“This isn’t what hockey is usually like.
Just so you know.”
– Me, to wife, circa 2005-06-07
“Whatever, babe, this is awesome. SKATE SOUPY WOOOOOOOO!”
Also saying “Woo.”
The first part of her response was directed at me, the second part at some moldy low def projection screen at a BW3’s in Jacksonville, Florida. There were Sabres fans everywhere, knocking back cheap tall glasses of Yuengling, getting louder and louder as they became emboldened by the buzz from the beer and the comaraderie.
The “new NHL” was romancing the fans with it’s new style of play – a near zero-tolerance on clutch and grab that let the undersized and speedier talents on the Blue and Gold surgically dissect their opponents on the fly. And it was glorious. Most nights, our group of 20-or-so Sabres fans actually wanted to fall behind.
Because they always came back in the 3rd.
But this was not the way hockey is usually like. I warned her.
She was doomed.
My wife embraced hockey after the lockout, just as we were embracing as newlyweds in our own right. The Dead Puck Era was a thing of the past (for a moment, at least). Hockey, and our lives, were in fast forward.
Fast forward to 7-1-07. We were now up in Buffalo, enjoying a family boathouse gathering by the lake. The boathouse rules were four: no TVs, no radios, no computers, no cell phones. But this was 7-1-07. About 5 minutes after noon, a giant expletive rippled across the otherwise still waters of the lake. Danny Briere was off to Philly. A few minutes later, Drury was gone, and a few of us were ready to put together a New York Rangers effigy for the bonfire later that night. But not my wife.
This is a scam. I’m not a chump. Screw hockey.
Within a span of 15 minutes, Tom Golisano had chased Danny and Chris out of Buffalo, and my wife away from hockey.
What’s worse, the presentation of the sport completely changed. Dead Puck was back – and there’s no way to lure someone back to the fold using a corpse.
It also didn’t help that the Sabres crumbled following the losses of Briere, Drury, and a host of other talented personalities form the roster. In 2007-08 and 2008-09, they missed the playoffs. 2009-10 and 2010-11, lost out in the first round. 2011-12, missed out again.
Here’s a few other things that didn’t help the cause:
- Jim Lorentz’s retirement in October of 2007.
- The Winter Classic – which was amazing – but was something she viewed as a massive publicity stunt for a dying team that was unwilling to instead spend it’s time and money on, well, players.
- The entire 2008-09 season.
- The sadly predictable elimination by Boston in 2009-10.
- The unfortunate story of Tim Kennedy in 2010-11.
- Terry Pegula.
“Terry Pegula,” you ask? “Hell yes,” she says, “I’ve never seen so much promotion around such a watered down product. It’s a joke. Good for Pegula, and for you diehard fans, but the team can’t win. And God, these games are boring.”
Hard to argue with her on that last point.
For diehard Sabres fans, we’ve indeed been witness to a slow culture change in Buffalo. The team is adding players of true captain quality, and without panicking, is slowly building itself up to be a good team now, and a hopeful contender later. I’m a pretty big fan of the focus of the Sabres brass, they’re definitely on the right path. But for all the promise – all the romance – that the Pegula Era has brought us, I still haven’t won her back.
Last week, I found her Afinogenov and Drury jerseys stuck in a pile of clothes to be donated to Goodwill.
Let’s face it: I’m powerless here. Despite the pull of Pegula and Co., the simple fact is she won’t invest herself into the sport again until the team starts winning games. Real games. (And no, the dramatic late season pushes of the past two seasons don’t count. If anything, they just made her shake her head more.)
Ruff needs to find a way to tell his players that it’s an 82 game season.
Full disclosure: I also miss the good old days. It has been hard to watch the Sabres stumble and fail on the ice. It was bad enough to live through Miller/Lucic, it was worse with her chuckling in the background behind her book whenever it was brought up on TV. Which was often.
I don’t think she’s coming back to hockey, folks. She’s just too smart, or pragmatic, to follow along a product that stabbed her in the brain – a product that really hasn’t done anything – on the ice – to ease the pain from that blow in five years.
Oh, you can call her a bandwagon fan all you want. But the simple fact is, she saw the Tom Golly product for what it was. And the bandwagon goes both ways. I’ve really, really enjoyed the pomp and circumstance that has gone along with the Terry Pegula bandwagon – but so far the T-Pegs era hasn’t been about winning games. Anything but.
Like I said, I miss the good old days. But I miss her more. Maybe someday she’ll come back to the broadcast, or bring her once booming voice back to the FNC, when both bandwagons no longer need to exist.
I’ll keep working on it. Meanwhile, get to winnin’, Blue and Gold. Get to winnin’.