My wife and I spent the weekend upstate in Buffalo, and while we were there, we saw the Sabres play the Boston Bruins. Besides a few Rangers games at Madison Square Garden, I’d never been to any NHL games that weren’t the New York Islanders playing at the Nassau Coliseum. And so it was like being in a parallel universe, watching two teams playing that I’ve never really followed.
Everything about the Sabres is pretty cool. They have cool jerseys, their arena is cool, and it was really cool that they could pack their entire arena on Saturday night. Because the Sabres are a pretty terrible team, and they got crushed by the Bruins. I say that not as knock, because I know what’s it like. I’ve been an Islanders fan my entire life, and, aside from this year’s impressive start, they’ve been pretty terrible for about as long as I can recall.
So it was cool that the fans showed up. But I couldn’t help but notice a lack of energy from the people in attendance. What I mean to say is, based purely on my experience of watching hockey games at the Coliseum, Islander fans have a way of cranking up the energy. The participation, at the beginning of every game anyway, is always nearly universal, people chanting “Let’s go Islanders,” and, “Rangers suck.”
And maybe it’s not fair, because the Sabres wound up losing four to nothing, so maybe they could have gotten excited. But people just kind of sat there. It was like they were expecting to get blown out right from the beginning. When the Bruins drew their first penalty, four ushers started waving these giant white Sabres flags from all corners of the arena in anticipation of the power play. As the stadium speaker system blasted the guitar riff from Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade,” I thought, OK, finally, maybe now we’ll see some excitement. But no, everybody just kept sitting there, not cheering. Maybe every now and then a dozen or so fans would join in the artificial “Lets Go Buffalo” suggested by the Jumbotron over center ice.
And then Boston started scoring goals. I never figured out what kind of a reaction a goal would draw from the home team, but there was actually a pretty decent wave of applause for every Boston goal. Boston is like six hours away. I have no idea how they got so many people to make the trip. The periods dragged on, whatever existed of Buffalo’s energy disappeared, and gradually that power-play-flag-waving Rage Against the Machine ceremony twisted into this sort of mocking joke.
Again, I’m not trying to dump on the Sabres. It’s really hard to get pumped up about a team that doesn’t do anything year after year. But I was expecting some of the obnoxious blind faith that I’ve seen at Islander games even toward the end of last year, when it was clear that there was no shot of them finishing above last place in the division. It was a fun night, and I’m happy I got to experience a game from a different market. But yeah, hopefully the Sabres pick up a little momentum or something. Because I kind of felt bad watching the stadium empty out after they announced the fifty-fifty at the middle of the third period.
Oh yeah, I used to think that the Islanders had a good fifty-fifty. But after participating in the fifty-fifty at Buffalo, I realize that I had no idea what I was talking about. Whereas the jackpot at the Coliseum might be a grand or two, Buffalo was able to collect thirty thousand dollars in fifty-fifty tickets. They had vendors walking around the aisle with little printers that spat out lottery-style tickets. We should do that, because it was awesome. In fact, for a while I was positive that I was going to win. I could just feel it. I didn’t win, but whatever, neither did the Sabres. I bet you a Boston fan won the fifty-fifty.