Throughout my NHL career as a Pro Goaltender, coach and scout, I lived through many events which created special memories. The Buffalo Sabres are among the teams with some memorable events. Here are some of them:
The Buffalo Sabres came in the NHL as an expansion team in 1970. The Memorial Auditorium, a refurbished old building, was a really special place to play. The smaller ice surface and the Sabres Theme Song were very unique. The original NHL game played in the “AUD” was against the Montreal Canadiens. This event set up my first encounter with the Sabres. As the starting goalie in that special game and recorded MY FIRST NHL SHUTOUT. I had 15 shots in the game. . . all scoring chances. . .of course.
In 1972 the Atlanta Flames were one of two expansion teams in the NHL. The Flames made me their first overall choice in the expansion draft which was held in Montreal. Our home arena in Atlanta was called the Omni. I played there for six seasons which also brings back many memories. Who you think the first opponent was for the first NHL game ever played in the Omni? You guessed it… It was the Buffalo Sabres. . . and yes. . . I played in that game which ended in a 1-1 tie.
On February 21, 1974, the Buffalo Sabres lost one of their best defenseman in a tragic accident. Following a game in Toronto, Tim Horton was given permission to drive back to Buffalo and was involved in a deadly car accident. The very next game the Sabres played, was against the Atlanta Flames. I did not play in that game but, from the player’s bench, I witnessed one of the saddest and most emotional event of my career, watching big, tough hockey players with tears running down their cheeks during the National Anthem. I don’t recall who won the game. It seemed irrelevant at the time.
In 1977, the city of Buffalo suffered an epic, massive snow storm. The Atlanta Flames, played in Buffalo the night before the storm began. We were able to leave on an early flight the next morning. We were told that our plane was one of the last one to leave the airport. Some reporters assigned to our team and some team personnel had reservations later in the day. They were stuck in Buffalo for 3 days.
In the summer of 1979, I was traded from the St-Louis Blues to the Philadelphia Flyers. When we lost our second game of the season to the Atlanta Flames, little did we know that, the very next game, we would begin a journey never accomplished before and create a record which still stands today. We never lost another game until January 7, 1980, a total of 35 games without a loss. The 35th game was against the Buffalo Sabres. My partner in goal, Peete Peters started the game even though he had an upset stomach. With just over 5 minutes to go in the game and leading 3-2, Peete became ill and vomited all over the goalie crease. I had to come in the game and play in the soiled crease to close out the game. We scored a goal and made it 4-2 with little time left. In the waning seconds of the game, the Sabres came very close to scoring a 3rd goal with their goalie pulled. The reason I mention this is because, if they had scored, the victory would have been recorded to me instead of to Peete. The rule being that the goalie of record is the one who is in goal when the winning goal is scored. The win against the Sabres was the end of our wonderful journey and our last victory of the “Streak”.
In 1982, I became a free agent at the age of 34. I had difficulty finding a team to play for. When September came, I still didn’t have a job. I decided to call Scotty Bowman who was the General Manager for the Buffalo Sabres. I had played for him in Montreal and I had met Scotty in a coaching symposium in Finland during the off season and he knew of my interest to coach. He offered me a Player/Assistant coach position for their farm team in Rochester. Two weeks later, I was in Rochester working with Mike Keenan as his assistant and goalie. (more stories to tell here) We ended up winning the Calder Cup and I also played a few games with the Sabres. One game particular comes to mind. One of the last games of the season was in New Jersey. I hadn’t played in about 2 weeks and I was a little stale. We won the game by a “field goal” I think. The score doesn’t really matter but I do know that it was a busy game. I had over 40 shots, at least it felt like it. After the game, we had to ride the bus to LaGuardia from New Jersey. It felt like we drove for hours as I sat in the inside seat, on a full bus and I started to cramp up. I had experienced cramps before but never as severe as that night. The trip from Newark to LaGuardia seemed to take forever.
Finally, as an active member of the Sabres Alumni, I was invited to the Sabres 40th anniversary celebration recently. It was quite an event. The owner, Terry Pegula and his wife Kim, welcome all Sabres Alumni, whether they played one game or a thousand games, with the same enthusiasm. Even though I live about 4 hours away, I attend several fund-raising events organized by the Alumni. The golf tournament, the fishing expedition and the wine tasting events are some of my favorite fund raisers. The Sabres Alumni are a great group, they raise a lot of money for charity and I enjoy the camaraderie every time I participate in any of the events. I feel right at home there. Maybe the stories involving the Buffalo Sabres are not over yet and more will be written…
HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!