The Buffalo Sabres have the smartest fans in sports. There's no denying it now.
During Thursday night's game in Buffalo, the home fans were actively, loudly rooting for their favorite team to lose. When the Arizona Coyotes scored the winner in overtime, the crowd cheered as though Pat LaFontaine had just sent the Sabres to the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
This is not an exaggeration. Check it out:
There's an even better reaction from the stands:
When your team spends an entire season invested in a tank battle, and that battle comes down to two games with the Coyotes, well, fans will be invested in the outcome of that game. The franchise wants the team to lose, so the fans are going to hop on board with that notion, especially with less than 10 games to play.
To paraphrase the kid from that anti-drug ad, "they learned it by watching you."
And really, that Sam Gagner blast may indirectly result in a Stanley Cup for the Sabres, as the Coyotes are now six points back in the chase for 30th, which means Buffalo is just about guaranteed to land either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the upcoming draft.
The fans get this. It's a beautiful and rare thing.
It's also a little mean. Just a tad. You can be both correct and a jerk if you're not careful.
You see, the players on the ice spent two hours having their home fans root against them. That's not nice or fun. This gets lost sometimes, but hockey players—and trust me, this was crazy when I learned this too—are people. Like most humans, they are in search of emotional connections with other humans, and as an athlete, many feel one with fans.
Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News was on the scene Thursday, and let's just say players were simply devastated by the two-hour vocal knife in the back, especially Mike Weber, who was in the penalty box for the winning goal. While Weber is angry, those cheers were indirectly for him, as his infraction allowed for Gagner to score the winner.
Strangely enough, he didn't take it that way. Weber explained:
It’s tough to get momentum when your fans are rooting against you. That’s the unfortunate part. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans. I don’t even know if disappointed is the word. They scored that first one, our fans are cheering. Delayed penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game. I don’t know. I don’t even know what to say.
Weber lost me at momentum. The Sabres are the worst non-expansion NHL team in a very long time. All the momentum in the world isn't changing the fact this team will go down as one of the worst in history.
But here's where Weber needs to open his eyes: These fans get it and know losing now will help win later, and since Weber is only 27 years old, he has a chance to be part of that future winning. If Weber has a problem with fan morale, maybe he should direct his frustration toward management, or even the players in the locker room, as there is a reason fans have reached the point where they are wisely cheering for losses.
Think of the Sabres as a sick grandmother that isn't suffering from anything fatal, but she needs to take her medicine to get better. The medicine tastes like a cross between sour milk and unwashed feet, so she hates it even though it's making her better. She grimaces with every spoonful. Her family (the fans) are really happy she's swallowing her medicine not because they are mean-spirited, joyless idiots; it's because they know she will feel better.
This entire season, especially Thursday night, is the Sabres taking their medicine. It will make them better.
Weber had more to say:
This is extremely frustrating for us. We don’t want to be here. We understand where we are. We understand what this team is doing, what the organization is doing, the place we’ve put ourselves in. I’ve never been a part of something like that where the away team comes into a home building and they’re cheering for them.
For a quote that has "understand" in it twice, Weber doesn't seem to understand what's happening.
And cry me a river, but sports has become a cold, sanitized business over the years—years that not coincidentally include three NHL lockouts. If you want to passive-aggressively question fans' loyalty, it's best if you're not an NHL player when doing so, questioning fans that return in droves every time, fans that fill that building in Buffalo game after game to watch a glorified AHL team.
Fans now have a cold-blooded perspective about the sport of hockey? Man, where did they learn that, I wonder?
If you have a problem with the NHL's lottery system that allows for this to happen when there are two potentially franchise-changing players available in a draft, that's another issue.
If you have a problem with fans with eyes wide-open cheering their team's loss like the geniuses they are, then much like Mike Weber, you need to grow up.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.