Tonawanda News —
Sunday night's preseason melee between the Sabres and Maple Leafs provided fans with an abundance of entertainment, but the best punches may have been thrown in the two days that followed.
Toronto Star sports columnist Cathal Kelly went under attack Tuesday on Twitter after hurling a monster overhand right to the entire City of Buffalo with a column titled, "Buffalo's not important enough to hate."
The blow connected and Buffalo responded, flippantly hurling insults and even death threats at Kelly on Twitter, according to the author.
The fight at center ice between the teams included Toronto's Phil Kessel swinging his stick through the air like a sword in the direction of Buffalo enforcer John Scott and goalie Ryan Miller exchanging blows with Maple Leafs net minder Jonathon Bernier. It's up to almost 700,000 views on YouTube, Kessel was suspended for three games Tuesday night and Sabres coach Ron Rolston was fined an unannounced amount because he sent Scott out there to get physical after a Sabres player was ruffed up earlier in the game.
When the action on the ice was over, Kelly's column got things going again — this time on social media.
The reaction was typical. Buffalo is a proud city that doesn't like being the butt of anyone's joke, especially a columnist from a city whose hockey team hasn't won a championship since before the Sabres even existed.
But that's the type of response Kelly wanted — that off-the-cuff, irate rebuttal to a harsh and pointed attack at the entire fabric of a city.
I'm not going to attack Kelly here. I'm not going to talk about the fact that his nation's sport is played predominantly in another country where most people couldn't care less about it.
I will point out the irony, however. Kelly points out Buffalo's insignificance throughout his diatribe, but isn't it a bit strange he attacks the one American city where hockey — Canada's national sport — actually matters?
OK, there are a few spots that the sport isn't on life support. Detroit is Hockey Town and Chicago really supports those Blackhawks — when they're winning. But for the most part hockey is as important in the U.S. as soccer. Well, soccer is actually growing its following in the states.
I'm not surprised by Kelly's attack on our city. Aren't we used to it by now? Buffalo is a loser town, filled with losers, who cheer for losers. I've heard it all.
But when you sit back and think about it, the vitriol is born out of bitterness.
No matter how hard other cities try they can't quite manufacture what we have in this city. This is a community of blue collar people who stick together and face all comers, including the litany of individuals that continue to pile on a city trying to rebuild.
Buffalo knows sports and we love our teams. We're the 12th man and this has been dubbed "Hockey Heaven" for a reason. Check out a game in Carolina or Phoenix and watch as the Sabres sweaters outnumber the Hurricanes and Coyotes.
Buffalo may not matter to you, Mr. Kelly, but it's where hockey lives in America.
If Toronto/Buffalo isn't a rivalry, as you surmise in your column, there would have been no gloves on the ice Sunday night in a meaningless preseason game. And a walk down Washington Street or a post-game beer at Pearl Street wouldn't include a back-and-forth between Sabres and Leafs fans that would alarm even the most well-versed trash talkers.
If Toronto is such a great sports town how come so many of its fans come here to watch the games?
Toronto may not care much about Buffalo, but the people who live there sure do spend a lot of time here. Whether it be to watch a hockey game or pick up the latest fall fashions, we'll continue to welcome you into our backyard, because that's who we are.
While you're here, please feel free to take in a football game — whatever it is that is played one Sunday a year at Rogers Centre doesn't count — and grab an order of wings.
But judging by the Twitter banter, Kelly won't be crossing the border anytime soon. He's probably better off though — an up close and personal view of what makes Buffalo what it is may remind him what Toronto can never be: a true sports town.
Follow Tonawanda News sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.