Terry Pegula is the new toast of the town in Western New York, as he has invested heavily in both the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans. Pegula made his billions in the gas drilling industry and is bending over backward to please the fans of these two clubs.
First, he purchased the Sabres and wants nothing more than to help raise the Stanley Cup in downtown Buffalo. Then he continued to fuel the parent club by buying the AHL’s Rochester Americans, reuniting Rochester with Buffalo and cementing the fan base here in Rochester.
For several years, the Americans were affiliated with the Florida Panthers, which brought zero excitement to the team. Now that Pegula brought the Americans back on board, fans can watch the Amerks get called up to the Sabres, like it had been for more than 20 years. Geographically, the cities are about an hour away, so it makes great business sense.
Pegula has raised fan’s expectations on every level since buying the team. He had players deliver the season tickets to the customers at their houses. He’s spending money on key players. But his most impressive feat to date is his alumni invites. He invited every former Buffalo Sabres player back to the home opener, and picked up the bill to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if you had only played a single game with the Sabres, you were invited. He paid their airfare (several from outside the country), put them up in a hotel and paid for everything when they were here. I was shocked when he did the same thing for the Amerks.
I bought tickets for my twin boys and I, and we headed to the arena about three hours before game time for the red carpet pregame ceremony. I’ve been going to Amerks games since I was a kid, but one game stands out, and this celebration allowed my boys to experience the same thrill I had 30 years ago.
I was only 10 years old when Steve Dykstra played for the Amerks – the same age as my boys now. Dykstra was my first autograph, and I even remember the game. Tough guy fighter Val James had been tossed out of the game for fighting. He was a mountain of a man, especially to a small boy, and he signed my program that night. Dykstra would pen his signature after the game. When I heard that Dykstra was flying into town from Texas, I had to meet him, tell him the story and introduce him to my kids.
First, all the Amerks came through the line and signed the boys’ pucks. Then the 50 legends started showing up, all in brand new official jerseys, compliments of Pegula. Most of these guys played in the NHL and it was so cool to watch each of these men, from five decades, walk the carpet and sign for the fans. They were represented by players from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. Pegula also walked by and signed. The last man out of the final limo was 82-year old Joe Crozier, cane in hand and stopping to talk with the fans and sign whatever they had brought with them. Crozier won three championships coaching the Amerks and also coached the Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rob Ray was my boys’ personal favorite, probably the only guy they could recognize because of his work on TV for Sabres games. Throw in the fact that he was a great fighter – 10-year-old boys like fighting. One of my boys had a game-used vintage goalie stick that I had discovered at a thrift store a few months ago. My other boy had a white CCM helmet. I managed to talk my neighbor out of his last game-used Amerks jersey in exchange for lots of Yankees and Steelers autographs to be delivered at a later date. All of the legends signed our items.
After getting announced before the game, all the legends watched from two suites. During the first intermission, I told the boys we were on a mission to meet Dykstra. He was apparently there, but I think we missed him. The security guard told us we couldn’t go back to the suites, but then took one look at the boys in their jerseys and said, “Go ahead.”
Rob Ray was talking at the entrance and he told us that Dykstra was inside enjoying several beverages. I introduced myself, told him the story, and he signed a puck for each of the boys. The moment was probably way more memorable for me than the boys, but I’m sure they will look back at it. For me, it was the day my childhood hero met my boys. Very cool.
I hope the Sabres and Amerks win the cup this year for Mr. Pegula. In addition to the Amerks and Sabres, Pegula also invested $88 million to fund Penn State’s new hockey arena. He also owns Black River Music Group, an independent country music label.
NBA legend now signing
It’s not often that a former NBA star starts signing his fan mail, but it looks like that is exactly what Chris Mullin is doing.
Mullin, inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this year, has been signing his mail sent in care of ESPN. Mullin was part of the “Dream Team” and considers that one of his defining moments.
Whether it was at St John’s University or with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, Mullin was a legend because he was the prototypical gym rat. He ran more, worked out more and practiced more than all of his counterparts. Mullin signed a sneaker with a gold paint pen mailed to him last month.