Helsinki, Finland… Tonight the Buffalo Sabres open their 41st season of hockey with a convincing 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Harwall Areena in Helsinki, Finland.
It was so great seeing a packed house and fans wearing jerseys from so many of the NHL teams. Helsinki is the proud home city of Team Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League, and they have a good number of championship banners hanging in their rafters to prove that they are one of the best teams from this part of the world.
Their Arena seats about 13,500, and pretty much feels like one of the newer AHL venues in places such as Manchester, NH or Lowell, MA. Maybe even like the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. Concourses are colorful and food choices a plenty, lots of small beer gardens and in arena restaurants, and a nicely appointed club lounge straddling the lower level sideline, all bathed in pink and purple mood lighting and posters of sports superstars from around the world (we even spotted a #12 Jim Kelly poster, nice).
The crowd was clearly Anaheim partisan, thanks to Finn superstars such as Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu on the Ducks roster. So no surprise that the crowd roars were clearly in the other team’s favor.
That wouldn’t, however, deter the Sabres, who took a quick 2-0 lead, thanks to goals by Thomas Vanek and Ville Leino, and of course, Leino got a huge cheer from the crowd. Anaheim would answer early in the second, but then Thomas Vanek got his second of the night on a pretty play to give the Sabres a two goal cushion again. Pominville gave the team a 4-1 lead later in the second, then the Sabres, incredibly, would not register a single shot on goal in the third, and killed off a 5 on 3 penalty. Talk about sitting on a lead.
Ryan Miller made a couple of brilliant saves in the second and third periods, and received second star honors for his 29 saves. “We did a prety good job in pulling together two solid periods, and got better as we went along. We did OK in the third,” Miller said. “This was a good tone to set. The 5 on 3 was great. We got good rotation and got into position to get moving. We did a good job.” As for the fans, Miller said “I think the fans appreciated the hard nosed shifts, and it was fun to see. This has been a lot of fun to do something different. It is a little bit challenging in terms of maintaining energy, but we’re up to the task.”
So tomorrow night it’s on to Berlin. The arena will be bigger, there will be more Buffalo road trippers in the place, the Germans will be full throated in support of Ehrhoff, their favorite son, and it should be a different dynamic in the O2 World Arena.