Visiting scholar Kiyo Honma of Tokyo fell in love with the game of hockey after watching Buffalo Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek and his gold medal-winning Czech Republic teammates tear through the competition during the 1998 Winter Olympic games in Nagano, Japan.
So Honma, who currently is studying at the University at Buffalo, didn't dare pass up an opportunity to get immersed in the world of hockey Sunday and maybe score an autographed T-shirt signed by "the Dominator" himself during the 20th annual Sabres "Face-Off for Fun" Carnival in HSBC Arena.
"Hockey is a minor sport in Japan," said Honma, wearing a Sabres jersey as he waited in a long line for Sabres forward Stu Barnes' autograph.
"So it was very interesting for me (to see Hasek play at the Olympics), and now I am addicted to the game. It has great speed and great hits, and Hasek plays a great game."
Honma was joined by about 8,000 other fans at the event -- young and old, male and female, and most donned black, gray and red Sabres jerseys sporting the names and numbers of their favorite players.
For $10, fans had access to buy autographed hockey memorabilia and an opportunity to seek autographs and chat with past and current members of the Sabres. However, neither star center Michael Peca nor backup goalie Martin Biron, who are still in contract negotiations with the Sabres, was present.
Jessica Budzynski, 11, of Cheektowaga, has been big-time Sabres fan since she was 7.
"My brother really likes Miroslav Satan, but I like all of them. I'm trying to get as many autographs as I can," said Jessica, who was joined by her grandmother Brenda Doster of Holland.
Proceeds from the carnival will benefit Cradle Beach Camp, People Inc. and the St. Catharines (Ont.) General Hospital Nuclear Medicine Gamma Camera.
Ron Bertovich, executive vice president of administration for the Sabres, said the organization hoped to raise $70,000 from Sunday's event to divide among the three charities.
"It's a great cause. As you walk around, you see a lot of people waiting in line for autographs or waiting to have their pictures taken on the Zamboni machine, but they're all smiling," Bertovich said.
The "Face-Off for Fun Carnival" was started in 1980 by wives of Sabres players as a way to raise money for charity.