Sunday morning homily XVII

It may have taken 30 years, but I'll have to count this past Friday's game between my hometown Buffalo Sabres and the Tampa Bay Lightning as not just my favorite of the season, but of my life.

It's not because the Sabres won, 3-2. And it has nothing to do with adding a bunch of autographs, including 14 pucks, to our collection. No, what made it so special were the two people sitting next to me.

As I've embarked upon my gypsy journalist life, moving from city to city or state to state every so often, I've seldom had the luxury of my relatives living nearby. This time, though, as we sink roots in Florida, it's different.

My Aunt Pat, the sister of the grandmother who raised me, spends her winters only 15 minutes from our house. Her daughter, and my cousin, Noel, as well as her husband, Howard, are visiting, too, escaping a month of western New York's brutal winter. It's nice having family around.

What made this Friday's game so special, though, dates to a snowy winter's night back in the late 1970s. Living south of Buffalo, in an area where we often saw more snow than the Queen City itself, you get used to large amounts of the fluffy, white stuff. In fact, we refer to any snowfall less than a foot in depth as a mere dusting and something that can be dealt with wearing long-sleeved T-shirts, shorts and sneakers.

Anyways, I digress.

Getting back to the story, on this particular winter's night, I had a ticket to attend a Sabres game at the Memorial Auditorium, or the Aud, as it was known. Aunt Pat was going to drive so we could go to the game. The combination of drifting snow, black ice on Route 16 and the late hour conspired against us. Though I was disappointed at missing my first NHL game, I understood then that the risks far outweighed everything else.

Fast forward, now, to this past Friday. My Aunt Pat, Noel and I found ourselves surrounded by an angry clutch of Lightning fans. Three quick goals gave the Sabres a 3-1 lead. The referees, as usual, were giving the Lightning, and their faithful, the fits. And, much to the dismay of those who we've come know this season, I gave quick notice that my allegiances that night were bound for my hometown team.

And while actions and comments only cemented my belief that Tampa Bay hockey fans have a lot to learn about the game (Sorry, folks, but having the Lightning win a Stanley Cup does not grant you genius status), let's just say that some vocabularies were expanded.

All in all, though, we had a great time. We saw the Sabres win, despite the team having to kill a pair of third-period penalties with just a one-goal lead. We joined the "Lets go Buffalo!" chants. I even reminded one Lightning fan that his single-digit salute more than doubled his IQ.

But it wasn't until the ride home, as we made our way over the Gandy Bridge, did I learn of the true significance of the game. While I've been lucky enough to see quite a few NHL games, this had been the first for my Aunt Pat and Noel. And to be able to return the favor, even 30 years later, was truly a cool feeling. I hope we get to go again next year.

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