With the NHL and NHLPA showing no regard for fans of their sport, I've had to find other ways to get my hockey fix. I opted against watching a replay of game six from the 1999 Cup Finals as well as game five of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals on the NHL Network. I have been rolling the DVR on Monday nights to watch the Sabres classic games on MSG. I thoroughly enjoyed the "May Day" game which I was fortunate to have covered and the four overtime playoff game with New Jersey won by Dave Hannan.
But I was really excited to watch the replay of the Sabres exhibition game against the Soviet Wings from January of 1976. I was not living in Western New York at the time so I had never seen the game but over the years, I've talked to a number of Sabres who played that day. To a man, they talked about how amazing it was to play in the game and how it was one of the top moments of their professional career.
I also wanted to see the French Connection since, by the time I arrived in Buffalo(September 1980 as a freshman at Buffalo State), Rene Robert was already gone. Rick Martin would be traded later that season after suffering what was essentially a career ending knee injury. As it turned out, they didn't play together against the Wings. Martin was on a line with Brian Spencer and Peter McNabb.
I was also disappointed to find out that Jim Schoenfeld did not play because he was out of the lineup at the time due to an illness. You never know. Maybe he would have gotten in a brawl with a Wings player and crashed through the zamboni doors. Here are some observations from the 12-6 Sabres victory:
* Protecting the players and keeping them safe is of the utmost importance but I miss the days of no helmets when you could actually see the players heads and faces. There were some serious 1970's hair styles on display with guys like Brian Spencer, Don Luce and Lee Fogolin sporting afro's.
* There were no ads on the Aud boards or on the ice. No score or time remaining graphics on the TV screen. It was up to the announcers to tell you that information although from time to time on the telecast, they showed the Aud scoreboard so you knew what was going on.
* Jerry Korab was BIG and MEAN. He also looked bigger and meaner playing without a helmet.
* I loved hearing the booming voice of the late Milt Ellis announcing the goals and penalties over the public address system.
* It was great hearing the buzz from the crowd every time Gilbert Perreault got the puck in the Sabres end and started working his way up ice. Fans knew they could see something memorable any time number eleven was on the ice.
*Rick Martin had a goal dance! Was it just for that game? It was kind of like the Mike Foligno jump.
* I never get tired of hearing the fans chant for more goals. "One, two, three, four, we want five".
* The Sabres came out flying and swarmed all over the stunned Russians in the opening period. They also played very physical, hitting anything wearing a Wings uniform. Buffalo also got away with a number of penalties. Actually the referee let A LOT of things go that would be called today from holding to tripping and cross checking. Its okay though because more often than not, the Sabres were the team getting away with it.
* I was extremely happy when then Marine Midland Arena opened up in 1997 but every time I see an old game on TV, I really miss the Aud.
* It really was an entertaining game. It had the high scoring part of the All Star Games but it also had the physical play those games never have. In addition, there wasn't much dump and chase hockey as both teams preferred to carry the puck into the offensive zone.
* The angles/locations of some of the TV cameras were terrible because I kept seeing the heads of people leaving their seats and once again when they came back to sit down. Then again, maybe you saw yourself at some point.
* I also enjoyed the commentary from Danny Gare who was interviewed by Brian Duff before, during and after the game telecast. Gare talked about how this game was a jump start for the Sabres, who had just come off a run to the Cup Finals the previous season but were struggling halfway through the 75-76 campaign.
* As to the significance of a dominating win over a team from the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Gare told a story about the Sabres next game after the exhibition match. It was the following Saturday at the Forum in Montreal and in warm ups that night, the Sabres received a standing ovation from the Canadiens fans.
I miss hockey and when the lockout ends, I will return to watching the sport I love despite my anger with the two sides. Until then, I will continue to get my fix by watching replays of old games while my wife wonders "why do you watch these games when you know the outcome?"