To honor his parents for fostering his love of hockey, Cody Franson presented them with the jersey he wore during his first NHL game. Marcus Foligno’s debut jersey is hanging in his home as a reminder of the day he was so nervous that he sweated in his sleep. Ryan O’Reilly, Brian Gionta and Zach Bogosian have no clue what happened to their first jerseys.
They all know what happened to Jack Eichel’s debut sweater.
In an auction to benefit the Buffalo Sabres Foundation this month, the organization put the jersey Eichel wore during the season opener against Ottawa up for bid. The bidding started at $250 and quickly went up, up, up ... and up some more.
While most jerseys went for a few hundred bucks, Eichel’s game-worn sweater sold for an astounding $39,112.
“It’s great,” Eichel said. “It’s for charity, so it’s nice to see that.”
Through the Sabres, the winning bidder expressed a desire to keep his identity and plans for the jersey private at this time.
The Sabres’ following auction featured the jersey Eichel wore during his first road game (Oct. 15 in Florida), and it fetched a cool $12,032. A road jersey worn by Sam Reinhart earned the second-highest bid at $2,026.
Those totals are far from pocket change - especially for polyester - but they aren’t close to the wallet-busting bids that accompanied Eichel’s first jersey.
“That’s huge,” Foligno said. “I don’t know if it’s ever been like that before. It’s great to see people out there doing it and supporting a great cause. That’s a great contribution to a great foundation.”
The Buffalo Sabres Foundation began in 1995, and former minority owner Larry Quinn made its funding a priority starting in 2004. The mission of the not-for-profit corporation is to support youth hockey, underprivileged youth, military personnel and physically or mentally challenged athletes.
Based on the four tax forms available from 2010 to 2013, the foundation has grown substantially:
• 2010: revenue $379,777, grants $264,967, expenses $175,667.
• 2011: revenue $471,752, grants $351,649, expenses $107,786.
• 2012 (the lockout year): revenue $417,187, grants $387,564, expenses $120,967.
• 2013: revenue $745,550, grants $525,647, expenses $68,504.
In addition to jersey auctions, the Sabres’ foundation raises money through golf, hockey and bowling tournaments, musical events and holiday memorabilia sales. Groups that have received grants include Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Hasek’s Heroes, the Buffalo Zoo and SABAH.
Having Eichel around will certainly help the foundation’s bottom line. Matching his first jersey will be a tall order. He scored during his highly anticipated arrival, signaling the start of what fans hope is a long, successful career.
Eichel never got a chance to keep his jersey, but he has the puck from his first NHL goal. The league sends all players a copy of their debut game sheet. The memorabilia means a lot to some Sabres, little to others.
“I have a jersey from my first year, but it wasn’t my first game or anything like that,” O’Reilly said. “Looking back it’ll be cool to have those things, but they’re just collecting dust right now.”
Gionta joked that his debut jersey is likely locked away by a former New Jersey Devils president who is known as a thrifty rules stickler.
“Lou Lamiorello probably has it in a vault somewhere,” Gionta said with a grin. “I was a callup my first time up. You’re just excited to be in the league. You didn’t care about what stick you used in the game or what jersey you had.”
Franson was honored to present his first jersey to his parents, who have it displayed in their basement.
“My dad, he always wanted to be a pro hockey player,” Franson said. “He played hockey competitively at the junior level. He played senior for a long time. I grew up following my dad to the rink. Everything we did together growing up was based around hockey, so for me to be able to bring that home to him was something that was very special for us. Obviously, my mom has always been a big supporter, so it was great to be able to bring that home for them.”
Bogosian knows the impact sporting memorabilia can have on a family. His father, Ike, exhibits items from his time as a captain for the Syracuse University football team. The Sabres defenseman displays his Atlanta Thrashers draft jersey and the stick he used to score his first goal.
“I’m sure it’ll be cool for down the road when the kids are old enough to understand what dad did,” Bogosian said. “My dad played college football, so I see some of his old equipment and his old pictures and it’s pretty cool.”
Foligno’s debut in 2011 was made sweeter by the fact he faced his brother, Nick, in Ottawa.
“I remember my first shift was about 15 seconds long because I couldn’t breathe,” the Sabres winger said. “The whole anticipation up to the game was something I’ll never forget. I might have been sweating during my nap.
“I still have the jersey. It’s hung up in my place. It’s pretty cool to get that. It’s a once in a lifetime. You only have your first game once, so it’s a pretty special moment. Those are memories you’ll never forget, so it’s kind of cool to have the memorabilia like that.”