Buffalo’s First Goaltender
In 1970-71 the Sabres and Canucks played their inaugural NHL season and there was no League assistance for the two newly minted NHL franchises Buffalo and Vancouver in regards to quality players made available through an expansion draft.
Buffalo and Vancouver were not afforded good to great players similar to Seattle and sin city expansion franchises, never the less GM Imlach knew a goaltender was absolutely necessary and deftly acquired a quality goaltender from Detroit by trading expansion draftee Tom Webster to the Wings for Mr. Crozier.
This was a goaltender that had played eight games for the Buffalo Bisons in the AHL from 1960 – 1963, he played just three regular season games earning a 1.67 GAA during Buffalo’s Championship 1963 AHL Season.
After this, the Blackhawks traded Mr. Crozier to the Red Wings where he played solidly for a declining Detroit team that had finished winning Cups the decade before, and eventually traded him to the expansion Buffalo franchise.
In his first three seasons, Mr. Crozier was the starting goaltender and in the third season Buffalo made the playoffs, in the opening round versus Montreal HC Imlach thought it would be a good idea to play brother against brother in net, so he started Mr. Dryden over Mr. Crozier.
Buffalo’s Dryden goalie lost the first two games of the series versus Montreal allowing seven goals in the second game, prompting a goaltender change and Mr. Crozier won two out of the next four.
During Buffalo’s magical Cup run during the 1974 – 75 NHL Season, Mr. Crozier was stellar playing in 23 regular season games going 17-2-1 with a 2.62 GAA but it was a relatively unknown Mr. Desjardins who played all of nine regular season games that started the playoffs.
During the Semi-Finals versus Montreal, both Mr. Crozier and Mr. Desjardins played three games and both were 2-1 as the Sabres defeated the Canadiens yet it was Mr. Crozier who let in fewer goals and had a better save percentage.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, HC Floyd Smith (Roger’s teammate in Detroit) decided to go again with Mr. Desjardins who let in three goals on 21 shots for the first loss, he is a little better in the next game saving 22 out of 24 shots for the second loss.
In game three Mr. Desjardins lets in three goals on six shots, in comes Mr. Crozier who lets in one goal as he slams the door shut and Buffalo wins their first Finals game in OT.
In game four Mr. Desjardins is back in the net but Buffalo wins 4-2 on the strength of the French Connection and strong defensive play and it’s back to Philadelphia where Mr. Desjardins lets in five goals for the embarrassing 5-1 loss.
Finally, HC Smith starts Mr. Crozier at home and he makes 29 saves on 31 shots letting in only two goals with a .935 save percentage, but the Flyers outstanding goaltender Mr. Parent earned a 2-0 shutout to win the Cup here along the Lake in game six.
Mr. Crozier had constantly suffered from anxiety which led to severe stomach pain resulting in an ulcer at age 17 along with pancreatitis prevented him from playing more games and ultimately ended his playing career.
The following NHL season Buffalo carried four goaltenders overall and Mr. Crozier played 11 games winning eight and earning a 2.61 GAA but in his early thirties and with health issues the Sabres in March 1977 sold him to the Capitals.
Mr. Crozier was part of the first class inducted into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame in 1980 and in 2000 the NHL honored him by creating the “Crozier Saving Grace Award” given annually to the goalie with the best save percentage.
Other notable recognitions were the AHL trophies the “Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award” (outstanding rookie, voted on by media & players), and the “Harry (Hap) Holmes Memorial Award” (lowest GAA).
Two trophies were earned in the NHL, the “Calder Memorial Trophy” (rookie of the year), and the “Conn Smythe Trophy” (playoffs MVP).
Although diminutive in stature compared to the over six feet tall goaltenders of today in his prime Mr. Crozier was the “Dominic Hasek” of the 1960s, he was nimble and quick and played a chaotic unorthodox style similar to Mr. Hasek.
Over the decades from a young boy, teenager, adult, and now senior I have been following the Sabres faithfully since day one and Mr. Crozier is one of my favorite players from the 1970s Sabres teams.