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Bettman praises Buffalo fans

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman went out of his way before Game One to make sure how much he appreciated the passion fans in Buffalo have for hockey. He pulled me to the side and made his point after his news conference. It came as a surprise to me.

Bettman for years has been impressed with television ratings in Buffalo during the Stanley Cup final regardless of whether the Sabres are involved. The Sabres haven't reached the finals since 1999 but routinely are among the top three cities watching, usually after the two cities that have teams playing for the Cup.

"We have great fans in Buffalo," Bettman said. "It's that simple. You have to remember, I knew that going back and I really had that reinforced when we ran the club during a difficult period. It's a passionate, knowledgeable fan base. While they love the Sabres perhaps more than anything else, they're also big fans of the game."

Bettman wasn't simply blowing smoke. He said it was important to him that Buffalo has done well because the support has been there from ownership and the fans.

"It's always good to know that you have teams in a place where hockey really matters and the team is really important," he said. "Two, it also means we're particularly pleased when we have good strong ownership, which we have in Buffalo.

"Terry [Pegula] is a terrific owner. I'm glad that someone like him, who has an onerous passion about a game, has a team in a market like Buffalo. I've been watching the numbers long enough to not be surprised. I now expect it."

-- Bucky Gleason