Bethany Mazur has had Sabres’ season tickets since 2007. During the last two years, she used them only a handful of times. In fact, Mazur says, she attended more games on the road than in First Niagara Center because the entertainment value was non-existent in Buffalo.
For Mazur and other fans like her, this NHL Draft is more than a chance to pick a potential superstar. It’s an opportunity to hop back on the Sabres’ bandwagon.
“It’s like you finally feel you can put your emotions back into the team,” the Amherst resident said. “It’s more about finally being able to embrace the team in a good way and being happy watching them. They’re still on the same path, but now they’re on the fun part of it.”
The worst should be over for suffering Sabres fans. After back-to-back seasons in 30th place, the only place to go is up.
Joey Pezzino, maybe as much as any fan, knows about the tough times. With the exception of the game held during the November storm, the Lakeview season-ticket holder has been in his seat for every game during the last four seasons. The Sabres have won 58 of the 146.
As Pezzino dejectedly left a 7-0 loss to Minnesota in January, he questioned whether it was all worth it.
“That was the real low point of thinking, ‘What a waste,’ ” said Pezzino, whose excitement is back with such force that he was scheduled to fly to Florida to attend the draft. “I’m excited for what next season holds. I think the tough times are starting to go behind us.”
When the Sabres select Jack Eichel with the No. 2 pick Friday, there will be a tangible reward for the beatdowns, boring nights and discarded ducats. The center will pull on a Sabres sweater and help fans shed the doldrums.
“You could see the excitement this month at the combine,” said Richard Sabin of Niagara Falls. “I was down at Canalside and players were walking around. Eichel was getting ice cream, and people flooded to him because they knew who he was right away. This is the passion that Western New Yorkers have for hockey.”
The passion has been suppressed for Sabin. A season-ticket holder since 2005, he went to only two games this season. He’ll attend way more next year.
“Do I condone what they did? No,” he said of the rebuild strategy. “Do I see the light at the end of the tunnel? Sure.”
The selection of Eichel will undoubtedly be the marquee moment of the draft for Sabres fans. Moments after Edmonton calls out Connor McDavid as first overall, Buffalo will select Eichel.
“I would actually prefer Eichel over McDavid,” said Paul Kaseman of Penfield. “McDavid is better, but I think Eichel fits Buffalo and the city’s personality a lot more. He’s more hard-working with a chip on the shoulder that he needs to prove himself. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
The intrigue of what can happen after Eichel is appealing, too. Buffalo has three other picks in the first two rounds (Nos. 21, 31 and 51). General Manager Tim Murray could be a busy man with trades or selections.
“I’m excited because I know that it’s not just going to be Jack Eichel,” said season-ticket holder Louis DeCarlo of West Seneca. “It’s going to be whoever they can sign in free agency or whatever other trades Murray can pull off. What it really comes down to for me is there’s faith renewed not just in the team but in the guy that’s running it. Anytime he speaks, it’s like, ‘OK, yeah, I get it. He’s actually going to get it done.’
“You can see the direction that Murray is taking the team. I am excited.”