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This Day in Buffalo sports history: Open for business

   Sept. 21, 1996 -- With all the talk this summer about the demolition of the Aud, let's remember the day its replacement opened.

   The Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs baptized the new building with a preseason game. Here's the way I described it for The News:

   The Marine Midland Arena is officially open for business.

    The Buffalo Sabres baptized the new facility Saturday night, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-1, before a sellout crowd of 18,420.Few people in the building cared about the result. Their biggest thrill came earlier in the night, when they walked into the arena for the first time. Once in their seats, they were treated to a 10-minute pregame show featuring lasers, lights and pyrotechnics.

    The Sabres' players took to the ice after that, and they found themselves scanning their surroundings just like the fans. The reviews were all positive.

    "It's awesome," Derek Plante said. "Everything about it is first class. It's really a big-time place. It's nice to see a facility like this in Buffalo."

    Sabres coach Ted Nolan even admitted that he found his attention wandering a bit during the course of the night.

    "I got caught up in it at times, looking at the big crowd and the new facilities. You have to give the players a lot of credit. They really concentrated on the game."

    The game marked the first step in the process of turning the new facility into a home arena. The Sabres will have to learn how to play in the new facility in the coming weeks -- how the puck bounces off the boards, where to shoot the puck off the seamless glass, etc.

    The biggest change might be in the actual ice surface itself. The dimensions at Marine Midland Arena are the standard 200 feet by 85 feet. That's six feet longer and a foot wider than Memorial Auditorium, which was the last substandard ice surface in the National Hockey League.

    "That's right up my alley," center Brian Holzinger said. "That's one thing I don't miss about the Aud, that's for sure. It opens up play a lot."

--- Budd Bailey

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