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Sabres Central

Sabres give Hamister a present
By Rick Anderson
November 23, 2002

Blue Jackets goalie Marc Denis blocks a shot by Stu Barnes in first period action. The Sabres won their first game in a month with a 5-4 victory over Columbus.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

It took a month doing so, but the Buffalo Sabres have finally won a hockey game. In capping off what was a roller coaster week for the team, the Sabres beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-4 Friday night in HSBC Arena before their new owner-to-be Mark Hamister. The victory was a nice present to the future Sabres owner and was a big relief for Miroslav Satan, who had "guaranteed" a win over Columbus.

Hamister, who won the Sabres ownership derby earlier in the week, mingled in the crowd and was greeted to a standing ovation by the Sabres fans as they flashed a picture of him waiving to the crowd on the jumbotron. It was the second biggest crowd of the season, 15,711, that gave its thanks to Hamister for saving the franchise. Now Hamister and his partner in the successful ownership bid, Tom Berman, must work with the players and the fans to become a successful team again. It is going to be a difficult job, and is going to take a lot of sacrifices on all sides, but there finally is a light at the end of the dark tunnel.

Victory at last!

The players did their part in getting their first win in exactly a month. The Sabres almost let this one slip away like they had a half a dozen others in their 12-game winless streak. Buffalo had taken a commanding 5-2 lead in the third period when they started to have yet another late collapse. This time, however, they held on and escaped what would have been the most embarrassing defeat of the season.

Satan, when told that the Sabres had never beaten the Blue Jackets since they came into existence, predicted the Sabres would beat them. He then put his stick where his mouth was and scored the Sabres third goal of the game.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, trying to shake up his club, brought up Ryan Miller, the 22-year old former Hoby Baker award winner who had been toiling in Rochester. Miller was in the nets on Tuesday as the Sabres took a 2-0 lead going into the third period. Then the roof caved in on the rookie, as the Devils scored three goals in the final period and then in overtime, Miller had trouble getting back into position and was on the ice when Scott Niedermayer roofed it over the goalie and the Sabres had their 7th straight loss to tie a franchise record.

''I got back up as quickly as I could,'' described Miller.. ''The puck hit my pad and stick. He managed to go top shelf.''

Ruff, keeping his word, went right back to Miller against the Blue Jackets. It was a brave move as Miller had struggled so badly in New Jersey. Ruff had sent Mika Noronen down to Rochester earlier in the day and wanted to give Miller a chance to redeem himself for the loss on Tuesday. The move almost backfired in Ruff's face.

Like they had done so often in the previous month, the Sabres took the lead going into the second period. Taylor Pyatt got the Sabres on the boards early as he used his size and strength to bull his way in front of Marc Denis and hammered it home. Pyatt made a nifty goal in the second period for his second straight tally and the Sabres were in front of the Blue Jackets 2-0. Never to fret, the Sabres would find a way to let their victims back off the hook and in the game. That came to pass once again as Ray Whitney scored a shorthanded goal before Satan pulled some long-lost magic out of his bag of tricks to put the Sabres back into a 2 goal lead, 3-1 when he was given an insurmountable amount of time to hit the puck back and forth before finding a hole between Denis and the pipes and Satan threaded the needle.

Taking the 2 goal lead into the final stanza has proven to not be too safe and the Blue Jackets came back to within one when Derrick Walser got another goal past Miller. Goals by Vaclav Varada and James Patrick seemed to put the game out of reach at 5-2, but the Sabres managed to let the Blue Jackets to keep pecking away when David Vyborny and Lasse Pirjeta got the puck past an obviously flustered Miller.

In the last minute, there was a flurry of action in front of Miller and the Sabres had trouble getting it out of their zone. A couple late faceoffs resulted in several scoring chances, but Miller was able to prevent any more from getting past him.

"We won ugly, but I'll take it and be happy," admitted a relieved Miller. "It was awesome. My dad was able to be here and brought my brother along. I had a small cheering section here."

Ruff was also giving out a sigh of relief.

"I was thinking, "Are they going to find another way to lose this game, or is there going to be a bounce that's going to hurt them?' " reflected Ruff.

Right near the end of the game when the Sabres were hanging on by a thread, the lights started to dim and go out. Was this a sign from above that the Sabres were not suppose to win another game until the new owners take over?

"Gee, they don't even want us to win a game, the power's going out. I was glad to see new ownership because I thought maybe we didn't pay the power bill," dead-panned Ruff.

The lights were restored and so was the team's confidence that they can indeed win a game, at once in a while.

Hamister/Berman win in photo finish

It was like the Kentucky Derby. Early in the week, it was leaked through NHL sources that league Commissioner Gary Bettman was going to finally decide on who would become the next Sabres owner. It had gone down to a last minute bid by Rochester billionaire Tomas Golisano and Hamister. Bettman was in constant communication with both as he wanted to get the bidding higher. As it turned out, Golisano did up his offer a little, but when Bettman and his associates examined both parties, Hamister came up as the best candidate. Golisano, who lost the New York State race for governor, was had his second straight major defeat in two weeks with the announcement that Hamister and Berman won the nod by Bettman.

The accepted bid came in the range of between $60-65 million and assuming of debt in the range of $30 million. Sabres fans and Hamister was glad the process was finally settled and now the new owners could get things in order before the Board of Governors make the transfer of ownership official sometime in the early spring.

"This team will be run by a Buffalo-born and -bred management team that will keep the Sabres in Buffalo where they belong and give this organization the players, the support that they need to win both on and off the ice," said Hamister.

"To re-establish the Sabres as a competitive hockey team, we must transfer the Sabres organization into a strong and successful operation," Hamister continued. "Our discussions going forward with the league, local businesses and units of government will be devoted to achieving all these goals."

One of the first matters that Hamister will explore is the possibility of bringing back the original blue and gold Sabres uniforms. Just like his ownership bid, to revert back to the old uniforms would have to be approved by the league's board of governors.

The team that has been mired in bad play and speculation on whether a local owner would ever be found, now can concentrate on just playing the game again and finding a way to get back into the playoff race.

Sabres Talk

With the most Sabres fans in the Arena since last season (last week's game against Toronto had more Leafs fans than Sabres faithful), it was like old times in the HSBC Arena.

"There was excitement in the building," said Pyatt. "It was a more positive attitude here tonight. It was nice to have the new owner here supporting us. It was a breath of fresh air for us and we built off it. We can finally smile after a game."

With Jason Woolley traded to Detroit, it gave old vet James Patrick more time on the ice. He relished the playing time and paid back Ruff by scoring the winning goal.

"A win is huge, no matter what it looks like at the end of the night, and we want to build on it,'' put in Patrick. "I'm extremely happy, yes.''

Patrick, who used to score more often in his younger days, put a backhand shot past Denis from 20 feet out.

"I'll take any goal,'' admitted Patrick. "But with six minutes left, I didn't think it was going to be the game-winner.''

Ruff, who has been on the hot seat ever since the team went into its early season funk, was probably the most relieved person in the building when the final horn sounded.

"It was a load off," admitted Ruff. "We made a few mistakes down the stretch, but overall it was sound game.''

Geoff Sanderson, who was always a thorn in the Sabres side when playing against his former team, had an assist on Derrick Wasler's goal. He has more goals than any Sabres with 12 so far this season.

"We came out flat,'' Sanderson said. "You come into a rink like this when a team hasn't won, you know they're going to come out hard in the first 10 minutes. But if you can counter that, get on top of that early and get them thinking, 'Here we go again.' Then you've got a huge advantage. And we didn't put that in their head until late in the game.''

Hamister was asked if he plans to employ a similar regionalization plan that the Buffalo Bills use to get more of a fan base.

"We have to make this more of a regional franchise," said Hamister. "So we have to go to the Pennsylvania line, to Rochester and Syracuse to Southern Ontario. And we have to reach out and connect with those market places, whether they be for groups or season ticket holders or individual ticket buyers and we have to bring the connection to the Buffalo Sabres to them, and them to us. "We're going to make a very concentrated effort towards regionalizing the franchise and listening to our fans to find out what their additional needs are. We're going to do as much as we possibly can to listen to the needs of the fans and to fulfill them."

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