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The Sabres – A Work of Art

Although residents of Buffalo are proud of their city being one of America’s big hockey towns, it’s still rare to see visitors at an art gallery dressed in any kind of hockey apparel.

But from November of 2010 through early January 2011, that became a regular sight at the Albright Knox Art Gallery on Elmwood Avenue as it hosted Forty: The Sabres in the NHL, an exhibit which celebrated the Buffalo Sabres franchise’s 40th anniversary.

From November 7th of last year to January 9th of 2011, hockey fans were able to see to a magnificent showcase of the rich history behind the Buffalo Sabres, which has now spanned four decades with this current season under way. Over 200 incredible images taken by famed photographers Ron Moscati, Robert Shaver, and Bill Wippert were on display throughout multiple halls of the Gallery’s second floor.

There were more than enough photos that could take a life-long fan way down memory lane, featuring plenty of the “French Connection” -Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault, and Rene Robert- as well as other fan favorites of the early days including Danny Gare, Don Luce and Roger Crozier.

There was even one particularly interesting headshot of a young Lindy Ruff, sans-moustache, which had many younger fans bewildered at first glance.

“The exhibit took me down memory lane and gave me goosebumps,” said Josiah LeRoy of Cheektowaga, “Seeing the French Connection in action, Rob Ray punch the life out of an enforcer’s face, and The Dominator [Dominik Hasek] use his slinky-like spine were just a few of the highlights.”

For all of the pictures taken amongst the yellow seats of the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, the exhibit was more than able to captivate fans born in the 90s and 2000s. Few could suppress a chuckle at the sight of Rob Ray ready to challenge the entire Philadelphia Flyers bench after a fight, or Martin Biron squaring off with Ray Emery during the infamous brawl with the Ottawa Senators, and even fewer could help but smile warmly after seeing shots of the Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“We tried to represent the four decades of hockey and we were careful to include a balance of black and white and color images,” explained Louis Grachos, Director of the Albright Knox Art Gallery, “It was also an opportunity to illustrate how photography has evolved in presenting some contrast. Not just a comparison of old vs. new images, but how today’s photography has really changed how we look at sports.”

Still-photos were not the only visuals on display. Nestled between the hoards of the photographs was the occasional video screen showing themed clips of Sabres history. On one wall fans were able to watch a montage of the most raucous fights waged on the ice, while on another they could see highlights of the franchise’s best goaltenders, or the most thrilling of all Playoff moments, complete with the same Rick Jeanerett commentary that all Sabres fans have loved over the years.

But Albright Knox made sure that their visitors would see more than your average clip collection- something never before seen, in fact. Projected onto the wall in a darkened room was the innovative NHL in 360°, a video package which captured the sights of sounds of the action inside HSBC Arena.

Using high-definition point of view cameras, which were attached on top of their helmets, Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller recorded the events of two contests last season as they played in them. A season-ticket holder seated next to the glass also had a camera to catch the best moments of the games.

The NHL in 360° provided fans with a unique look from the players’ perspectives at just how fast and exciting the game of hockey is. In addition to seeing what it’s like for Pominville to stick-handle past opponents (and eventually score a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs) and Miller to fend off incoming slapshots, the multimedia spectacle allowed for fans to hear how the players communicate with each other on the ice, as well as on the bench. Coach Lindy Ruff was given a good deal of screen time himself, and showed just how vocal and interactive he is with every single Sabre in the game.

“It was important to also demonstrate the role of video technology in how we see the game as spectators,” said Grachos, “In this case, to simulate what it would be like to be on the ice, playing the game at the NHL level.”

The exhibit was graced by a number of special guests, including two of the photographers who provided the more than 200 photos. Ron Moscati and Bill Wippert both stopped by on separate days to speak inside the Gallery Auditorium about their work with and memories of the Buffalo Sabres. Famous Centerman of the “French Connection”, Gilbert Perreault, also stopped by for a day in late December to sign autographs for the fans.

“When I met Gilbert Perreault, he was a genuinly nice man who took time to talk with each fan he met with and sign his autograph for them,” said 19 year-old Andrew Adolf of Lancaster, “It was truly a remarkable expierence.”

There were a few other guests that puck-heads surely got the chills out of seeing, though they weren’t hockey players of any kind. They weren’t even people, for that matter.

From January 2nd through January 5th, on the opposite side of the Gallery from Forty, the Stanley Cup was set up for fans to see up close and personal. The Cup was in fact the copy that the NHL gives to whichever team wins at the conclusion of the playoffs, meaning that visitors were able to see, get pictures of, and even touch the same Stanley Cup the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Patrick Roy, Mark Messier, and most recently, Buffalo native Patrick Kane have hoisted.

Hockey’s most coveted prize was accompanied by numerous other trophies from the NHL. The Presidents, Prince of Wales, Vezina, Jack Adams, Calder, Hart, Art Ross, James Norris, Conn Smythe, Frank J. Selke, King Clancy and Maurice Richard trophies were all on display to provide Buffalo residents, as well as out of towners (many who were in Buffalo to witness the IIHF World Junior Championships) an unbelievable amount of NHL history, all in one hall.

Though it’s a shame that the the exhibit eventually had to end and make room for future attractions, it’s going to be remembered by all that attended for a long time, likely for the rest of their lives. Whether you only had the chance to see Forty, or you were lucky enough to meet Gilbert Perreault and see all of the NHL trophies as well, any hockey fan who walked out of Art Gallery knew that they witnessed something special.

Lord Stanley may not yet have have paid a visit to this city as we crave for it to, but Albright Knox proved something about the people of Buffalo with its exhibits dedicated to the Sabres and the NHL-

Buffalo is the Hockey town of America, and we Sabres fans love the team that has made us into it.

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