The Buffalo Sabres have won six out of their last seven and the fanbase has been whipped up into a frenzy.
There’s two sides in the frenzy, and they’ve dug their trenches. On one side of the battlefield are the “tankites” (not sure who minted that term, but it’s so cutesy that it is loathsome, which was probably the point). On the other side, we’ve got the contingent of fans that like to toss around novelty phrases such as “Real fans don’t choose to root against the team.”
Then, there’s a third group of fans kind of caught up in the middle. I count myself of one of these fans getting whipped up by the crossfire, because I am not cheering against the team, and I’m not rooting for a tank. What I want, and what I think all fans want, is long term sustainable success. I want, like all of you, for the team to play well.
Are wins fun? Heck yea. Is 6 wins in the last 7 games something to cheer about? Sure. It’s been fun. Is the team really playing well?
The comparisons between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are going to keep going all season long, and the debate over who should go first (McDavid) will also continue to be out there in its own lesser extent.
So far, the comparisons have brought nothing but great news to Sabres fans. And if you’ve been banking on tanking, the fun has really begun, as Eichel has now joined the McEichel Highlight Reel.
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Many of you certainly remember the strides and stickwork that Connor put on display at the FNC not so long ago:
Some good ideas up there from the distinguished Edward R. Murrow.
Meanwhile, the Internet is quickly filling up with articles bemoaning the Sabres’ tank job, which is now stretching woefully into its second season. It’s the greatest talent heist of all time to some, and it’s downright criminally loathsome to others.
We argue a lot over this team on the social medias. We berate the coach. We scratch our heads over line combinations, and what it might take to get this team to score again. Some people throw their arms up in surrender, and question “How is one guy gonna’ change this team, anyway?” Everything is in question.
So many questions, and so many arguing over the answers – sounds like we’re all pretty lost.
Meanwhile, my kid woke me up early this morning to tell me that there’s another game tonight.
It’s the kind of wake up call that all of us older fans need. Obviously, this team isn’t built to win this season. It’s likely not going to win for another year or three. Sure, a couple trades and UFA signings could accelerate the process after GMTM is awarded McEichel at season’s end – but it’s not all about us big kids anymore. This coming team, and the trophy that it will hopefully bring home, won’t be for us. Not so much as it will be for our kids.
Remember Old Downtown? The utter futility of it all. Main Street was deceased. There was a beautiful view of the “waterfront:” there were always some cool old ships down there that you could see as you over them on the Skyway. Things are changing. There’s a new courthouse in town. The Burchfield Penny Art Museum opened up, and the Albright Knox is expanding. People are taking exits off Rt. 5 on their way down to the Southtowns just so they can drive along all the new, beautiful parks. Canalside was built, and is thriving. More canals and more pedestrian bridges have been erected at the old Aud site, and they look gorgeous. Old grain elevators are now art installations, climbing destinations, and giant beer cans. An Explore and More chilren’s museum is on the way. I haven’t even mentioned HARBORCENTER yet: the only 3 rink NHL venue of its kind. Pegula mentioned plans to eventually build a new home for the Bills downtown – and I can’t wait to see what that advent brings to Buffalo after what we saw with the FNC and HARBORCENTER.
The downtown Buffalo that we had to grow up and endure is gone. It will never be known by our kids. What they will have is something vibrant, something dynamic, alive, and victorious.
Which brings me back to that hockey team we’ve been sweating about. The Sabres our kids will know are going to be a keckuva lot of fun. The system is loaded with prospects, and will add even more talent – McEichel aside – through their myriad of draft picks and the trades those can haul into town. We oldies have had some great times. The French Connection years, the magic of LaFontaine and Mogilny, 1999, and the heroic Drury and Briere teams. Since then, we’ve been mainly upset all of the time.
The Sabres have stressed patience to the fan base. Makes sense. But a huge chunk of the fan base doesn’t care about patience, the goal scoring, the coaching, or the losses. That’s the chunk that still wakes us up early to tell us there’s a hockey game tonight.
This new team is theirs, and I’m more than happy to pass it on to them. It only seems fitting, as they will also be growing up with that new downtown of theirs.
The new generation of Sabres fans doesn’t care about our suffering, and hopefully, it won’t ever have to endure what we’re going through right now. Once GMTM is done assembling his final roster, it will win and be pretty steadily competitive in the coming decades – the new downtown will ensure that more talent will actually want to play here. Imagine that.
So, I’ve made the choice to take a step back, and view this season in two ways:
1. We’re losing. Losing ugly. But that’s OK. This was the plan. Finishing in last is the end game goal. Finishing 5th last would be a disaster. Stay the course, give a cheer for the rooks, and breathe.
2. Try to watch the games through a kid’s eyes. Root and cheer and give up your worries. The victories aren’t here, but the talent is on its way, and the wins will follow soon enough.
All that being said, I need to log off and take a nap.
I hear there’s a big game tonight that I need to rest up for.
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):
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.
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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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.