Sabers game here Thursday expected to be played as driving ban gets lifted

The Buffalo Sabers are scheduled to resume their season against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night in KeyBank Center. As far as the game’s status, we no longer have to say “weather permitting” with the blizzard over.

After plenty of doubt Wednesday, all indications are the game will be played. The Sabers announced Wednesday night that general manager Kevyn Adams will speak to the media Thursday at 10 am in advance of the team’s morning skate and the driving ban in the city was scheduled to be lifted at 12:01 am Thursday.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown had indicated in separate briefings Wednesday that they hoped the ban could be lifted Thursday. The ban prevented the Sabers from holding practices as a team; some players who live downtown by the waterfront walked to KeyBank Center to skate over the last two days. Others in the suburbs, who were unable to drive downtown to join their teammates because of the ban, skated at the Northtown Center in Amherst.

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“We are monitoring, and we know the Sabers have a game tomorrow,” Poloncarz said Wednesday. “If the driving ban is still in effect, of course, there would be no game. Well, they could hold the game. The airport is going to be open, and if (the Red Wings) came in, they could hold the game but there should be nobody driving down to attend the game.

“If the driving ban is lifted and there’s parking available, then yes, I guess you would play the game and people would attend. When you lift the driving ban, that means it’s safe enough to do these types of activities.”

The Sabers have not played since Dec. 19 in Vegas, and have not practiced as a full team with coaches since Dec. 22, A league source indicated there are concerns over competitive imbalance about playing a game without any practice time in a week and it’s known the Sabers consulted with the NHL Players Association about the situation as well.

Detroit, meanwhile, returned from the holiday break to practice Tuesday and played Wednesday at Pittsburgh.

The Sabers had their Dec. 23 game against Tampa Bay postponed due to the onset of the blizzard, and Tuesday’s game at Columbus was postponed because of airport closures and continued poor weather in Buffalo.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has discussed the situation with the Sabers and the league wanted the game to proceed if possible, with temperatures in Buffalo on Thursday expected to be in the mid-40s. But there were still hurdles: Major routes into downtown such as the Scajaquada and Kensington expressways remained closed Wednesday while snow-clearing operations continue, and streets and parking lots in the vicinity of the arena were in rough shape early in the day.

Enough progress needed to be made in those areas to handle the large crowd expected to attend the club’s first home game since Dec. 9.

“We are in regular communication with the club regarding the prevailing conditions in Buffalo, including team preparation status and opportunities,” Daly said in an e-mail Wednesday afternoon to The Buffalo News. “No final decision on tomorrow night’s game has been made, at this point, and we will, of course, consider all potentially relevant factors and will, as usual, be responsive and respectful to the direction of local governmental authorities.”

Prior to the blizzard, the Sabers had won four straight games to improve their record to 16-14-2. Assuming the game goes on, the Sabers will proceed directly into a normal schedule: They will practice Friday, fly to Boston and open a three-game road trip Saturday afternoon against the Bruins in TD Garden.

The Sabers don’t play at home again until Jan. 7 against Minnesota.


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