A season like the one we went through produces so many emotions. From the tremendous highs we all felt on October 4th when Buffalo exacted emotional revenge on the Hurricanes in the season opener, to the incredible comeback against Montreal in the home opener, to a 10-0 streak to open the season. And to the tremendous lows like we all feel today after a season that started with such promise ended so miserably.
An entire city, plus a massive number of former Buffalonians, invested their hearts and souls into the 2018-2019 NHL season only to come away, yet again, empty-handed.
But did we really come away empty-handed? Can we honestly look back and say that it wasn’t worth it, or that our time and emotion – not to mention cash – could have been better spent elsewhere?
Something magical happened in Western New York over the past year. It was something that started around March of 2018, when a team started to grab a collective hold on the people of this area. Despite falling short in the Eastern Conference Final to the Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo was falling in love with their hockey team, and falling back in love with hockey in general.
I’m not sure when exactly Buffalo and hockey became separated. Honestly, I think it started back in the 1985-1986 season, when Buffalo missed the playoffs for the first time since 1974. When the Sabres missed the playoffs the next year as well, the Buffalo Bills were beginning to turn their depressing history around. Starting in 1987-1988, the Sabres went on a run that saw them bounced from the playoffs in the first round for five straight years. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills were going to four straight Super Bowls. An entire generation of fans grew to be hard-core Bills backers, while they considered the Sabres an afterthought. Despite a spark in the late-90’s that saw a Stanley Cup run led by Dominik Hasek, most people didn’t have a problem getting a ticket to the newly-built HSBC Arena if they wanted one.
Everyone should be familiar with the Rigas family saga, and it wasn’t until Tom Golisano purchased the bankrupt and ownerless franchise in 2003 that fans began to have a glimmer of hope again. But many were skeptical, and it took a surprise team of kids who took advantage of the post-lockout NHL rules to make a run to win us over again. After two decades of hockey emotion that ran from indifference to guarded hope to flat-out betrayal, Buffalo felt like they had a team that was invested in the community again.