BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The Rochester Americans are providing hockey-deprived Buffalonians with some respite from the NHL lockout.
The Amerks played their second game of the season at the First Niagara Center Friday night. The announced attendance was 19,070 -- 380 more fans than the FNC has seats. The arena staff had to reconfigure the 200 level, moving the broadcast set, adding seats and standing-room-only areas, to squeeze in all the fans hungry for some on-ice action.
Some were so eager, they started arriving three hours before the puck dropped.
"I'm extremely excited to see some hockey," Jacob Strozyk from Lakeview told News 4. "As an avid hockey fan, I can't wait to see all the Sabres prospects."
"I just miss coming downtown and seeing all the people," Wendy Erhardt, of East Aurora, lamented. "I feel bad for all the vendors down here, too, because of all the business that's lost. This is a really good thing for Buffalo tonight.
Erhardt and Bill Sim brought a friend of theirs who was visiting from Seattle. It was the first hockey game she'd ever been to.
"We stopped at a couple restaurants on the way in. It was nice to see people downtown again; having a couple beers, eating wings before the game," Sim said.
The Sabres Vice President of Public Relations, Mike Gilbert calls it a "win-win for everybody" including fans, arena employees, downtown businesses, and up-and-coming young players.
Says Gilbert, "Our players get a chance to play in front of a full building; they get the chance to use the locker room and come here for a day. And it helps them aspire to where they want to be when they make it to the NHL."
The NHL lockout is now dragging on into its fourth month and fans are getting restless. The saying goes that "desperate times call for desperate measures," and many are finding creative ways to get their hockey fix.
"I'm watching replays of the '70s Sabres, with Perrault, Martin and Robert. Just to watch hockey!" said Sim, who's also following the IIHF World Juniors closely.
As for Strozyk: "I am playing hockey with my friends, to cope. We vent with each other. On top of that, always playing the NHL video games. Got the new NHL 2013, so [we're] having fun with that. Do whatever we can, with what hockey we're given."
At least, for one night, the hockey adrenaline is flowing again.
In the midst of a (non-)season that's left little to cheer about, Gilbert was smiling.
"There's a lot of kids in the building, which is great to see. The prices are a lot cheaper than they would be for an NHL game. So it's exciting to see a full building."
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