I’ve been EXTREMELY lucky to have been offered some incredibly cool Sabres experiences in the last few weeks. Honestly, my head is still spinning, and the season has barely even started.
Yesterday, along with the traditional media and a bunch of other bloggers, I was invited to tour the new locker room facilities at the First Niagara Center. As luck would have it, my schedule was free on short notice and I was able to take the tour. While this was obviously an enticing offer from the onset, the experience wound up being so much more interesting than the initial email invitation indicated it might be. In the end, this opportunity was practically a dream-come-true for me, because we were allowed to literally wander around the locker room area, looking at whatever struck our fancy. As this INCREDIBLY LONG post will show, quite a bit about the locker room facilities ending up striking my fancy.
Basically, yesterday was a little like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for me. I got a golden ticket. (Sadly, if there are Oompa-Loompas in FNC, they’re keeping them well hidden.)
Looking good, F'NC! I took this photo as I was walking up to the arena for the tour. As you can see, there is a new outdoor ribbon board, and the old "HSBC ARENA" sign is gone, replaced by... a single "R". I'm assuming the workers who are installing a new "First Niagara Center" sign were rained out yesterday, but personally I think the "R" is whimsical and fun. I think they should leave it like this!
Before I get too far into the description of the arena, I feel compelled to admit that I was pretty intimidated by the idea of joining what I figured would be a well attended media event. I’ve always worn the label “fan blogger” with pride, but that doesn’t mean I feel totally comfortable waltzing into a room full of journalists all, “HEY Y’ALL! NICE TO MEET YOU. I’M A FAN BLOGGER.” When I first arrived at the arena, things actually were a little awkward. Instructed to head to the media room, I didn’t know where to go, and I wandered around a little aimlessly for awhile before walking into a room full of all the Buffalo sports media types. It was weird, and I can’t lie, a little scary.
But then it quickly became apparent that the people who didn’t know me (most people) weren’t going to pay much attention to me, and the guys who did already know me were going to be their usual nice selves. A sincere thanks to Andrew, Jeremy, and Mike for helping to ease me into the world of media access by being friendly and welcoming.
After a few comments from Ted Black, the tour was turned over to Stan Makowski, Jr. (the Sabres VP of Arena Operations) and
Frank Cravotta (Sabres Director of Creative Services), who, from what I gathered, were the two guys most responsible for executing the locker room plans. They were both excellent guides, but the thing that really pinged my attention at this point was the news that after the guided tour, we were going to get to “wander around, check the place out, and stay as long as we like.” THIS, was extremely interesting and welcome news. I’d been anticipating a very controlled tour through the locker rooms, and the news that I’d be welcome to poke around was music to my ears.
The first thing we saw was Lindy’s office, which sadly, I didn’t take a picture of. (I was still trying to get my sea legs with the “media hoard” scene, and I wasn’t sure about taking pictures with my phone. It took me about 2 more minutes before I started taking pictures of EVERYTHING.) Lindy’s office is behind glass, visible from the hallway, and apparently all the players have to walk past him to get into work. Harsh, Lindy.
After Lindy’s office, you enter the player’s lounge.
The Player’s Lounge:
This is a terrible picture, but you get the idea. This is the view of the player's lounge from behind the bar. This room has lots of comfortable looking furniture and a cozy fireplace. I was trying to describe this room to a BPO coworker, and I said, "Imagine they took our break room, and totally swankified it to the degree that you never wanted to leave."
Lots of bowls of healthy snacks, and fancy single-serving coffee makers, and a slick-looking bar. If I'd had more time (and more privacy) I would've gone back behind the bar, opened all the drawers, and seriously investigated what's in a "Sabres" kitchen. For example, I feel a little ashamed that I don't know what kind of knives are in that knife block behind the bar. In retrospect, this seems like important information.
This table was a little suspicious to me. Do they honestly have a tray of cookies available to the Sabres at all times? Cookies are delicious, and young men (in my experience) certainly enjoy them, but they're not a very healthy snack. I suspect these cookies are a prop, put there to inspire jealousy in the journalists. Note that the cookie tray is FULL. No Sabres have sampled those cookies.
Here's where the Sabres can send some emails if, for some reason, their phones/ipads/laptops are all broken. I like this feature a lot, mostly for sentimental reasons. It reminds me of the computer labs at college. I like the idea of Ryan Miller sending sappy emails to his lady love from these computers, because, if I recall, that's all anyone ever writes from computer lab computers. "Dear Noreen, today was a good day at practice. I doubt we'll ever lose again. But, I miss you terribly..."
The Video Room
This is an absurdly bad photo, but this is the video screening room. It's basically a small movie theater where the Sabres can go to study their opponents and also get yelled at about what they did wrong the night before. I like these little desks, where I imagine Lindy will occasionally make them sit and write, "I will not try to get too fancy in front of the home crowd" a hundred times in a row.
Here's another area for plotting and studying. I love those dry erase boards. One of my favorite jokes during a game is to talk in my Lindy voice during a timeout. "Okay. What I want you to do is skate down to the net, and shoot the puck INTO their net. Does everyone understand the plan?" I imagine a lot of those schemes will be planned in this little room.
The Dressing Room
This is the area that we’ll see a lot of on television. It’s round, and opulent, and it’s dimly lit in a way that makes everyone look attractive. In the center is a large Sabres light fixture and directly below that is a light box in the floor with the Sabres logo. This is no mere “carpet logo”. You’d have to be pretty spectacularly unaware of your surroundings to step on this logo.
After the tour was over, during the time when we were invited to wander around and look at whatever we liked, I caught a few moments alone in this room, and I gotta say, it was pretty awe-inspiring. This area is really, REALLY well done, and standing there alone, surrounded by the stalls, I wanted to pledge my allegiance to the Sabres, forever, and ever.
This picture doesn't really do justice to the light box in the floor. One neat feature of the light box is that it's removable, meaning, the image can be swapped out depending on the occasion or situation. For example, if the Sabres are in the playoffs, they might put the number of wins necessary to win the Stanley Cup in the light box. To honor Rick Martin, they would've put a "7" in the light box. This is a very artful and cool feature of the locker room
The pictures above the stalls do not correspond with the individual lockers, mostly because the players move their stalls around a lot. All of the photos in this room are of current Sabres. There is a lot of Sabres history represented in the hallway leading to the ice, but the dressing room belongs entirely to the current Sabres.
Here's Vanek's stall. It's worth mentioning that while we were in there, the dressing room was at LEAST 45,000 degrees. This is because they were "drying the equipment". The whole extreme-heat-thing was explained, but honestly, I wasn't paying very close attention because I was too busy trying to surreptitiously snoop in the stalls. Something about the heat being forced over the equipment, and state-of-the-art technology, and blah blah blah... Some of the more seasoned sports journalists in the room commented that it doesn't stink in there... yet.
Every stall has one of these cool looking pouches. I don't know what that Sabres keep in those pouches, but if I had one of those, that's where I'd keep my most prized keepsakes and trinkets. I covet these Sabres pouches. I covet them HARD. (Also, if I hadn't been afraid I'd be thrown out for excessive nosiness, I'd have opened up one of the hatches in the bench.)
Those are Crunchy's pads in the front of the photo, and Enroth's in the back. They were just laying there on the floor in front of the stalls. I resisted the urge to try the pads on.
I think these skate hooks above the stalls are kind of nifty. I also like how their little blade cozies have their jersey numbers on them.
This might be a decent time to mention that I don’t think I touched a single thing the entire time I was in the arena. Like, I literally don’t think I touched anything. Later, I thought about why this was, and I have two explanations: 1. I guess I’m a little superstitious. I mean, why risk jinxing the whole place by running my grubby hands over everything? Better to be safe than sorry. 2. I sort of felt like I was in a Sabres-themed museum. You don’t walk into the Albright Knox and touch the art, so why would I touch the stuff in the Sabres museum?
In the end, it just felt more respectful to their space to keep my hands to myself, but still, it’s kind of funny that I don’t think I left a single fingerprint in the hour and a half I spent at the arena.
The laundry room is where I realized that this would be no ordinary “locker room tour.” This was where it really sunk in that the Sabres were basically being all, “Hey, come on in, Katebits! Look at whatever you’d like.” For as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve been joking about trying to get an interview with the folks that do the Sabres laundry. I want to know everything there is to know about jersey maintenance.
One of the only things I asked Vanek and Ehrhoff in the limo was if they feel any sort of attachment to specific jerseys, or if they’d prefer a fresh new jersey every day. (Disappointingly, they both answered that they could not care less. I believe Vanek’s actual words were, “As long as it doesn’t stink, I’ll wear it.”)
So, the laundry room held a bit of mystic for me, if only because it represented a very-modest-dream realized.
Look! It's a stack of freshly laundered Sabres' socks!
Stacks of towels!
I don't know what this thing is, but it was in the laundry room, and I took a picture of it. It seems to be a little suitcase-type thing with a bunch of pouches. Stain stick organizer? Special detergents for the guys with allergies? Who knows.
Behind those people is a RACK OF JERSEYS! I KNOW. Try to contain your excitement. You don't want to look like a total goober in front of the journalists, do you?
The Medical Area
The Sabres have a little mini-hospital at the rink.
Here's where the Sabres hang out getting fixed up if they get injured during a game. There are three (maybe four?) tables like this. It kind of gives me the willies to imagine the Sabres hospital all filled up with injured Sabres.
Across from the medical tables is this medical station full of gauze, and Alka-Seltzer, and Tylenol. You can't see it in this picture, but on top of the cupboards are little medical models of spines and other hockey-related body bits.
I have no idea what this is. It's a whirlpool, but it's too tiny for a Sabre. If a Sabre were to climb into this thing, he'd only be covered up to his thighs. (Exception: Gerbe might be waist-high.)
Here's a stack of weird Sabres towels that were next to the weird tiny whirlpool in the medical area. These towels sort reminded me of the blankets they put over you when you get x-rays at the dentist, but they're clearly too small and fluffy for that job. These are mystery towels.
The medical area was full of oddities. This is a bin full of soapy water, and in it is a strange-looking rack. What's up with this?
The Bathroom/Locker Room
This is room is adjacent to the bathrooms and showers. This area contains actual lockable lockers and a place for the Sabres to change out of their street clothes and into their Sabre-y stuff. I wish I'd taken more pictures of this area, but unfortunately I was distracted by the rows of toiletries on the counters by the sinks. Katebits: "Who cares about mega-fancy new lockers! There are bottles of Listerine and Lubriderm over here!"
Here are various team-provided products that the Sabres use to keep themselves sweet-smelling and their skin satiny-soft. Also, someone's hairbrush. Right behind these sinks are the toilets and urinals, which I briefly considered photographing but decided against in the interest of "acting like I've been there before."
The Sabres had, not one, but TWO, giant bottles of Listerine in the bathroom. I guess good breath and the prevention of gingivitis is an important team priority.
Here's the Sabres shower.
The workout room is long and decorated by this cool astroturf carpet. You can't see it well in this photo, but there's a logo in the middle of this carpet. There was some discussion among the journalists about whether they were allowed to step on THAT logo. Personally, I don't understand the confusion about this issue. The rules are simple, guys. Play it safe, don't step on ANY logos, and Goose won't yell at you. It's easy!
Here are some balance balls and various stretchy exercise-y things.
At the end of the astroturf carpet are a couple of small rooms and offices, and in one of the rooms is this. It's a Bod Pod. I didn't get the details on this contraption, but I think it's some sort of horrible body fat calculator. I'm inherently afraid of the Bod Pod because, first of all, it's a crazy looking POD and if science fiction movies have taught me anything it's, "steer clear of pods," and second of all, I have noooooo interest in an ultra-accurate body fat measurement. When I look at this photo, I can easily picture the faces of various unhappy Sabres, forlornly looking out of the Bod Pod window, hands pressed to the glass in despair. Poor Sabres!
The gym has two fleets of bikes. The white bikes...
...and the black bikes. I'd like to think that one set of bikes is somehow more difficult and torturous than the other. Lindy: "DEREK, YOU WERE TOO SLOW TO THE BENCH AFTER YOUR SHIFTS TODAY. GET YOUR BUTT ON THE BIKE."" Roy-Z: (sheepishly) "Black bike?" Lindy: "NO. WHITE BIKE." Roy-Z: (cries)
Back behind all the bikes is a bunch of weight-lifting equipment that I didn't photograph for some reason. In the middle of the weight area, were these two boxes, one of which has the old red "B" on it. I took this photo because it was literally the only thing in the entire place where I noticed an old logo. The "B" with the sword through it is still alive and well in the locker room (all of the other B's I saw were gold), but I seriously don't think I saw a slug the entire time I was there. F'NC really HAS been de-slugged.
Here's a pull-y arm machine. I think this is where Staffy does his hissing cat exercises.
I don't know what a "stabilizer" is, but the Sabres have one.
The Visitor’s Locker Room
The Visitor’s locker room is predictably less awesome than the Sabres locker room. It’s long, rectangular, and utilitarian. While I was in the visitor’s locker room Paul Hamilton mentioned that he’s always thought that you should make the visitors as comfortable as possible. Give them comfy chairs and keep the room just a liiiiittle too warm. I have to say, I agree with Paul on this one. Do what you can to make the visitors sleepy, that’s what I say. Hell, give them fluffy cots to lay down on between periods and pipe in meditational music.
Apparently, the Sabres take an opposite philosophy: provide the visitors with exactly what they need, and not much more.
If the visitor's locker room could talk, it would say, "Visitors, you guys are lame, and the Sabres are going to win this game."
If the visitor's shower could talk it would say, "Visitors, you guys are lame, and now you're about to take a tepid, unpleasant shower."
This was one of the funnest things I saw all day. It's a dry erase board! With the names of Leafs on it! And Sabres power play units! One of the reasons I love this dry erase board is because I found it in a closet-like room in the visitor's area. (I can't TELL you how fun it was to wander around the bowels of the arena, opening whatever door I thought I could safely get away with opening.) I also love this dry erase board because it's just so behind-the-scene-y. After Heather B. saw this photo she wanted to know if I'd asked anyone whose handwriting this is. I didn't ask about that, but I think this demonstrates well why Heather and I are BFFS.
Here's the visitor's bench.
My Seriously Inept Attempt at Documenting the Artistic Touches Designed to Honor the History of the Franchise and Inspire the Current Sabres
I did a COMICALLY BAD job of documenting the hallways of the new locker room facilities at First Niagara Center. There are two areas of really neat artwork that the Sabres will walk by every single workday. One is the wall of names and retired numbers, and the other is a wall of pucks, which commemorate important events in Sabres history. Here’s the only picture I took of ALL of that.
There is a spot for the Stanley Cup on this very cool wall.
My excuse for not spending more time on these genuinely SPECTACULAR features is that I figured the professional media outlets would cover these features well. If I was invited on the media tour for a “reason” it wasn’t to mimic The Buffalo News (poorly), it was to find the dry erase boards and other assorted arena oddities that Harrington or Vogl might not be inclined to fuss over. Also, during the period of time when the tour group was looking at the hallways, I took the opportunity to slip back into the locker room and steal a few minutes alone, soaking up the vibe in there. That is a memory from the day that I’ll cherish for a long time.
However, I really wish that I’d had enough time to really take a long, long look at these artful hallways. After the guided part of the tour was over, the Sabres graciously said, “Stay as long as you’d like,” but since I knew they didn’t really mean that (especially since “as long as I’d like” actually equaled, “Can I sleep over? Those lounge couches look pretty comfortable, and I see you have plenty of snacks to tide me over for dinner”), I knew I had to strategically pick my spots. If I ever have another opportunity to walk through the locker rooms, the first thing I’m going to do is head towards those hallways, and read every single name, and every single word.
Tool, Sticks, and other Equipment-type stuff!
Seeing things like racks of sticks and skate sharpeners was by FAR my favorite part of the tour. I desperately wanted to pick up all the little tools, and open all the drawers of assorted hockey-related knick-knacks. I’m not sure why these things hold such interest for me, but they do.
I might not have taken any photographs of the gorgeous hallways, but I DID take about 45 pictures of these drying racks for skates and gloves.
It looks like something from a nightmare.
All of the tools are shiny new and red.
Here's some stuff for fixing other stuff.
I really like this. Small cubbys full of skate blades.
Along with the dry erase board, this was my other favorite find from the day. It's where they keep the skate laces! THIS IS IMPORTANT SABRES INFORMATION, YOU GUYS!
Sticks! And lots of them! Like I said earlier, I don't think I touched a single thing while I was in the arena, but this was DEFINITELY the hardest place to keep my hands to myself.
For some reason I think it's cute that someone has used a Sharpie to change the number on Regehr's sticks.
So, 3900 words later, we have FINALLY reached the end of my tour of the Sabres tour. If you’d like to read more about the locker room and look at photos much, much better than the ones I took with my phone, I recommend going here.
A heartfelt thanks to the Sabres for inviting me to this event and for being so welcoming while I was there. It was an incredibly fun afternoon. And, of course, thanks to the Pegulas for buying the Sabres, being generally awesome, and building a new locker room for us to tour.
Let’s go Buff-a-lo!