It started as an badly needed idea to replace aged Memorial Auditorium known as Crossroads Arena. It opened as Marine Midland Arena, morphed into HSBC Arena and First Niagara Center and then was christened KeyBank Center over the summer. The city's downtown hockey arena officially opened for NHL play on Oct. 12, 1996 -- exactly 20 years ago Wednesday -- with the Sabres' 6-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
In two decades of NHL hockey, there's been triumph that's led the Sabres as close as two wins from a Stanley Cup. There's been crushing disappointment, a near-tragedy, a falling scoreboard and a place for the community to gather in times of trouble. Here's a look back at some of the big moments from the arena's 20 years
By the numbers
Regular season record: 313-355-94
Home openers: 7-10-2. (Have lost three straight, scoring just two goals in those games)
Regular season OT record: 40-31
Playoff record: 32-24
Playoff OT record: 8-7
First game: 6-1 loss to Detroit on Oct. 12, 1996
First win: 4-1 over Pittsburgh on Oct. 17, 1996
First game of new century: 8-1 win over Toronto on Jan. 1, 2000
Biggest wins: 10-1 over Los Angeles on Jan. 14, 2006; 10-1 over Atlanta on Jan. 18, 2008.
Worst losses: 10-4 to Ottawa on Nov. 2, 2005 (only 10-goal game against); 7-0 to Minnesota on Jan. 15, 2015.
Last Sabres hat trick: Thomas Vanek vs. Tampa Bay, April 5, 2011
Last opponent hat trick: New York's Brad Richards, April 19, 2013.
The most famous (or infamous) goals at KeyBank Center
1. No Goal: Game Six, Stanley Cup final, June 19, 1999. Go read another section if you need an explanation.
2. Who Else? Who Else? Rick Jeanneret's classic call as co-captain Chris Drury tied Game Five of the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinals with 7.7 seconds left by stunning the Rangers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist in a game Buffalo trailed, 1-0. It set up ...
3. The Russian Rocket. Maxim Afinogenov drove a slapshot by Lundqvist on a power play early in overtime to give the Sabres a 2-1 win and sap the spirit from the Rangers. Buffalo wrapped up the series two days later in New York
4. Game Seven magic: Derek Plante's slapshot in OT off the glove of Ottawa goaltender Ron Tugnutt won the first-round series vs. the Senators on April 29, 1997. It remains the only Game Seven win in franchise history.
5. The Dominator leaves the building: Pittsburgh's Darius Kasparaitis burned Dominik Hasek with what looked like a routine wrist shot to give the Penguins a Game Seven victory over Buffalo in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals. The puck entered the net and the Hall of Fame-bound Dominator bolted off the ice in what would prove to be his final appearance in a Buffalo uniform.
6. Jack Flash: The fans went wild when No. 1 draft pick Jack Eichel scored in the third period of his first game, the only goal in the Sabres' 3-1 loss to Ottawa on Oct. 8, 2015. It could have been much more as the Sabres appeared to wipe out a 2-0 deficit on a goal by Evander Kane a couple of minutes later but the team was victimized by the first offside challenge in arena history and the goal was wiped out.
7. All tied up. Dixon Ward's goal at 7:37 of the second period gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead and the score held up in Game Four of the Stanley Cup final on June 15, 1999. Roared Jeanneret as the final seconds ticked away: "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the best-of-three Stanley Cup final. Buffalo 2, Dallas 1, the series tied at 2." The Sabres, of course, didn't win another game.
8. Danny Briere! Danny Briere!: Jeanneret's oft-imitated call of the Sabres' co-captain's goal in double overtime to beat Philadelphia in Game One of the 2006 opening round. It came off a Jochen Hecht feed on his 13th shot on goal of the game.
9-10. Season over: In addition to the Kasparaitis tally and the Brett Hull No Goal, the Sabres were eliminated from the playoffs here in overtime on two other occasions: The 1998 Eastern Conference final vs. Washington by Joe Juneau and the 2007 Eastern Conference final vs. Ottawa by Daniel Alfredsson.
11-12. Captain Serious: With tank-crazy Sabres fans and roaring Chicago denizens filling the building, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews gave everyone what they wanted late in a tight game on April 3, 2015. With Buffalo nursing a 3-2 lead over the eventual Stanley Cup champions, Toews scored the tying goal with 1:43 left and then stunned everyone in the building with the winning goal with 55 seconds left to give the Hawks a 4-3 win that helped nudge the Sabres into 30th place.
13. One-upsmanship: The first matchup between Eichel and No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid of Edmonton on March 1, 2016 was a ragged affair befitting two teams not heading to the playoffs. But it ended in dramatic fashion in overtime, with Eichel shooting just wide on a spin-o-rama, McDavid grabbing the puck and rushing to the other end to score on a backhand and give the Oilers a 2-1 win.
14. One last flip: Briere got the puck out of midair to beat Carolina's Cam Ward in Game Six of the Eastern Conference finals of May 30, 2006. It sent Buffalo back to Raleigh for Game Seven and put the Sabres' season into June for just the second time in their history, albeit for only one game.
15. RJ Cam: Eichel's breakaway goal that beat Carolina with one second left in overtime on March 12, 2016 was a highlight-reel special anyway but took on a different tone because the Sabres kept a camera on Jeanneret during the entire game. The clip of him calling the goal, thrusting his arms in the air in celebration and screaming "How do you do?" quickly went viral.
16. Who's the home team? You had to wonder on March 26, 2015 as the Sabres lost to Arizona in a bizarre game that saw fans bemoan Brian Gionta's tying goal late in regulation and wildly cheer Sam Gagner's game-winner in overtime for the visiting Coyotes in the name of the McEichel Sweepstakes. Said Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber: "Physically, mentally, this sucks. To compound things, you have your home fans cheering against you. I’ve never been a part of that. Obviously, what doesn’t kill ya makes you stronger, I guess. But this is a whole new low right now.”
17. An upset for real: The Sabres won the first two games in Ottawa during the 2006 Eastern Conference quarterfinal but the Senators were favored and belief was still tenuous as the series returned for Game Three. But the city reached a fever pitch in Game Three when J.P. Dumont scored in overtime to put the Sabres up in the series, three games to none. The Sabres won in five on Jason Pominville's shorthanded OT goal in Ottawa.
18. Razor's edge: Popular pugilist and now popular broadcaster Rob Ray's only playoff goal in the building came on a blind tip-in that bounced past Curtis Joseph in Game Four of the 1999 Eastern Conference final against Toronto. "I tell the story all the time," Ray said mischievously earlier this year. "Beautiful deflection."
19. The Butt Goal: Defenseman Mark Pysyk was credited with an overtime winner against Phoenix on Dec. 23, 2013 when the puck flipped in the air and landed in the rear of the pants of Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith -- who backed into the net and thus put the puck over the line. The Sabres' early Christmas gift went viral the next day.
20: Fool's Gold Goal: Ville Leino scored in overtime of Game Six of the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals on April 24, 2011 handing the Sabres a heartbreaking 5-4 victory in what still stands as the last playoff game staged in the building. The goal hurt in more ways than one, as it was clearly part of the impetus for the Sabres to sign Leino to a six-year, $27.5 million contract two months later that was one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history. By 2014, Leino's deal was bought out.
The San Jose Sharks have been the opponent for several emotional nights:
Feb. 13, 2009: The night after Continental Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence near the homes of several Sabres, a somber crowd filled the building and held a haunting moment of silence for the victims. The Sabres tied the game as Jason Pominville deflected home a Craig Rivet shot with 3.9 seconds left to send the building into a frenzy that was more emotional release. They won it, 6-5, in a shootout. Said Derek Roy: "No one was going to stop us from tying that game up for those people."
Feb. 13, 2010: Another moment of silence is held to mark the one-year anniversary of the crash and the Sabres beat the Sharks again, 3-1.
Feb. 28, 2014: Just before warmups for another visit by the Sharks, rumors start to circulate in the building three days before the NHL trade deadline. Goalie Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott don't take the ice. Their trade to St. Louis is announced just prior to faceoff and they stage an tear-filled goodbye in a press conference during the first intermission. With Jhonas Enroth in goal, the Sabres manage to pull out a 4-2 win.
Nov. 18, 2014: In what's known as "The Wall of Snow game", only about 7,000 fans are on hand for a 4-1 Buffalo win over San Jose as parts of the Western New York are socked by up to 7 feet of snow. The snow line is visible in the sky just to the south of the arena crushing South Buffalo, but never makes its way into downtown.
Best Brawl I: Nothing will match the rock-em/sock-em action of the Sabres' dustup with Ottawa on Feb. 22, 2007. Instigated by Chris Neil's elbow to the head of Chris Drury, the Sabres extracted their own pound of flesh on the ensuing faceoff and goaltenders Martin Biron and Ray Emery even got involved, with Emery then being pounded by enforcer Andrew Peters. Coaches Lindy Ruff and Bryan Murray also staged a memorable shouting match between the benches in a scene that made national news.
Best Brawl II: Goaltenders Garth Snow and Steve Shields went at it as the Sabres and Flyers engaged in a donnybrook in the second period of the opening game of their 1997 second-round series. Current broadcasters Rob May and Brad May were in the thick of the action and Shields bolted down the ice to challenge Snow when the Philadelphia goalie started face-washing Ray with his gloves.
Strange but True
Jumbletron: That was the headline in The News on Nov. 16, 1996, as the $4 million scoreboard in the new arena crashed to the ice while it was being moved shortly after the morning skate. That night's game against Boston was postponed and it took more than five months for a new board to be hung in its place.
You're My Hero: The famous words of new owner Terry Pegula to legendary center Gilbert Perreault during his introduction in the arena pavilion on Feb. 22, 2011. Pegula was greeted with a standing ovation prior to the game against Atlanta the next night -- and the French Connection surprised him by skating on to the ice to join him for the ceremonial faceoff.
Farewell, Rico: The welcome to Pegula was the last public appearance in a Sabres uniform for legendary winger Rick Martin, who died of a heart attack that led to a car accident in Clarence on the morning of March 13, 2011. Later that afternoon, the Sabres posted a 6-4 win over Ottawa and the team gathered at center ice and pointed to Martin's retired number in the rafters as a tribute. A memorial service for Martin was held on the arena floor two weeks later.
You're Fired: Lindy Ruff was disconsolate as fans booed his team during a dreary 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on Feb. 19, 2013. Afterward, he said "we've got to take a hard look at everything." He was angry at his players during a long practice the next day in the arena but there was no sign anything was amiss. About four hours later, however, he was fired after 16 years at helm as GM Darcy Regier went to his Clarence home to tell Ruff not to take the team bus to Toronto for a game the next night. Early that evening, Regier held back tears as he met reporters and said, "I think the last game was, quite honestly, a tipping point. It was evident to me that we were searching for answers to too many questions."
House of Refuge: With power out for days in parts of the area due to the "October Surprise" snowstorm, many fans came downtown to get food and escape their darkened houses. They saw the Sabres beat the New York Rangers, 7-4, on Oct. 14, 2006 and drub Philadelphia, 9-1, three days later en route to their NHL-record 10-0 start.
Worst injury: Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik nearly died after his carotid artery was severed by a skate during the third period of a game on Feb. 10, 2008. The harrowing, blood-filled scene was reminiscent of a similar injury suffered by Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuck at Memorial Auditorium in 1989. Zednik bolted off the ice into the arms of trainers and doctors and was rushed into emergency surgery at Buffalo General Hospital to stem the bleeding and save his life. When his condition was stable en route, an announcement was made to the shocked crowd and the fans responded with a standing ovation.
Happy Mother's Day: Tough guy Matthew Barnaby's first career hat trick came at an opportune time -- a 6-3 win over Montreal in Game Two of the 1998 Eastern Conference semifinals. On Mother's Day. With Mom in the stands cheering him on a week after the birth of his son.
Back to the Future I: Just prior to the season finale against New Jersey on April 7, 2003, the Sabres stunned the crowd by taking the ice for the game in their old blue and gold jerseys rather than the red and black. The building roared and the positive reaction was the impetus for the team's color change that eventually took hold in 2006.
Back to the Future: GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston were fired late in the evening after a shootout win over Los Angeles on Nov. 12, 2013. The next morning in a stunning press conference in the arena atrium, former Sabres heros Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan emerge to the dais as the team's new president and interim coach. Nolan, in his second tour of duty, would coach the club through 2015. LaFontaine had a falling out with the Pegulas and was gone just four months after he was hired but not before naming Tim Murray as general manager.