Once again, Jason Tangorra, Wayne Kretz and Leslie Churchill will be glued to their respective television sets watching the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night.
And once again, their hearts will be in Orchard Park, N.Y.
The three Canadians are Buffalo season-ticket holders and they’re reveling in the Bills’ success this year. But they’re unable to attend games in Western New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed the border to non-essential travel.
Buffalo (13-3) finished atop the AFC East Division this season to secure the conference’s No. 2 seed. That gave the Bills their third playoff berth since 2017. but the club’s 27-24 victory last weekend over the Indianapolis Colts was its first post-season win since 1995.
It also was Buffalo’s first home playoff contest since 1996.
On Saturday night, Buffalo hosts the Baltimore Ravens in second-round action. Like last week, New York State has approved admission for about 6,700 fans after not allowing any fans into the nearly 70,000-seat facility during the regular season. Fans must get a COVID-19 test at the stadium two to three days before the game and then have a negative result to be admitted.
Instead of sitting at Bills Stadium with his uncle — a native of nearby Jamestown, N.Y. — and four cousins, Tangorra will be watching on television with his wife and daughter. The 40-year-old real-estate agent has been a fan of the team since 1990 and a season-ticket holder for the past six years.
“My daughter is conflicted because her stepdad is a Bears fan,” Tangorra said. “But my wife will cheer with me because she knows what we [Bills fans] have been through all these years so she has empathy.
“Oh what I wouldn’t give to be there. The emotion you feel when you go to a game, especially when you’re with family, it’s comradery, it’s friendship and it’s culture. I remember when [Bills coach Sean McDermott] came in, he was saying, ‘The process, the process, the process,’ . . .and when you see the team grow and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is cool.'”
Financial as well as emotional hurt
Tangorra isn’t alone. Bills Mafia, the moniker for the club’s rabid fanbase, is alive and well in Ontario and Quebec with Bills Backers chapters located throughout the provinces. It’s estimated between 3,000 and 8,000 Canadians are season-ticket holders.
The stadium is located about a 30-minute drive away from the Peace Bridge, which connects Fort Erie, Ont., to Buffalo.
“I’d go there and watch those and I can tell you I met every single player from 1991 to ’92 though ’93. It was a pretty amazing experience for a kid and so cool [because] you get to engage. It was one of the best experiences.”
Kretz, 49, owns The Manhattan Bar and Grill in St. Catharines, Ont., and it would usually be very busy when Buffalo plays. Not only is Kretz a Bills season-ticket holder, he organizes bus trips to various events, including Buffalo football games
“The financial hurt as a business owner is crippling but then just as a life-long Bills fans it’s devastating to not be able to be there,” said Kretz, who”s been attending Bills games since the late 1980s. “It is affecting my fun as well as my business.”
‘Verge of tears’
Kretz had arranged to attend a Bills home game in Las Vegas but, predictably, had to cancel those plans this year. He also took a serious look at all possible ways to make the trip to Orchard Park for Saturday’s contest.
“There’s a company doing helicopter trips to fly you over the border,” he said. “It crossed my mind but I think this is a team that could go all the way.
“If they go to Tampa [site of this year’s Super Bowl] I will seriously consider flying down and quarantining and doing all that . . . I’m that big of a fan.”
Churchill, 38, operates R U Serious Tap and Grill in Guelph, Ont., with her sister, Kim, also a diehard Bills fan. Churchill has been a Buffalo season-ticket holder since 2015 but members of her family have had tickets for upwards of 30 years.
“Obviously we own a bar and it’s an industry being hit the hardest but I feel like we’re going to muscle that out and be OK,” Churchill said. “On a personal note, the most difficult thing this year and what I miss the most is being in Buffalo.
“I drive my son [three-year-old Jack] to daycare every morning and just as the sun comes up I roll my windows down for the cold air to come in because it reminds me of getting to the border on gameday and I get emotional and am on the verge of tears and I’m hiding it from my son.”
One of Churchill’s fondest memories of attending a Bills game was Sept. 24, 2017 when fans threw her an impromptu baby shower.
“It was the game against Denver and I was eight months pregnant and it was the hottest game we had in history there,” she said. “That afternoon I was sitting there in the shade and friend after friend was showing up and they threw me a baby shower in the parking lot.
“It makes me so emotional now just to think about it because these are the people that are your family.”
The road to the Super Bowl is a difficult one for Buffalo. Baltimore finished with an 11-5 record this season and looming for Saturday’s winner could be a road contest against the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs, who posted a league-best 14-2 record this season and will face Cleveland (11-5) on Sunday.
“Kansas City is a very good team,” Tangorra said. “[But] I think Buffalo can win the Super Bowl, I really do.”
If the Bills and Chiefs both win to set up an AFC title showdown in Kansas City, Tangorra said he’ll take a look at the logistics of attending — Canadians still can fly out of the country, though the government is recommending against travel. However, with Ontario enacting a stay-at-home order this week, he doesn’t like his chances.
“Am I going to look into it? Yes,” he said. “Do I have any hopes for it? No.
“But I’m going to look into it.”
Wayne Gretzky's Father Walter Gretzky Dead at 82 After Parkinson's Battle – TMZ
Calgary Flames fire Geoff Ward, name Darryl Sutter as new head coach – ESPN
The Calgary Flames fired head coach Geoff Ward on Thursday night, replacing him with former coach and two-time Stanley Cup champion Darryl Sutter.
The Flames routed the Ottawa Senators 7-3 at home on Thursday night, but Ward’s fate was apparently sealed after going 11-11-2 to start the season. He was officially hired in the offseason after replacing Bill Peters on an interim basis last season.
Overall, Ward was 35-26-5 in his first NHL head-coaching stint.
Sutter has been a head coach for 18 seasons in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Flames and Los Angeles Kings. Sutter led the Kings to the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, playing a puck-possessing system that made Los Angeles one of the league’s top defensive teams.
He has a career coaching record of 634-467-101-83, including 107-73-15-15 as head coach of the Flames from 2002 to ’06, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004. He also served as the team’s general manager from 2003 to ’10. Sutter has had winning seasons in 15 of his 18 years behind an NHL bench as head coach. His last NHL job was as an advisor to the Anaheim Ducks.
Sutter’s deal with Calgary is for three years.
This is the fifth head coach hired by general manager Brad Treliving since he took over the Flames in 2014. Calgary is two points out of the final playoff spot in the West Division, although the Montreal Canadiens — who fired their head coach last week — have two games in hand.
Ward held court with the media after the win over Ottawa and appeared unaware of his fate.
“We’ve got to get ourselves ready again for another hard hockey game,” Ward said. “We’re really not thinking about what’s happened in the past; we’re thinking about what we need to do to prepare ourselves [for] the next one.”
Sheldon Keefe, Maple Leafs reflect on cherished memories of Walter Gretzky – Sportsnet.ca
The coach, the captain, and the superstar all had something to say about hockey’s loss before they fielded questions about their own.
Funny how quick the big things — perspective, legacy, family — can make two mid-season points shrink into the blip they are.
Moments after stepping off the Vancouver ice in defeat, 3-1 by the Canucks, the Toronto Maple Leafs learned that Walter Gretzky had passed away. He was 82 and roundly beloved.
Sheldon Keefe, John Tavares and Auston Matthews each took a moment to pass along their condolences to the Gretzky family.
Like so many Ontarians who grew up hanging around rinks, Keefe had met Wayne’s dad a few times, but one stands out.
Walter visited Pembroke with the NHL Old-Timers when Keefe was coaching the Lumber Kings, and the two had a small time to chat.
Walter always made time to chat.
“The lasting memory I have of that is just him sitting around for what seemed for hours throughout the game, signing autographs and taking pictures with everybody that wanted one, and chatting with anybody who wanted to talk too,” Keefe recalled.
“It was pretty cool to see someone of his stature, what he means to the game, what he’s brought to the game, and to be all the way out in Pembroke, Ont., and taking part in an event like that for people that wouldn’t normally get such an opportunity.”
Tavares, too, met Walter when he was a wee rink rat. His memory can’t quite pin down the year or the place, because hockey’s dad was always around the rinks, immersed in the hockey community. But still, Tavares remembers how Walter made him feel.
“Just his graciousness, big smile, and obviously a passion for the game,” Tavares said. “Just a very gracious man, from what I remember as a kid.”
Slotted in its proper place — below the fold, and well below Walter’s endearing smile — the Maple Leafs’ defeat holds even less meaning.
Build a seven-point lead over your division. Reel off a 10-game point streak. Shut down the most electric player in the game (since, well, Walter’s son) for 180 straight minutes. Do all that, and you can afford a letdown game.
The Maple Leafs arrived late in Vancouver to play their second game in two nights, third in four nights, and fourth in six nights — over three time zones.
Start your third-string goaltender in a matchup like this one, even against the Elias Pettersson–free Canucks, and it’s easy for the NHL’s No. 1–ranked club to write this off as a schedule casualty.
Jake Virtanen — traded a zillion times in the comments section and call-in shows — opened the scoring early by driving to the net around Justin Holl. Pierre Engvall knotted the score at one after taking an Ilya Mikheyev touch pass and driving to the slot.
But Virtanen struck again in Period 2, whipping the winner past Michael Hutchinson off the rush from a cringe-inducing angle.
“As I was going down into the post, I saw his wrists open up and knew he was coming high. From there, I just slipped off the post a little bit,” Hutchinson explained. “It was just a little bit of a mess for me.
“An unfortunate goal at an unfortunate time of the game.”
What didn’t help was Auston Matthews pinging posts or a rested Vancouver side starting Thatcher “Bubble” Demko, who turned away 31 of the 32 shots Toronto funneled his way.
“Demmer’s a great goalie. He’s big, takes up a lot of space, and I think ever since the bubble in the playoffs last year he’s really come into his own,” said Matthews, who knows the California native on a personal level. “He’s an awesome guy and really great person. He played really well tonight.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat.”
With Toronto’s own top two goalies both considered day-to-day as they recover from lower-body injuries, the positive news for Saturday’s rematch is that Frederik Andersen will be available.
You can bet the Maple Leafs will have more jump in their legs. Just as you can bet that game, on Hockey Night in Canada, will begin with more tributes to and memories of Walter Gretzky.
Let them flood like a backyard rink.
“It’s a terrible loss of a great man that gave so many terrific things to our game, to our sport,” Keefe said. “Certainly leaves a legacy behind that we will never forget.”
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