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What Keeps Fans Coming Back?

As fans, we continue to look at the product on the ice and wonder one thing - why are we coming back?

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The life of a Buffalo Sabres fan – it is hard not to be jaded.

My journey began back in the 2004-05 season. We are not talking about the NHL but the AHL.

The Rochester Americans boasted an incredibly deep lineup that featured Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad and Ryan Miller – all of whom certainly would have been with the Sabres if the NHL season had not been lost to a lockout.

My father brought me to my first game at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester - I remember it like it was yesterday.

From the speed of the game to the hard hits to the seemingly endless amount of goals scored – I was hooked from the opening faceoff.

Most certainly a late-bloomer to the sport, at the age of 13, I knew I had found something when I watched the speed of the game unfold in front of me.

From there, the ball rolled downhill very quickly.

I spent my high school years becoming the most dedicated fan I could, shoveling in as much knowledge as one could do without melting down their brain.

Not hard for this to happen when the Sabres, with Vanek, Pominville, Gaustad and Miller, were hammering home 90 and 100-plus-point seasons with ease.

Despite missing the playoffs during in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, my fandom was unmatched.

There was always a natural love for writing that quickly blossomed into writing about hockey. It just felt so natural to me.

When I walked across and grabbed my high school diploma, I knew that I wanted to continue on with writing about sports, hockey being my major focus.

Around this time, the Sabres’ foundation started to show signs of internal rot and fatigue.

Buffalo hit 100 points in the 2009-10 season, but were dispatched by the Boston Bruins in the first round. The next season, Buffalo grabbed another 96 points, but were edged out in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers.

This was the last time the Sabres have made the playoffs.

As a writer, it is easy to point to the “woe is me” fact of the Sabres not making the playoffs making things difficult as a whole.

Whenever I sit back at my computer and write a story, I always have a fleeting thought – I wonder what keeps fans coming back.

Whether it is your day-to-day job or a hobby that you enjoy, you can find yourself losing the love you once had. That is when you need to take a step back and figure out why you still come around.

Why are you renewing your season tickets each season? Why do you go out and buy that $200 Jack Eichel jersey? Why are you turning on MSG every time the Sabres take the ice?

If anything, the Sabres missing the playoffs for as long as they have, it has reinvigorated my love for the game as a whole.

Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still the worst team in all of sports – a Buffalo sports fan must almost always agree with that one.

Being able to sit back and enjoy one of the greatest of all time, Alexander Ovechkin, hoist the Stanley Cup after such a long chase – that makes you love the game that much more.

Seeing a hockey hotbed like Nashville become a major hockey market because of the team’s success – that makes you love the game that much more.

Sometimes it truly is difficult to come up with a new angle for a story, because it feels like all the same stories keep happening and keep getting written over the last eight seasons.

We continue to try to make sense of it all, even now.

While we sat through the 52-point season of 2013-14, we wondered what was going on. Now, we realize that it might just be worth it.

Without the benefit of hindsight, it is hard to look at the Sabres now and make sense of where this is all going.

Jack Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, Sam Reinhart and Linus Ullmark could become the Sabres’ core that brings them back to the Stanley Cup playoffs and beyond. They also could be the next handful of talent players to make Buffalo their home before moving on to greener pastures.

Either way, I remind myself how I fell in love with the game. I think back to that night in Rochester. I think back to the ultra-talented Sabres squads of the mid-2000s.

These are the things that keep us around. This is why we keep writing the stories. This is why we keep watching the games.