Archive for October, 2014:

An Open Letter to the Buffalo Sabres, Part V

Hello again, guys.

Remember that first letter I sent you in February of 2012? No? Oh. Well, most of you were traded away since then. So, for all the new guys donning the blue and gold, here’s a tip I sent  before (and before, and that other time before, and then most recently):

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Slapshot, and the North Tonawanda Norsemen


Here’s something that you probably don’t have in your jersey drawer.

It’s also something you’re going to want to add.

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The history of the Buffalo Norsemen is brief, but awesome. The team played in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) during the 1975–76 season. There were a few notable names on the roster, such as player/coach Bison Guy Trottier. Their rival was the Johnstown Jets.

If the terms “player/coach” and “Johnstown Jets” ring a bell, well they should. A playoff game between the two clubs was the inspiration behind the iconic movie, Slapshot.

Norsemen logo

He’s adorable. Not sure why he’s chained up though.

So what happened to inspire the film?

The Norsemen entered the NAHL playoffs two weeks later despite a losing record for the season.  They faced the Johnstown (PA) Jets in the quarterfinal round.  During an early game in the series in Buffalo, a black player on the Jets roster was subjected to racist taunts and signs by the Norsemen fans.*

When the series moved to Johnstown, Jets players retaliated by instigating a full-fledged brawl during the pre-game skate around.  The melee sent Norsemen players Greg Neeld and Charlie Labelle off to the hospital.  After the fight subsided, the Norsemen retreated to their locker room at the Cambria County War Memorial and refused to come back on the ice.  NAHL officials handed the Jets a victory by forfeit…which also gave them the series victory and eliminated the Norsemen from the playoffs!  The incident inspired a pre-game brawl scene in the classic hockey movie Slap Shot, released the following year and based largely on the Johnstown Jets.

“Naturally we took the team off the ice,” Norsemen General Manager Willie Marshall told the press at the time.  “We had two players who couldn’t play.  They beat up a couple of our stars…Hockey is secondary in this league.  I hate to say I’m a part of this league.  The people running the league have lost all touch with reality.  We’re here to develop young hockey players, not goons.”

The Norsemen never played another game.  The club folded following the season.  The Jets went on to win the league championship.

*Allegedly. I haven’t been able to turn up any more on this side of the story, which is not surprising due to the age and lack of resources on this lost hockey lore.

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Norsemen Puck


Dave Hanson described the connection for ESPN’s now defunct “Page 2:”

In reel life: The Chiefs start a fight with an opponent during pregame warmups, and in the championship game the Syracuse Chiefs forfeit after a fight and Ned’s striptease, giving the Chiefs the victory and the championship.

In real life: According to Dave Hanson, the Jets brawled against the Buffalo Norsemen before a playoff game started, when no refs were on the ice. “They (the Norsemen) skated off the ice and went into the locker room and refused to come out to play the game, and we won the playoff series by forfeit,” said Hanson.

We’ve had some pretty ridiculous things happen to our teams in Buffalo, but this underappreciated event might be the best of the worst.

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HARBORCENTER Fest: Thanks, Pegulas

This whole experience was fantastic. The rides, the tastes, the smells – and it was all free.

Well, we did pony up three bucks for parking.

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This was a glorious day.

It didn’t even have a sports feel (at least early, when we were there) – there are big games scheduled for tonight and especially for tomorrow – but this was game-free. Worry-free.

Just a bunch of kids, running from station to station, wondering when the fun will end. Followed in hand by a bunch of parents, wondering where this fun even came from, and please, let’s keep on rolling. Bounce houses, rides, you name it. All free.

Thank you HARBORCENTER, and the Pegulas, of course. The fun continues until Monday. Enjoy.

Go Sabres.

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Getting Unstuck.


Get ready: the 2014-15 regular season is about to begin.

For the Sabres, the players have been selected, the captains have finally been named, and the playoffs are the goal. The Sabres’ playoff odds as seen from the rest of the hockey world? Well, c’mon.

We’re going to lose a lot of games.

A lot.

Here’s the problem: while we will be joyous for the draft odds, at the same time, we will be miserable. We will want a losing team to secure one of McDavid or Eichel in the upcoming draft, but we’re going to want to have fun, to be loud, to get wins, at least at home. We’re going to want to be entertained.

Losing sucks.

And what is home these days, exactly? The Pegulas bought this team with a singular goal to win the Cup(s). A locker room was built. A Cup-board was built. Hope was established, and for the first time in perhaps the history of the franchise, it was real. HARBORCENTER began construction. Meanwhile, the team on ice failed, and it was painfully, piece by piece, dealt away. Doubt took its familiar root in our souls, and the FNC turned solemn and quiet.

Because losing sucks.

We’ve been focusing on that initial instant-Cup-delivery failure (if it’s truly fair to call it a failure, which it’s not), and then putting so much more focus on hope for yet another even more horrendous season in order to draft a generational savior. With all that on our minds, we may forget that it’s OK to root for the guys on the ice this year.

Don’t root against them. Don’t get ahead of yourselves, Buffalo. Don’t boo. Don’t stay quiet.

We’re going to lose – a lot – but it doesn’t have to suck. It’s time to get up and herald what we have, and what is coming.

Cheering is awesome.

Cheer for the guys who came here to help lead our youth. Cheer for those kids, trying not to make a mistake in front of you. Trying to win a game. Cheer for that win. You can chose instead to sit, cross-armed and silent, maybe a little belligerent about how former and/or current ownership put a stink in your arena beer. That’s a stubborn choice, but I get where you’re coming from, if you choose to stick with it. We’ve been stuck for a while. Blame the GM, the Rigases, the city, the Ruff Era, Danny and Chris, the “enigmas,” or even blame the fax machine. But after all that blaming, we’re still stuck in this together.

Eventually it’s going to be up to each and every one of you to unstick yourself from your seat, and give a cheer. Make as much noise as you dang well please. It won’t make a difference, really, in the final score. We’re going to lose – a lot – but it doesn’t have to suck. It’s time to get up and herald what we have, and what is coming.

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Help me help you.

The Cup-board is empty, but the incoming prospects can very well change that. Let’s help give them a rousing start this season, through all the peaks (and mostly) valleys.

Let’s have some fun. Let’s get unstuck.

And, of course, a big ol’ get well soon to our beloved Buffalo legend, Rick Jeanneret – the man who always can find a way to make everything feel fantastic. As he has said many times: “PLENTY MORE COMIN’ UP IN A MOMENT!” Perfect advice, really, for fans of a young team just about ready to explode.

Go Sabres.

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