Welland Kid

(Tribune January 2007)

I was there when they sold tickets for seats that did not exist.

It was a long time ago, the first home game of the new Buffalo franchise in the NHL. The Buffalo Sabres were playing host to the Montreal Canadiens, and everyone wanted a seat. I had two tickets but before I got to my reserved seat, I ran into a brick wall. The seats did not exist. Seems that no one had really thought things out and as a result, the Sabres printed a lot of tickets with the same problem. Everyone was flexible that night so I saw the entire game standing against a wall. Not a big issue, the event was what was important. It was the first game. I was there.

I was there when they first sang both the Canadian and the US national anthems. This was a big deal. The new Buffalo owners knew a lot of support was coming from Canadians and they did the unthinkable. Two anthems. For years, my kids thought the Star Spangled Banner was the second verse to Oh Canada. Everyone does it now, but Buffalo was the first. I was there.

I was there when the players had to skate around with sheets to dissipate the fog in the old Auditorium. It was in the Stanley Cup playoffs and was on national television. I was there. Buffalo lost the cup to Philadelphia and I still remember watching a heartbroken Craig Ramsey skate off the ice, close to tears. It was a bad time but we had the experience of seeing a cup final. I was there.

I was there when Ken Breitenbach played for Buffalo. I had seasonís tickets and sat with a group of Americans. Ken was from Welland and so was I. The whole group knew Ken as the "Welland Kid". When he was good, the whole group cheered the "Welland Kid." When he goofed, I got the blame.

Times change and after holding seasonís tickets for about fifteen years, I gave them up and lost interest in hockey. I did not follow the sport and stopped following my old team.

Three years ago, my son gave me a single Sabres ticket for Christmas. He outlined the deal. He had a second seat; he would drive, I would pay the bridge toll, the parking and I would buy supper. Sounded good to me and we have continued the tradition.

This year my Christmas present was on Wednesday, January 17. Boston was in and the Sabres were in a slump. Should be a good game.

It was not long before Jim pointed out player number 20. Dad, he said, youíve got a new "Welland Kid". I had never heard of Daniel Paille but I started to watch him with interest. "Welland Kid" was getting a respectable amount of ice time and he seemed to have some good moves.

Now you have to understand that at my age, I do not stand up and cheer like in the old days. But, I do grin. A grin from me is the equivalent to standing and cheering.

Daniel Paille scored! I grinned. The announcer said that it was his first NHL goal. I grinned more! Turns out that it was not his first, maybe my hearing is bad, but it didnít matter, he scored! The new "Welland Kid" scored a second time. The grin expanded. Buffalo won and three stars were awarded. "Welland Kid" got the first star.

I cannot predict what will happen to Danielís career. He may go on to be a superstar or he may just ply his trade as do many NHL players. Somewhere in Welland, there are former coaches at the minor hockey level who have reached the ultimate level of satisfaction. One of their boys did it. First star in an NHL game along with a couple of goals. Whatever happens in the future is secondary. Big steps have been taken.

I was there. I am still grinning.

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