How Far We’ve Come

December 31, 2009

We’re heading into a brand new decade tonight. A lot has changed on a personal, professional and sporting levels since the year 2000.

When the clocked flipped to midnight on January 1, 2000, I was a freshman at Canisius. Use of the internet was growing, but e-mail and AOL message boards were still king. The internet wasn’t even considered in ad plans, except for those annoying pop-up ads. Blogs were still relatively unheard of.

I graduated in 2003 and was hired into a job in my field. (Huzzah!). I’ve survived three promotions and some downsizing, but still love what I do and work with people that I adore. And the constantly changing ad environment makes every day a learning experience.

The Sabres entered the decade in a less than spectacular fashion. Michael Peca was engaged in a prolonged contract dispute that eventually led to him being traded to the Islanders for Timmy and Taylor Pyatt. Can you believe Timmy has been in the Sabres organization for over 8 years? Have we really had eight years of the boy in the plastic bubble jokes?

Then all hell broke loose with the Rigases and the Adelphia and most Buffalo fans thought the Sabres would be toast, but Mr. Golisano stepped in to save the day and keep the team in town.

After the lockout, there were those two magical seasons where the team seemed unstoppable. Who doesn’t remember Pommers shorthanded goal in Ottawa that sent the Sens packing (and one could make the argument that it’s the source of the team’s current bad juju against the Sens)? And later that year, if not for one delay of game penalty, one defenseman not looking down and a litany of other events, the Sabres could have made the Cup Finals.

The following season seemed to be even more magical than the last. The Sabres returned to the blue and gold color scheme, was ditching the raging goat head for the sluggalo their best decision? On a business side, it probably was, as Sabres merchandise flew off the shelves. Blue and gold became the colors around town. The team got off to a 10-0 start and won the Presidents Trophy. There was even a little line brawl against Ottawa. The entire town united behind them as the playoffs started. The Party in the Plaza became the place to be. Who can forget those scenes of the crowd going absolutely bananas outside the arena after Afinogenov scored that goal in Game 5 against the Rangers? Sure, that season ended with a whimper instead of a bang, and it still causes most of us to twitch involuntarily when hearing the Goos version of Better Days, but that team took us on one hell of a ride.

There was the day that Sabres hockey died…at least if you believe half of what you read on message boards and in Bucky Gleason columns. Briere and Drury both left for much greener pastures, where they’ve had mixed levels of success. Sure, there were issues on both sides and people flipped their shit when neither of them re-signed, and there was a level of  “they signed for *how* much?!”  but, in hindsight, those two were not the be-all and end-all of Sabres hockey.

Yes, there were the two seasons where the team didn’t make the playoffs. But the 2008 season did have the amazing Winter Classic. Who could forget seeing  72,000 screaming fans jammed into a snowy Ralph to watch a hockey game? It was quite a sight. And all the players had this sense of joy and wonder on their faces, that you could tell that they were proud to be part of the experience, that for one shining moment, the end result of the game might not have mattered as much as it normally would have.

And then there’s this current season. The Sabres start has a lot of people wondering “what if?” Miller is playing like a man possessed, and Lalime has regained his form and is proving to be a perfectly cromulent backup again. Gaustad has been kickass in the face off circle, Pat Kaleta found a goal scoring touch, and there’s been some amazingly entertaining games so far. If the Top 6 can pull their heads out of their asses, there’s a lot of potential for a good end to this season. The 2009-10 Sabres seem bound and determined to end the decade on a high note. And if a couple of them manage to work in some Olympic hardware as a part of this season, then more power to them.

And the growth of the Sabres internet community has been huge. The Sabres have embraced blogs and Twitter. Sabres fans have created a large number of blogs that house some incredible writing. Hopping onto a blog after a game to read postgame thoughts or see what the writers saw that I missed has definitely made watching hockey more enjoyable.

We’ve said a temporary goodbye to some longtime Sabres this decade; guys like Stu Barnes, Marty Biron, Brian Campbell and those two idiots that shall not be named. But when those guys left, new ones stepped up to fill the void in our hearts. Guys like Gaustad, Miller, Myers and even little Kennedy and Kaleta have gotten the fans attention.

Some things haven’t changed. The Bills still haven’t found a solid successor to Jim Kelly and they still haven’t made the playoffs. The Sabres haven’t won the Stanley Cup. Buffalo still equals joke on the national sports scene.

I think we can agree that the past decade was a hell of a ride. Let’s see where we go from here.

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