BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Fans poured into Keybank Center on Thursday night with high hopes for the Buffalo Sabres season ahead.

With a 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators, it is not just fans that are glad the team is back. Local restaurants say the start of the hockey season is a welcomed boost to business.

“A year ago, we were pretty quiet with only about 3,000 fans next door. Now with having doors wide open and no regulations to follow, we are seeing more traffic,” Melissa Gromlovits, general manager of The Draft Room, said. “Fans here for the tailgate experience they get to sit with everybody if they didn’t get to go to the game. We’ve got the music going. We’ve got all the goal songs that they are playing across the street. We’re connected with them and blowing the horn. They get the drinks, the atmosphere and its the same as across the street.”

Sabres fans from near and far were sporting their blue and gold on opening night and restaurants were ready to serve up tasty food and drinks pregame. The Draft Room says there is an economic boon when the arena is packed for events and hockey games.

“It’s just everyone laughing together and playing games outside and inside. It’s just everyone having a good time,” Zach Laszewski, bartender at The Draft Room, added. “It’s really important for this business. And a lot of the local businesses around here thrive when the arena has events.”

Canadian fans returned to the arena with fewer restrictions at the border, which also boosts business at local bars.

“With the border being open now, we are seeing more fans and people that are able to travel. Very excited to be back here in Buffalo and it’s really helped out our business and they are so appreciative to be back over,” Gromlovits added.

Some of the Sabres youngest fans hailed from Canada, sporting their favorite jerseys. They were excited for the atmosphere inside the arena, especially waiting for the Sabres to score their first goal of the year.

“I’m thinking about them scoring and what the fans are going to be like and all of that,” Eli Graham of Waterford, Ontario said. “The crowd’s going to go wild and stuff like that.”

Pre-game featured a party in the plaza with plenty of games and activities for fans to enjoy. They even welcomed the Sabres players into the arena. It was a city united, cheering on their team.

“I think they are going to do good. There’s a lot of young guys, but I think we’re going to go pretty far this year,” Robert Smith of West Seneca said.

The expectations for the season are high and fans are looking forward to playoff hockey in the spring. The Sabres face off against the Florida Panthers Saturday, October 15 at 1 p.m. at Keybank Center.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.