Things were already a little uneasy here in North America before the NHL paused its season on March 12. If you paid close enough attention to the facts in the news about coronavirus, you knew things were not good in other places around the world like China and Italy.
When we boarded our flight for Montreal on March 11 with a game planned for the next night against the Canadiens, it was in those moments at least, business as usual.
Our flight departed Buffalo on-time and we landed in Montreal with buses waiting to transport us to our downtown hotel, not far from the Bell Centre.
As is usually the case, Rob Ray and I will text one another and see what the plan is for dinner. Moments like these on the road where we have a meal together really set the foundation for what comes across on the air.
People often say to me, "Man, does Rayzor ever give it to you on the broadcast sometimes."
Well believe me, I am aware those jabs coming, and also know while some may seem like digs on the air, it's nothing more than good-natured ribbing. It is always received with a smile on my end, and every once in a while, I'll get a shot of my own in. Those comebacks are encouraged by Rob during our dinners and walks while we are on the road.
For dinner in Montreal, the norm on our "What To Eat Tour" is smoked meat. On this night however, Rayzor and I first opted for burgers at a nearby diner. We always talk about the team, where it's at and where it's going. We talk about family and how many lawns Rob has to cut in the offseason.
At the diner, I texted WGR's Paul "Bone" Hamilton to see if he was at the usual spot yet. "Just about to be on my way over there from the hotel," Paul replied. I held Razor back from dessert and reminded him how much dessert there was going to be at the smoked meat counter.
We arrived at stop number two, and Sabres.com's Jourdon LaBarber, our broadcast producer Joe Pinter and others were also already there. I grabbed a seat and in walks Bone, who saunters to the counter, grabs a seat, orders his smoked meat spaghetti, and it's on as usual! (And it is good by the way).
After Rob and I stuff our faces with dessert - apple cobbler for Rayzor and carrot cake for me - we walk back to the hotel. It's an early night for us. After all, we're supposed to call a hockey game tomorrow.
For me, the norm from here is to settle in and read a few articles about the opposition and watch their last two or three games - with at least in its entirety. I'll refamiliarize myself with names and numbers and line combinations.
But on this night, things would be very different.
The usual homework began, and then the first report started to make its rounds about an NBA player testing positive for coronavirus. From there, it led to word that a game was halted before it began and right then and there, I knew something was going to happen to hockey. It had to.
We share arenas, we share hotels, and we share flying pressurized tubes that come with very tiny bathrooms, and well, as much as anyone claims they clean a bathroom well, it's still a bathroom (or a closet) up there.
Then the NBA postponed its season, and reports of the NHL meeting about its future were now making their way onto our computer screens, televisions and mobile devices.
Until we heard otherwise, however, we prepared as if the Sabres and Canadiens were going to play. We got up the next morning, met in the lobby at 10 a.m. as agreed upon the night before to walk to the rink. We always go early if the team is meeting to gather our game night information by speaking with players, coaches, and team and TV production staff.
There is NO rink in the league that I look forward to calling a game in more than Bell Centre in Montreal. The masterminds behind the construction of the arena consulted with the legendary Bob Cole before they built the broadcast and media facilities. Bob, being the voice of hockey in Canada, told the Canadiens owner that he had to build a gondola.
Having the play-by-play announcers able to look directly down at the ice surface and be right on top of the game makes it the best vantage point in the business.
Writers and other reporters are also granted a one-of-a-kind viewpoint over the game as the multi-level gondola circles the entirety of the ice surface.
When I start calling a game in Montreal, I feel the presence of the great Danny Gallivan. He would hover over the game, it seemed, and describe the flow with such artistry and enthusiasm. I try to bring the same qualities (with my own flair) to every call, and it all comes from this city and Mr. Gallivan's impressions on me as a young fan.
But on this game day, Rob and I would never leave the lobby of the hotel. As we prepared to meet at 10 a.m., the NHL declared that all team activities in the morning would be suspended. We started to get the sense that we would not be working that night.
Rob and I sat in the lobby for a little bit longer before heading out for lunch. We knew a flight home may be in the cards soon.
It was different to comprehend, the way that day was going, but we knew pausing the NHL season was the right thing to do for ourselves, our families back home and anyone else who could be severely affected by the spread of this virus that had already shut down entire countries and cities.
By the time we landed back home in Buffalo and I made the drive over the Peace Bridge back to Fort Erie, the new norm of life without any more Sabres hockey (or hockey at all) for the foreseeable future had started to really set in. It's been interesting to go through life without any live sports, concerts or theatre for a while.
What I can comprehend, is that doing the right thing now more than ever is the exact thing I and my family need to do. We are all now tasked to do things (or not do things) to try and help save lives.
Be safe, be healthy and care for yourself and others. Hopefully we will see you at the rink again soon.