ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The unpredictable winter weather in Buffalo has been a constant theme as far as the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic is concerned.
But for famed Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, who will sing God Bless America
prior to the first puck's drop, he wouldn't miss this assignment for anything.
"You get an opportunity like this once in a lifetime," said Tynan. "Screw the weather."
Coming to Buffalo is no problem for Tynan, who is most associated with the New York Yankees, but has grown into a huge hockey fan, and a devoted follower of the Sabres.
"I have a huge association with the Sabres, they're my hockey team," Tynan said. "They're a great bunch of men. They're a great association. I've grown to love Buffalo, grown to love the Sabres, and I love the hockey games. It's the most intense sport anyone can watch. Ice hockey is the most physical, dramatic, driven game I've ever seen. And when you're right down on the sideline, with just the glass protecting you, it's the scariest thing imaginable, but it's an adrenaline driver."
|Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sings God Bless America prior to Game 2 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Semifinal game between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers on April 27, 2007 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York.
Growing up in Ireland, Tynan's sporting interests were rugby and hurling. Ice hockey was as foreign to him as it would be to a Martian. But all that changed after he saw the movie Miracle
Not long after that, Tynan met Steve Janaszak, the backup goalkeeper on that 1980 U.S. Olympic squad.
"He was delighted to meet me and I was delighted to meet him," said Tynan. "He asked if I had ever seen Miracle
and I said; 'It was amazing. I was so proud of you. I felt like I was there.' Every American has great patriotism, and when you watch a movie like that, you come out saying; 'Go USA.' I was taken by it. I thought he was a class, class guy. About two weeks later, I got a photograph with all the players' signature from the 1980 game, which is unique. That's a treasure.
"That generated my real interest in going back and looking at a couple things. Ice hockey, when you see it on television it's not as powerful, but when you're there it's unbelievable."
Tynan, who also does motivational speaking, was invited to sing before a game by Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn. Quinn also asked Tynan to speak to the team.
"When the Sabres approached me, my interest was huge," Tynan said. "I wanted to do it because, one, I wanted to see a live hockey game. But because I do a lot of motivational speaking, Larry said; 'Would you speak to the team?' I was taken aback by it, but also honored. Even though the players are half my age, there was an instant connection with the guys. They won that night and the next time I came back, they had a huge plaque on the wall with two sabers on it, with the quote I said to them. The quote, in a nutshell, is; 'The will is inside you. And when you capture it, it brings out the finest in you.' I said to them no one man is a team, a team is a unit, an army, and when you combine the force of an army, you have the will."
The team won that night, and the next time Tynan went into the Sabres' dressing room, he found a plaque hanging there with his name and his quote.
"Then I knew straightaway this was my team," he said.
Tynan, who has homes in Ireland and Florida, spends a great deal of time at his apartment in New York City, and when the Sabres hit the area, Tynan tries not to miss them. New York fans have adopted the 6-foot-4 native of Dublin as their own thanks to his many memorable appearances at Yankee Stadium.
"I've been at games where the Sabres have played at Madison Square Garden, and the fans say; 'Ronan Tynan, yeah.' And they think, he's a Rangers fan because of the Yankees. Has to be. And underneath my coat, I have Sabres all over. And they say; 'No kidding! What the heck!'"
He told a similar story of a trip to Nassau Coliseum for an Islanders-Sabres game, and how he found himself in an elevator with Quinn, a priest and another man.
"This priest gets in the elevator and he says; 'Ronan Tynan, 'tis marvelous, you're here for us, you're here for the Islanders.'" Tynan then opened to his coat, and much to the priest's chagrin, Tynan was decked out in blue and gold.
"He says; 'You traitor! I can't believe it! Mother of God, what are you doing supporting Buffalo?'"
But Tynan does support Buffalo, and the Sabres, and while he sings only a few times per season at HSBC Arena, he finds other ways to promote the team and town. Sunday night, he played a sold-out concert at the Buffalo Philharmonic, which featured Sabres goalie Ryan Miller
and forward Drew Stafford
One thing Tynan won't do, though, is put on a pair of skates. The 47-year-old had both legs amputated below the knees at age 20 due to an automobile accident, but the loss drove him to become an elite Paralympic athlete. Most of his success was on the track, but after some cajoling by friends, he tried skating on a rink near London.
"They said; 'Come on Ronan give it a try,'" said Tynan, who reluctantly agreed. "They put me out in the center, which is really bad. I got up, got my balance, and I put two hands out and I looked and saw this crowd coming, and I thought; 'I'm going to get killed. I just fell flat. I knocked people head over heels, and in the process I got torn in the side by a skate, and I needed 14 stitches in my side. That was the extent of my skating career."
So, instead, he's stuck to singing, and has been immensely successful. And he'll lend that successful, well-known voice to the NHL Winter Classic, despite anything the weather might have in store.
"You're praying that you keep going and the cold won't freeze the voice box," he said. "I'll stay indoors as much as I can until I sing, and once it's done I'll try and enjoy the game."