It has always been a goal of mine to visit as many baseball stadiums and hockey arenas as possible, and last weekend I was able to cross another one off the list. While I have physically been to other arenas, including the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Bell Centre in Montreal, Madison Square Garden in New York, and Prudential Center in Newark, the First Niagara Center joins the Air Canada Centre as the only other arena I’ve taken in a game at. While I’ve always wanted to see my Maple Leafs take on the Sabres in Buffalo, I saw an even better game this past Saturday, nabbing the hottest ticket in the NHL that night to see the Sabres do battle with the mighty Florida Panthers. After an afternoon of shopping and nabbing some sweet Yankees gear at the Walden Galleria, it was off to the First Niagara Center for the game. Here’s my review of the arena, in the style of the stadium series reviews of the summer.
Upon entrance, the arena is very colourful and welcoming. One of the reasons could be that it’s very open, much more so than the main galleria at the ACC, and that feeling of having plenty of space is constant throughout the First Niagara Center. Also, the fans felt like they were all part of one big happy family, and as long as you weren’t a Panthers fan, you immediately felt welcomed into said family. The Sabres fans were so upbeat and happy, even if it was to see a losing team, and it kind of rubs off on you. Complete opposite of Leafs fans, who are divided at the ACC between the real fans and the corporate suits who don’t know if they are watching hockey or polo. One similarity that I did notice though, was that while the game was on, there didn’t seem to be much of a difference between the ACC and First Niagara Center. Leafs fans get ripped on a lot for being too quiet during games, yet Sabres fans were just as quiet on Saturday night as any game I’ve ever been to at the ACC.
The Arena/Sitelines: B-
While there is plenty of space to move around, as well as plenty of concession stands to get snacks, the arena itself was kind of bland, especially the 300 level. It seemed like an endless loop of concrete floor with blue and yellow walls. Nothing really interesting to look at, or merchandise stands to visit. It seems as if they saved most of the team history stuff and merchandise for the 100 level and the Blue Zone, which does feature a pretty neat timeline of team history including both positive and negative moments, including this one which I found kind of funny…
I must give a thumbs up to the main merchandise shop as well. The ACC/Real Sports needs to take a lesson on how to do this and make a shop with plenty of space and a wide variety of things to choose from. Can’t complain about the view either, and where they have some partially obstructed seats or seats with poor views at the ACC, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house in Buffalo. The main photo is where I sat, first row in section 325. Great seat made even better that I only paid $21 for it. That same seat would be $95 face value in Toronto I believe. Oh, and conehead man was kind of neat…
First Niagara Center had all the basics one would expect, and I cannot recall seeing anything out of the ordinary, well aside from the couple of “Mexican” concession stands. I was expecting the prices to be a little better, but they were pretty close to the ACC. Two things I look for at a hockey game for food: how good is the pizza, and how good is the popcorn? For the pizza, my buddy had a pepperoni slice which he said looked and tasted like Delissio pizza with really tiny pepperoni slices on top. Fortunately, the popcorn was awesome. You can get a big tub of it at a reasonable price, and they put butter on it for you.
The Game: B+
Many people asked why I would go to a Sabres/Panthers game, and while my main reason was just to take in a game at another arena, the game turned out to be pretty good. Al Montoya made some fantastic stops, and the conclusion was intense, with Nikita Zadorov netting the winner in overtime. Lots of action for a game that I wasn’t expecting much from.
While it may have been a bit of a pain getting out of Buffalo and across the border, in all, it was a pretty fun Saturday night at a more than reasonable price. Would gladly do it again.