By JOHN WAWROW
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The wallop of a two-day blizzard that struck Buffalo over the weekend and the sense of desperation that came with it hit home for Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams on Christmas Eve, when he trudged through the storm to check on his mother-in-law.
What is usually a 20-minute, round-trip walk became a two-plus-hour trek through snow-covered roads in frigid, windy conditions. Adams found his family member safe and sound.
Adams considered himself among the fortunate in the aftermath of the Friday and Saturday storm that dropped more than 4 feet of snow and paralyzed Buffalo, leaving at least 40 dead, some of whom were found stranded in homes, on streets and in cars. The death toll has surpassed that of the area’s notorious Blizzard of 1977.
“We had a house full of food and we were warm, and just watching what people were going through on the news, your heart goes out to them,” Adams said as the Sabres returned to action, hosting the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.
“That’s where perspective comes into play. We get up every day and do this for a living, and you need to make sure you always remember how lucky we are,” Adams added. “What the first responders, essential workers, people were doing to even try to allow us to be here today was pretty remarkable.”
Sports took a backseat in Bills- and Sabres-mad Buffalo for much of the past four days. The teams resumed practice on Thursday.
The Sabres had two games postponed because of the blizzard, and had not held a formal practice since Dec. 22 before playing Detroit. The AFC-leading Bills, meantime, were off since a 35-13 win at Chicago on Saturday.
The blizzard affected the Bills’ travel schedule. The team was forced to stay overnight in Chicago following the game, before flying into nearby Rochester, New York. From there, they took busses for the 90-minute trip west to Buffalo on Sunday.
While the brunt of the storm had passed, the lengthy cleanup effort was only beginning, which led to linebacker A.J. Klein contributing what he called a very small part.
After a neighbor helped Klein clear his driveway, the two proceeded to do the same for everyone along their block.
“What I did was miniscule compared to what my neighborhood has done for me,” Klein said, noting how neighbors assisted in helping him shovel out last month when a lake-effect snowstorm forced the Bills to play their home game against Cleveland at Detroit.
He also said his neighbors paid him back once again by providing meals for three days because his refrigerator was empty and supermarkets closed.
“If I can shovel snow, I can shovel snow. But everybody helps everybody else. … That’s just the `City of Good Neighbors,’” he added, referring to Buffalo’s motto. “It’s heartbreaking to hear people that lost loves ones and people died of exposure. All I can say is hopefully everybody that’s been affected can work through it because I know it’s been tough.”
The Bills, through their foundation, stepped up by donating $100,000 to blizzard relief efforts. The NFL Foundation and one of the Bills main sponsors, Highmark BCBSWNY, matched the donation bringing the total to $300,000.
The Sabres followed by announcing their foundation is making a $50,000 donation.
“Obviously it’s very tragic. It’s extremely sad. It’s hard to find the right words to describe it,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said. “I know the Bills have donated money, and I want to help some way, somehow.”
With Buffalo’s streets reopened, the Sabres placed their focus on playing with no practice time. Players who live near the Sabres’ downtown arena and practice facility, got in some skating there during the break. Others living outside the city managed to get some ice time at a suburban rink.
In paying his condolences to those affected by the storm and putting aside the lack of practice time, coach Don Granato said the Sabres can play a role in rallying their city with how they play.
“The one known is rallying our guys because they do feel part of the community,” Granato said. “We’ve got lots of guys who lost power and went through it. And the guys that I talked to, they’re like, `We’re in this. This is part of being here. And we like it here.’”
Sabres forward Casey Mittelstadt experienced one of most difficult journeys returning to Buffalo after spending Christmas with his family in Minnesota. He continued on with his plans in traveling to join the team in Columbus for their game against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday. When the game was postponed, and with Buffalo’s airport closed, Mittelstadt rented a car to make the five-hour drive to Buffalo.
Mittelstadt had no complaints, knowing others had far more difficult experiences.
“There’s been a lot of sad stories and tough times, so you have to feel for those people, especially around the holidays,” Mittelstadt said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. You feel for the people that were really affected.”
Associated Press freelance writer Joe Yerdon contributed to this report.