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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Farewell, old friend

      April 14, 1996 - In hindsight, Memorial Auditorium picked a good year for its farewell. The Sabres were out of the playoff race as their last game in the 56-year-old building approached. That meant, at least, that fans in the Aud could ponder their memories of the building rather than think about a playoff win.

      That they did on a memorable night for all concerned. The Sabres beat the Hartford Whalers, 4-1, to finish a 33-42-7 season. Then current players teamed up with the Sabres alumni and their fans to say good-bye in a 30-minute ceremony.

      "I tried my best -- I think probably some (tears) snuck out," said Seymour H. Knox III, the team's original owner. "It was an emotional evening."

      Knox's speech ended with a phrase that became synonymous with the closing of the building: "Farewell, old friend."

      At the ceremony's end, a few Sabres skated around the ice one last time. Pat LaFontaine carried the puck to the goal crease, acknowledged the roaring crowd, and tapped the puck in the net. The horn sounds, and the arena went dark. 

     "I'm very fortunate that I was able to be a part of it," Rob Ray said later.

--- Budd Bailey

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