In a few days I’m going to get a letter from the Buffalo Sabres.
For the past three years, this has been great news. That letter means the hockey season is just around the corner, and the schedule and pricing for next year has officially been announced.
It also means I’ve got to get three friends together to pick games for our mini pack. That’s five or more games with three people I’ve grown up watching hockey with, and a big credit card bill next month.
However, this year I’m dreading that letter. It’s not because I’m in massive credit card debt, or even because the team is inherently mediocre. The problem is that this year I don’t know if I have anyone to plan anything with.
I suppose that’s not a fair statement to make, but at the moment it sure feels true. This period of abandonment may be fleeting, but all I know is that when that letter comes, there will be no one to tell about it. The three people I’ve spent more time with at HSBC Arena than anyone, the ones I’ve grown up with, won’t be around to buy tickets with.
It’s a problem I’ve seen coming, but I didn’t want to admit it. It’s been a long time since we’ve been to a game, but even when the season ended I knew it might be a final goodbye. The tell-tale signs were there, but we refused to acknowledge the truth.
One friend has gotten more and more attached to his girlfriend, and whispers of Bandits season tickets would certainly not include us. This is an ongoing issue that is much deeper than Sabres games, but perhaps that’s for another time.
Another still owes me money from last year’s tickets, and his financial status is always up in the air. Let’s just say that if I don’t get a big payment in a few days, there’s no way he goes deeper into debt on my behalf.
For years the foundation of the group has been my friend Greg and I. We did the planning, the driving, and the hyping of every game. If we weren’t talking about the Sabres, we were figuring out who is driving where and when we pick up so and so. We all love hockey, but for the two of us these game nights were something a bit different.
So when Greg told me he joined the armed services on Friday, I knew it was over. If he’s changing his life around to make it in a uniform, there’s no time for Sabres hockey this fall. And if Greg’s out, the other two will surely fall by the wayside.
It doesn’t change anything about the team, and it won’t change the seats I end up getting. I’m sure somehow I’ll find some people who want to go, and maybe someday the Roost will finally hit a game together, but that’s not the point. There is something about who you go to games with that makes them important, and that’s something that is changing this fall.
Don’t get me wrong, I love going to hockey games no matter who I go with. In fact there’s not much I enjoy more than watching hockey with my girlfriend or someone who really breaks the game down. However, it’s simply a different viewing experience when different people are involved.
It’s something that Mike Harrington mentioned in his column a few days ago, but it’s much more than that. For example, last season we sat through both of the awful games (Nashville and Columbus) he mentioned, but despite the atrocious hockey it was a good time. Why? The people that were next to me made it fun. In a way I think that’s what I’m losing. Sports will always be there, but the people you experience the games with matter just as much.
For as memorable as the Ottawa Brawl game was, I remember the experience with “team mini pack” beforehand just as much. The same goes for any of the great games we’ve seen over the years, or even the “House Parties” back when the Sabres played postseason hockey.
Of course this isn’t the end of the road for us, but it’s a clear demarcation point. As hard as we’ve tried to avoid it, we’ve slowly grown up over the years. I don’t think any of us have outgrown hockey, but five games a year looks to be out of the question at this point.