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Fans returning to downtown bars & restaurants, now Sabres need to win

A group of people, some wearing Buffalo Sabres jerseys, sitting at tables and at a bar.
Mike Desmond
Buffalo Sabres were easy to find at downtown bars Sunday afternoon.

Sunday brought a rare Sunday game for the Buffalo Sabres, with a crowd filled with players younger than those out on the ice. It was Kids Takeover Day at the KeyBank Center. Still, the crowd was just under 11,000 for the team having another difficult season.

The Sabres were also shut out by the LA Kings 3-0. Yet another loss wasn't good news for the network of bars and restaurants that serve fans in the arena, particularly when many fans were too young to buy their own food and drink.

They wanted to be there, but many were well aware their team wasn't having a good year. For some, it was their first live visit to an NHL game and much of the blue and gold gear worn in the stands was in junior size.

Jacob was there for the kids.

"Well, I didn't really come here by choice," he said. "As you can see with how bad the team performed today, you don't really want to come out and see this in person. You'd rather watch it at home, sitting on a comfy coach, get a few snacks."

A line of people, some wearing Buffalo Sabres jerseys, leaving KeyBank Center.
Mike Desmond
Not many smiles from fans after another Buffalo Sabres loss Sunday.

Bryan LoVullo was there as part of another group of parents and kids.

"We were talking about that earlier, about how many years it's been since they've been relevant," LoVullo said. "We're waiting now."

Bad weather and border controls have also kept Canadians away. All this showed up in the bars.

However, Labatt Brew House Managing Partner Joe Mallare said owners are looking ahead.

"Obviously, the pandemic in the last couple years and the team not doing so well goes hand in hand," Mallare said. "And I think they've got a good young nucleus. We believe that that will go and create obviously more business and get 10, 12, 14,000 people in the stands."

At Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, Manager Joe echoed those comments.

"The COVID restrictions were more damaging than the weather, certainly, but those being lifted, we're seeing a completely different attitude toward the guests and people are much more willing to come out, spend their money and have a good time," he said.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.