The offseason is a time of reflection.
With that in mind, here is a cheery little tale of the old Aud, old time hockey, and Encil “Porky” Palmer.
Palmer, a longtime Sabres trainer (until his retirement in 1995), made a habit of situating himself behind the Zamboni door, near the opposition’s net in the first and third periods.
Whenever a puck would slide around the boards in that area, Palmer nonchalantly gave the door a stiff kick, often sending the puck ricocheting right out into the slot in front of an unsuspecting goalie.
Ex-goalie Greg Millen was burned by one of Porky’s ricochets. He was not pleased. (Millen played for Pittsburgh, Hartford, St. Louis, Quebec, Chicago, and Detroit, and is now the “colour” commentator for Leafs games.)
“I remember one night, he did it and the Sabres ended up scoring. I was so livid, I slammed my stick against the glass right by his ear. They had enough of a home-ice advantage, with the rink being smaller than normal. But that was too much.”
Previous to being the nemesis of netminders at the Aud, Porky played for the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL and the Syracuse Blazers of the EHL in 64-65 and 67-68.
His position? Goaltender.
Ah, the good ol’ days. I don’t think we will ever see that kind of mischief again, under the scrutiny of today’s world of HD television.
The 2010-2011 Buffalo Sabres season was something to behold, something truly unique. I’ve been a fan of the Sabres since I was a kid, but it really wasn’t until the early 90s that I understood the game and was a regular to watching the sport.
I’ve been watching ever since then, some years with less interest, some years with more. I’ve had some very down years where I’ve had other things happening and didn’t watch at all. Of course we had the Mogilny/Lafontaine era, then the Hasek playoff runs and Ted Nolan era, then the excitement of the post-lockout years and being good again after almost losing our team.
But even compared to all of that, there was something very special about this past season. I don’t think it was just that it was the most recent in my memory. We were way out of the playoffs in February, but the team started to gel. Then Pegula rode out of the mist on his steed like King Arthur coming to Camelot.
Don’t get all antsy: they aren’t taking nominations to put fans in the Hall.
At least not yet – anything is possible with Pegula.
In any event, the offseason fun has officially begun over at the HSBC. Sabres fans should be recovered enough from that Game Seven disaster to hop back onto Sabres.com and get their favorite alumnus into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame.
I hope you like our slogan.
We are very fond of it. We are also very fond of Terry Pegula, for what he has done for the Sabres franchise so early on in his ownership tenure. Of course, Terry has his own slogan.
“Winning is not a goal, it is a belief.”
It’s amazing, in retrospect, to understand how the Sabres got as far as they did this season. Once in 30th place, Buffalo posted a 16-4-4 record down the stretch – not only to solidify the playoffs, but to claim 7th place. That 16-4-4 record is from the beginning of the Pegula Era – from the beginning of the “belief.”
Mark that as Pegula’s first gift to the Sabres franchise.
Throughout that remarkable stretch, there would be plenty more to come:
- He decided not to dismantle the team he bought, instead, he bought into his team. Trading only to bring Brad Boyes in, his men responded by going 16-4-4 to improbably make the playoffs.
- He made the Sabres family whole again, when he invited all Sabres alumni back into the fold. Every one of those guys who spent time here have since gone back to their homes, and around the world, the message that they brought back was “Buffalo is the new destination.”
- He brought free programs.
- He fixed the plumbing at HSBC.
- He made the decision to remove a ill-attended museum, to utilize the space in the arena as it should be – for hockey.
- He allowed fans to choose game day tunes.
- He reunited the French Connection for one more time.
- He put Ted Black on a fan Internet chat for a NHL record 3 hours and 18 minutes.
- He followed his new team on the road, sitting in the cheap seats, so he could keep the magic run alive.
- He invested, and is investing, every penny towards a Cup, and nothing else.
- He challenged the Buffalo News for being unfairly and detrimentally negative.
- He brought a second screen in for the Party in the Plaza.
- He purchased a $20,000 carpet for the locker room.
- He provided fans with an amazing service for their beloved #7.
- He planted a flag at HSBC that read “Hockey Heaven.”
- He met fans in the lobby before games.
- He instilled a sense of hope in a franchise and a city that had been drowning under the heavy ice of Lake Erie for a decade.
And he did it all in 24 games. (And 7 unexpected bonus games.)
I apologize if I forgot some of the things he has done – as a Buffalo fan, none of us are accustomed to such largesses.
When it was all over, Pegula reached out to the fan base on the Sabres’ website:
Many fans have wept over the sting of that Game Seven loss that ended the magic ride. But every Sabres fan, be they of the youngest, newest generation – or from the re-welcomed alumni, all share the same new glow:
“Winning is not a goal. It is a belief.”
These 31 games were quite the preview. I can’t wait to see what happens next. If Pegula’s letter tells us anything, it says there is a lot of good coming our way.