A fundamental part of being successful at whatever occupation you may hold is self-confidence. I personally thrive in a positive atmosphere and I often use compliments to ensure that the work that I’m producing is of high quality. This goes for hockey players as well – most of them are making millions of dollars on an annual basis, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t human.
On March 26, The Buffalo Sabres faced off against the Arizona Coyotes on home ice at the First Niagara Center. The two worst performing teams in the NHL (both of which having the best shot at landing the first overall pick in June’s draft) battled it out, but the teams and the fans had different perspectives as to what they were battling for. Just like any sane athlete, competitiveness is a characteristic that they should possess throughout their careers; this means that all players will be playing to win, and that’s exactly what the Sabres and the Coyotes were doing.
The fans on the other hand, viewed this matchup as the ‘McEichel Bowl’, as the projected top-two duo in this year’s NHL Draft are Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Both are viewed as generational players since they come around once every decade. We don’t need to assume at this point that Sabres fans want their team to lose, because it’s a definite conclusion that we can make. With only six games left to play this season, it’s likely that they’ll wind up with one of the top two picks, but only so long as they keep losing and Arizona keeps winning.
At 16:23 in the third period, Sabres captain Brian Gionta scored an unassisted goal to tie the game at three. Sabres fans were not pleased, booing both the captain and the team for wanting to win the game. Isn’t a captain’s responsibility to help carry their team through the tough times? That’s what Gionta was doing, yet he was shunned for it. With 30 seconds left in the game, Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber was called for tripping, which apparently made up for Gionta’s ‘mistake’ of tying up the game, as the fans were roaring with excitement.
Nearly a minute into overtime, Arizona forward Sam Gagner scored on the powerplay to secure the win. The First Niagara Center looked as if they were celebrating a Stanley Cup victory, and that’s awfully discouraging. Weber was not pleased with how the fans treated the players that night.
“It’s tough to get momentum when your fans are rooting against you,” said Weber to The Buffalo News. “That’s the unfortunate part. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans. I don’t even know if disappointed is the word.”
He’s right. How is it possible to build momentum in a game when you’re being cheered against by your own fans?
The Sabres’ management clearly has a long-term plan to draft first overall this upcoming June; Buffalo General Manager Tim Murray was open about wanting that pick. Even if this plan is becoming more and more of a reality as each game transpires, it’s unethical for fans to openly cheer against their teams on home territory. It’s embarrassing; players certainly do not want to be reminded of how many times they’ve lost throughout the last couple of years. They shouldn’t be taunted for being the lowest of the low.
“We don’t want to be here,” said Weber on Puck Daddy. “We understand what this team is doing, what the organization is doing. The place we’ve put ourselves in. But I’ve never been a part of something like that where the away team comes into a home building and they’re cheering for them.”
If you’re at home watching your favourite team lose on a continual basis, then by all means, cheer against them when you’re alone. Disparagement and pessimism are alive and well in the sports world, and that’s totally understandable. If your team is having a terrible year, then they might as well end it off that way and try to build through the draft. Cheering against them in front of their faces is wrong, especially for what has already been a great hockey town in Buffalo.
My perspective is that if you openly cheer against your team when they’re losing and only cheer for them to win when they’re doing well, then you’re nothing but a traditional bandwagoner, simple as that. There were even some fans in attendance that wore their Sabres jerseys to the game, but taped the Arizona Coyotes’ logo onto the front of it. It’s certain that this team will build through the draft and should avoid winning any more games in order to secure a high pick, but try explaining that to a hockey team that’s trying so hard to win and proudly represent their city. It’s almost impossible.
The Sabres’ frustration is wholeheartedly understandable. The players aren’t the ones that are deciding to tank, it’s their front office. The Sabres moved all of their valuable assets at the trade deadline, securing the tank and to build for the future, and as a player, it’s a gut-wrenching feeling to lose, as well as be cheered against to your face.
Even Arizona forward Sam Gagner plays for a team who is currently hitting rock bottom, but after the win against Buffalo, he explained that he plays the sport for a more valuable reason than tanking.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Gagner. “It’s what you play for, to win hockey games.”
This is a new low for the city of Buffalo. They’ll get a top pick this year, maybe even first overall, but for their own fans to openly cheer against them is gutless.