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Get Ready, Buffalo: The Germans Are Coming

Adler Mannheim fan contingent set to see the Sabres

On October 4 in SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany, the bond was cemented. The Buffalo Sabres, en route to the opening of their regular season in Helsinki and Berlin, had just concluded an exhibition match against the hometown Adler Mannheim team. It was all Buffalo that night, as the sabres posted an 8-3 victory.

But the German fans were not disappointed. They were happy, almost jubilant, in welcoming some of the best athletes on Earth to their city, and welcoming home a local hero who made good, Jochen Hecht, along with his teammates from the United States.

What did the fans do after the game? They didn’t go home. Many remained in the stands. They sang. They chanted. They banged their drums. The Germans began chanting, “Let’s go, Buffalo!” Slowly at first, but the crescendo grew and grew, to the point that a couple players did a curtain call on the ice. This, mind you, 20 minutes after the game had concluded. “This is incredible, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Tyler Ennis said at the time, listening to the crowd noise wafting into the locker room.

“This is how they do it here in Europe,” Thomas Vanek said. “The players stay on the ice and party with the fans long after the game is concluded.”

After it was all over, a number of fans approached Adler Mannheim press officer Matthias Fries and making an excursion to Buffalo. It all came together and a tour was organized. The 50 available slots quickly sold out, then an additional 10 to 15 Adler fans booked flights just to be a part of things.

All told, 65 or so full-throated German hockey fans will be in the house at First Niagara Center next Wednesday, February 8, when the Sabres taken on Boston, and again on Friday, February 10, versus Dallas.

For 25-year-old Adler Mannheim season ticket-holder Stefan Schaefer, it has been a countdown to the big trip since the idea was hatched. Schaefer proudly admits that he has been a season-ticket-holder since his teen years, is one of the drum bangers at the games, and helps organize special fan events and merchandising, as well as to administer the team’s Facebook site. His group will start out in Boston, then, after the Buffalo visit, will make their way up to Toronto. Says Schaefer, “We don’t miss Adler games as there are no games at home that weekend. We can see five NHL teams, we can see Hecht, we can see [Boston Bruin and former Adler] Dennis Seidenberg, whose brother Yannic plays at Mannheim. We can see the Stanley Cup champion, we can see a very special game in Toronto, we can visit the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s a very big value we get within a five-day visit.”

Much of the fellowship between Mannheim and Buffalo came about via two superfans and Buffalo ambassadors, Suzanne K. Taylor and Cindy Barrett. Both took part in the Sabres trip back in October, and their “Danke Mannheim” sign garnered more than a bit of attention. “We created the sign from supplies we bought at a Woolworth’s across the street from our hotel,” explains Taylor. “We displayed it during the game and hung out and waved it outside the arena afterwards, and that’s when Stefan approached us. He said he’d like to come to Buffalo someday. We had no idea then that this would happen so soon.

“People here don’t understand how really big it was for the Germans to have the NHL on their soil,” Taylor says. “We heard it in Mannheim. We heard it in Berlin. Their fans were amazing.”

Schaefer and his friends are looking forward to experiencing the subtle differences in the game-day experience over here. “The ice rink is smaller, which makes the game faster. It’s great to see the goals, the fights, everything,” he says. “And, of course, the fans are different. Back home, there are large standing areas, a fourth of the arena in Mannheim, where people start creative fan chants almost during the whole 60 minutes. In the NHL, there are only seats and the mood is more focused on what actually happens at the moment. There are big cheers for amazing checks and saves, but not whole songs.”

Hecht’s success in the NHL is a special source of pride for the folks in Mannheim. “He was born in Mannheim, he started his career in Mannheim, he won the German championship twice with Mannheim, and he came to us during the lockout,” Schaefer says. “The fans love Hecht. He visits autograph sessions during the summer break and is always allowed to join the summer training with the Adler. Everybody would welcome him back to Mannheim after his NHL career. I have to say, as for myself, I love to see him play.”

During the off day between games, our guests will do some sightseeing, visit the local shopping malls and outlets, seek out our famous chicken wings, and enjoy the Buffalo hospitality. Says Schaefer, “Every goal, every minute will be great. So if you have a scale of zero bad mood to 10 incredible feeling, we’re on a big 11. Let’s go, Buffalo!”

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