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Sabres relent, put beer back in plaza party game plan Fans shun outdoor event, spurring team to kill ban and just be good skates

By popular demand, beer will be back for tonight's Buffalo Sabres "Party in the Plaza" outside HSBC Arena.

The Sabres turned off the beer taps at the outdoor party for Wednesday night's playoff game against the New York Rangers, calling it a move to make the gathering more family-friendly. After getting a less-than-friendly reaction from fans, the Sabres front office has reversed its "no beer" policy.

"The party got bigger than we thought it would, and we probably overreacted a little bit," said Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn. "I'd hope we'd always err on the side of protecting the public, but we went a little far this time."

Chris Cooper, an Erie County Department of Social Services worker and Sabres fan, was among those who booed the beer ban.

"We worked all day and then walked down to the arena, met a bunch of friends and had a great time," Cooper said of his experience at an earlier game. "We're all well-behaved adults in our 40s and 50s and can handle having a couple of beers."

Another plaza party-goer, Brian Cox, agreed, predicting that without beer, the parties would flop.

"Nobody wants to stand for three hours watching a hockey game and not be able to drink," Cox said, applauding the Sabres' change of heart.

Sabres communications chief Michael Gilbert said more than a few fans like Cooper and Cox expressed dismay over the end of beer sales at the outdoor fan fete. Attendence at Wednesday night's plaza bash was down sharply, leading to a quick reconsideration of the ban.

"We listen to our fans, and a lot of people were unhappy about not being able to buy beer out on the plaza, so we decided to make a compromise," Gilbert said.

In lifting the beer ban, the Sabres will introduce a new "hat trick maximum" to limit overdrinking and bad behavior.

"We're limiting sales to three beers per person. They'll get their hands stamped for each beer they buy, and when they hit three stamps, they're done," Gilbert explained.

The free parties saw strong attendence during Round One of the playoffs, with crowds building from around 1,000 for the opening game to more than 4,000 for Game Five last Friday.

The parties, which start off as a pregame gathering with music and refreshments, turn into an alternative to watching the game at home for those without tickets. Crowds are able to watch the game on a giant outdoor video screen.

In addition to cutting off beer sales, the Sabres also took steps to close down a section of Perry Street, directly in front of the arena, on game nights. Sabres executives said that worked well Wednesday and will stay through the playoffs.

Tonight's plaza party will kick off at 4:30 p.m.; the game starts at 7. In addition to beer, if it rains, fans also will receive blue plastic ponchos, courtesy of the Maid of the Mist.

Now that Sabres fans have beer and ponchos, they have one more request -- more portable toilets.

"I missed two power plays Wednesday night waiting in line for one of just four Porta-Potties, said Will Granata of Niagara Falls.

He expects the potty lines will be even longer tonight when beer flows again.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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