There was a time not too long ago when there was nothing I wanted more than to watch my favorite team play my favorite sports. That iced canes squad was the 2005-06 Buffalo Sabres and Dear Holiness they were wonderful to watch; Our city’s team was the amalgamation of everything adrenaline-boosting in the sport: cast-offs, young studs and nobodies who latched onto rule changes and beat teams so soundly that fans would’ve bought commemorative toilet paper if there was such a thing.
Yes, we would’ve wiped our behinds with Derek Roy well before it became a derisive notion.
That Sabres team lost mainly because they had more injuries to one position than dummies at the crash test factory. Joy was short-lived because surprises yield expectations and the 06-07 team met the playoffs as if God had deemed them champions before the season. You know what happened next: “He said, he said” with star players’ contracts, unruly expectations for kids not ready to lose their mentors and less on-ice leadership that the captain of the Titanic.
The next few years felt so lonely. As a ticket holder, watching the seats re-fill around me between the lockout and the rock-out was intoxicating. It was a ride I hadn’t been on since Buffalo made the Leafs fall en route to the Cup Finals. The 05-06 team made each game feel like 50 cents from the tooth fairy. The next few teams were the bully taking your money and telling you it’s fake.
“Hockey Heaven” ensures that Sabres fever cannot possibly sneak up on even the average fan this go-round. Well, Hockey Heaven and the Pittsburgh Penguins. You see, we’re weeks away from having the “stars aligning” conversation just as we’re actually weeks away from the Sabres completing their improbable run into the postseason (Can you believe the Devils knocked out the Pens while we got the Rangers, the world’s most overappreciated No. 1 seed?!?!?)
No, this improbable run isn’t close to that improbable, let alone impossible. In fact, it was just January in which — paraphrasing myself — t’s not that 10 points out with half-a-season to go is a mountain to overcome. It’s that 10 points out for this team felt like Everest.
But there are elements of this run — if we can call it that — that stir up emotions consistent with some of Buffalo’s more fun victory sprints. No, we cannot be called underdogs — we spend more money than the majority of teams — but perhaps Wonderdogs… as in, I can’t help but wonder how in the world this group we branded old dogs mere weeks ago has learned new tricks?
Consider a Vezina-winner and Olympic silver medalist dropping off considerably, being branded as a one-year wonder. Consider a coach and general manager verbally-escorted out-of-town by the majority of the vocal fan base. Consider a group of players deservedly being served garbage soup for electing the new guy captain, retreating under fire and all-in-all resembling keystone cops in the jurisdiction of their own dysfunctional locker room.
So what’s so exciting for me is not the concept of underdog nor the concept of powerhouse; I’m pumped at the wonder of one the most visceral of plotlines: redemption.
The storyline doesn’t match up with a dream Hollywood flick. That would’ve been a Cup run last year, months after Terry Pegula bought the team and a team legend died in season. Heck, this doesn’t even have the big-name locker room squabbling of Team Peca, Team Pronger and the ’06 Oilers.
But wouldn’t it make sense if this was the group to win something massive in Buffalo? Not the Party-Fueled Bickering Bills who went to dance after dance, nor the team with the best goaltender of all-time, nor the upstart underdogs who “no one believed in but us” back in ’06.
Rather consider the star they were forced into signing, the captain who was “overpaid,” the “Chippewa primadonna” whose heart wasn’t in it and the high-priced free agent signing who went bust before properly-inflated?
Look, you gotta be hot at the right time and there isn’t a better time than now. I wouldn’t even bet on this team completing their run to the postseason, but man I’m telling you I want it (if only to smash every preconceived notion of what it takes for a Cup team. Thanks, I’ll take the skilled all-around center over the late-round face-off guy).
I’m just saying: Sometimes ingredients never felt like ingredients until it’s all you had to throw in the fryer one night. It’s one of the legends as to how Buffalo came up with chicken wings. Maybe it can build a hockey winner.
It’s not likely… but I want it: email@example.com