Posts Tagged ‘Press Conference’

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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