While it's great to know that hockey will be returning to Buffalo soon, the fly in the ointment is that 28 other teams in the league will be opening their season the day before.
According to information cobbled together from various social media sources, Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News is reporting that the Sabres are likely to be one of just two idle teams in the entire NHL on the night of the league's grand return, along with the Edmonton Oilers. Because there won't be any interconference play this season, and with 15 teams in each conference, at least one team per conference must remain idle on any given night, and the Sabres drew the short straw. From Harrigton:
The Sabres are expected to open Jan. 20 against Philadelphia in a noon or 12:30 start at First Niagara Center. Why not have a rabid hockey market with a built-in audience playing on the first day?
Only thing I can think of is NBC wants a strong hockey market to give it some ratings in an early game before the NFL conference championships and Buffalo fits that bill.
Harrington goes on to describe what really grinds my gears about this decision: Buffalo will be robbed of the revelry and insane local and national attention that would go along with a Saturday night home opener with the rest of the league. Instead, the Sabres will be relegated to a noon faceoff on Sunday when most fans will be either just returning from Sunday service or just waking up.
Think of how great downtown Buffalo would have been on that Saturday night, or the festive atmosphere that would have hung over the city in anticipation. Now we all get to watch 28 other teams have their fun before we get ours, and as a fan, that really takes much of the wind out of my sails, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Is that a childish frame of mind? Absolutely, but since the league and its players behaved like children for the past 5 months, I think I'm entitled.
Of course, I could be blowing this out of proportion. I anticipate many Buffalonians will rise to the occasion and pack the arena and downtown bars regardless of the time of day, and cheer their brains out at sounds of Doug Allen's anthem, Rick Jeanneret's calls, and a wicked power play slap shot that goes right into the legs of the opposing defenseman (I kid! But really.)
I'm sure Buffalo fans will still be brimming with anticipation the whole week for the return of hockey, I just wish we all could share it with the rest of the league.