Just Your Humble Hockey Players

They’re paid millions of dollars for what they do, and they’re treated like celebrities all across Western New York.

But whenever you have the chance to meet a Buffalo Sabre in person, you’ll come to find out that they’re about as down to earth as star athletes come.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend a series of autograph signings held by the various Dave & Adam’s Card World stores in Erie County. Each signing featured a different Sabre who came out to meet the fans and sign whatever piece of memorabilia they brought with them.

My friend Brianna Hokaj with Drew Stafford

For the three events I went to, the guests of honor were Paul Gaustad, Drew Stafford and Jhonas Enroth. This was the first time I met any of these specific players, and it came as no surprise to me that they seemed to have just as much fun as the fans did on each night.

It never ceases to amaze me just how genuine the Sabres players are with any fan who comes before them with a huge smile on their face, seeing as how they must go through the experience day in and day out.

Autograph signings have a sort of cliché for only being something that little kids should be excited about, but it didn’t matter if you were five years old, 20 years old, or even in your 40s – the Sabres were enthusiastic while speaking to each and every last fan.

And they certainly looked the part of being average, every-day guys who just happen to be really good hockey players. They didn’t wear designer clothes which would have cost thousands of dollars from an elite boutique in Los Angeles or New York City.

Instead, Gaustad and Stafford had on plain black t-shirts, while Stafford also donned a Minnesota Twins baseball cap. Enroth wore a zip sweater you could find in any department store at the Walden Galleria Mall.

Although for the six-foot-five Gaustad, who towered over every fan he posed with for a photo, it might be pretty hard to find those designer clothes in his size.

My good friend Brianna Hokaj accompanied me when I met Stafford, and of all things, she was most surprised to see the large and intricate tattoos he has on both arms.

For me, I was most intrigued by his hysterical sense of humor. I asked for Stafford to sign my copy of the Sabres Hockey Central 2011-2012 calendar, which features a graphic of himself for the month of November along with the title “Mr. Hat Trick.”

He wasn’t afraid to let out a loud, satisfied laugh when he first saw it.

After he signed it and allowed me to have my picture taken with him, he handed back the calendar with a grin and said –

“I’ll make sure to send you my swimsuit issue.”

It was as if he were a college buddy of mine.

Of course, a lot of the Sabres are young enough to still be in college, but we forget that while watching their performances on the ice. Leading up to the autograph session for Enroth, I only thought about meeting the young goaltender who won over the entire Sabres fanbase and was proving himself as a top-level netminder in the NHL. I didn’t even realize how keyed up I was to meet someone who is only two years older than me.

Known to have a very mellow personality, Enroth appeared almost overwhelmed by the turnout that night.

When I asked him to sign a decorative goalie stick of mine, which already featured Ryan Miller’s signature, his first response was – “Really?” as though he was honored to find that I held him in as high regard as one of Buffalo’s most famous athletes.

Enroth may be a 23 year kid who’s a long way from his home inSweden, but I’ve seen that I’m definitely not the only Sabres fan who considers him one of their favorite hockey players.

The various Dave & Adam’s stores plan to hold several more autograph signings in the near future, including ones with Sabres captain Jason Pominville, as well as one for Thomas Vanek. If you ever wanted to meet any of the Sabres in person, I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to.

I believe that my friend Brianna put it best when she said –

“They’re just normal people playing on an awesome hockey team, who really appreciate their fans. Thousands of people come out every home game to support the Sabres, and its cool to see the players coming out to show appreciation for their fans as well.”

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