter, or could the Sabres possibly link into the proposals to incorporate skating into the canal side?


Aaron – that is a cool idea; however, I don’t think we will have an opportunity to play an outdoor game in the Bisons ballpark. As mentioned earlier, our needs for practicing outside of HSBC are limited to about a dozen dates, so we would not be the one to develop a rink on canal side or elsewhere.

Jonathan in West Seneca

In Calgary it is very noticeable that almost everyone wears a red Flames jersey to their games. I believe this is something the Sabres could do as well. Perhaps giving out a white Sabres blank jersey to every season ticket holder? I am not a season ticket holder myself but I do think it would add to the game presentation both on TV and in the arena as well as a perk to anyone who purchases a season ticket. I do say the white jersey cause I think the brighter color would be better for the TV side of the presentation and that for the most part there is a real liking to the whites due to their heritage as the home jersey. So with all that said. Ted, your opinion on this would be greatly appreciated. Thank You.


Hi again Jonathan. We do try to give out gold or white items for playoffs. I think what makes Calgary special is that the fans dress in red on their own. Same with the Terrible Towel in Pittsburgh- the Steelers have never given them away. Those types of traditions work because they are more viral in nature and can’t be contrived.

Phineas in Raleigh

– As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are great Sabres fans scattered around the country. There is an especially large fan base here in Raleigh. One of our greatest highlights as fans down here was the Sabres Road Crew that was held last season. We would be thrilled to be able to attend another, as I’m sure fellow fans in other cities would as well. However, there wasn’t much notice given before the actual date arrived. It would be great if these were announced at the beginning of the season so fans have time to plan and make arrangements to be able to attend. I know of a few people that weren’t able to attend the one in Raleigh because of the short notice. I want to thank the organization for having these events, as they really make us out of town fans feel closer to the team we love and live so far away from. And thank you and the Pegula’s for revitalizing this organization and the entire fan base.


Hi Phineas in Raleigh. The breadth of the Sabres Nation is good news, bad news. The good news is that we are all over the world as demonstrated by the origin of these questions. The bad news is that many of you left Buffalo. I hope that the renaissance with the Sabres coincides with an economic rebirth in the Buffalo region and you come back home. We will do more road crew events and will give advance notice on our web site. Terry and I attended one in NYC and it was awesome.

Austin in Rochester

Would it be possible to do an annual Sabres “SuperSkills” Competition again? It used to be held during the all-star break and was a blast to attend. Thank you!


Thanks Austin. I like the idea and we will consider it.

Caitlin in Brockport

– I’ve loved all the new additions since the owner change. The Fan Appreciation and Alumni ceremony was top-notch. I was wondering if you’re planning anything to let fans interact more. Last year they tested an online game called the PowerPlay, where Sabres fans went head to head against other fans with Sabres line-ups, getting points for +/-. I absolutely loved this game (I won 3rd for the month of March and got a signed Roy Sabres stick. I bragged for weeks about it). I thought it was a great way for fans to interact and made me more passionate about the team. I would be thrilled if they brought it back, or created something similar. It was a fun way to still be involved/excited during rough stretches. Keep up the fantastic work and I can’t wait for many, many more years to come!


Hi Caitlin. The alumni weekend, coupled with fan appreciation night, was one of the best regular season events I have ever attended. We are considering more ways to interact with fans in-game and online, so I would anticipate more types of offerings like PowerPlay.


– Is there any chances of getting a TV show like “Oil change” for the Sabres? The Edmonton series is very interesting and with a rabid fan base spread across the country, people would watch. With discussion of enhancing the TV broadcast with pregame and post game shows, adding a half hour show or hour show of behind the scenes footage would really be exciting. Especially in a season like this one where the team is turning it on with every combination possible. I’m sure there are a lot of NHL hoops to jump through for this, but it would be worth it.


Kevin- we are looking into more ancillary programs about the Sabres and would like to do so in partnership with MSG or one of the local TV stations. So I guess I would say, literally, “stay tuned.”


Will the Sabres be offering any sort of travel/ticket package to their European games, and if so, when will the details be announced?


We have partnered with AAA on a travel program and those details should be forthcoming in the next few weeks.


Have the Sabres considered a channel, such as http// The channel would be great for highlights, player interviews, video mixes, behind the scene stuff and special video for big moments. It brings the fans so much close to the players. It would be an easy and relevant job for a media intern!


We have the capacity to do the same types of videos on our website. We are considering a separate web address for more of the “lighter side” including suggestion box updates, home videos, blogs, etc. I agree that the demand is there.

In closing, I appreciate the pride and passion that Sabres fans exude. I will try to be accessible, but please understand that there are a lot of you out there. I will read and consider all ideas and points of view even if I am not able to respond personally or engage in back and forth email exchanges. Your voices will be heard.

Thanks for making this Hockey Heaven and Let’s Go Buffalo!

Ted Black

Richard Martin Public Memorial

Originally posted 3/24/2011

I had the honor of attending today’s public memorial for Richard Martin at HSBC arena. From the moment I read about it I was determined to attend. I was a kid when Rico tore up the NHL as a Sabre. He was one of my hockey heroes and my oldest sister’s “first official crush”, although I wouldn’t advise accusing her of being a puck bunny, she packs a mean left hook. For reasons of pure nostalgia I decided to talk the old “Aud” walk I took so many times as a kid and teenager. A parking lot used to exist where the PBS building downtown now stands. My father used to park in this lot every time he took us to a game in the Aud. From the lot we’d walk down Terrace under the 190 right to the front of the Aud. The streets today were clogged with yesterday’s snow, I was the only person on the street but it was a walk worth taking. And to be fair to my rusty hometown, it actually was a rather nice sunny day, albeit a bit on the cold side. The Aud site looked oddly peaceful this morning. The big hole that housed the solid mass of the Aud for decades was filled with snow and lined neatly with retaining walls. Alongside it the metro rolled by as I snapped a few photos. I can still see the front facade in my mind, hear the peanut man hawking his wares. Perhaps no place other than my grandparents’ home was the location of more memories for me growing up. The closer I got to HSBC Arena the more people I saw. By the time I walked into the front doors by the Sabres store I was in a small crowd of twenty or so fellow Sabres fans. Some were decked out in jerseys, most were dressed in their work clothes.

Nothing but a snow filled hole where the Aud used to be.

The Aud is gone, all that's left is a giant hole in the ground.

We entered the arena where you would normally go in for a game. Ushers did the usual checks for whatever. I had my camera in my hand and no one seemed to care. There was a line of employees handing out remembrance cards to everyone who entered, the card is much like an over sized trading card. The front is a photo of Rico in his French Connection prime back in the days of thin pads and no helmets. The back lists Rico’s physical stats, birthplace and a brief history of his glorious career. Sections 102-108 of the lower bowl were open for the service. The center two sections were reserved seating for the players, alumni, team officials and most importantly the Martin family. The 200 level had some people in it although the ushers told us it was also restricted; there were a number of media types up there. I ended up sitting in section 108. The center glass had been taken down on both sides of the ice, a large stage had been set up. The backdrop for the stage was a collage of photos that depicted Rico at various stages of his career. Martin’s number 7 banner had been removed from the rafters and hung in front of the backdrop from the scoreboard which was brought down fairly low center ice. A couple podiums were set up, there were some flowers. The ribbon boards were blue with “Martin” and “7” on them. It was all fairly reserved but very appropriate. I’ve heard on the news that the Sabres estimated at least 2,000 fans attended the memorial.

Stage set up for the Richard Martin Memorial Service

The stage set up for the public memorial service

The memorial itself was a testament to the family that exists around the Sabres, both immediate and extended. The speakers were all Rico’s family and friends, including his brother and son. I have to commend Ed Kilgour, he did an excellent job as master of ceremonies for lack of a better term. He was clearly emotional but moved the memorial along well and set it up with a brief statement that we were all there to celebrate and remember Rico. It was okay to cry. I was okay to laugh. It was a simple statement but well delivered and received. It broke the ice a bit as clearly people weren’t quite sure how to react or respond initially, myself included.

It was interesting to see the players at the memorial. I think today, more than anything, hammered home the fact that this game they play and profit so greatly from has tangible meaning to the fans and the city they play in. It was a move of great class and foresight for Terry Pegula and the Sabres to host the memorial. It was a great way to help the organization, players, alumni and fans come together and share a real, genuine moment together.

RJ received a partial standing ovation when he was introduced; to say the man is beloved is an understatement. In addition to his great ability to call a hockey game, RJ has in the past, as he was today, been called upon to speak. I still tear up when I remember his tearful farewell to the legendary Ted Darling, his good friend. Today, RJ delivered again. While he is the voice of the Sabres, in times of grief or joy, RJ is more accurately the voice of the fans. “Look at the person next to you, left or right, front or back and smile…. consider this… maybe just maybe this earth is a better place for having been inhabited by Richard Lionel Martin”. Did the fans look? Of course we did and we did laugh, giggle and smile. Maybe out of embarrassment, maybe out of appreciation, who knows? But we did look.

Bert and Rene drew a great deal of interest when they were introduced. Even at a memorial service the French Connection holds a power over the fans, has an ability to bring us closer to the edge of our seats. Both he and Rene delivered comments about Rico that ranged from funny to poignant.  As always, they seemed at ease in front of the fans. Rene especially drew a great reaction when he pulled out a Bud and a cigar for Rico. Bert joked that he was bigger so he was going first. But Bert goes first because Bert is first. He is and always will be the cornerstone of the franchise. Anyone who doubts that should see the hold number eleven has over us fans.

Rico’s friends and brother gave us a glimpse of the man off the ice and in retirement. The portrait was a person who loved his family, loved Western New York, loved the Sabres, loved the fans, loved golf and had a great love of beer and cigars. The fact that Rico called his brother Baba Boey was something that greatly amused my friend and I, as both of us have been Howard Stern fans in the past.

Beyond doubt the most special moment of the memorial was the time Corey Martin took to address us about his dad. I am certain it could not have been easy for him to so publicly share the grief he and his family felt. But Corey set a standard for grace and class today that the Sabres will be hard pressed to match again. I simply cannot give voice to the profound respect I feel for him at the moment. Despite the profundity of his loss, Corey reached out to the fans today. He was gracious, sincere and supportive of the communal grief over his dad’s death. Corey said “I was aware from an early age that I shared my father with everybody, he was every body’s family. It’s for that very reason we hold this celebration here today”. Corey told us some of what happened the morning his father died, and how it was to be Rico’s son. It was moving and deeply personal. Corey recounted how he and his dad sat at the table drinking coffee the morning before Rico died, as they had countless other Sunday mornings. We learned how much Rico was energized and optimistic about the Sabres’ future after Terry Pegula took ownership of the franchise. Corey assured us that his father died doing what he loved most and he “got his job down when he was here. He’s up there watching us… he’s got the best seat in the house”. Through Corey, it felt as if the Martin family reached out and embraced the fans, the community and the team. If you consider the magnitude of their loss, it’s simply amazing to me that people can find a way to be so generous and gracious. Ed Kilgour was right – his father must have been very proud of his son today. As fans all we could do was stand and give him an ovation of support and gratitude. Both out of respect for what his father meant to us and what he himself had just given to the community.

I’ve been a fan of the Sabres for four decades now. I’ve seen thousands of games in the Aud, in HSBC and on the road. I have a closet full of jerseys and a mind full of memories. When I go through that internal catalog I think Corey Martin at today’s memorial for his father is the single greatest one I’ve experienced. I wrote when Pegula took over the team that he had given the franchise back its soul. Today at HSBC you could feel it. You could feel that sense of extended family, shared memories and shared emotion that cut across the generations. As the Sabres say; it’s a million little things. On days like today it’s very apparent that winning and losing don’t mean all that much. Those aren’t the things we remember, aren’t the things we truly carry around in our lives. It’s that communal sense of family and being created through a lifetime of coming together to watch a team we all love so much play a game we love equally.

Richard Martin gave us more than a few of those memories. In death he gave us one final one, perhaps the most profound and meaningful one. Rest in peace, Rico.


Consider yourself… part of the family

Originally posted 2/22/2011

Gilbert Perreault is the cornerstone of the Buffalo Sabres’ franchise. As fans we may debate who the greatest player in team history is in terms of skill, but for forty years there has only been one face of the Buffalo Sabres. The man who is often considered the original Sabre. The man who the franchise was built around and who carried it to a Stanley Cup final in just its fifth year of existence. The man who was the ultimate combination of a run away train barreling down the ice and a finely tuned athlete who could turn on a dime and make any defense man or goalie in the NHL look foolish. Gilbert Perreault is the Sabres. Sadly many fans never got to see Bert play. Perreault had skill rarely seen in the NHL. He was the rock Punch Imlach built upon.

Today, fans learned what Perreault means to the Sabres. At today’s press conference, the Buffalo Sabres’ new owner pointed out “the old guys”. He asked where Perreault was and upon seeing Bert was literally reduced to tears. Choking back the tears Pegula stammered out “you are my hero”. That is all younger fans need to know about Gilbert Perreault. It was a nod to the franchise’s tradition and history, things often dismissed or completely ignored. The Sabres have no Cups in their trophy case, but they have a proud and rich history littered with players who can make grown men weep when they think about their playing days.

That is what tradition is, especially with sports teams. It’s recognizing history, embracing it, proving why it matters and handing off the love for the team to the next generation of fans who may not have seen the older players, but who acknowledge their greatness, their place in the team’s tradition. I think back to my childhood and I remember Roger Crozier in net. No Sabre in history ever played in as much pain as Roger Crozier experienced. The man literally played his guts out. As exciting as Bert was, Crozier was the man who made the team respectable in its earliest days. I think of Roger Crozier and I do find the need to tell people I have dust in my eye. I think of Brian Spencer’s demons and that same piece of dust comes into my eye. It’s the same piece of dust that grabs my attention when I see stories of Clint Malarchuk and find myself cheering for him in life as much as I cheered for him when he was in the Sabres’ net. I remember the collective intake of breath when Perreault grabbed the puck behind his own net and tore down the ice with a speed, ferocity and grace that has never reappeared in a Sabres’ jersey.

HSBC’s ice sits on top of Seymour Knox III’s initials. Initials carved while the founder of the franchise was dying. Initials that branded the new arena with the tradition and history of the previous twenty six years. Engraved the memory of Bert, Rico, Robert, Tickets, Luuuuuuuuuce, Ramsay. It’s the memories of playoff wars with the Bruins that resulted in ice tinged red with blood and year after year of disappointment. Say Brad Park to an older Sabres fan and we all shiver in disgust at the memory. What Sabre fan didn’t shout at Rory Fitzpatrick to look down in game seven against Carolina as a plucky, never say die Sabres team finally succumbed to a myriad of injuries? The Earl of Bud, the Peanut Guy in front of the Aud, Lower Gold, Upper Gold, Red, Blue and Orange nosebleeds. Those initials bring back the memory of Punch Imlach pushing Jerry Korab’s button so skillfully that the hulking blue liners smashed the Soviets. Those initials bring back Jim Kelley’s favorite story of my favorite Sabre – Mike Ramsey. As Kelley tells it the Sabres were about to set a franchise record for most losses at home. A badly injured and aging Mike Ramsey played that night. He threw his body in front of shots, he screamed at his team mates on the bench, he showed the leadership, grit and heart that made a kid who saw him win gold at Lake Placid admire him so much. The Sabres won that game. It was a meaningless game in terms of the standings but it was not meaningless to Mike Ramsey. Kelley said when he asked Ramsey about why he played that night, why he hurt himself so badly to win a meaningless game Ramsey looked at him and asked if a loss tonight would have set a Sabres record for losing at home. Kelley confirmed the fact. Ramsey then simply said “we’re not setting that kind of record, not on my watch”. Sadly we’ve lost Jim Kelley and those SHK initials bring back the memories of his stories told on the radio and those he published for decades on the sport we all love so much.

There are those who will snicker at the sappiness of such emotions. Fair enough. If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. As a sports fan frankly I live for those sappy moments. Moments when I turn to a stranger next to me and hug them in sheer joy. Moments at a bar when we all shout with joy when the team scores or scream encouragement on the rare occasion a fight breaks out on the ice. Those initials carry the love for the city of Buffalo that Seymour Knox had and his family still has. Those initials carry the love for the team that seems to find more spectacular and heart breaking ways to lose. Those initials carry the appreciation one of the city’s true patriarchs had for fans. So while I do wonder if Terry Pegula will back up his words with actions, I also think about the meaning of tradition and how important it is to anyone, especially to fans of a team.

The Pegula honeymoon period will eventually wear out. In time he’ll hear the usual complaints from fans about general managers, coaches, players, “game presentation”, parking, etc. But today, even more than hope, Pegula gave Sabres fans a rare gift. The man who owns “our” team is “one of us”. He’s a fan. He looks at Perreault and the memories invoked by the man bring him to tears. That was the predominate thought in my head during the press conference and one that has been with me all day since. Terry Pegula paid the ultimate tribute to the team’s tradition. He dug up the franchise’s cornerstone and held it up for all of us to see. This is Gilbert Perreault. He was a great player. He meant something to us, he meant a lot to us. As a Sabres fan isn’t there one player who brings that kind of emotion out of you? The Sabres are truly something only money can buy and money can sustain. But without fans a franchise dies. Without a soul, a franchise merely exists, it doesn’t live. Today Terry Pegula gave the Sabres’ franchise back its soul.


Gee, Did I Do That?

originally posted 2/3/2011

Today’s press conference with Tom Golisano, Larry Quinn and Dan Dipofi highlighted why the Golisano regime has driven many Sabres fans to new heights of frustrations. Tom Golisano opened the press conference with a rambling defense of the Sabres’ accomplishments during his ownership. To be certain there are many things that Golisano should and does take great pride in. As some may be aware, Golisano “saved” the Sabres. A fact that some are often very quick to point out…. often. Larry Quinn termed Golisano one of the great entrepreneurs in America and of that there is absolutely no doubt. Golisano purchased the bankrupt Sabres for pennies on the dollar and gave them instant financial credibility and most importantly credit. Golisano took a franchise that was on its death bed and revived it, breathed new life into it. As Quinn and Golisano pointed out today, Golisano took a risky investment, added value to it, ran it smartly from a financial perspective and is now reaping the rewards from the sale to Terry Pegula. Sabres fans understand that, they have thanked Golisano for it many times and it would be nice if we could remember the “white knight” (as Gary Bettman called him) as just that, the man who saved the franchise and handed it off to another owner completely dedicated to keeping the team in Buffalo. But Golisano’s legacy is muddied by failures, secrecy and fan frustration.

Remember that while Golisano saved the franchise, there would be no franchise if not for the fans and the Knox family. It is the passion of hockey fans in Western New York and Southern Ontario who create the possibility for the existence of the team. It’s the fans spending their hard earned money on overpriced merchandise and tickets that mask a clever price gouging scheme that can out price a fan’s ability to see the more attractive teams in the NHL. Golisano mentioned the fans’ passion and support but while people will point out there are some who don’t get enough credit for what happened during the Golisano era it’s worth noting that the top of that list should start with Sabres fans who are far more hockey savvy, loyal and dedicated than most fan bases in the NHL. And while we’re handing out thank you’s and pats on the back, it was kind of sad to hear the Knoxes mentioned only once. So thank you for that Dan Dipofi.

Was there closure today? No. Golisano’s rambling list of team accomplishments at times was on the money. Back to back conference final appearances is something few teams ever do and something he should justly be proud of. Golisano made several mentions that handing the players their president trophies was the proudest moment of his ownership. Of course he wasn’t so proud that he could retain the two key players who drove that team but more on that shortly. While a president’s trophy is nice, it is meaningless. So are division titles. So is win percentage. Golisano seemed overly defensive during the press conference, too quick to pull out absurd facts that hockey fans know don’t mean anything. Golisano wasn’t a hockey fan before he purchased the Sabres and today he really came off as someone who can appreciate the game but doesn’t seem to get it. He was bottom lining things, reading numbers and charts. Things he’s made over a billion dollars doing, and doing better than most people in the world (no exaggeration). But it’s not what a hockey person does. Tim Connolly will bring us sixty points. Great but he has led us nowhere. Mike Peca may not have gotten points but the man led a team. There are intangibles that fans laugh at and intangibles that actually mean something. And it’s that category of intangibles that hockey people get and non-hockey people don’t. It’s why winning percentage, division titles, etc. just don’t mean all that much.

When Drury and Briere were brought up the Sabres’ ruling triumvirate were visibly uncomfortable and defensive. Golisano defended not signing Drury and Briere as a value judgment. Golisano even went on to claim the Sabres made the right decision based on a statiscal analysis between the production of Briere and Drury the past three seasons and Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek. Of course this defense completely ignores the fact that the team that was led by Drury and Briere accomplished many of the things Golisano claimed as the team’s top accomplishments and delivered Golisano’s proudest moment in team history. Larry Quinn was quick to leap to Golisano’s defense citing that player transactions are two way streets. Indeed they are Mr. Quinn. No argument. Unfortunately both Briere and Drury indicated in 2007 they had agreed to stay and even agreed to terms with the Sabres. Drury said his agreement came early in the season and the Sabres never called him back. Briere told a similar story. Rumors have circulated that Golisano himself voided the deals and this gave rise to the infamous “he’s been handcuffed” defense of Darcy Regier’s incompetence over the seasons. When asked about the fans’ perception that Golisano took a President’s trophy team and basically ran them into the ground Golisano sarcastically replied “Gee, did I do that?”. When pressed Golisano claimed he made no decisions, he gave no direction to the team other than “running at or near break even”. When asked further if that mean it was Quinn and Regier who made bad hockey decisions Golisano claimed he didn’t say that and once more made the value judgment decision. If Golisano wasn’t canceling contracts wouldn’t that place the blame squarely on Regier and Quinn? And completely destroy the Regier is handcuffed defense?

So perhaps its fitting to make a value judgment on the Golisano era. The Sabres are better off without him. During his tenure the Sabres seem to recapture some of the duplicitious, secretive, poisoness atmosphere that existed in the late 1990’s as the Knoxes were getting out and feuds erupted off ice between Muckler, Nolan, Hasek, et. al. Under Golisano players who were absolutely crucial to the team’s success were cut loose while the team played victim and did their best to cast the players as the bad guys. In their place younger, cheaper players were kept and the team was shaped into a great impression of the 1980’s era teams (they also had their share of meaningless regular season titles and win percentage). The Sabres got lucky to some degree after the lockout. They had a roster that was pathetic before the lockout but tailored for it after thanks to a coach who was four steps ahead of the entire league. Then it was just pissed away over value judgments from poor hockey minds. This is something Golisano never seemed to appreciate. Sports isn’t about the bottom line. Regier has proven that assembling skill doesn’t work, it’s not how to build a hockey team. A hockey team needs hockey players and Golisano’s group didn’t seem to appreciate hockey players. They took the fans’ passion for the team as a constant knowing they could pretty much do what they wanted and we fans would still show up. We can’t help ourselves, we love this team. We breathe this team. We’re part of the team. We don’t brag and whine about driving two hundred times to see a game. True fans live to do things like that, we barely take note of it.

I wish today could have ended with a collective handshake and a “good luck to you”. But ownership’s actions and arrogance over the years just leave a bitter taste in the mouth. It’s time to turn the page. Terry Pegula seems to have all the traits Golisano lacks. He’s giving the fan base hope again. The Sabres and their fans are trading up. So thank you for that Tom Golisano. But it’s time for you to go.

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