Happy, Happy New Year

by Ryan

There are days that change the way you think as a fan. Not just a shift in viewpoint, but a complete ontological departure from your previous existence.

Today is one of those days.

Simply amazing. It didn’t feel like New Year’s at all, but it didn’t have to. January 1st was Winter Classic Day, and the 71,000+ at the Ralph and another 11,000 or so at HSBC Arena proved it.

That’s right, 11,000. Can you believe that? We filled an empty arena with more people than some teams average for real games. Will that ever happen again? I mean, this event really was the perfect storm. An outdoor game played in a city at the pinnacle of hockey fever, its team matched up against the league’s brightest star. It was brilliant, and something we may never have the privilege to witness again.

It may be greedy of me, but I hope the NHL doesn’t feel the need to trivialize what we felt today by taking the show on the road as an annual rotation. I don’t want to see a 2009 Winter Classic in Detroit or up at Skydome. The Oilers had their Heritage Classic, and we had our Winter Classic. I would enjoy switching between the Sabres and Pens, but in 15-20 years I don’t want this to be remembered as the first Winter Classic, but The Winter Classic.

When I first saw the rink, the first thing I thought was “Oh my God, they didn’t screw it up.”

We’ve been hearing about this since June, and all the while my pessimistic mind had thoughts of failure running through it. Too warm or terrible ice or embarrassing fan behavior. Rain. Hellfire. Somehow, someway, we were going to make fools out of ourselves. Yet when I saw that sheet of ice in the middle of a football field, I lost all doubts about what we had.

I kept looking to gauge the wind on the flags atop the goal posts, and then I realized they simply weren’t there. This was a hockey game. My God.

The game itself wasn’t the greatest. There was sloppy play and bad passes, and the snow was a noticeable factor, but it was probably the most fun I’ve had at a hockey game because of the mood everyone was in.

If you were there, did you notice anything that was different from most Bills games? No rushes of neon jackets, no congregations of bundled police officers. Not one time did I see a fight anywhere in the crowd, and I heard merely a curse word in over four hours.

A few sections is a small sample size for sure, but it really felt like everyone there understood the purpose of this game. It was a celebration of hockey, through and through. For the people there it wasn’t about how it translated on television, or about gaining attention for the league, or any of the marketing buzzwords us die-hards use so often in the hope of helping the game. The Winter Classic was pure hockey.

There was something so beautiful about celebrating that Campbell goal with so many people. In football there is a design and set format to the game. You run plays, you get results, and you cheer each result accordingly. Hockey has such a different feel when viewing, and the difference when watching with large crowds was dramatic.

The crescendo of the game’s pace is much different. As a play develops the crowd rises with it, and when a goal is scored the celebration is much more sudden. When a team is on the goal line in football a score is expected, and when a deep route is thrown there is an amount of anticipation that comes as well. But when Timmy Connolly puts a pass in the slot and Campbell rips it in the net: boom.

Chaos.

I always find it strange that hockey fans say the same two things after scoring chances. When a goal isn’t scored, it’s a resounding “ooooooooo”, and when the red light glares the same word is yelled by all: “YEEEEAAAAH!!!”

Hearing 71,000 or so people leap out of their seats screaming that word was life changing, and something no hockey cynic will ever be able to take away.

To put it simply: if you don’t care about hockey, this game wasn’t for you.

I’m completely okay with the idea that the NHL doesn’t gain new fans from it. This event, festival, religious experience was about celebrating a game we love, and I couldn’t be prouder of the show that was put on.

Today I tried to view the game as simply a hockey fan. Sure, I was rooting for the Sabres (loudly), but you have to appreciate the other side of the action as well.

Ty Conklin stepped up his game again, and the Sabres had no answer. Sidney Crosby does what the great players do: capitalize even when they make mistakes. He worked hard in front to set up the opening goal, and overcame a sticky puck in the shootout to somehow get it past Miller. I wanted nothing more than Ryan to stone him and see two more shooters, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

(And by the way, I totally called them using Letang. They’ve brought him out for the SO a few times this year, and that backhand was just sick.)

We have lost four games in a row now, only taking 2 OTL points out of those games. It’s a rough stretch to be sure, but can any of you actually look at that seriously today? Until Friday night, I won’t even think about that losing streak. Yeah, we only took a point from the Winter Classic, but in the grand scheme of things, we freaking hosted the Winter Classic. A few years ago this team was bankrupt and heading elsewhere, and today we held the Super Bowl of hockey.

Today was downright spectacular. I know this is a raving, late night post that anyone who was there could throw together, but I think these things need to be said. If you have any thoughts on the game, the crowd, anything, I’d love to hear them. We all will have something to say about it, and many pictures will follow.

The biggest event in Buffalo Sports History went off without a hitch. I never thought I would get the chance to write those words.

One Comment

  1. Katebits

    I always find it strange that hockey fans say the same two things after scoring chances. When a goal isn’t scored, it’s a resounding “ooooooooo”, and when the red light glares the same word is yelled by all: “YEEEEAAAAH!!!”

    I need to watch some of the television footage to find the specific spot in the game, but there was a Sabres scoring chance towards the end where it seemed like the entire stadium held their breath in captivated silence for a second before reacting with the united “ooooooo”, after the Sabres failed to score. Maybe it was just my section, but I swear the stadium went silent for a nanosecond. Totally awesome.