When Kate sent me an email this off-season asking if I'd like to buy some of her season tickets, the first game I grabbed was the December 29th game against Pittsburgh. I wanted to see the Penguins play in person, something I hadn't managed to do for the last couple of years thanks to poor timing and broken bones, and the 29th also just happens to be my birthday. A little present to myself.
So when that third Penguins goal went in and Ryan Miller flung his helmet down the tunnel while Patrick Lalime skated some warm-up circles, I was pretty cranky. It's silly, but we're all fans here and sometimes as fans we let our teams dictate our moods. I was really frustrated because it was becoming clear that the Sabres are doo diddly when Ryan Miller isn't on his game. There's nothing wrong with that really - as Kevin kind of said in a post earlier today, all teams are built around somebody and when those somebodies don't play well, their teams suffer - but I don't know, it was very defeating to watch. And on my birthday, darn it all!
And then god bless him, Drew Stafford saved the day. I'm sure this game was super exciting to watch on TV, but I'm so happy I was there because it was just one of those games where you could feel everything. When Drew Stafford skated around and around while the scrum in front of Pittsburgh's net was being reviewed, you could feel how big that penalty shot was going to be. You could feel how much he knew it. You could feel how much he wanted it. You could feel how much we wanted it. It was one of those moments when player and fan are almost as one, and when he put that sucker in the net - with an assist from Marc-Andre Fleury - you could feel everyone - on the bench and in the crowd - let out a breath and think, "Okay. One more and we're back in the game."
Kate wrote a post a few weeks back about the view from our seats, and I'm about to pretty much repeat what she said. (Sorry, Kate.) Here's what we see:
They're awesome seats, but we're at the end the Sabres shoot on once. That doesn't really bother me since I'm a freak who'd rather watch defense and goaltending, but it means the Sabres score a lot of their goals at the other end of the ice, and it's tough to see the actual goal sometimes, especially when there's a huge pile of bodies in a scrum in front of the net. A split second or so before we know the puck is in the net, the crowd behind the net leaps to its feet, arms raised. Sometimes they leap up without the puck having gone in and then sit right back down, but when it does goes in, the celebration weaves down around the rink, like the wave but less annoying because it's spontaneous and heart-felt, until it gets to our section. It's very, very cool. Because Jason Pominville's shot was from farther out, we could see it pretty well, but from our end it was hard to tell if it hit the crossbar inside or outside of the net. But we knew when the leaps and waves continued around the ice.
It was just... I don't know, it's hard to explain. It was one of those shared moments that really makes being a sports fan what it is. All the journalists who wonder why we continue to support teams who don't win championships are missing those moments. I'm sure John Vogl and Mike Harrington and Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan watch games like this one and understand how important that win could be for a team, but they don't feel it, not the way we do. It doesn't send them dancing out into the streets. I don't know if the Sabres will win the Stanley Cup this season or not, but I know that no matter how the season ends - in ecstasy, agony, or somewhere in between - I'll remember this game. I'll remember Kate assuring me via Twitter that the Sabres were just setting things up for a dramatic birthday come from behind victory. I'll remember Drew Stafford skating around center ice, fresh off a healthy scratch, waiting to take a shot that could - and did - change the whole game. I'll remember watching 19-year-old Tyler Myers unhesitatingly knock down Evgeni Malkin (who looks HUGE in person, btw) in the waning seconds of the game. I'll remember the celebration dancing through the crowd until it hit section 120 and I'll remember Mark and I talking about the other fun games we've seen live the last couple of years (and I know this one will get added to the list). I'll remember the whole team squeezing together in one big huddle after the final buzzer, staying that way just a few seconds longer than usual because they felt it too. Relief, excitement, pride, joy, all of it.
Tomorrow we can debate the more intellectual side of the game - the lack of effort in the first period, whether this is really Drew Stafford coming on or just another flash of what he could be, the still kind of frightening power play - but for tonight, thinking about, enjoying, soaking in the good moments is enough.
Let's go Buff-a-lo!