Every Sabres-Leafs game is played in a hostile environment. That is a fact of life. Leafs fans can’t get tickets to their home games, there are seats readily available in Buffalo and they make the trip to enjoy a “road” game.
A portion of the Sabres season ticket base is from Ontario. So, a large portion of those seats are likely going to be claimed by Leaf fans three times a year. Add in the fans who are looking to get back into the black after buying Sabres season tickets, and there is an additional market for buyers. The secondary ticket market is also a viable option. Obviously there are avenues for Leaf fans to invade Buffalo.
What is interesting is the atmosphere that is created for these games. If last night’s contest wasn’t a 50/50 split, it was 60/40. As for which side had the edge, it is anyone’s guess. The back and forth chants between the fans created a playoff-like atmosphere that made an entertaining game even better.
The players responded to the fans and their play showed as much. Buffalo’s players reflected this in their postgame comments as well. Thomas Vanek’s quotes were practically calling out the fans for sitting on their hands every other night aside from yesterday and the Boston grudge match. He has a point.
For all but two games (yesterday and against Boston), First Niagara Center has been a crypt. The fans may just be the ones to blame, after all. Considering the ease in which Toronto fans flood into the Sabres’ barn, one has to wonder if a majority of the fans in the arena on every other night are just there to watch a game. These people aren’t Sabres fans so much as they are hockey fans, or Leafs fans. These people are the real problem because they don’t care to cheer or support the team they’re watching. For them, it is a social outing that is nice to use until the Leafs are in town.
The importance of the Canadian ticket buyer is not lost on me. I understand the Sabres draw quite a bit of revenue from Ontario and that these ticket holders are a necessity for the success model. Regardless, these are the fans who aren’t hoping for Buffalo to hoist a Stanley Cup. Because of that, they aren’t vocal in their support of the team on a nightly basis.
With these guys (who sit on their hands and only stand for the anthems) out of the equation, the vocal Sabres fans were left to make the noise. Basically, Leafs games act as a way to trim the fat. The quite do-nothings are gone or wearing Leaf jerseys and the truly active Sabres fans are left to make noise.
While running the risk of beating a long dead horse, a lot has been made about the game presentation this season. However, last night indicates that maybe the fans are more to blame than anyone else. Too many Sabres fans are fast to boo the power play and call for the heads of players. In a “hockey town” there are an awful lot of people who don’t know a lick about the game (see: Sullivan, Jerry). There are plenty of front running fans who are quiet when they come to the arena because they expect a 5-0 win each night.
Last night was different. Every Sabres fan in the house was loud and proud. If only the people who sit on their hands could be eradicated on every other home night as well.