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With Pegula Leading Buffalo Sabres, It's 'Another Great Day for Hockey'

by on March 02, 2011 11:05 AM

I just returned from a 10-day whirlwind tour of hockey arenas at a dozen colleges to study “best practices” with regard to arena design and operations in men’s and women’s college hockey programs. I visited schools in Wisconsin, western New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. While it’s been a bit exhausting, it’s also been hockey heaven, and the highlight was certainly the Feb. 22 press conference announcing Terry and Kim Pegula as the owners of the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL at the HSBC Center. 

“Pegula Eve,” as it was being called in Buffalo, was an incredibly emotional event. Check out this clip below, and you’ll see how passionate Terry is about hockey.

 

He stood in front of several hundred members of the media, employees, sponsors and the members of the Sabres team and coaching staff, and bared his soul. Another lifelong dream realized and he didn’t hold back his emotions. In a tear-filled, heartfelt speech, he announced that from that moment forward “the Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup.” The financial restraints on the hockey scouting staff and player-development staff were a thing of the past.

Buffalo has its hockey saviors. Not just owners who will keep the franchise in western New York, but owners who will invest their heart and soul (and resources) to help the long-suffering fans of Buffalo finally bring home a championship. At one point in the press conference, Terry looked over at Sabres great Gilbert Perreault and, in a choked-up voice, proclaimed him his hero. I watched with tear-filled eyes and looked around at grown men—tough-guy hockey players with lips quivering—fighting back tears themselves. Many were not able to do so and the tears of joy ran down their cheeks as they smiled from ear to ear. Over by the Sabres alum, one of the former players remarked: “Oh, great -- now Perreault’s head will be as big as his belly!”

I can just hear the skeptics saying these people “are too good to be true.” Well, enough of us have learned from being around Terry and Kim that they are as genuine as they come. Everyone loves them because they are so genuine. Based on how the Sabres players reacted -- I think they love them, too!

After an hour of individual interviews (including interviews with the latest teen sensations in Buffalo, Jessie and Kelly Pegula—the “Tweety-bird twins,” as Terry calls them), everyone sat down to lunch. The room was still abuzz and the team was practicing, so everyone wanted to see the guys skate. It was, to say the least, an inspired practice.   

That afternoon I had a few minutes in Terry’s new office with just the new boss and one of my former Icer players, Ben Bouma. Terry leaned back in his chair and said: "Can you believe this is really happening? I am really sitting at this desk and I own an NHL team. It’s overwhelming isn’t it?” Genuine, humble, sincere, inspiring -- you pick the adjective. He is for real, and he has been successful because of core values and beliefs that guide his life, and very successful businesses. 

That night a group of 25 friends and family gathered for a celebratory dinner. The group did the wave, chanted “Let’s go Buffalo” (yes, even this lifelong Penguins fan got caught up in the moment!), and celebrated with a Sabres cake after the chef came out to officially welcome the Pegulas as the new owners. Magical stuff!

What endears me to Terry and Kim, and almost anyone who meets them, is their sincerity, kindness and how much they genuinely care about those who work for them. First thing the Pegulas did was to give out T-shirts, hats and pucks. Kim held a gathering for the players’ wives and significant others to give them the sense of family that made them so popular with their East Resources employees. Kim sat and talked to the ticket staff at lunch, and one of the women said it was the first time in 16 years working there that anyone from ownership had spent that much time with them. They were beaming like giddy school kids! The Pegulas also handed out gift-wrapped boxes to a number of the front-office staff.  A gorgeous “Sabre blue” ballpoint pen was inside a very nice case with this simple inscription: “It’s “Another Great Day for Hockey.”

After being largely ignored by the previous owners for almost a decade, the revered "French Connection Line" of Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert was welcomed back to a hero’s reception. The new Sabres owners brought them back to be part of the ceremonies for the first game under their watch. Dressed in their Sabres game jerseys, the high-scoring line donned their familiar #11, #7 and #14 for the first time together in years. The fans went wild and some were crying.

The Sabres won 4-1 in a game much closer than the score would indicate! Former Michigan State All-American and U.S. Olympic goalie Ryan Miller was back to true form, and “Pegula Day” was an official success!

The hockey gods were smiling on western New York on Feb. 23, 2011. Just like they were on Sept. 17, 2011, on “Hockey Valley” in State College. It really was “another great day for hockey!”



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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