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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
The 2011 Buffalo Sabres Corporate Challenge took place at HSBC Arena on Thursday as representatives from local businesses joined Sabres Alumni for a 3-on-3 hockey tournament.  The annual event, now in its seventh year, is a chance for members of the Buffalo business community to spend a day out of the office and on the ice while raising money for the Buffalo Sabres Foundation.

The 12-team tournament is divided into two divisions and begins with round-robin play, followed by a playoff to determine a champion in each division.  Prior to the tournament, each team drafted a Sabres Alumni member to play for them.  This year, Team Vein Treatment Center, with Jay McKee, and Team State Farm, with Craig Muni, won their respective divisions. 

“It’s great for the community and the sponsors of the Sabres, great for the alumni and the Foundation of the Sabres to get an opportunity here to raise a little money and have a little fun,” said Danny Gare, who was the only player in today’s tournament whose number was hanging in the rafters. 

A former team captain, Gare, who played for the LoVullo Associates team on Thursday, scored 500 points in a Sabres uniform between 1974 and 1982 and ranks fourth in franchise history with 267 goals. His No. 18 sweater was retired in 1994.

The Sabres were represented in the Corporate Challenge by alumnus from different eras in Sabres history, but there were several players participating who were not too far removed from their playing days and have decided to call Buffalo home.
Danny Gare and Rob Ray (Photo: Jen Fuller)

McKee spent parts of 10 seasons in a Sabres sweater and wrapped up a 14-year NHL career last season as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Prior to winning the tournament title with the Vein Treatment Center team on Thursday, he spoke fondly of his time with the Sabres.

“It’s funny calling yourself ‘Alumni’ when you’re so close to being out of the game, but I’m proud.  After playing for three teams in 13 or 14 years in the NHL, there’s no doubt this is the team where my heart was always at,” McKee said.

After stints in St. Louis and Pittsburgh during the last four years, McKee once again resides in Buffalo and serves as a volunteer assistant coach for the Niagara University men’s hockey team.  

“I knew for a long time that I’d like to get on the coaching side of things when the playing was over and going out there to a Division I college is good experience for me.  It’s a great level of hockey,” he said.

The Corporate Challenge represented the first appearance at a Buffalo Sabres Foundation function as a Sabres Alumni for Andrew Peters, who just recently retired from a 10-year career in professional hockey.  Peters was a member of Team Verizon on Thursday and is excited to begin the next chapter of his life in Buffalo.

Andrew Peters (Photo: Jen Fuller)
“I love the city, I love the area, I love the fans, I love this organization,” Peters said.  “My wife’s from Buffalo and I made the decision when I got married that I would stay here and start my career after hockey here, and that’s number one on my list of things to do.”

Peters thinks that many former Sabres stay in Buffalo after they retire because the people in the community are so friendly.

“It’s a hard-working community – honest workers, honest living.  I think that’s the way I played. I tried to play as hard as I could and as honest as I could.  I think that’s what sucks guys in (to staying in Buffalo). Sure, people joke about the weather, but Buffalo is an unbelievable town.”

Former Sabres captain Michael Peca also took part in the event by suiting up for the Rich Products squad.  With his playing career having ended in 2009, Peca now resides in Buffalo and, like many other former players, has found ways to stay in the game.  In addition to a broadcast career with TSN, Peca has also become actively involved in the local youth hockey scene.

“It’s become my passion now to try and really re-affirm Buffalo’s place in youth hockey,” he said.

Other former Sabres who took part in the 2011 Corporate Challenge included: Rob Ray (JW Danforth), Richie Dunn (Kaleida Health), Ric Seiling (New Era Cap Co.), Rick Vaive (Delaware North), Yuri Khmylev (Seneca Niagara), Grant Ledyard (First Niagara) and Darryl Shannon (Legacy Healthcare).

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