As an avid Sabres fan, Ron Warner was just happy to take his daughter Christina to the NHL Winter Classic.
He never dreamed he would take her to meet the commissioner of the league as well.
After watching part of the first period at Ralph Wilson Stadium from end zone seats on New Year’s Day as large flakes began to coat the field and the wind blustered, Warner began talking with a fan in the next row.
That small talk led to a big gesture.
The man explained to Warner that he was with the NHL Player’s Association and had four tickets to the commissioner’s suite. Feeling it was a conflict of interest to take those seats, he offered them to Warner, his daughter, and two friends- Ralph Pratt and his son Jeffrey.
“I looked at my friend, thanked the guy and took off,” Warner joked. “My daughter had no idea what was going on… At first she thought we were trying to leave at the end of the first period. I said ‘no, we’ve got better seats.’ She was saying, ‘better seats? There are no better seats, this place is packed.’”
Dad was happy to prove her wrong.
They were greeted in the suite- belonging to Ralph Wilson’s wife Mary- by a buffet of food and drinks, a full catering staff, a complimentary program and an NHL Winter Classic toque.
Perhaps the best upgrade, however, was the change in temperature.
“Being able to be inside there, seats on the 50-yard line, not getting snowed or rained on anymore… It went from battling the elements to basically sitting in luxury,” Warner said.
Enjoying the second period, and Brian Campbell’s tying goal, Warner overheard his friend, Pratt, introducing himself to Gary Bettman.
“I figured we were going to get thrown out then,” Warner laughed.
Instead, Bettman invited them to sit and watch the game.
“I had an assumption that being such an important figure in the sports world he wouldn’t really want four every day common hockey fans sitting with him. But he didn’t seem concerned. When we introduced ourselves, he was very personable,” Warner said. “He answered any questions we had about the preparation and the game itself. He was a great host.
“It was just like watching a hockey game with your next-door neighbor.”
If you neighbor is responsible for overseeing one of the premier sports leagues in the country, that is.
Following the game, the four fans were invited to stay in the suite while traffic cleared out of the stadium.
“The commissioner shook our hands and said he hoped we enjoyed ourselves,” Warner said. “He’s a great a guy.”
The sentiment applies, as well, to the anonymous individual who made it all possible.
“I don’t know who he is, for one, but I would really like to thank him,” Warner said. “I didn’t even realize at first what he was giving us… His generosity was quite surprising.