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Sabres Play First Game At Marine Midland Arena

September 22, 1996

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ The Buffalo Sabres showed off their new home Saturday to some 18,500 fans hoping to see their eight-sided video scoreboard and the rest of Marine Midland Arena.

There was an impressive light show. Paint was dry throughout the building. The Sabres skated around the fast ice wearing new jerseys and wielding burning sticks during a pregame ceremony. Sparks flew from one of the crossbars.

But chalk dust rose from the floors. A freight elevator was stuck for several minutes with passengers inside. Video replays on the $4 million scoreboard weren’t operating. And the 8,000-square-foot team store and one of the main restaurants were closed.

Marine Midland Arena wasn’t quite ready for its first guests, but fans saw enough of the $127.5 million facility to forget about Memorial Auditorium, the 56-year-old building the Sabres called home for the 26 previous seasons.

``We want it perfect,″ team president Doug Moss said. ``It’s not going to be perfect for a while, but we’ll get it there. We’ve already seen about 30 things that we want to change, but there’s no way you can know what works and what doesn’t work until 18,000 people are in here.″

The arena includes a larger ice surface, 4,500 club seats, 80 suites, 24 concession stands, two private restaurants, one bar, plenty of restrooms and very loud music between faceoffs.

Suites range between $55,000 and $100,000 per year while tickets range between $10 and $59 per game. Fans can buy anything from baseball hats to sliced roast-beef sandwiches _ but no Buffalo-style chicken wings.

``It’s really nice,″ said Al Romus, a plant manager. ``It feels really 1990-ish and upbeat. At least they don’t have any pylons and yellow tape saying, `Do Not Enter.‴

The inaugural game against the Toronto Maple Leafs included the inaugural goal and inaugural brawl on the ice and even a fight in the stands. The new building prompted such a fresh start that the Sabres designed a new logo and changed their colors from blue and gold to red, black and white.

Noticeably absent was Seymour H. Knox III, who died in May. Knox, the principle owner since the team was founded in 1970, was responsible for putting together $67.5 million in private financing while convincing state and local governments to pay the rest.

``This is a night of fun,″ longtime play-by-play announced Rick Jeanneret told the fans. ``However, I cannot and will not forget the man and his dream.″

The dream came true after more than three years of planning and nearly two years of construction near Buffalo’s waterfront. The Sabres played their last game at the Aud in April before crossing an adjacent parking lot to Marine Midland Arena.

Buffalo is trying to take every advantage possible. The Sabres’ dressing room is painted in red and white, in hopes of making a bright atmosphere. Visiting teams are surrounded by walls covered with brown and gray paint, making it more dreary.

``This is a new beginning for us, and we’re excited about it,″ Buffalo forward Rob Ray said. ``We’ve got to start off right at the beginning and make a statement. If you’re going to come here, we’re going to dictate what happens.″

Brian Holzinger, Derek Plante and Dixon Ward each scored goals to lead the Sabres to a 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs, but few really cared.

Many fans cruised the corridors, checking out concession stands and sightlines in case Buffalo has another season like the last one. The Sabres missed the playoffs last year.

``They never won a Stanley Cup in the old building, so maybe we’ll have more luck in that regard,″ said season-ticket holder Tim Gabryel, a physician. ``If the team’s not playing well, there’s plenty to do. If the team’s not playing well, you don’t have to worry about what else to do.″

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