Hockey isn’t a pretty thing to watch sometimes. It’s not a pretty thing to play sometimes, either.
What can be more frustrating than fighting your way up ice through a smothering trap defense, winning the puck on the boards, stumbling ahead through bodies to the slot, and then finally getting off a shot – until some jerk defenseman whacks your stick blade away from the puck just before you get that shot off, and the puck is sent careening, slowly back into your own end?
You don’t need boos to feel the disappointment of that outcome.
That’s the style of defense the Sabres faced last night as they squared off against the big boys out of Atlanta. The Thrashers are behind the Sabres in the standings, but they are no joke. They are a disciplined squad that rallies around their net, and doesn’t let anything through.
Finally, near the end of the second period, Buffalo exploded with a couple goals to gain a 3-1 lead, and the neutral zone trap was broken.
But it wasn’t quick enough for the fans, who chose to boo and jeer the boys in Blue and Gold before those two pucks found their way into the net. Even during Game One of the Pegula Era, the choice fans made was to become boorish and ugly, ignoring the call by Pegula during his press conference for media and fans to get behind him, and to get behind the players on the ice – to be a part of this wonderful new team.
If fans really want to embrace this thing, and be a part of something special, there needs to be a culture change in the stands. It has already happened at the ownership level, the managerial level, and even in the media level. Last night, the fans missed their chance to join in the effort.
It wasn’t the booing that generated those 2 goals, folks.
I am not saying that fans should never, ever boo – it is a natural law of the Colosseum that fans who pay good money to be in attendance should let their opinions be heard when things look sour.
But that’s a tired, ancient and ugly culture. Close checking game or not, this was a special night, and the difference of hockey culture here is now very clear. Pegula was out in the atrium milling with fans and shaking hands before the game. The owner’s box was full of family, friends, and partners, drinking beers and going wild over goals.
Hot dang. This is the culture fans have been screaming for, for years.
Maybe this new owner and the marvelous changes he has brought and is bringing to the Buffalo Sabres just seems too good to be true. It is like some kind of fairy tale, or dream. Maybe fans haven’t woken up from the choking nightmare that was being a customer of Tom Golisano and “The Budget,” and the frustrating seasons that brought Buffalo. It’s hard to let go sometimes, even of the bad times, and bad habits.
But it is time to let go. Pegula said it himself in an interview with Kevin Sylvester last night: “Sometimes things seem to good to be true. But sometimes, things are too good and true.”
It’s time to change those jeers into cheers. The difference between the culture of the old eras and the new is “clarion clear:” this is “hockey heaven,” and Pegula wants fans be right up there with him.
Pegula’s vision is to have everyone on board, to have everyone help the Buffalo stampede – to have everyone – all of us – be a part of a Stanley Cup victory.
We ain’t gonna’ get there by spitting and hissing at the team. No, we’re going to get there by being a part of the team. There is a petition for a fight song, if you haven’t noticed. If it gets too tough up in the stands, a good fight song can change frustration into elation – and oh, it helps give the players on the ice that extra jolt, too.
It’s time for fans to get on board. Pegula will be in the atrium, waiting to welcome each and every one of us.
UPDATE: Just out of curiosity, I did a quick search to see what professional athletes really do think about booing. Here’s a couple real choice quotes – one from a legend of the ice, and another from a legend of the bike path.
“How would you like a job where when you made a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?”
– Jacques Plante
“A boo is a lot louder than a cheer. If you have 10 people cheering and one person booing, all you hear is the booing.”
– Lance Armstrong