Buffalo Sabres fans expressed many different emotions over the course of this season; excitement when the team got off to a hot start in Europe; anger when the team recoiled after Milan Lucic’s brutal hit on Ryan Miller; frustration when the team dropped to dead last in the Eastern Conference midway through the year; hope when the team made a dramatic surge in the standings towards the tail-end of the season.
But one thing which stayed constant was what fueled all of those emotions—passion. From start to finish in the 2011-2012 season, the Buffalo Sabres faithful never lost their passion for the team that calls Western New York home.
They were tested. After a bustling offseason which saw big-contract signings of such players like Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regher, fans thought—rather—expected the team to contend for a Stanley Cup.
The Sabres got their hopes up in the first few weeks of the regular season, but then proceeded to shatter those hopes as the campaign wore on. Starting with the infamous visit to Boston on Saturday, November 12th, the Sabres posted an embarrassing 14-22-7 record into the middle of February, which took them to the bottom of the standings for a short time.
During such a depressing stretch, you’d expect interest in the team to dwindle.
Nope, not in Buffalo. Folks had no issue shelling out money to watch the team play, and it resulted in the franchise setting a new record for average paid attendance in a single year. In total, the Sabres sold 747,485 tickets this season—just 2,000 shy of the franchise record. All-but a single home game went sold out, the lone match being on November 2nd against the Philadelphia Flyers (and was off a measly 391 tickets).
“Even though Buffalo is the smallest U.S. market in the NHL, the volume of ticket sales this season further demonstrates that the Sabres have a big following,” said Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black in a press statement last month, “[The fans’] enthusiasm this season has been exceptional and we’re continually blown away by their dedication.”
Such sales possibly came about because the games weren’t televised to a huge portion of the fanbase for 48-straight days; but that presented a whole other roadblock for Sabres fans.
From January 1st to February 17th, the disputes between Time Warner Cable and MSG kept thousands of Western New Yorkers from catching 15 games on the airwaves. It may have been during the team’s downward spiral, but the Sabres faithful went beyond normal routine to watch their boys in blue and gold.
Bars and restaurants that carried the games on their cable provider, including such establishments like Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, Buffalo Wild Wings and Tully’s became hot spots—even on weeknights—for fans to come and see the Sabres play.
“Most nights, the bar and cocktail areas were standing room only,” said Sam Bregande, the Media Sales Representative of Tully’s.
They kept going back even once Time Warner and MSG settled their differences. And how could you blame fans when the Sabres at one point embarked on a 15-4-4 run which nearly lifted them to a playoff position?
“It was electric,” Bregande said of the atmosphere in Tully’s restaurants during the late-season surge, “You can feel the vibes when the home team is on the line and especially with Sabres fans. There was a lot of cheering, chants and oooohhhs multiplied by a hundred.”
Tully’s, among other bars and restaurants in Western New York, probably wanted to see the team make the playoffs so they could have a few more of those big nights in the cash register.
But they also probably know that many of those same fans will show up again come October to watch the team they love—regardless of whether that team is falling or climbing in the standings.