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In what all fans have to hope will be a Sabre-rattling event, an Erie County native this week won the National Hockey League's approval to buy Buffalo's orphaned and struggling team. Final negotiations should lead to a formal vote by the league's board of governors early next year, at which point Mark Hamister will add the Sabres to the roster of sports teams he owns.

It was an important and hopeful development for the team and the city, both of which have been on tenterhooks since the previous team owners, the Rigas family, were arrested in connection with financial improprieties at their other company, Adelphia Communications. Sales of season tickets have fallen, attendance has plummeted and the Sabres, not to put too fine a point on it, are terrible. They are playing some of the worst hockey in their history.

Many factors may contribute to each of those circumstances but, without doubt, one of them must be the uncertainty that has hung over the Sabres like a sword. The threat, usually unspoken, was that the team could be sold to someone who would move it to another city, where fans would once again fill the seats. It's hard to perform in that kind of proprietary incoherence.

With Hamister's successful bid, that threat seems to be dissipating, at least for now. Hamister's roots are here, and, more important, so is his heart. He was born in the Town of Tonawanda and his business interests center on Buffalo, where his National Health Care Affiliates is located. He also owns the Buffalo Destroyers Arena League football team and the Rochester Brigade, a minor-league arena football franchise. He devotes a substantial part of his time to civic groups dedicated to returning the luster that Buffalo has lost due to unkind circumstances and unwise policies.

With the Sabres' ownership vacuum about to be filled, there is reason to hope that everyone - fans included - will get back to the business at hand: building a winning franchise. Even though Hamister is not yet formally the team's owner, it wouldn't be too soon for him to get the attention of the executives, coaches and players of this poorly performing team in order to, ah, motivate them. Something to make them think it will be in their interest to start building a better on-ice record.

Everyone needs motivation, of course, even owners. So in order to do our part in helping Hamister meet his goals, here's our contribution: Stanley Cup this spring. Go to it, Mark.

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