Niagara Gazette

April 23, 2013

MROZIAK: A tale of two sports scenes

By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — My work day yesterday started inside the Gallagher Center on the Niagara University Campus, where the school was formally introducing Chris Casey as its new men's basketball coach.

Later in the evening, I was inside the First Niagara Center watching the Buffalo Sabres keep it close for most of the night but ultimately falling and again sending the fans home disappointed.

It wasn't quite the "best of times, worst of times" of a Charles Dickens novel but clearly there's a noticeable contrast in the cultures coming from the Purple Eagles and the Sabres these days.

Comparing college sports to a pro franchise? Apples and oranges, you might think. Except both are in the business of winning, whether the players get paid millions or nothing at all.

At Niagara, Chris Casey described an atmosphere of "we care, coach" while recalling his initial meeting with the players who could have elected to bail and seek transfers upon the departure of coach Joe Mihalich. They're staying together and, with a new coach who expressed an already existing familiarity with many of the players, have fans excited for next season.

Meanwhile down the I-190, the Sabres offered fans a much more competitive game than Friday's stinker against the Rangers. Good goaltending by Jhonas Enroth, a brilliant power play goal by Thomas Vanek and a gutsy fight involving Steve Ott kept the crowd excited. Those warm and fuzzy moments were only temporary and by the end of the game that same feeling of doom and gloom returned as the Sabres lost another game at home.

At Niagara, Casey's welcome was attended not only by the expected school officials and players but also athletes and coaches from other sports within the athletic department. Dave Burkholder and his entire hockey coaching staff were among them. It was just another example of the positive feeling that's growing on campus.

Meanwhile in Buffalo, several prominent business leaders recently bought a full page ad in Business First to tell the media and public to quit criticizing Sabres owner Terry Pegula. That's how caustic the atmosphere has become, just two years after Pegula brought the same warm fuzzy feelings experienced at Niagara yesterday.

The big difference is, Casey didn't make brash promises of championship glory. The Sabres once told us their purpose would be to win the Stanley Cup — correction, Stanley Cups, as we were once told would happen in Hockey Heaven.

That can still happen some day, but only if the Sabres players and management heed the words that came from Monteagle Ridge on Monday: "we care." 

Follow Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak online at twitter.com/mrozgazette