BUFFALO, N.Y. — On one nondescript Saturday afternoon in mid-August, KeyBank Arena came alive with the buzz of a hockey crowd. Not for a game, but instead, Sabres Fan Fest took over an arena floor noticeably still absent a sheet of ice.
Mementos of the past lingered everywhere, new coach Ralph Krueger was giving tours of the locker room, and former and current players were on hand to talk about the connection to the team and city that binds them all together.
“They said the fans were waiting for a hockey team for so many years in Buffalo, and I was not surprised when the first game the fans were unbelievable," the team's first ever draft pick, Gilbert Perreault, reminisced. "They were great fans all the years we were here. To hear fans saying, 'Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!' after the series in ’73, it was unbelievable.”
Winger Rene Robert scored 222 goals in his Sabres career, most of is spent riding alongside Perreault on Sabres' famed French Connection line in the 1970's.
“I always knew that the city of Buffalo was a good place for hockey, because when they had a team in the American league, the Bisons, they packed this place up, and I played in the American league for Rochester and came here and played a few games, and I always said that the day that this city gets a franchise in the NHL, it will be one of the best in the league," Robert said.
“Considering what they’ve gone through for 49 years now, not having won a championship, coming close a few times, the support that they keep getting year in and year out from the fans is just unbelievable.”
Mike Ramsey came to Buffalo following the Miracle on Ice with the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team in 1980.
“A lot of great memories. Some sad memories. Sad the we never brought a Stanley Cup home here. It’s fun. It’s fun to see the guys last night. See Larry and Foligno and Gilbert and Danny Gare. It’s fun to see the guys,” Ramsey said.
J.P. Dumont scored 21 points in 31 playoff games with the Sabres, and he was an integral part of the Conference Finals team in 2006-2006.
“For me, what I remember the most is going to Carolina when we were at the hotel, and jumping on the bus to get to the rink, and when we got to the rink, looking at the parking lot, and it’s just crowded with Sabres fans partying. And it was just like, 'Holy cow, guys,' because it was amazing,” Dumont said.
Buffalo native Patrick Kaleta spent parts of nine years with the Sabres, with the distinction of having played for the team he grew up rooting for.
“To me, a big part of my career and my life was being able to put on that crest and that sweater. From being drafted all the way to now working for the team, being a Buffalo Sabre means more to me than almost everything in the world,” he said.
Kaleta collected 542 penalty minutes in 348 career games, all with the Sabres.
Jeff Skinner scored 40 goals in his first year with the club. He signed an eight-year extension over the summer.
“It shows how much the team means to the community and looking back on the memories that people have and how it’s impacted their lives. It adds a little special element to it,” Skinner said.
“You feel the history of course," added Krueger, the 19th head coach in team history. "Knowing we’re the 13th-oldest team in the National Hockey League is something to be proud about. I think it adds some spice to the season. It adds a little something special.”
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