By Allana Bycina
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
It’s the start of yet another season. One of the biggest sports teams in Buffalo, the Bills, are coming off a high winning streak and a hell of a season … can this team keep up?
The time is ticking before the Buffalo Sabres’ blades hit the ice and the fans tune in to watch. The puck is dropped, the game is lost. As the clock ticks, more games are lost, more fans are distressed, more players are distraught.
Eighteen losses. Speechless. … Cheering? Yelling? Support. What the? Where is this coming from. … Fans are dancing; fans come to support; fans have signs with smiles on their face even after losing 18 games?
All of this defeat and failure begs the question: What keeps these Buffalo fans coming back for more?
A sport psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Dr. Susan Whitbourne said it's about much more than a game.
"For many people, there is this sense of self that is defined by your fanship," she said.
Buffalo Bisons owner and President Robert E. Rich Jr. said, “I’ve watched time and time again, when I’ve not only watched individuals sports but team sports. … As long as the individuals and the teams, the ownership, and the coaching are really making an effort and making it known how hard they are trying … the fans will stay with them.
“They are amazing (Buffalo sport) fans. I’ve watched players who may not be the same quality as some of the superstars, say on the Yankees or the Lakers, but I’ve watched some of the greatest fan favorites in Buffalo. These are the players who put out and really give you your money’s worth.”
The Buffalo Sabres had a tough go this season with Ralph Krueger as head coach. He was fired – the Sabres replacing their coach for the sixth time in 10 years. But how, why, what comes next? Is this affecting the fans?
Jack Eichel, the Buffalo Sabres’ most producing player on the team, was scoring goals left and right – but then he was wounded and a subject of trade speculation. Jeff Skinner, their $9 million winger, has been put to the fourth line and has been a healthy scratch as his scoring has completely disappeared. Not to mention, Taylor Hall, the Sabres big off-season addition, was in his worst offensive season in his career and was traded away.
Losing – it’s not all about the players or coaching. It’s a group effort.
“It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and act like a Monday morning goalie, a Monday morning coach, or Monday morning owner. … It all comes down to the expertise and the chemistry between your general managers, your coaches, and your players. … If all three of those areas are not clicking and working together, you’re not going to win,” Buffalo Destroyers owner Mark Hamister said. “When all of these areas don’t see eye to eye, you’re most likely not going to have a winner on the ice, in the case of a hockey team. Buffalo has the right ownership of the current sports teams; the Sabres are just having a little bit of a tough time.”
After long days of skating, many dissatisfied players and fans and lots of losses, Don Granato took over as interim coach.
Win, win … win? Is this the connection, the click, that this team has needed all along? What is there to come with this new interim coach?
“I’ve seen losses in Buffalo sports, but nothing like this,” says Edward Liszka, season ticketholder of the Buffalo Sabres since 1992. “I couldn’t even watch the games any more after the 10th loss in a row. I’ve watched almost every game and I just had to turn the TV off.”
Coming from a fan who is a sports collector, a long-time Sabres fan, and rarely misses a game, that says a lot.
The Buffalo Sabres’ fans supported the team in a recent game versus the Boston Bruins at KeyBank Center.
But, on the brighter side of things, that is not all the long-time Buffalo sports fan had to say.
“This is a tough division – at least on paper – to make the playoffs. (But) once a Buffalo sports fan always a Buffalo sports fan,” another said.
Buffalo sports fans are seen like no others. They are a loyal bunch of fans – despite the 18-game losing streak.
On Friday, April 23, the Sabres fans came to play. Although there is limited seating in KeyBank Arena currently, due to COVID-19, the Buffalo Sabres fans were louder than ever. Dancing in their seats, with signs, and jerseys being worn, each and every Buffalo Sabres fan that attended the game could not have been more excited to see the Sabres live in action, despite these losses.
Shelly Krieger, an usher with the Buffalo Sabres and guest information ambassador of the Buffalo Bills, explained that, despite the losses, “This is a job we do because we love Buffalo sports. When the team wins, of course it makes the job a lot easier for us, because when the fans leave the arena they are very vocal. We always stay upbeat as Buffalo sports workers, because that’s the atmosphere that we know and love. Even despite the losses, we stay positive; our job is to help the fans have a good experience, and we can’t dwell on the losses because what good does that do for us?”
It’s important the players, fans and coaches put this losing streak behind them so each and every person can move on. The players just need to block it out.
Upon firing Krueger, Buffalo Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams said, “I do believe every crisis is an opportunity for positive change, and this is a chance for us to move forward and to begin to get this thing pointed in the right direction.”
Rich said, “No matter the wins or losses, I am forever a dedicated Buffalo sports fan. I grew up on Buffalo sports. I remember going to get the bus on Main Street to go to watch the Buffalo Bisons hockey team play when they were wearing the Pepsi bottle caps on their shirts. …
“For me, sports is a metaphor for life. It’s all about competition. But why dwell on the losses when Buffalo sports aren’t all about the wins, yet more about the game itself?”
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