If there’s one thing about adulthood it’s that it’s interminably boring. To say this comes as a surprise would be somewhat disingenuous; after all we know from a young age that the adults around us operate on a continuous loop of work shifts, errands to procure items to satisfy our need to stay alive, television and sleep. Hell, it’s the general awareness of this looming tedium that drives people to have so much fun in college and their early twenties, the concept that what lies ahead is its own kind of death, a death of spontaneity, a death of new experiences. When that time comes- and it does, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise- it’s not just that it makes the 8-5 routine so crushingly dull, it’s that it makes your life before that tedium seem even further away, make it feel that it happened to another person.
It’s what makes seeing Jason Pominville back on the ice so strange. Despite hanging around in a Sabres uniform until the lockout season, it’s the goal, the president’s trophy, the winter classic that I remember him from, the years where I was in school and anything was possible not just for the Sabres but for the world, for one’s future. To see him back on the ice when everything is just so static- go to work, come back from work, go to the gym, cook dinner, shower, go to bed- and not unspecified is strange. I look at him like a relic despite being only a year older than me, which probably says just as much at how I view myself as how I view him.
I think it’s fair for fans to feel robbed about last season. Year Two AT (After Tank) was supposed to be the first opportunity to enjoy the rewards of the suffering, the trades, the worthless free agents, Andre Benoit, Torrey Mitchell, Ted Nolan, Coyotes updates, Trending Buffalo. It was supposed to include a playoff push at least and that was almost secondary to getting to see how Eichel took hold of the league in his second year. He came back right at the perfect time to serve as a distraction from the anxiety that comes with being made a prisoner of your own country but by that time the team was right back where they’d been every year of the decade before the tank, 8, 10 points back with the season practically a write-off.
January 20th I called in sick, turned off twitter notifications, threw on the Ken Burns Civil War series at around 11am when I started drinking. There was an aura of nihilism, hopelessness, dread that months later hasn’t dissipated so much as settled over the country like the Denora Smog, and struggling to breathe is just how we exist now. As they’ve always been in bad times there was a Sabres game that evening, won in overtime against Detroit by a goal from Okposo. The next night they were in Montreal, trailing late. As my inaugural bender continued they tied it up, Lehner made the save of the year (likely bolstered by a fellow white supremacist being in office) and Bogosian won it again in overtime. They’d provided a brief moment of joy after years of darkness.
Two nights later Eichel makes the play of the year and suddenly a few weeks later I’m watching from the bar at the golf dome with my parents as the Sabres climb one point out of a playoff spot. That was the tease, the brief run that made us think about what could have happened with a full year of Jack, wonder what could happen if they were managed by a coach whose style encouraged players to use their speed to force the opponent into capitulation and not simply hang around and hope for a timely goal. We have all of those things now and as we get ready for the season I must say, it’s terrifying.
When I think of what the late teens will bring, I remember a history channel miniseries from back when they aired history. It always seemed to be airing on Saturday, Sunday mornings and afternoons when you’d be stirring around the house waiting for the hangover to subside and the pleasantries of football or brunch to arrive. It was two parts, centered on the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, but composed of nothing but home movies and archival footage, devoid of narration aside from what Germans wrote in their diaries or in the newspapers during the time. What I’ve been constantly reminded of for nearly a year is all the home movies of typical Germans laughing, playing, enjoying life completely oblivious the doom that their leadership was going to bring upon the world as a whole but also the small, calm, pleasant existence they had carved out for themselves.
It’s important to continue to live our lives and take in as many joyous experiences as we can; it’s important to turn our phones off for a weekend, get away from the monotony of home and work and do the best we can not to feel guilty for doing so. It’s been a schitzophrenic year. My grandfather who raised me with my mom passed away in March; less than two months later I was on my knee in an Icelandic national park proposing to the woman I love. There are still birthdays, bachelor parties, tailgates, beach weekends and weddings to attend, to make reckless decisions before and hungover drives after. It is still our relative youth and we all deserve these escapes because none of us asked for or deserved what has been brought upon us. We deserve the Sabres to also bring that joyous escape.
They had a winning record against playoff teams last season and got swept by Boston, dropped games to the dreck of the league. It was a throwback to the 07-08, 08-09 seasons where you could point to a couple of games against the Islanders as the reason they didn’t get in. Last season’s gap was wider of course but the points are easy to pick out from anyone who watched the season: split with Boston, beat Arizona and Colorado, turn half your loser points into wins, tack on four points for a healthy Eichel for the first six weeks. There, you’re in the playoffs, make sure to set aside time for party in the plaza.
That said, even I am afraid to write out what the frail, malnourished voice of hope is struggling to explain in the back of my head. That the Atlantic is weak as fuck, yo. That Eichel is going to head to his first all-star game and put up a strong fight against Crosby for points and Matthews for goals- and that Eichel’s will be a hell of a lot prettier. That Kane is going to join him in Tampa at the break, perhaps even Okposo. That there will be a party in the plaza in April, that it’s going to be a long series and Jack is going to make the nation berate the commissioner for not letting him lead the American team in South Korea. That the March and April games against Toronto are going to be the hardest fought games we’ve seen in a decade and the first round is going to surpass that. That 88-95 times this season the team will give us relief, respite from the demons pounding at the gate for just a few hours and by god will those few hours be blissful.
Enjoy the cold ones and the puck, folks. You deserve it.