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20 years, 1 building, 4 names: Buffalo’s downtown arena

The Buffalo Sabres had just one name to call home for more than 25 years: the Aud. But since the puck dropped for the last time at Memorial Auditorium in the spring of 1996 and the team’s new arena opened that fall, the Sabres have pinned three different names on its building.

Monday, city officials will unveil the arena’s fourth name: KeyBank Center.

Here’s a look back at each name change and moments that unfolded during their time.

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Marine Midland Arena (1996-99)

Marine Midland Arena, the original name of the downtown arena. (News file photo)

Marine Midland Arena, the original name of the downtown arena. (News file photo)

Lowdown: When the Aud officially closed, the Sabres' new arena was to be billed the Crossroads Arena. The Sabres never played a game under that name, as Marine Midland bank bought the name rights just before the season.

Best Sabres season: 1998-99. The second Sabres team to advance to the Stanley Cup Final eventually lost to the Dallas Stars in Game Six on the bitter “No Goal” controversy.

Top concerts: Goo Goo Dolls (Sept. 28, 1996), Backstreet Boys (Nov. 14, 1999), Garth Brooks (Sept. 23-29, 1998), Prince (Sept. 13, 1997), Barenaked Ladies (Dec. 31, 1999).

Memorable moments:

  • Jan. 21, 1999. In one of the strangest moments in arena history, President Bill Clinton held a rally at a packed arena just a month after he was impeached by the House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Almost 22,000 showed up to the event.
  • Spring 1999. “It was the events outside Marine Midland Arena that left a greater impression than anything that went on inside. With the region gripped by playoff fever and Stanley Cup tickets set to go on sale, fans set up tents and camped on the sidewalk in a quest to be near the front of the line. Seeing the party atmosphere and hearing fans talk about “What if?” was unforgettable.” –Sabres beat reporter John Vogl
  • June 19, 1999. That dreamy buildup washed away later in the series. “No goal” still hurts longtime Sabres fans. While it’s certainly unpleasant for Western New Yorkers to hear, there are few moments in team history remembered more than this one. Dallas Stars forward Brett Hull scored in triple overtime in Game Six of the Stanley Cup finals to give his team the title, however replays showed his skate in goalie crease. According to NHL rules, that goal shouldn’t have counted.

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HSBC Arena (1999-2011)

Marine Midland Arena becomes HSBC Arena. (John Hickey/News file photo)

Marine Midland Arena becomes HSBC Arena. (John Hickey/News file photo)

Lowdown: HSBC bought out Marine Midland and thus obtained the naming rights.

Best Sabres season: 2006-07. The team won the Presidents' Trophy (113 points; 53-22-7) before bowing out in the Eastern Conference finals to Ottawa.

Top concerts: Justin Timberlake (Feb. 18, 2007), U2 (Dec. 9, 2005), Britney Spears (June 26, 2002), Simon and Garfunkel (June 17, 2004.)

Memorable moments:

  • April 22, 2006. “Overtime. Opening game of the playoffs. HSBC Arena was already electric. Then Brian Campbell laid out R.J. Umberger with the most memorable hit in Sabres history. With Umberger on his back and staring blankly at the ceiling, fans nearly blew the roof off the place with a sustained roar that left no doubt the upstart Sabres were ready to make noise.”
  • April 26, 2008. The Buffalo Bandits have won four National Lacrosse League championships, but only one in this arena. The Bandits defeated Portland, 14-13, to win the 2008 title.
  • Feb. 22, 2007. Who could forget the brawl between the Sabres and Senators? The melee involved 12 skaters on the ice, including both goalies Ray Emery and Marty Biron.
  • Feb. 24, 2011. A sold-out crowd was electric in welcoming its new owner Terry Pegula. Here’s an excerpt from T.J. Pignataro’s story on the moment:
    The population of Pegulaville – 18,690 strong – rose to its feet in a unified vote of confidence Wednesday night for the man who promises to quench their 41-year thirst to sip from Lord Stanley of Preston's prized chalice.
    Terrence M. Pegula, the 59-year-old Pennsylvania billionaire and longtime Buffalo Sabres fan and season-ticket holder, took center ice as the team's fourth owner to a rousing ovation from adoring blue-and-gold faithful.
    "Terry, Terry, Terry," the fever-pitched crowd chanted as anthem singer Doug Allen wrapped up "The Star-Spangled Banner" just before faceoff.
    Pegula's dream had come true.

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First Niagara Center (2011-16)

{ STAND ALONE / PICTURE PAGE } Workers secure the first letter, an R which has been up since Tuesday, onto the roof of the recently renamed First Niagara Center on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 13, 2011. {Photo by Derek Gee / Buffalo News}

HSBC Arena becomes First Niagara Center in 2011. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Lowdown: First Niagara Bank owned the arena’s naming rights after buying out most of Buffalo’s HSBC branches.

Best Sabres season: 2014-15. The Sabres' five-year run at First Niagara Center was its worst stretch in team history, highlighted by five straight non-playoff seasons and back-to-back 50-point seasons. That’s why when the Sabres finished 30th in the NHL in 2015, it was their best season — they got a chance to draft a franchise center in Jack Eichel to send the team in the right direction.

Top concerts: Dead and Company (Nov. 11, 2015), (Paul McCartney (Oct. 22, 2015), Garth Brooks (six shows between March 5 and March 8, 2015).

Memorable moments:

  • Jan. 4, 2012. “With way more bad times than good on the ice, the once-rollicking arena usually resembled a morgue or library under the First Niagara Center banner.” Asked to sum up the stale atmosphere, overpaid and underwhelming Ville Leino delivered his lone memorable moment in Buffalo: “Married couples fighting upstairs, you can hear that on the ice.”
  • June 24, 2016. Buffalo got the chance to show off its revamped downtown landscape to the hockey world in hosting the 2016 NHL Draft. The event received rave reviews from those visiting the city.
  • March 26, 2015. Some may consider this a pleasing memory, some may call it flat out embarrassing. The Sabres and Coyotes were neck-and-neck for last place in the NHL, the coveted position for drafting one of the prized prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. In the latest development of Tankapalooza 2015, home fans cheered for each of the Arizona Coyotes goals.
    “It’s tough to get momentum when your fans are rooting against you,” Sabres defenseman Mike Weber said after the loss. “That’s the unfortunate part. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans. I don’t even know if disappointed is the word.”
    Fans got what they wanted in the end. The team finished 30th and drafted Eichel No. 2 overall.
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