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I met John Vogl for the first time around this time in 2018.

We had both gotten offers from The Athletic as it was getting ready to launch in Buffalo. He was out with a few colleagues celebrating his final day at the Buffalo News, and Tim Graham invited me to crash the party. Graham told the story of that night on the one-year anniversary of The Athletic’s start in Buffalo. What I remember most about that night was how grateful I felt to be starting this new venture with people like them.

I told John that if he ever needed an extra set of hands on the Sabres to just say the word. We were building something together, and I wanted him to know I’d have his back.

Fast forward to this spring, and Vogl was planning to transition into a new role and get a deserved change of pace after 20 years of prolific work on the Sabres beat. I had moved my family to New England to cover the Patriots, but we were feeling the pull back to Western New York.

Covering sports in Boston was a dream of mine for a long time. It was a logical next rung on the career ladder after seven years covering the Bills. I got to write for an audience that included family and friends who are still in the area. I’m so glad we got that time with my parents and friends. My wife and I pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone and grew.

But it also helped us realize how strongly we felt about Buffalo. It’s where my wife grew up, but it’s also where I grew up professionally after taking the Bills beat fresh out of college. It’s where we built a community and started a family. So when I found out Vogl was transitioning to a new role, I wanted to make good on my word four years ago. And I’m thrilled to share that I’ll be taking John’s spot as your new Sabres writer.

Matt and Christina Fairburn

I take a lot of pride in what we’ve built in Buffalo, and I know as well as anyone the high standard Vogl set for Sabres coverage in this market. When I landed in Buffalo out of college after a nationwide job search, I felt lucky to be living in a city that’s passionate about hockey. Growing up playing hockey in Massachusetts, I’ve always felt at home in the rink.

I can still remember my dad tying my skates for the first time at Veterans Memorial Rink. I remember the long car rides we took to rinks all around New England and how much I treasured the conversations during those hours on the road. I didn’t pile up many accolades. My greatest accomplishment as a goalie was that Kevin Hayes only scored a hat trick on me the one time I played against him. But hockey left an imprint on me in more ways than I realize.

I know hockey has that same meaning for so many people in Western New York. I could feel it watching Sabres games from afar as this group started to capture the imagination of the fan base again in the final months of the season. I was never in Buffalo when the Sabres were good, but Graham and Vogl still talk about what it was like during that run in 2006-07.

Before I worked at The Athletic, I subscribed for its hockey coverage. The vision shared by editors Aron Yeomanson and James Mirtle during our conversations about this job was a reminder of why I love working here. The team they built covers the sport like no other outlet can.

If you followed my work when I covered the Bills, you know I try to tell the stories that take you places you otherwise can’t go and share unique insights about the people that make up your team. I ended up on a scouting trip with Brandon Beane and had compelling conversations with ex-Bills like Terrell Owens, Karlos Williams, J.P. Losman and so many others. This place has pushed me to do my best work, and I want to bring you the same on the hockey beat.

There is always a time and place to analyze what’s happening on the ice, but I hope to go beyond that, too, and tell the hockey stories that matter most to this community. The way the Sabres finished the season and the fact that they have three first-round picks in the upcoming draft makes me think there will be no shortage of compelling material.

I’ll occasionally chime in on the Bills as well. And I’ll make appearances on the Buffalo Beat as time allows to keep Joe Buscaglia in line. The whole reason this enterprise has succeeded in Buffalo is because of the readers, so I plan to do everything I can to keep making us worth the subscription.

It’s been a whirlwind of a year, but the change gave me clarity about where my family and I are supposed to be.

I can’t wait to come home and get to work for you all again.

(Top photo: Ben Green/NHLI via Getty Images)

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