By Steve Milton @ The Hamilton Spectator (Feb 27, 2007)
Here’s a prediction for any players the Sabres add today to bolster their Stanley Cup drive.
No matter how you feel about the city right now, you’ll probably live in Buffalo much longer than you’ll play there.
Snow City doesn’t immediately jump to mind when you think of where financially secure and relatively young men choose to settle down. Warmer climates, bigger cities, a player’s hometown, would all seem to be much stronger draws.
But while Buffalo, the NHL’s smallest American market, exports businesses and employees in other sectors, it imports people from the hockey industry.
“It’s amazing, the hockey community there, and not just to do with the Sabres,” says Hamilton native Dave Andreychuk, who maintains an off-season home in the suburb of East Amherst and will take up permanent residence there when he finishes his off-ice career with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s a close-knit hockey community, and it’s kind of a secret.”
Whether it’s Andreychuk’s neighbourhood, which also includes former NHLer Grant Ledyard and Leaf broadcaster Harry Neale; or Grand Island, where Sabres’ alumni director Jim Playfair and TV colour man Jim Lorenz live, or Lewiston, home of Chicago Blackhawks personnel director Rick Dudley or any
of the tidy communities in the South Towns, Buffalo boasts a disproportionate number of hockey houses.
There is no official tally, but there are probably more than four dozen men with direct links to the current or recent NHL calling Buffalo home, not including anyone playing for, coaching, or managing the present Sabres.
“You’re very aware of it, especially in the summer when you’re around playing in charity golf tournaments,” says Kevyn Adams of the Phoenix Coyotes, one of the few NHLers who grew up in Buffalo.
“There’s an unbelievable number of guys who’ve retired to Buffalo. The people here are quality people and it’s a quality place to raise a family and I think that’s what lures players here after they finish their career.
“I don’t know if they marry Buffalo girls or what it is. But they seem to find a way to be here.”
A lot of former Sabres, Andreychuk among them, did marry Buffalo girls and that’s a factor in their choice of residence. But there are also many like ex-Sabre Curtis Brown. He plays for San Jose and married a California woman, and is apparently moving back to Buffalo.
Peter Scamurra (Washington) and Jack Brownschidle (Hartford, St. Louis) are among NHLers with no Sabres connections who have retired to the Buffalo area.
Hall of Fame Leaf Darryl Sittler and his late wife Wendy raised their family in the Buffalo area, before Sittler returned to Canada a couple of years ago because of his job as Leafs’ community relations officer. Ric Seiling left only because he got a new job in Rochester, the same with Danny Gare in Columbus. Tony McKegney and Marcel Dionne left recently but only after years of making Buffalo their home.
Hamilton Bulldogs coach Don Lever, who finished his career as a Sabre, lives in the south towns. And injured Leaf Mike Peca, whose departure from the Sabres six years ago was not amicable, has a house in Toronto, but their Buffalo digs are considered the family home. He recently moved from Andreychuk’s area to a bigger home in another neighbourhood.
“The cost of living isn’t expensive. People are nice. It’s convenient: you can drive to Toronto in an hour and a half; you can fly to New York in 45 minutes,” Peca says, easily ticking off the factors. ” It’s just an easy place to live in.”
Finances also play a role. There are strong income tax advantages on mortgage interest in the U.S. and because Buffalo’s uncertain Rust Belt economy has forced many residents to leave for greener pastures, house prices are low.
“I live in a mansion that costs me next to nothing,” Andreychuk says. “People who are from there don’t realize how lucky they are with housing prices.
“I don’t think I’ll ever leave the area and I have a number of reasons for that. Sue is from Buffalo. I played there 12 years. The cost is low. I’m close to the border, an hour away from Hamilton and I’m three hours from our place up north (in Haliburton).”
Even when he coached the Red Wings to Stanley Cups, Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman lived in Buffalo in the off-season. Now he’s there full time.
“Most of the players and ex-players in Buffalo work in the States and it’s so close to Canada,” Bowman told The Spec. “You can get back up pretty easily, an hour or two to Toronto.
“It’s a nice place to live. People are really friendly, and they like hockey, especially. It’s easy to get around, not much traffic. A lot of the guys have got good opportunities here.
“It’s a nice place to bring up a family. I brought up all my kids here. I moved from Montreal in 1979, and my oldest was nine years old, and the youngest were only two. They all went to school here. Good schools. They all got a good education. Unfortunately none of them stayed here, they go for the big jobs in the big cities.
“Dual citizenship wasn’t a consideration for us, but take it if it’s there.”
Like Hamilton, Buffalo suffers from an image problem because of the decay and industrial scars the casual visitor sees from the highway or downtown.
Like Hamilton, those who know it well praise its high level of “liveability”
“A lot of people looking in from the outside have a stereotype of the city,” says Mike Gilbert, the Sabres’ director of public relations.
“But when they get here they find out there are some great neighbourhoods, the people are very friendly, there are great changes of seasons. And it’s affordable.
“But what we’re told about the most, by players and others, are the friendly people and the great schools.”
The attitude of the Sabres is also important. Larry Playfair, who runs the Sabres’ alumni association says that the club is “a very close second” to Calgary in welcoming former players and using them to market teams,
“The Sabres have really been a model team for how to treat alumni,” Playfair says.
They’re kind of the model franchise for most things in 21st century hockey.
And apparently their city is too.
Buffalonians – Here is a partial list of current and former NHL players, scouts and coaches living in the Buffalo area.
By Steve Milton @ The Hamilton Spectator (Feb 27, 2007)