MANNHEIM, GERMANY-- It was quite a day for the Sabres on their second day here in Germany. It began by a tremendous show of support from their fans, and ended with the team showing support for wounded troops.
It was quite a scene walking in at practice this morning. The second rink at the SAP Arena was packed with fans for the open workout. Among them, more than 100 fans from a Buffalo based AAA tour group.
They were loud before and during practice. After practice the team returned the favor by escorting each fan on to the ice and posing for a group picture. Immediately after they stayed on the ice and signed autographs.
New Owner Terry Pegula says he was moved by the show of support.
"Things aren't going well in the country these days. People...their budgets are a little tight... and for people to come over here and spend the money on this. It shows a great commitment."
Head Coach Lindy Ruff says he felt much the same way.
"It tells you a lot about our fans... for people to travel all this way and to give them a little bit extra, I think it's important."
38 members of that tour group were still making their way to Germany after their flight was delayed coming out of Philadelphia. They are expected to arrive in time for Tuesday night's exhibition game.
After practice, the team boarded a bus for the close to one-hour ride to Landstuhl, and a visit to the U.S. Military hospital at the Ramstein Air Base. The hospital takes in wounded service members from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There to greet the team upon its arrival was Major Dan Bridon from West Seneca.
"It's incredible. I grew up in Buffalo and watched the Sabres since I was a kid. I've followed them especially through deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Bridon, a 1992 graduate of Canisius High School and '96 graduate of Canisius College, is the Chief Information Officer at the Hospital.
Players and coaches broke up into groups, and were escorted through to speak to service members who were at various stages of recovery, and open to the visit.
Also during the tour, the team visited retired Air Force Tech Sergeant Steven Lee who is originally from Buffalo, leaving in 1977.
"I can't think of anything better, other than if we had the old Buffalo Bisons around."
Many of the players said it was a tremendously moving experience that enhanced their appreciation for the protection and sacrifice service members provide.
"It definitely gives you perspective on life... and I think it's good for our whole organization to show up."
Bridon says visits like this one make a difference.
"You know just going and giving some hats and signatures and autographs, that's one thing but, you know showing that they care about the troops, and the wounded warriors that have given so much for our country. That's really what matters the most."
Tuesday will be the team's final full day in the Mannheim/Heidelberg area. They will play an exhibition game Tuesday night against German Elite League team Adler Mannehim, and then depart for Helskini, Finland on Wednesday morning. They open the season Friday in Finland against the Anaheim Ducks.