On Dec. 7, Mike Cavanaugh was out to dinner and his phone wouldn’t stop vibrating.
UConn’s head hockey coach excused himself from the table to check his phone. When he opened it, he had 17 text messages and wondered, “What is going on?”
Then he looked and saw Tage Thompson, his former player, had five goals in the first two periods for the Buffalo Sabres. Five goals. The goals ranged from routine to breathtaking and Cavanaugh watched the highlights in amazement before returning to his table.
“It’s fun watching him turn into a bona fide superstar,” Cavanaugh said.
That game turned into Thompson’s second six-point game of the season and was the night his star status was solidified. His 38-goal season from a year before could no longer be written off as a fluke, and his $50 million contract went from a gamble to a bargain.
His star turn brought a new sense of optimism to the Sabres. Buffalo’s hockey team has gone 11 seasons without making the playoffs, and it was getting harder and harder to find hope through that decade of darkness.
Buffalo sports fans are familiar with that storyline. They endured a 17-year playoff drought with their football team. The Sabres and Bills both joined their respective leagues in 1970 and neither has a championship to show for it.
Josh Allen helped lift the musk of mediocrity off the Bills franchise over the last five years, transforming himself from a raw and inconsistent quarterback to one who combines prolific passing numbers with a punishing running style. With him under center, the Bills feel like a perennial contender.