It’s one of those “you’re never going to believe this” stories. But it’s true. I bumped into incoming Sabres owner Terry Pegula Saturday night, in State College, PA.
I was there for the Penn State-Michigan basketball game on Sunday afternoon. He was there for the Penn State Hockey Alumni Reunion. That reunion took place Saturday night in the Nittany Lion Inn, the same hotel where I was staying.
On a hunch, I deliberately passed by the banquet room when the hockey reunion was taking place in the hotel, and yup–there he was, Terry Pegula at the podium. I lurked around just outside the banquet and watched Pegula’s speech. Obviously, he was being honored by the Penn State hockey folks for his $88-million dollar commitment to build their new hockey program. In the course of his speech to the former Penn State club hockey players, he whipped out his cell phone and announced, “Oh, the Sabres beat the Leafs tonight 6-2, and Vanek got his 19th.” This guy’s paying attention, I thought.
So I waited around until the banquet broke up. And then I waited a while longer while Pegula accepted the thanks from the Penn State hockey fans and former players. And then I introduced myself.
We talked at first about his former home in Orchard Park, right around the corner from my current home. We had a few mutual acquaintances from the neighborhood, and he talked about riding his bike on my street when he lived here in the early 90s. Then I introduced myself as the sports director at WIVB and the play by play man for the Bills, and I said, “People in Buffalo are really excited about having you take over the team.”
“That’s good,” he said. “We’re gonna win a Stanley Cup. And then you know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna win another Stanley Cup.”
I mentioned the Sabres victory over the Leafs, and how it seems like the Sabres own the Leafs lately.
“Yeah, I know,” Pegula said. “We gotta own a few other teams also, that’s the problem.”
“When is this deal going to happen?” I asked. “When do you expect to take over?”
“It’s going to be right about February 22nd,” he said. That’s about two weeks away.
We continued to talk for about ten minutes, during which he mentioned how he “loves” Lindy Ruff as coach, and how he plans on maintaining his residence in Boca Raton, Florida, because of his teennage daughter’s tennis career. We talked briefly about the Bills, and I invited him to attend a game in our radio broadcast booth next season. Somehow, I don’t think he’ll have any problems finding a good seat for a Bills game.
He finally was pulled away by a Penn State fan who wanted to thank him for his interest in the hockey program and his generosity. I got the feeling he wanted to talk more about Buffalo and the Sabres, but I handed him my business card and we went our separate ways.
I walked away shaking my head about our accidental meeting. It wasn’t an interview, it was a social encounter. But I left Pegula feeling very excited about the Sabres and their future.
Pegula was friendly, approachable, enthusiastic and very, very down-to-earth during our 15-minute conversation in the crowded hotel ballroom.
Just like every other billionaire I’ve met over the years.