Niagara Gazette — At this time last year, I was serving as the media relations director for the Buffalo Junior Sabres. I’ll readily admit it was a fun gig, promoting a Junior-A (college prep level) team run by members of the Sabres Alumni.
In the weeks that followed, I came to learn that there are really two kinds of people in Western New York who call themselves “hockey fans.”
In one camp were those who really enjoy the game and, with the National Hockey League shut down for months by a labor lockout, decided to get their hockey fix by coming out to the Northtown Center at Amherst. Many walked away pleasantly surprised by the high-caliber level of hockey that is played at the Junior-A (college prep age) level. Many of them kept coming back.
In the other camp were those who called themselves fans but continued to whine “there’s no hockey” for the duration of the lockout. If it wasn’t the Buffalo Sabres, it simply didn’t count. I call them not hockey fans but rather “Sabres watchers.”
It wasn’t just the fan base. Shortly before Christmas the Jr. Sabres received a call from a local television station wanting to do an “off the wall” angle featuring the team as a holiday story. Apparently the fact that the Jr. Sabres, who compete in an Ontario-based league, were then among the top ten ranked Junior-A teams in all of Canada wasn’t newsworthy. Meanwhile, on-air personalities continued with the complaint “there’s no hockey.”
The Jr. Sabres weren’t alone. Up on Monteagle Ridge, Niagara University was playing some pretty good puck as well. Nationally ranked, regular-season conference champions.
Still, when explaining that to many local “Sabres watchers,” it was the same complaint: “but there’s no hockey.”