By JOE ECKSTROM
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
FORESTVILLE - For years as a Buffalo Sabre, Rob Ray was known for giving fans something to cheer about with his fights and fierce hits. Now the current sideline reporter for Sabres' broadcasts spends his time giving back to the community that rooted him on for 14 seasons.
OBSERVER?Photo by Joe Eckstrom
Rob Ray signs an autograph at the Strawberry Festival at Merritt Winery on Saturday.
Ray was on hand at the Strawberry Festival at Merritt Winery on Saturday to sign autographs for fans and help raise money for the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Scholarship Fund.
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"With Merritt down here putting this on every year we've kind of gone along side them to raise some money," Ray said. "We had Patty Kaletta down here a couple years ago and other personalities."
While festival goers got to shake hands and get autographs from a fan favorite, they were also able to pitch in for a good cause.
"It's something that we started years and years ago and we give 10 to 15 scholarships a year to local kid," Ray said."It's something we have fun with and fund the scholarship fund by doing so. Everyone has a good time."
Ray's appearance is just one of many events the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Association takes part in to raise money to provide assistance to high school seniors to continue their education.
"I think people realize how much the alumni are out in the community," Ray continued. "We are out at some of the schools playing basketball, we play hockey games. Just getting out here to meet the people. We meet a lot of people who have watched us play over the years and they finally get a chance to speak to you and see what you're all about. It's just fun getting to see real people, real people that are out here having fun."
While it may be June and the last Sabres game is months removed, there is always room to discuss the team's future, especially heading into the team's first offseason with new owner Terry Pegula.
"I think you're going to see a totally different team this year," Ray said. "Obviously they are losing four or five guys to free agency. I think you'll see some type of trade in the next couple of weeks leading up to the draft. Then they'll go in there and fill in some of the holes through free agency. We know they are going to be a little more aggressive because they have a little more money to spend."
Tim Connolly, Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer are just some of the free agents to-be for the Sabres.
"As a fan, I'm sitting back and expecting big things," Ray said. "It's not going to happen over night, but within a few years I see this team being at a level where they can expect to challenge for the Cup."
As for the Stanley Cup Finals which are currently under way, Rayzor seems to be sticking to his guns.
"I picked Vancouver at the beginning of the playoffs, but now that I've got into it a little more watching the finals I'm kind of hoping for Boston," Ray said. "Overall, I think Vancouver is just a little bit better of a team, so I have to stick with them."
Ray will be at Merritt Winery again, today from 1p.m. to 3p.m.