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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A new era for the Buffalo Sabres.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

While trying to make a living in the risky gas and oil drilling business long ago, Terry Pegula promised that if he had two nickels to his name he would buy the Buffalo Sabres.

Many nickels and one kept promise later, Pegula offered another vow: He will do whatever it takes to help the Sabres win their first Stanley Cup.

Pegula, whose several Pittsburgh connections include a family dog named Sidney (as in the Penguins' Crosby), bought the Sabres last month for $189 million in one of the quickest NHL sales ever.

The league instantly and eagerly embraced Pegula, a longtime Sabres fan and former season ticket holder, for his hockey passion, commitment to the franchise and business savvy, not to mention his bank account.

While hardly chump change, the bill for the Sabres barely scratched the $3 billion Pegula earned from selling his Warrendale drilling company last year. That vaulted him to a tie for 110th on Forbes magazine's 2010 list of the wealthiest Americans.

"A dream come true for us," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, describing the deal to reporters. "This is a great day for hockey in Buffalo."

Sabres fans feel the same way, staging a lovefest with Pegula since his introduction Feb. 22. He had them at hello when, in his first public utterance, he proclaimed, "Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup."

He talked about sparing no expense in upgrading and expanding scouting, player development and pretty much everything else. "We're cutting the chains off," he said, adding that if he was in it for the money, "I'd drill another gas well."

Already, the locker room is getting a new carpet.

Even Pegula's wife, Kim, is involved in a multitude of tasks, such as reaching out to players' families and team employees and making them feel appreciated.

"Terry is really kind of the visionary, the big-idea guy," said longtime friend and former Penn State hockey coach Joe Battista, who is overseeing a massive hockey project Pegula is helping to finance. "Kim makes everything happen."

Pegula said his wife "looks at the human side of what we do."

Pegula has five children but now has a new family. Recently, the Pegulas hosted a get-together attended by everyone in the organization — coaches, players, wives, janitors. Nothing like that had happened before.

"People were in utter shock," said Pegula confidante Cliff Benson, who started Pittsburgh's Hockey in the Hood youth program and plans to help Pegula expand a similar venture, Hasek’s Heroes, in Buffalo.

During his introductory address, Pegula pointed to Sabres legend Gilbert Perreault and said, "You're my hero." This from a 59-year-old billionaire.

Earlier, Pegula spoke to the current players and choked up with tears. "His intentions are good, and he's a really good guy," winger Jason Pominville said afterward.

Fans starving for a Stanley Cup mobbed Pegula at his first game in what amounted to a hero's welcome. During a trip to New York, he and some friends wandered into a bar hosting a Sabres fan gathering. The place was jammed. Pegula got a standing ovation.

Pegula, who falls into the low-key category among owners, said he never expected this reaction.

He said he told a friend recently, "Nothing against any of the other teams or fans in the league, but if you think the Penguins have good hockey fans, wait till you see the people here. They take it to another level."

Last September, Pegula, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., donated $88 million to his alma mater, Penn State, for a new ice arena that will help elevate hockey from a club sport to NCAA Division I. It was about then that talks with the Sabres became serious, although Pegula first raised the idea about a year ago.

In just a few months he has raised the hopes of a city that could use a little optimism.

Buffalo is a hockey hotbed. But the Sabres, whose name and "cash strapped" often went together, have gone Cup-less since entering the league in 1970. The last big league title came in 1965 when the Bills won the American Football League championship. Unlike Pittsburgh, Buffalo's economy and sports identity remain wobbly.

"Think about Pittsburgh with no Super Bowls and no Stanley Cups," said Benson, a Latrobe native and retired accountant who numbered the Penguins among his clients for several years. "Try to visualize what winning a Stanley Cup would mean to Buffalo. The psyche of the city would be so impacted by that. There isn't any town that would benefit more from winning the Cup. This is the hockey heartbeat. Buffalo."

Pegula worked his way up from below the ground. He was born in Carbondale, near Scranton, into a coal mining family. He said his grandfather worked in the mines and died of black lung disease and his dad — a miner, truck driver and mechanic — got "black lung benefits." Pegula said he himself drove a water truck in the mines to tamp down the coal dust.

He went to Penn State Worthington Scranton for two years, graduated from the State College campus and entered the drilling industry. In 1983, he borrowed $7,500 from family and friends and founded East Resources in Warrendale. After accumulating holdings in the Marcellus shale, he sold most of the company last year to Dutch Royal Shell for $4.7 billion. Pegula still owns several drilling assets, plus a sports agency in California and Black River Entertainment, a music label in Nashville.

One of his firms has a suite at Consol Energy Center. Pegula said he "may be there" when the Sabres, fighting for a playoff berth, play the Penguins on Tuesday. Among his links to Pittsburgh, Pegula added former Penguins executives Ken Sawyer (senior advisor) and Ted Black (president) to his brain trust.

Then there's the matter of the dog, an Australian Shepherd he bought for his kids who almost was named something else.

"We were looking for a name, and it was all Penn State centered," Pegula said. "Nittany. Everything was Nittany. I came up with the name Sidney. I said, 'You guys like Sidney Crosby, right?' "

But the Sabres have been a distant first in Pegula's heart dating to when he first moved to upstate New York during the 1970s. He went to games when he lived close by and stayed attached when he didn't. While living in Wexford, he would park on an overpass above I-79 in Portersville where he could pick up the Sabres' radio signal.

"Now I'm part of the business," he said. "The fan part has long eroded as far as being on the periphery."

He is as inside as it gets now, but Pegula said he plans to run the Sabres like his other businesses. "I have three rules," he said. "Love what you're doing, work hard, and treat people the way you want to be treated."

"I love the guy," Ted Black said. "There are no pretenses about him. He's just a wonderful, wonderful human being who happened to do extraordinary things with his business. I love hockey, and I love what we're gonna do, but if Terry Pegula ever went back to drilling gas wells, I'd think seriously about going with him."

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First of all, the word is SEX, not GENDER. If you are ever tempted to use the word GENDER, don't. The word is SEX! SEX! SEX! SEX! For example: "My sex is male." is correct. "My gender is male." means nothing. Look it up. What kind of sick neo-Puritan nonsense is this? Idiot left-fascists, get your blood-soaked paws off the English language. Hence I am choosing "male" under protest.

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