It was a crisp Thursday night in downtown Buffalo. Over 11,000 diehard hockey fans filled the First Niagara Center to watch the sports next superstar put on a show. Hoping that he would one day be our own. And he delivered. On the first part at least.
Connor McDavid was an obsession of Sabre fans from early 2014 until the draft lottery in April 2015. He tore through the OHL unlike any player we've seen since Wayne Gretzky. I know from personal experience, that Sabre fans travelled all the time to go see McDavid play just a short drive down the I-90 to Erie.
On one occasion in a game between the Erie Otters and the Sarnia Sting that I attended with my brothers and one of my friends, there were at least a thousand Sabre fans there. Erie won the game, and McDavid went off for 2 goals and 3 assists. After the game there was a accident on the parking ramp. The fourth floor of it was filled with Sabre fans, stuck for at least 20 minutes. For the entire 20 minutes the ramp was rocking with "let's go Buffalo" chants. Horns were honking, music was blasting, it was a mad house. I hadn't seen Sabre fans that pumped in years.
Despite lots of criticism from the media, claiming the Sabres were admitting their tank, the Sabres brought McDavid and the Otters to Buffalo for a game to showcase the young star.
October 22nd, 2014. Connor McDavid steps onto the ice in Buffalo. Fans that did not know who McDavid was quickly said out loud "wow look at 97". The game started off fast. McDavid got several chances, had an assist, and looked every bit the part. But than... the wow moment.
The crowd went nuts. Even though McDavid didn't score on the play, it was what everyone was waiting for. The moment where everyone looked at each other and said "did you just see that?". That was the moment where everyone in the building knew he wasn't just great, he was special.
McDavid finished the night as the games first star. He led the game with 4 points including a goal and 3 assists. Afterwards he spoke on the crowd in Buffalo.
"It's been unbelievable,'' McDavid said. "It's a pretty impressive facility and the fans are obviously incredible. To have 11,000 plus come out to watch a junior hockey game speaks for their passion for the game and they've been good to me.
"If I'm fortunate play here, it would be a dream come true.''
Despite just 11,000 fans in the building, it was one of the loudest crowds of the season. Only the Toronto games, and the Arizona tank bowl were arguably louder. Outside the arena after the game fans were giddy talking about the show McDavid just put on. Fans were talking about his skating, his stick handling, what lines he'd look good on in Buffalo, how many points he'd put up in his rookie season, etc.
To see the Buffalo fan base that excited about a player, and that excited about the future was incredible. The thought of winning the lottery, and getting to see that every night instead of just once was mind numbing. Of course Edmonton won the lottery and McDavid was sent across the continent. If it wasn't for Jack Eichel, the fan base would be in a state of depression so deep it would take years to come out of.
Now in Edmonton, McDavid is doing just what everyone that saw him play in Buffalo thought he would. Some ignore it, some sadly watch, but McDavid is lighting the leauge up. He has 29 points in 27 games, and has scored highlight reel plays like this.
For some fans the McDavid excitement started in the First Niagara Center. For me and hundreds of other Sabre fans the excitement started on the fourth floor of a parking ramp in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Tonight, McDavid makes his return to Buffalo. But instead of wearing blue and gold (just so happened to be Sabre colors) he'll be wearing white, blue, and orange. No matter what colors he's wearing, it doesn't change that for that one October night, on that same sheet of ice, he was a Buffalo dream.