Both the NHL schedule-makers and Mother Nature lined up beautifully for me to get back to a Sabres game during the long Christmas Weekend as Buffalo took on the Islanders. Despite this being a “Gold” game, the 2nd highest tier out of 5 in Buffalo’s price structure system, I was able to score nice corner seats for half the price at $40. It’s been five years since the last time I made it to the First Niagara Center and it’s been rough watching the team hit rock-bottom with seemingly everything going wrong on the ice. As things looked dreadful to start this season (with one eye towards the prize of the 2015 NHL draft), the young kids have actually started playing with some heart and effort, turning in some nice results in the process. With Sam Reinhart a year away in Juniors, Zemgus Girgensons has been a stud, while others have looked good at times.
Walking to the arena, the landscape has certainly changed with the completion of the HarborCenter. While this blocks that nice view of the decent exterior sitting at the foot of Washington Street, this building is a huge deal for the city. With two rinks (including an 1800-seat one), a hotel and the massive restaurant 716 Food and Sport, this often-neglected section is better off. This is thanks to Terry Pegula, the region’s Knight in Shining Armour. God Bless this Man. As owner of the Sabres, he has made lots of great tweaks to the building since last I saw it in 2009, including the Alumni Plaza on the outside with a statue of the French Connection. Inside, Blue and Gold finally is the dominant color scheme.
After grabbing a Beef on Weck and snapping some updated photos, we settled in to our seats just as Doug Allen was ready to belt out the Anthem (The Finger-Point Guy!). I do love his rendition. Despite having a passionate following with often decent game turnouts (no matter the crapiness of the team), I was completely ready to blast our fan base in this space. Quite often, the atmosphere at FNC is dead and there is no energy in the building and this occurred even when the Sabres were fielding playoff teams several years ago. But on this night, the crowd was lively and even if maybe it was because lots of out-of-towners like me came back home and got to a game, it was great to see. Despite the energy, the “Let’s Go Buffalo” chants faded as the Islanders took a 3-0 lead thanks to a dismal and sloppy showing in the Second Period. In the 3rd, a Nicolas Deslauriers shot got thru and cut the lead to 3-1. Then shorthanded, Girgensons took a perfect pass and shielded the defender to put home a wrist shot that got the crowd really going with an extended ovation. With 8:09 left, Chris Stewart finished the comeback and the game was tied at 3. After an exciting overtime, about 80% of the building was full and the fans responded with a nice long ovation before the shootout, which the Sabres won. This was only the second time in franchise history that Buffalo came back to win from a three-goal deficit in the third period. It was an awesome night, something that I haven’t felt as a Sabres fan in quite awhile.