Sabres banking on Canadian fans

By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:41 PM ET

WASHINGTON - When recently appointed Buffalo Sabres president Ted Black looks out across Lake Erie from the HSBC Arena, he sees more than just the Canadian shoreline.

He sees potential.

He sees ticket buyers.

He sees television viewers.

And he sees a significant reason - specifically, the close proximity of western New York to the Great White North - for players to want to come to Buffalo and wear blue-and-gold.

“Of course, the best way to do that is to win,” Black said with a chuckle early Friday evening.

So far, so good on that count.

Ever since moneybags owner Terry Pegula purchased the franchise a couple of months ago and boldly predicted the Sabres only goal was to win a Stanley Cup, the team went on a tear, posting just one regulation loss in its final 10 games en route to a first-round matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Prior to Game 1 of that series at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, Black, the man handpicked by Pegula to run the team, was enjoying a pre-game meal with the owner when he pointed out a key fact.

“I told him that the team had won 16 games since he bought it and that it would take another 16 wins to win the Cup,” Black said.

Hours later, that number was whittled down to 15 after the Sabres, buoyed by a Patrick Kaleta goal and Ryan Miller’s 35 saves, posted a 1-0 victory over Philly, wrestling away home ice advantage from the Flyers.

“They’ve been playing fantastic,” Black said. “When the team has success like that, it just magnifies all the good things we are attempting to do.”

The excitement that Pegula, a longtime Sabres superfan, has brought to the Buffalo market can be seen in the television ratings for Game 1, which drew a season high 18.9 Neilson rating on the MSG Network. In other words, 120,261 homes in the area tuned into the game. the second-highest rated Sabres playoff game on MSG since the 2004=05 lockout.

And it’s a good bet that those figures will continue to balloon, both for Game 2 in Philly on Saturday and Game 3 on Monday back in Buffalo.

Indeed, when the series shifts to the HSBC Arena, Black expects the arena to be oozing with excitement, including the presence of the usual strong Canadian contingent.

Looking at the big picture, Black considers the Canadian market just across the Peace Bridge not just as a pool of untapped fans, but also a reason that players might want to come to Buffalo.

“Right now, 15% of our season ticket holders come from Canada,” Black said. “As for the players, don’t forget that a lot of guys in the league played junior hockey not too far away (in Ontario), so that’s a selling point. And we have a lot of Canadian alumni players in the area too.

“My view is, because we are on the border, I’d like to have more of our games broadcast in that (Canadian) market. Of course, there are Canadian broadcast rights involved and the Maple Leafs have their own territorial rights too. We very much respect that.

“At the same time, the more TV viewers you have the better. Detroit is in the same position as us in terms of its proximity to Canada. Maybe there is a way to stream the games, maybe you look at a COD system ... It’s tough, but it’s things we are looking at.”

On the topic of the Leafs, Black is aware that GM Brian Burke, reacting to a recent University of Toronto report suggesting the city is ready for a second NHL team, downplayed the findings, citing, among other things, the need to be sensitive to the circumstances of the Sabres, just a 90 minute drive to the south.

“That just shows how smart Brian Burke is,” Black laughed.

Right now, Black and Pegula are the ones looking like geniuses.


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