The most heartbreaking loss for Sibers in franchise history

As one of the two oldest NHL franchises without a Stanley Cup championship, it goes without saying that the Buffalo Sabers have suffered more than a few painful defeats in 29 playoffs, including two in the Stanley Cup Final. Given this, it would be easy to assume that the team’s saddest defeat would be one of these two, right?

not necessarily. Even if one of those defeats was the result of the most controversial play in National Hockey League history, it’s all too easy to describe Goalless as the darkest moment in team history. Instead, let’s dig a little deeper.

Almost every Sabers fan over a certain age remembers the team’s magical 2005-06 season. Unfortunately, they also remember how devastating it was when it was over. Let’s review the 2006 playoff round and why it was the saddest and most crushing blow in the history of the Buffalo Sabers.

2005-2006 swords were powerful but overlooked

Make no mistake about it, the 1999 Stanley Cup Final was a huge blow for Buffalo and it still hurts to this day. If not for the 2005-06 season, this would have been the toughest loss the Cypress fans have ever faced. But it was overtaken by the story that almost ran for the 2005-2006 team, and how it ended.

What’s important to understand is that coming out of NHL Lockout 2004-05, the saber was not expected to do anything. Despite an improvement in the 2003-04 season that seemed to suggest better days were coming, every hockey sportswriter had head coach Lindy Raff’s team downstairs in the fall of 2005. But there was one factor they all forgot to reckon with.

The Sabers were probably the only team that actually benefited from the lockdown. They had five AHL young players — Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Jason Bominville, Paul Gustad, and Ryan Miller — who were all ready to jump into the National Hockey League for the 2004-05 season.

Ryan Miller became Buffalo’s #1 goalkeeper in 2005 and held that position for nearly a decade (Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images).

Cancellation gave each of them an additional free year of minor league development, and all five benefited greatly. Adding the five to the remainder of the Cypress core from the previous season gave the team an almost perfect blend of youth and experience on its roster. Although it might be hard to predict at the time, this gave the Sabers a solid head start over the other teams coming out of lockdown. While the others were busy finding a foothold after a year and a half apart from each other, Cypress knew they had something special and were ready to go out and prove the critics wrong. And boy did they.

“Now do you believe?”

With veteran captain Daniel Breer and Chris Drury leading the way, Buffalo has taken the hockey world by storm. After an inconsistent start to the season, the team won seven straight games in December 2005 and never looked back, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 52-24-6 score of 110. Driven by strong offensive and defensive play that allowed Miller to establish himself as a goalkeeper, the Saber not only defied all expectations in the book, but looked good at doing so. They have won five or more games in a row on five separate occasions (including eight in a row in March 2006) and also set a franchise record with 25 victories on the road.

Chris Drury
Co-captain Chris Drury (pictured here in 2007) spearheaded the relentless Cypress attack that scored 101 goals in power play (Rick Stewart/Getty Images).

Although some critics may have written it off as a coincidence, the Sabers entered the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs and showed it was nothing of the sort, upsetting two fiercely favored opponents in the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators to advance to the Eastern Conference final. The defining moment occurred in the fifth match of the second round.

With Jay Mackie in the penalty area to falter in the first extra span of time, Bauminville picked up the disc in the Sabers area and set off into National Hockey League history, wrapping himself around Senator legend Daniel Alfredson and slamming him past goalkeeper Ray Emery for a Buffalo Series win. It was the first time a playoff match had been won by a reduced goal in overtime and immortalized by Rick Generit’s greatest call-up ever.

These guys were really good and scary. By advancing to the quarter-finals for the first time since 1999, the Saber made anyone who doubted it look an idiot. A trip to the Stanley Cup Final was in hand, and the only hurdle was the Carolina Hurricanes.

Buffalo and Carolina threw everything at each other

The Hurricanes finished just two points behind the Sabers that year and the two teams proved equal every time, splitting the first four games. Game 5 at RBC’s Raleigh for some reason isn’t talked about much when the series is remembered, but it proved to be the turning point. The Sabers blew a 3-1 lead and lost in overtime to Hurricane Corey Stillman. This was the first time in the 2006 qualifiers that Sword looked weak, as well as the first time they faced elimination.

Despite this, the team did not falter and came back in the favour in Game 6, winning an extra goal by Briere in front of a raucous crowd at Buffalo’s and then HSBC Arena to send the series into Game Seven. And although the believer’s chariot was running at full speed, the sword was about to fall victim to some of the worst luck ever seen in the sport.

The Buffalo Defensive Team that entered the playoffs for 2006 was impressive, consisting of Maki, Tipo Noumenin, Henrik Talender, Dmitri Kalinin, Brian Campbell and Tony Lidman. During the playoffs, the top six would be slowly demolished due to the injury error the team experienced early on. In addition to losing leading scorer Tim Connolly in the second round, Kalinin, Talinder and Nominen also fell to the injured reserve, and the biggest blow came after Game Six when Mackie was sidelined with a severe calf injury. Seventh defender Rory Fitzpatrick and AHL call-ups forced Jeff Gilson, Doug Janick and Nathan Paisch to step in and play big roles.

Tragic end in Rally

Al-Saif team did not stop the big injured list and fought valiantly in the seventh match. A goal from Janek equalized at one point late in the second half and stunned the Hurricanes to take the lead with 3.3 seconds left when Jochen Hecht made a special wrap behind the net, putting it in goalkeeper Cam Ward.

Even with four players missing, Sword was on the cusp of what would have been the biggest miracle in the team’s history, if they could hold out another 20 minutes. But in the third, the magic ran out.

Daniel Breyer, Buffalo Cypress 2007
Despite their best efforts, co-captain Daniel Breer and Sibers were unable to overcome the four injuries in defense (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images).

The Hurricanes tied the two spots early on but the match stayed close and the Saber continued to show remarkable resilience. However, when Campbell inadvertently hit the ball over the glass from behind the Buffalo net and took a penalty, the clock struck midnight. It was a very unfortunate accident for Campbell, who bolstered the defense amid all the injuries, and Rod Brendamore’s ensuing goal proved to be the match-winner. Carolina added a blank net and took the competition 4-2 to advance to the Stanley Cup, which she would win over the Edmonton Oilers in a series that also went the distance.

Leave the buffalo wondering what if

The loss devastated Sabers fans everywhere and was a very stressful way for such a fun and unexpected journey to end. Campbell, Liedman and Fitzpatrick carried the weight of the defense commendably while all three call-ups performed as well as anyone could have hoped. In the end, overcoming injuries was too much. However, the Sabers’ valiant efforts earned them the respect of the hockey world and earned a modicum of revenge on Carolina at the 2006 NHL Awards when the Ruff defeated Hurricanes’ Peter Laviollette for Jack Adams as Coach of the Year.

Buffalo Saber Lindy Roof
Buffalo’s impressive campaign was recognized by the NHL when Lindy Raff was named Coach of the Year (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images).

In the 16 years since then, the Sabers and their fans can’t sit back and think about what could have been. Was this the team that finally brought the Stanley Cup to western New York? Would the team beat Carolina had they not lost so many key players? Would they have gone on to win Game 7 had Campbell not accidentally released the puck? We will never know.

The 2006 qualifiers are more than any other loss in Cypress history because they are the greatest “what if” the team has ever faced. Although we can ask the same question about “no target”, they are two very different scenarios. Buffalo’s reaching the final in 1999 was the story of Cinderella and David against Goliath, where the brave, earthly, and sterling Cypress met the award-winning Dallas Stars of the Chiefs. While the 1999 Cypress team fared better than they got and gave the stars all they could handle, the odds were much less in their favour.

On the other hand, the 2006 Cypress was strong from top to bottom and probably had the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup of any team in franchise history. It’s all too easy to blame injuries for losing in sports, but it’s fair to say the Carolina streak might have ended differently had the Saber not had as many setbacks as it did. Even if two of these four defenders remained healthy, Drury and Breyer might have raised the Lord Stanley Cup together.

Despite the loss, these swords are fondly remembered

Many fans consider the 2005-2006 Cypress to be the team’s best incarnation ever, and there is plenty of evidence to support this assertion. He wasn’t removed for long from a horrific three-year period in which former owner John Regas was convicted of fraud and the team nearly moved on as a result, Sears rekindled the hockey game in western New York that season and made everyone believe in the process.

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Although they failed to achieve their ultimate goal, the 2005-2006 swords are remembered as winners, even if history does not reflect this. The team had the talent to win it all but couldn’t due to circumstances beyond their control. For this reason, they hold a special place in the heart of every Buffalone.

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