If you wanted just a taste of what Buffalo is to expect over the next two weeks, then downtown was the place to be yesterday, as the first four games of the 2011 World Juniors Hockey tournament got underway at HSBC Arena and over in Niagara University’s Dwyer Arena.
The story was this – the Canadians, for the most part, own this event. They feel that an annual gold medal is divine providence, and they are going to reclaim their championship from those Ugly Americans, come hell or high water. Maple Leaf draped Canadians took over the streets, the bars, the restaurants, the arena, faces painted, politeness be damned.
The scene in Buffalo yesterday was reminiscent from some of the most dark and dank images from such films as “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”, or “Canadian Bacon”. Well just kidding, but you sort of get the picture.
So how did Buffalo do on this Day One? Pretty good actually. Yes there were tie ups at the border, by mid afternoon folks were reporting about a 90 minute wait at the Peace Bridge and in Lewiston. Not only was it WJC day, but the Bills were home at The Ralph, and Boxing Day shioppers were eager to hit the American malls to troll for post holiday bargains.
Downtown was ready and primed. Every single restaurant was jam packed, but local bistros were prepared for the crunch, adding extra staff and turning fans in and out to get them fed and watered and back to the games. We headed out of the arena after the second period of game 1 (Switzerland holding a 4-1 lead over Germany, they would hold on to win 4-3). Me and my posse headed to our favorite watering hole, Washington Square lounge next to the ballpark, and quite frankly I have never seen the place so jam packed. Manager Bob Mecca parted the waves and got our party of seven seated quickly (yes the USRT has mojo there, us and former Sabre Andrew Peters). The cold Labatts, chicken wings and beef on wecks were served up quickly, and it was a fun and high spirited gathering of fellowship and sports.
But the funniest moment happened when Chris Mach, one of our group, got up to hit the washroom. Wearing his deep blue USA sweatshirt, he immediately started getting the boos and the catcalls from the crowded restaurant, and it got to such a crescendo the entire place, yes 80+ people, were giving Chris grief. It was then we realized that we were probably the only Americans in the place. The Canadian guests at our table gleefully pointed out that Chris was getting trashed on his own soil.
Ahh good times!
The attendance at the games was a mixed bag: About 5000 in the stands for Germany-Switzerland, the place full for the Canada-Russia game. The biggest disappointment was the nightcap.
Perhaps 10-11,000 in the house for USA v Finland, and the American fans clearly did not have their best stuff. Why is it that they plop a picture up on the HD Board of a soldier sitting on a tank and waving a Sabres flag, and the crowd gushes in a collective euphoria, yet we can’t whip up a patriotic fervor for our USA team here on the big stage?
Most disappointing, but really not surprising, were the Canadians who stuck around, so they could jeer the USA squad and give their full throated support for Team Finland. I mean, really! Assuming your guys make it to the gold medal game, and that is no given, would the Canadians really prefer to be facing an upstart Team Switzerland in that game?
Everyone here is hoping for the outcome of a USA v Canada rematch in the finals.
As for the games on this day, they pretty much went as expected. Switzerland was all over Germany early on, then hung on for dear life to win 4-3. Russia gave Canada all they could handle, but the Canadians broke the tie in the third and won going away, 6-3. Sabres prospect Marcus Foligno got in on the scoring, and no, there was no trademark Foligno Leap like dad used to do as a Buffalo Sabre. The USA-Finland matchup saw great goaltending at both ends, and it was the Americans going five-hole in overtime to get the 3-2 win. Meantime over at Dwyer Arena, Sweden demolished the Norwegians in a laugher, 7-1.
Today just two games on the schedule, a 7PM start at HSBC Arena featuring Germany and Slovakia, while at Dwyer Arena Norway takes on the Czechs. Expect a sparse crowd downtown as everyone revs up for another tripleheader on Tuesday, with both the Americans and Canadians in action once again.