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The empty seat for Seymour was a nice touch.

It was draped in Sabre ribbons, the old blue, gold and white colors that meant so much to Seymour H. Knox III, his family and those of us who always thought we were a part of a memorable Buffalo tradition.

Knox, whose memory and legacy were both honored at the official hockey opening of the new Marine Midland Arena, would have liked it.

The tribute from his son, Seymour H. Knox IV, was especially moving. So was the banner raised in his honor, the ceremonial puck drop with his grandsons at center ice and the large-screen projection of the early days of the franchise's founding.

Really nicely done.

The building looked pretty good, too. Packed with the largest crowd ever to see a hockey game in Western New York, Buffalo fans seemed to enjoy their new sports and entertainment complex. I hate to admit it, but even the demonic goat head was almost tolerable to look at (though I wouldn't recommend booking it for children's parties, religious occasions or a guest spot on Sesame Street Live).

The Jumbotron worked as advertised, the Sabres store was open and packed with merchandise. Dignitaries, from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on down, added to the festive occasion.

Too bad the hockey was just awful.

Actually, it was worse than awful. No one expected any miracles Saturday. Detroit is a good team with the ability to be great. The Red Wings were supposed to win and they did.

And we knew coming in management had positioned this team for the bottom rungs on the competitive ladder. Dull outings in Edmonton and Calgary had confirmed our sense of lowered expectations. A little jet lag after the squeaky-close win at Vancouver undoubtedly added to the overall lethargy. So too did the injuries to Brad May and Bob Boughner and the absence of Matthew Barnaby.

What we didn't expect was that on a night that was made for snap, crackle and pop, we got fizzle. Nothing, no zip, no feistiness, no drive. There was some effort, but it was effort without emotion. The sort of robotic hockey you get off a tabletop game, where cutout players whirl around but little gets accomplished until a puck goes in out of sheer dumb luck.

There are a lot of reasons for what was on display Saturday. They start with ownership and general manager John Muckler and go downhill fast from there. If there was a real commitment to hockey here, maybe we would be looking at a $4-plus million dollar investment in several more quality hockey players instead of a like amount spent on a scoreboard that shows us pictures of teams that have them, but that's a column for another time.

On this night, however, the players and coaches have only themselves to blame.

Fans here were simply looking for one Herculean effort. It didn't have to be a win, but it did need to be a single bust-a-gut performance that showed people that there really was something here worthy of their support. It might not have lasted beyond the first three periods, but it would have at least sent a message that there was no quit in this team, that it would work hard, hit hard and play hard for the 60 minutes that now costs $60 or more.

Long-suffering Buffalo hockey fans didn't get that. Not from Pat LaFontaine and Dominik Hasek, the players who are paid to do it. Not from Randy Burridge, Donald Audette, Derek Plante, Rob Ray and the players who should be trying to do it. Not from Michal Grosek, Jay McKee, Mike Wilson, Brian Holzinger, Michael Peca and Curtis Brown, the players we have to hope can do it. It was a dismal effort from the stars down to the rookies and everyone in between.

Whoever is running this show these days best take note of that. The days of tributes, fanfares and showing off the bells and whistles are now officially over. The ugly reality of really bad hockey is upon us. The people who came and booed Saturday night clearly wanted no part of it.

Ted Nolan said he wouldn't bash his hockey club for what admitedly was a bad outing, but I will.

This game was an embarrassment, one of the worst in the history of the franchise.

Those in charge better do something about that or Seymour Knox's seat won't be the only one that's empty.

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