In a scene that would have been hard to imagine during the turbulent summer of 2007, former Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano got a standing ovation from the crowd in KeyBank Center during ceremonies prior to Thursday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Golisano was introduced on 2000s Night following a video presentation that reflected on how he purchased the team from NHL ownership in 2003 after the franchise had fallen into bankruptcy. Golisano and former managing partners Larry Quinn and Dan DiPofi were warmly received by the fans as they entered the ice through the tunnel by the Sabres' bench.
"It was really special," Quinn said of the fans' reaction as he spoke to the media during the first intermission. "I've got to say that Tom Golisano went into something really for the love of the Western New York community. He's always been a big fan of it. There were times he didn't get that (love) and I was so happy for him because he really deserves it."
Under Golisano, the Sabres went to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and 2007 but the franchise has not won a playoff series since. The drought is mostly traced to the free-agent departures of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury on July 1, 2007, as the co-captains were never tendered contracts by ownership after negotiations had taken place several months earlier.
"I know all the inside information about why it happened, the very logical process we went through and the reasons it happened," Golisano said. "I don't want to have second thoughts about it. It bothers me that people have negative feelings about the way we handled it but I thought we handled it as best we could under the circumstances."
Golisano sold the team to Terry Pegula in 2011 and said he's stunned that the Sabres are going on nine years without a playoff appearance.
"I'm a little disappointed but I feel bad for Terry because I know how much it means to him," Golisano said. "And obviously to the coaches and the players. So I'm rooting for him. I wish they could do better but they probably eventually will."
Golisano, Quinn and DiPofi walked through a group of 2000s alumni to a center ice ceremony that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Terry and Kim Pegula presented the trio with gold pucks in honor of their service to the organization. Golisano then dropped a puck for a ceremonial faceoff between captains Jack Eichel and Nick Foligno.
Golisano said he was thrilled to see many of his old players and says he has fond memories of Buffalo fans.
"The whole eight years, just all the fun we had," he said. "Working with Larry Quinn and Dan DiPofi was just a terrific time. Pretty satisfied with our results, both financially and on the ice. Lot of fantastic memories. Great fun seeing those guys."