As told to: Joe Pack
This is Part 2 of a series entitled Tales From The Aud by Derek Paternostro, a former stickboy for the Buffalo Sabres when they played at the old Auditorium.
READ MORE: Part 1Once the players went out for warmups, it was our cue to head into the dressing room. I’m sure we could have been in there while the guys were preparing to score, scrap with, hit, and forecheck my hometown squad, but it always felt like I was the new kid in school, and any inside jokes among teammates would have been directed at me, without my knowing. The Gatorade was poured out into cups and onto a table in the middle of the room. I always pictured coming into a scene where the coach flips the drink filled table onto the floor during a heated speech, as if it was a Hollywood production, but I don’t recall that ever happening.
Once warmups were over, there was a clear increase in energy. Often times Mike and I would be able to predict the outcome just by spending a few minutes in each dressing room, right after warmups. Of course, it wasn’t the predictable circles around the zone, or the arched line up for soft slap shots that made the difference, but likely the fact that one team was probably on its third game in four nights. See, as seventeen year olds, we didn’t read the papers, look at the standings, but mostly paid attention to just the home games scheduled. It was becoming more about when we worked, and less about when the Sabres played.
I can also hear Finn saying, “What the fuck are you looking at?” He and I both knew the answer. I can only imagine it was Rob Ray’s handiwork.
After the team, coaches, and most of the staff left the room for the ice, it was our first real chance to breathe. Mike and I were still both in high school, so we’d been moving since about 7:00am. I can remember just listening to the sounds of the game. Not the clap of a shot from the blueline, or the ringing of a post, but instead the slow rise and fall of the crowd noise. You could almost feel when a goal was coming. We always knew the difference between the sound of a big hit, fight, goal, or a near miss. If it was a fight, we’d spring up from our rest and head down the hall in hope that it developed into an all out brawl.
A vision that, to this day I can still see, was one night when we made that half jog down the hall and were met by a player from around a blind corner. I came face to face, first with one of the greatest logos in all of hockey. The red, white and blue of the Quebec Nordiques. As I stopped in my tracks my eyes were met with a bloody faced, larger than life: Steve Finn. I can only imagine what my face looked like because, followed by the bloody memory, I can also hear Finn saying, “What the fuck are you looking at?” He and I both knew the answer. I can only imagine it was Rob Ray’s handiwork.
I avoided the coaches as most highlights often featured fire-breathing accusations of doughnut-eating referees or sneering stares that could make Medusa feel uncomfortable. Rick Bowness was no exception. Bowness was heading up a newly formed Ottawa Senators club that was experiencing a tough start, to say the least. I didn’t have to read the papers to know that much. One night, with his team likely underperforming, I could hear him ripping into the players through the steel doors and concrete, cinder block walls. As he exited, he slammed the door behind him, turned around and slammed it again, and stormed my way, towards the office. As I stepped aside to make room for the raging drill instructor, he looked me in the eye, winked, and whispered, “What do you think?” He didn’t wait to see the smile curl up the sides of my mouth.
JOE PACK is a freelance writer based in Toronto and a rec-league rent-a-goalie.
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