Writing about my love and understanding of Hockey I began with the press box and ownership of the Buffalo Sabres.
For me logically the next person to write about would be George “Punch” Imlach who was the Sabres first Head Coach and General Manager a position of complete control for the newly created Sabres.
In the early Twentieth Century a` Scottish couple immigrate to Canada in 1911 and a half a dozen years later they have their only child on March 15th 1918, George Imlach.
A decent right handed center, George played for a number of seasons for Junior and Senior teams before becoming a Head Coach. His playing career interrupted shortly by his service in the Canadian Army during WWII. It is reported that George was a drill sergeant, but he mostly coached army teams. It was during the late 1930s when George was playing for the Toronto Goodyear Seniors Hockey team that he was elbowed unconscious or nearly so.
There are two different versions of why George was initially called “Punchy” because he was either so woozy and punch drunk or he regained consciousness and started swinging punches at his trainer. No one remembers exactly which but all will agree that the press shortened “Punchy” to “Punch” originating the iconic name.
I do not believe a more capable or more successful HC could have been selected at the time, even though Punch was never a professional Hockey player he did become the only GM\HC to win three consecutive Cups.
The first thing I like to recall about Punch is the spin of the roulette wheel for the number one draft pick. Then NHL President Clarence Campbell made an error in reading the number and miscalling it as number one instead of 11. And it was Punch who spoke up during Clarence’s congratulations to the Vancouver staff that corrected the situation and Buffalo received its first ever draft pick Number One overall.
The next thing to stick out about Punch was his ability to work Clarence Campbell’s nerves which was highlighted in 1974 when Punch while trying to make a point drafted a Japanese player in the 11th round with the Sabres picking 183rd.
As it turned out Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas did not exist, Punch had grown tired of the nonsense of the long, tedious telephone process to get through the draft. And it took the NHL a few weeks to figure it out, but when they did the NHL noted the Buffalo Sabres have an “invalid claim” on official NHL historical records. Ironically the Buffalo Sabres still list Tsujimoto as alumni.
Although Punch only coached the Sabres for 120 games before his heart condition forced him to give up coaching duties and until nearly the end of the decade GM Punch and his wife Dodo (Dorothy) would be in the stands at the Memorial Auditorium watching the games.
The Buffalo Sabres reaching the 1975 Cup Finals and remaining competitive throughout the Seventies falls directly on Punch’s shoulders. But all good things come to an end and Punch was fired a few weeks before Christmas 1978.