Who could have guessed the first day in July has become one of the most important in recent franchise history?
And yet here we are, a few dozen hours before that fateful Sunday, with nothing yet decided. Sure, we’ve seen articles such as this and this, but nothing yet is certain. As fans we have no real part in this, which is what makes free agency both menacing and strangely enticing. The prospect of picking up a big name comes with the potential to lose one, or in our case, two.
Here is what I do know right now, and have known since February 22nd, 2007. I want Chris Drury on my team.
Of course, there is very little logic in my belief. Sure, people will show highlights of the Drury and Briere’s clutch playoff goals (Game 5 ECS, Game 2 ECF, respectively) , and of course people are going to look at Drury’s uncanny ability to score big goals when it counts, or Danny’s career high points production. Yet when it comes to who I want leading my team, I am going solely on personal feelings, all of which stem from that fateful Thursday night in February.
You all know the story. Drury lets a shot go gliding in near the hashmarks, Neil comes across at full speed. Boom. Helmet off. Blood. Mayhem. Hillarity ensues with Marty Biron.
But lost in all that, both in the media and the general fanbase, is what really happened on that ice. The Sabres were in a stretch in which they had lost five players to injury in the last five games. Each time the injurys hit hard, but none was as shocking as when Dru went down. Trust me, I was there.
I remember following the shot and seraching for a rebound, and the next thing I knew Drury was on the ground in a heap and Drew Stafford was flipping out on Chris Neil. Or course, the kid got his lunch handed to him, but that moment signalized so much to me in hindsight. In one swift decision Drew Stafford went from a kid grinning ear to ear after getting his first NHL goal into a hockey player willing to do anything to stick up for his captain. Drew Stafford became a man that night.
We all did, really. Everyone in that building responded to that hit. Every player on that team knew who went down, and acted accordingly. It wasn’t about the fight, it wasn’t about Ray Emery, it was about that group of men deciding that enough was enough, and sticking up for their captain.
Our captain. That was all I kept thinking. That was our captain. Everyone was reapeating those four words over and over, trying to make sense out of the wave of emotions that followed. As a fanbase, we collectively lost our minds after that. Once you get even a taste of that passion, you’re hooked. Without Chris Neil, there would have not been 10,000 people outside HSBC Arena come June.
But therein lies the difference between Danny Briere and Chris Drury for me. When Danny was cheapshotted by Alexander Ovechkin on December 2nd, we cried foul. But I wasn’t thinking “That’s our captain,” I was thinking “That’s Danny Briere.” The same statement can be said for any other player on the laundry list of injuries throughout the season. “That’s Max”, or “That’s Goose.”
The feeling of shock when Drury went down was completely different from anything I’ve felt as a fan in some time. The same can be said for when he came back to action against Colorado. The sense of pride in the “C”, that single representative of your team; it’s something that hasn’t been felt here in Buffalo for some time. (No offense to any Captains of the Month)
Now maybe it’s a personal opinion. There are probably dozens of people who feel the same way about Danny Briere, and at least a few that can be more eloquent that I. But I felt that building swell with pride when the boys came back swinging, and I know what was going through everyone’s mind when it was all said and done.
You always defend your captain. Even after the first of the month.