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Reflections from KeyBank Center: Buffalo Sabres Home Opener

Just a few spare thoughts following the Sabres’ season opener.

Ottawa Senators v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome to the inside of my brain, basically. Following Thursday night’s Buffalo Sabres home opener against the Ottawa Senators - a resounding 4-1 victory - I had a myriad thoughts that I wanted to dump on here. Bear with me: there’s a little bit of everything, from traffic to game presentation, the facility, concession prices, and the hockey itself.

Pre-Game Ceremonies & More

For a home opener, the pregame ceremony served its purpose. It was really wonderful hearing Rick Jeanneret’s voice - that beautiful noise - ring out over the KeyBank Center speakers. The staff introductions seemed rushed, but perhaps that’s just me. One can only imagine how special it must’ve felt for Alex Tuch, in his first Sabres home opener, to hear RJ speak his name like that. Chills.

The Sabres also did a nice job honoring the victims of the May 14 shooting on the East Side. I would’ve liked to hear the victims’ names actually spoken aloud, but they were shown on the Jumbotron and on the ribbon boards, alongside a ‘Choose Love’ graphic. The team played a nice video tribute, also showcasing their work in the community surrounding the events, and invited families on-ice for a ceremonial puck drop.

I want to give kudos in a few senses here. First, to the Ottawa Senators and the refs. They didn’t have to come out on the ice for this part of the pregame, but they did. There was something truly moving & special about seeing both teams, along with the on-ice officials, come together around center ice and the families. Second, kudos to the Sabres for actually calling it the May 14th racist shooting. A lot of teams touch it with kid hands, instead opting for ‘racial’ or ‘racially-motivated,’ so the Sabres’ use of the word is a small but important point.

Individual player goal songs: yes, yes, yes, please. Love it. Thanks for the ABBA, Olofsson.

Also a nice new touch for the Sabres to blast the goal horn as the team hits the ice, both pregame and after intermissions. Might be a little jarring if you’re not expecting it, but I’m told other teams in the NHL do something similar and it’s a neat little piece of the puzzle.

Honoring Joe Crozier

Nice to see the Sabres honor Joe Crozier, who passed away earlier this week. At the same time, it was a bit surprising to not see any sort of moment of silence or honor for Dave Dryden. Maybe that’ll come on Saturday afternoon?

Repairs Needed

Before the game even began, I watched a fan in the 100 level deal with a broken seat. As in, the bottom part of the seat wasn’t sitting right and kept falling toward the ground, dropping the sitter several inches. It took until about halfway through the game, but staff did bring a new seat bottom and drilled/installed it in, but man, I feel for that person. An aging KeyBank Center shows its, well, age.

Concessions

There’s been a lot of talk on Hockey Twitter about concession prices across the NHL. Notably, a series of Tweets pointed out the ridiculousness of concession prices in Edmonton. $17.50 CAD at Rogers Place for chicken fingers & fries? Woof. $55.00 CAD for a couple cheeseburgers, bags of Lays chips, and fountain drinks? Ouch.

While inflation is pushing the cost of everything up, concession prices at KeyBank Center still generally seem to fit into the realm of sanity. Two chicken fingers/fries baskets, an order of pizza logs and two bottles of water will cost you about $42. Nothing is as cheap as it used to be, and you’re probably still better off eating elsewhere before the game, but...

A Non-Existent Flow of Traffic

Traffic flow both into and out of KeyBank Center could use some work. Doors opened at 5:30 pm, but lengthy lines were forming in the concourse long before. Despite that, folks funneling into the side doors - you can’t use the middle entry doors - were merging into the crowd, making the whole idea of a line kind of... pointless. Multiple of the security checkpoint gates weren’t set up properly when doors opened, leaving some fans waiting in a standstill line while others moved through fairly quickly. Security was also heard telling people to take everything out of their pockets, including car keys, despite signage saying that keys could be kept on your person. It’s a small thing, but easily & quickly leads to confusion.

As for traffic flow out of the arena: you’d have thought this was the first time that many cars have been in that area ever. Forty-five minutes after the game ended, traffic in the surface lots next to the arena was still at an absolute standstill. I’m not going to pretend to be the brains behind the operation, but surely there must be a better way to handle this.

As for the Actual Hockey....

Craig Anderson played really well. It struck me midway through the game that he is 41 years old and wears #41, a funny little coincidence this season. He made 35 saves on 36 shots faced; you couldn’t really ask more from the guy.

JJ Peterka was another player who stood out. Getting your first NHL point/goal is always fun, but even outside of that, I liked the energy he brought to the game. He knows what an opportunity he’s got here, and I think he’s going to run with it.

The Sabres’ power play definitely needs some work. Obviously, it’s only game one and there are bound to be kinks to work out. That will be one of them. The first period was pretty flat, another thing to work on. Be ready to go from the gate. Thursday night, it was only a one-goal deficit at the intermission, but against a different team, that’s easily three goals.