There was a touch of sadness in Brad May's voice as he remembered the old days.
May, now a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, was standing in the visitors' locker room Friday at HSBC Arena, where just a few dozen feet away he used to pull a Buffalo Sabres sweater over his shoulder pads.
"It's been three years, and it's funny how it changes," May said. The beloved enforcer was making just his second trip to Buffalo since he was traded to Vancouver for Geoff Sanderson in 1998.
Since Buffalo, it has been three years, two teams and another child.
"It's not the same. We're trying to keep grasping on to things," May said. He and wife Brigette, son Tylor and daughter Samantha now live in Scottsdale, Ariz. "We don't have a home to go back to, but we still love the people, have so many friends here in Buffalo, some great neighbors."
And some great memories.
After a fine junior career in Niagara Falls, Ont., May scored on his first NHL shot. But that wasn't his most special goal. He notched one of the greatest in Sabres history -- the "May Day" goal -- in overtime to sweep Boston out of the 1993 playoffs.
The warm-and-fuzzy feelings in Buffalo, however, stopped shortly after the opening faceoff, when young Eric Boulton challenged May. No punches were exchanged, but May easily slammed Boulton to the ice.
It's been an interesting campaign for May, and that's aside from the intrigue surrounding Wayne Gretzky's recently completed purchase of the Coyotes.
May was suspended 20 games for a slash to the head of Columbus forward Steve Heinze on Nov. 11.
"At the time I felt (I was) cut off at the knees," May said. "But I put myself in that situation, and I'm a better man for (the suspension). It was an accident. That's all it was, nothing more. I think 20 games was too much, but it was my mistake, and I paid the price."
When he has been on the ice, May has been a contributor. Playing on the right side of the gritty "Ugly Line" -- with center Trevor Letowski and Landon Wilson -- May has scored eight goals and 10 assists with 77 penalty minutes.
"He's having a great year," said May's close friend and Sabres counterpart Rob Ray. "He's producing more consistently offensively, having the chance to play. But the big thing is he's happy out there, and when you're happy you're going to play a lot better."
May's value is best illustrated in the Coyotes' record when he was out. They got off to a 9-1-5 start but then went 7-7-5-1 during his suspension.
Sabres defenseman Richard Smehlik's nagging groin injury kept him out of the lineup. He left in the third period of Thursday's 1-0 victory in New Jersey and underwent an MRI Friday. Results were negative, but he still is expected to miss at least a few days.
James Patrick, a healthy scratch for nine of the Sabres' 11 previous games, replaced Smehlik and was paired with Jason Woolley.
Buffalo's other scratches were left wing Vladimir Tsyplakov (abdominal strain) and center Chris Taylor (healthy).
One of the more dramatic moments of Buffalo's season occurred at -- and after -- the final horn in New Jersey.
With the Devils using an extra attacker to pound away deep in the Sabres' zone, defenseman Brian Rafalski sent a desperation shot from the high slot between Dominik Hasek's legs as the horn sounded.
The puck hit the back of the net with no time left on the clock, and a goal was, at first, credited to the Devils. Hasek quickly skated off the ice, shaking his head to intimate the game was over.
After a video review clearly showed the puck hadn't even reached the top of the goaltender circle when time expired, the goal was waved off.
"I could hear the horn and the puck was still in front of me," Hasek said. "I tried to stop the puck, but there was a player in the crease to interfere with me. But I was almost 100 percent sure the horn went off before the puck went in."
Coyotes center Joe Juneau doesn't harbor any bitter memories about returning to HSBC Arena, the place where, as a Sabre, he watched the Dallas Stars skate around the ice holding the Stanley Cup.
"In my book I was not a loser that year," said Juneau, who had three goals and eight assists in 20 games in the postseason run. "I always think back on it like I was a winner. It (Brett Hull's disputed goal) was not a fair way to end it here, but there's no point in going back.
"Obviously, I don't have that Stanley Cup ring today, and I didn't get to hold the cup. But we didn't lose it."