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Make Sabres Hockey Fun Again

Six suggestions for the Buffalo Sabres game presentation crew

Anaheim Ducks v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images

Over the past two years, I’ve engaged in a slightly perverse and always sad tradition I call the Monday Morning Sigh of Shame.

The morning after every Buffalo Bills home game, I skim through social media in search of insight that might help me celebrate a win or mourn an agonizing loss. My search for interesting analysis inevitably leads me to Twitter, which inevitably leads me to video of drunken Bills fans doing unspeakable things to themselves and each other, which inevitably leads to me exhaling a sizable and sorrowful sigh of regret that the moron who posted the video is, like me, a Buffalo Bills fan.

It should be noted that the Monday Morning Sigh of Shame doesn’t trace it’s way back to intolerance. I’ve never been a Puritan and have no desire to start wagging my finger at “the young people” anytime soon. Setting myself on fire and crashing through a table while my buddies howl and raise a bottle of Labatt’s up to the pale November sky isn’t my thing, but if it’s your thing, may the flames and splinters be forever in your favor.

The root of my issue with Flaming Table Guy traces back to the belief that a man is known by the company he keeps. A guy who feels compelled to post a video of himself funneling a 12 pack and doing a cannonball through a card table doesn’t just make himself look like a goof, he makes you and me and every other Bills fan look like a goof.

My favorite hockey team sits at the other end of the game day experience spectrum. The thought of a Sabres fan playing Dizzy Bat in a Perry Street parking lot seems as foreign as a Josh Gorges power play goal. There is no room for spontaneity or irreverence down at the Key Bank Center. From the parking lots to the concourse to the inner arena, watching a Sabres game is often an Orwellian experience:

6:48 p.m. - Please enter the arena single file, purchase your food and beverage at a designated station, and dutifully take your seat without any spontaneous displays of emotion.

7:47 p.m. - Steer your eyes to the Jumbotron to view your alarmingly cheerful hostess conduct a contest you’ve already seen 78 times.

8:23 p.m. - Reach to the ceiling as the mini-Zeppelin randomly dispenses free sandwiches to a handful of lucky sheep.

It is understood that coordinating the game day presentation of a professional sports franchise is a complicated and thankless job. Thousands of fans enter Key Bank Arena at every game, each possessing their own individual perspective on what is and isn’t fun. For every 7 year old girl that stands up and dances like a maniac when she hears the first few notes of “Cotton Eyed Joe”, there is a 47 year old man that quietly restrains himself from jabbing his car keys in his ears when that song bleats over the sound system. Pleasing everyone in attendance at a Sabres game is an impossible task.

That said, I often get the impression that the Sabres game presentation crew has no interest in pleasing anyone who isn’t a corporate sponsor or a teenager. According to my calculations, 72.4% of all stoppages in play at Sabres home games are filled by thinly veiled commercial spots, 19.7% are filled by pop music that makes me want to leap in front of a Zamboni, and the remaining 7.9% of stoppages are filled with stuff I actually like. I’m not asking the Sabres game presentation crew to do the impossible, I’d just like them to work toward doing more stuff that appeals to a wider section of their fanbase.

If the powers that be at PSE gave me temporary control of game day presentation, my first move would be to spare no expense to hire a guy named Ray Kramer, the borderline genius who is responsible for choosing the music at Chicago Blackhawks games. Here is a playlist of songs played at Blackhawks games last season. Note the wide spectrum of genres, the exquisite taste, and the complete absence of Pitbull. Abandon the Windy City and come join the City of Good Neighbors, Mr. Kramer. A fervent fanbase eager to hear two Pearl Jam songs at a single Sabres game turns its lonely eyes (and ears) to you.

My next move would be to steal the Tampa Bay Lightning's pregame presentation. As far as I can tell, this is the only NHL pregame entertainment that contains every single one of the 7 Elements of Stuff That Gets People Geeked To Watch a Hockey Game: thunder, Angus Young, lightning, breaking glass, flags, a mascot banging the crap out of a drum, and more Angus Young. Who among us doesn’t want to see a young kid from a local hockey league skate around with a glow in the dark hockey stick and pump his fist in the air at center ice?

Speaking of pre-game, I’d start simulcasting the Sabres pre-game TV broadcast on the Jumbotron in the arena. Brian Duff is smart, funny, and passionate about hockey. His presence should be felt more in the arena. I like the idea of establishing more connectivity between fans in the arena and fans watching the TV broadcast, and I also like the idea of watching MSG and hearing the crowd boo every time Brad May regurgitates a tired hockey cliche.

Watching the Pee Wee and Mini Mites play in between periods is often just as exciting as watching the Sabres play. Let’s expand those games by a few minutes, give the kids Dan Dunleavy as their play-by-play announcer, and have a couple of former players available to coach each team. Any idea that connects the crowd to the kids during their five minutes of fame is an idea that should be explored.

One of the best new ideas introduced to the Buffalo Bills game experience in recent years is the drum corps that plays in the parking lots and in the end zone during games. How hard would it be to grab half a dozen of those guys and have them stroll through the streets surrounding the arena an hour before game time? I can envision these guys leading the world’s longest conga line out of Key Bank Center after the Sabres win their first Stanley Cup.

A final semi-radical suggestion from here is to do 15% less. Each game should contain what my kindergarten teacher used to call “quiet time”. Not every stoppage in play needs to be filled with noise, pseudo-cute contests or a nod to sponsors. Set aside some time and space for fans to talk to each other or organically cheer and create some noise of their own. Let’s place more responsibility on the actual team to keep their fans entertained.

What do you like about the game presentation down at Key Bank Center? What would you like to change? Leave your comments below: