I had the great pleasure of attending the game on Sunday with my friends Laura, Nate, and their adorable toddler, Lucas. We sat at one of those little tables in the Harbor Club. We had table service all evening, and Lucas had a little extra space to wiggle around. The value of these perks canNOT be overstated. I think everyone in our party agreed that sitting at a table for a game is AWESOME. What you lose in proletarian camaraderie by not sitting with the riff-raff, you MORE than get back in chicken fingers and ice cream sundaes delivered to your seats.
What I’m trying to say is if you are a single man between the ages of 30-45, and you have seats in this section of the arena, you should be my boyfriend. Actually, let’s expand the age range to 25-60. These are special seats. Ah, what the hell, you only live once… If you are a man OR a woman between the ages of 18-100, and you have seats in this section of the arena, call me. You won’t be sorry.
I don’t very often do recaps of my experience at the arena anymore, but I feel compelled to write a few words about this particular afternoon, not just because I was sitting in fancy seats, but also because the atmosphere in the arena has been great recently. It’s really difficult to quantify the change in attitude, but there’s no doubt it’s there. The team has been playing very well, and the fanbase has been invigorated by the ownership change, and you can feel it in the arena.
This particular game was obviously out of the ordinary for two big reasons- 1. It was, in many ways, the first home game of the new ownership. This was the first chance for Pegula and his team to really put their stamp on the game day experience. And 2. The Sabres community was still reeling from the news of Rick Martin’s passing.
The news of Martin’s death was handled beautifully by the Sabres organization. Rick Jeanneret’s recorded message was simple and elegant, and the moment of silence had weight. It wasn’t just a perfunctory gesture to mark the occasion. I was impressed, top to bottom, with how, in an extremely short amount of time, the Sabres staff handled the situation.
The game day experience was slightly different in a couple of other ways too.
Everyone got a free program when they came in the door. I think this is an extremely nice (if not very environmentally friendly) gesture. The program is very glossy and I enjoyed flipping through it. I probably won’t take one for every game that I attend, but I do think it makes a nice souvenir for the fans (especially kids) who don’t come to many games. I always try to stay cognizant of just how expensive it is for a family to attend a hockey game. I come from fairly modest means myself, and while I was fortunate to get to go to a lot of Minnesota Twins games as a kid, we always did it on the cheap. We sat in the cheap seats, and we kids knew not to even bother asking for souvenirs. So, when I see a nice glossy program, with pictures of all the Sabres and all the Sens, it’s very easy to imagine my 9-year-old self treating it as a treasure. I think I would’ve happily poured over that program as a kid. Anything that the Sabres can do to make it easier and more fun for families to take their kids to a game, is a great idea in my book. Not every kid who goes to a Sabres game gets the jerseys and the foam paws and all the bells and whistles, but every kid gets a fun, colorful program. It’s nice.
There were a bunch of minor tweeks to the in-game presentation, and I won’t bother listing them all here, but overall I REALLY appreciate that Pegula’s team is freshening up the arena experience. I’m not one to complain about specific songs, or pregame videos, but I’d love to see a little more variety at the games. It’s interesting to me to think about this aspect of Sabres production. I seriously doubt that the Sabres staff was working under the directive to “be boring” with Golisano and Quinn, but it’s cool to see how much a breath of fresh air can make a difference. It’s possible that the Ted Black and Pegula have already expanded the budget for game-day production, but most of what I noticed in terms of change seemed primarily a product of a new burst of creativity. If nothing else, the arena staff seems creatively invigorated and that makes me so so so so so happy. I’ve often thought that in-game arena production, in the right hands, could be something akin to a REALLY awesome blog, just bursting with energy and genuine enthusiasm for the product. If creativity is given free rein at HSBC Arena, I don’t see any reason why the game experience can’t continue to get more vibrant, funnier, and more exciting. Presenting the games well is SUCH a good way of growing enthusiasm for the Sabres.
I do want to take the time to RAVE about one thing: after every goal, when they played the replay on the jumbotron they piped in RJ’s call along with the video. I cannot tell you how much I loved this. It felt like I got to celebrate every goal twice; once when the Sabres scored it, and then 30 seconds later when I heard Jeanneret call it. That second burst of energy that I got hearing RJ screech, “HE SCOOOOOoooOOOOoooRES!” just ramped up the happiness SO MUCH. I absolutely LOVED it, and I REALLY hope the Sabres keep doing this. (And just as an aside, I love the idea that the players hear RJ’s call too. I’ve often wondered if the players have a real sense of how RJ calls the game. They’re on the ice, afterall, while Rick’s working. I’m sure they’ve heard the odd call here or there as a soundtrack to their specific highlights, but I doubt they really have a feel for Rick Jeanneret. For some reason, I just love the idea that someday Chris Butler might hear RJ squawk, “THE BUTLER DID IT!” while he’s celebrating a goal on the ice. Rick Jeanneret means so much to us fans, and I’d love it if his voice become part of the memories that players take away from their goal celebrations. I dunno, maybe I’m over romanticizing it, but really, I want players like Thomas Vanek to unconsciously associate their biggest on-ice triumphs with the sound of Rick Jeanneret’s voice. It just seems right.)
I guess that’s all! I had SUCH a wonderful time at the game on Sunday. I love Laura and Nate and Lucas, and I love the Sabres. I won’t be at the game tonight, but sure wish I could be.
This is a special time to be a Sabres fan. The changes we’re seeing, the responsiveness we’re getting to our suggestions, it all just makes me feel great about rooting for this team.