The Portland Pirates rolled into HSBC Arena last week to face off against the Albany River Rats. The Feb. 10 game was a significant moment for both the fans and prospects of the Buffalo Sabres franchise.
Players finally got the chance to show off their skills in front of their future supporters, and fans got to see the highly anticipated talent lighting up the American Hockey League just waiting for a call-up to the big league.
For the first time since the 2005-2006 season, the Sabres have their own farm team. They spent the past three seasons in a dual-affiliation of the AHL team, the Rochester Americans, with the Florida Panthers.
Portland, Maine, is just miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and a far drive for Buffalonians. Though the opportunities to catch a glimpse of the shining stars have slimmed now that the hour drive to Rochester is out of the picture, Sabres enthusiasts have still paid close attention.
The crowd pounded the glass during the numerous fights, boo-ed the referees at unjust calls and erupted in cheers for fan-favorites and flashy plays.
The little ball of fire power Nathan Gerbe and his fight with Albany captain Tim Conboy started chants of "GERBE, GERBE," and the arrival on ice of South Buffalo native Tim Kennedy had everyone screaming their loudest.
"Everyone was really into it," said Kenmore East sophomore Kristin Webb. "Fans were definitely excited to see Tim Kennedy and Nathan Gerbe because they're both so well-known here since Gerbe has played with the Sabres often before and Kennedy is from Buffalo."
The game proved to be a hard-fought battle the whole 60 minutes, when Portland forced overtime with just 29.6 seconds left in regulation. The Pirates fell in the shootout to the River Rats, 4-3.