Cries of “where is Terry” filled Alumni Plaza at the KeyBank Center early Saturday afternoon as about 25 disgruntled Buffalo Sabres fans of all ages gathered to voice displeasure with Kim and Terry Pegula’s management of the team.
At the heart of the protest, dubbed “Pack the Plaza,” was Canisius sophomore Peter Tripi, who organized the event through social media. He spoke with reporters on his frustrations with the Pegulas’ ownership and how the fanbase feels “neglected.”
“There’s been no talking, and [Sabres General Manager] Jason Botterill said a few things but there’s been no talking from management,” Tripi said. “I’ve said all over the news, I’m happy, I appreciate all the things the Pegulas have done for the community, the city, the Bills, but they cannot completely neglect an entire fanbase.”
Other fans felt the same way, claiming that the Pegulas have not communicated with Sabres fans while focusing instead on the Buffalo Bills, which they also own. Kim Pegula, who assumed the role of team president in 2017, has not held a press conference on the Sabres since she took the title.
Kevin Coughlin Sr. and his son, 13-year-old Kevin Jr., said they are season ticket holders but have been frustrated with more and more losses. “Since the Pegulas have taken over, we haven’t made the playoffs and it seems like they don’t really care,” Kevin Jr. said. “We want a better team.”
“He hasn’t seen success really, he’s only 13 and he’s brought up his own things to me how Instagram polls from the owners are all about the Bills. There hasn’t been much of a response,” Kevin Sr. added.
The Pegulas purchased the Sabres from Thomas Golisano in February 2011 and declared to the media that the Sabres’ “reason for existence” was a Stanley Cup championship.
The team did make the NHL playoffs in the 2010-11 season, Pegula’s first season as owner, but have not returned. Since that time, the team has gone through five head coaches and hired the sixth, Ralph Krueger, this past offseason.
Tripi used the Twitter account @PavingtheStreet to call fans to attention. He gauged interest with Twitter polls; a poll tweeted on Jan. 31 received 1,163 votes with 70% saying they would be interested in a protest.
He has experience as an organizer; he led the Williamsville North Squall fan section in high school and runs Paving the Street, which sponsors street hockey tournaments across the city.
In addition to communication, fans have voiced anger over treatment of team alumni. For example, Sabres legends Mike Robitaille and Dave Andreychuk were issued jerseys with misspelled names on them for an alumni event in January.
“The Sabres matter, the fans matter,” said Jonathan Warthling, a UB student from Amherst. “Terry and Kim, I think they should be addressing the media more and the fans more. I just think it would be the right thing to do.”
On Jan. 29, a called identifying himself as “Duane” called into WGR 550’s “Mike Schopp and the Bulldog” show. He spoke for nearly four minutes straight on his love for the Sabres and how he believed that the Pegulas’ ownership was killing his passion.
Many Sabres fans have used Duane’s phone call as a rallying speech, and several signs at the Pack the Plaza event bore messages such as “#WeAreDuane.” Duane himself could not be at the event, but his father, Duane Sr., made it to Alumni Plaza.
“This area supports hockey, win or lose, historically we’ve shown that,” he said. “I raised [Duane] to love hockey the way I love hockey,” he said.
Protestors remained until about 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Their presence was not unnoticed; a KeyBank Center employee invited them in for hot chocolate and refreshments.
“It went very well no matter what the turnout. We got the exposure and message across we wanted throughout the week with the media and the attention we got, so I’m happy with it all,” Tripi said after the protest.
As to whether he would plan another Pack the Plaza event, Tripi simply said, “I hope we don’t have to.”