- Associated Press - Saturday, February 19, 2011

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Terry Pegula has the NHL’s approval to purchase the Buffalo Sabres. There’s no doubt the team’s fans are on board, too.

Days before the Pennsylvania billionaire is set to formally close on his $189 million purchase of the franchise, Pegula is becoming the most popular sports figure in town.

One fan was spotted at a recent game wearing a Sabres jersey with the name Pegula and the number 189 _ representing his purchase price. A local company is selling T-shirts in the Sabres‘ colors and with the name “Pegula” written across the front.

And then there were the chants of “Ter-ry!” that went up in the third period of the Sabres 3-0 loss to St. Louis Friday night.

All this, and Pegula has yet to make a public appearance or provide any hint of his intentions in the three months it took for him to buy the team from Tom Golisano.

That’s about to change. With the NHL board of governors’ approval coming on Friday, Pegula is expected to hold his first news conference early next week once the sale is completed.

“Very excited. A change is always exciting,” said Phil Miller, who was among about 50 fans attending a public Sabres practice Saturday. “Change of leadership and maybe a different direction. Obviously, what’s happened in the past hasn’t worked.”

Forward Patrick Kaleta can appreciate fans’ sentiments. Growing up in nearby Angola, he was a Sabres fan long before he began playing for the team.

“Being a fan at one point in my life, you look at the team and look at what’s happening, and it’s exciting,” Kaleta said. “All I can see that’s going to come out of this is positive things.”

Golisano was hailed for purchasing the Sabres out of bankruptcy in 2003 and preventing the franchise from relocating or folding. More recently, he’s been criticized for the front office’s poor decisions in breaking up the core of a team that lost in the Eastern Conference finals in both 2006 and ‘07.

The Sabres haven’t been the same since losing co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency in July 2007. They missed the playoffs the following two years and were eliminated in the first round last season.

The Sabres are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs this season. Following their loss to St. Louis, the Sabres remained in ninth place and dropped four points back of Carolina for the East’s eighth and final playoff berth.

Enter Pegula, who has ties to western New York, is a longtime Sabres season-ticket holder, has deep pockets and as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said this week, “has a passion for hockey.”

He is the founder and former president of the energy company East Resources Inc., which was sold to Royal Dutch Shell PLC for $4.7 billion last year.

In September, Pegula donated $88 million to Penn State, his alma mater, to fund a new multipurpose arena and help upgrade the men’s hockey program. The 59-year-old has an estimated worth of $3 billion and was most recently ranked 110th on Forbes magazine’s list of wealthiest Americans.

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