Buffalo Native Andrew Sturtz Reflects On Sabres Fandom
“My favorite player growing up was probably Maxim Afinogenov. I just loved how he buzzed around out there.”
Penn State hockey forward Andrew Sturtz has plenty of fond memories growing up watching his hometown Buffalo Sabres during their successful run in the mid-2000s. But what started as mere fandom blossomed into something far greater.
With the Sabres coming to town tonight to take on the Minnesota Wild in a preseason exhibition, Sturtz’s childhood passion comes full circle as the franchise he looked up to takes to the same ice he currently plays on at Pegula.
“It’s pretty cool for sure,” Sturtz said. “I know a lot of their young prospects are probably playing. I haven’t been living in Buffalo the past five or six years, so I’m only familiar with some guys on the team. But I know there’s always been a history with them, and I’ll always be a diehard Sabres fan. It’s pretty cool they’re playing in our rink.”
We all have those lasting childhood memories with our loved ones. For some, it was trips to the football game. For others, baseball. Sturtz’s hockey career started young — when he was four years old, to be exact — but trips to the rink formerly known as HSBC Arena helped forge a passion for hockey that helped him reach the point he’s at today. “We actually had season tickets, probably from the time I was eight years old until I moved away to play juniors at 15,” Sturtz said. “There was nothing better than going to Sabres games. I used to sit right behind the penalty box when I was a kid, I would make faces at guys who got penalties, just banging on the glass and I had an awesome time.”
During his adolescence, those trips to the arena became more hockey-oriented as Sturtz’s aptitude for the game developed. The trips were just as fun, but the young player gained a greater respect for the game and how it’s played at the NHL level. “As I got a little bit older, I really just enjoyed going to the games for the hockey part,” Sturtz said. “The Sabres have definitely made a big impact on my life.”
The Sabres of late haven’t been much to write home about; the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011. But it has a promising future after years spent hand-picking the cream of the crop of young prospects at the top of the draft, not to mention adding a significant veteran presence to mentor the stars of tomorrow. The team’s run in 2006-07 stands above the rest in Sturtz’s mind as the season that had the biggest impact on the forward.
That season saw the Sabres, fresh off a Presidents’ Trophy campaign, advance all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Ottawa Senators in five games. The preceding series produced one of the most memorable moments in Sabres history after Afinogenov — Sturtz’s favorite player — scored a bar-down overtime winner from the blue line to defeat the New York Rangers on home ice to advance. The moment transcended time, and is remembered fondly by anyone who supports the pride of Western New York. No, the Sabres didn’t reach the Stanley Cup Final, but ask anybody their favorite memory of that stretch and you’ll hear a common answer.
Sturtz says while he’s passionate about the Sabres, he doesn’t really model his own game after anybody on the team’s current roster. But if he were to pick one player, Sturtz says it’d be Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo’s star center — a fitting choice given the similarities seen in their respective games. “I really think he plays the game the right way,” Sturtz said. “He’s just a good power forward and does all the little things really well. He doesn’t really take penalties, so that’s a guy I’d take from their team to try and play like.”
As a lifelong Sabres fan, I can relate to Sturtz here. Upon hearing the news of Buffalo coming to town, I was ecstatic. It may only be an exhibition contest, but it still means the world. Unfortunately, the Sabres had a to pick a Monday night to come to town. Sturtz, who has class that night, is still a student first, and won’t be able to make the game. “I know some guys are going to go,” Sturtz said. “But I have class six to eight, so I won’t be there. It’s an attendance-based class, so we have a lot of guys who are going to have to be at that.” Knowing his favorite team will take to his arena will have to suffice.
Sabres fandom runs strong in Western New York; for its residents, the Buffalo Sabres mean so much to the community. Woven into the fabric of the region, fans ride and die with their team. Like Penn State, Buffalo could be on the cusp of something special. Most Penn State students might not care about tomorrow’s matchup, but for one Buffalonian, it means the world.