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Tony O

    I have always enjoyed the goaltender position either playing in net or watching spectacular saves and shut-outs in a well played defensive contest.

     The goaltender position does get respect but compared to goal scorers in the NHL “goalies” take a back seat in most highlight videos.

     When I initially took interest in Hockey as a child in the late Sixties it was during Tony Esposito’s first season in the NHL and he won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens.

    Oddly enough, for the next NHL season Tony Esposito gets selected in the NHL intra-league draft by the Chicago Blackhawks and goes on to win the Calder Memorial and Vezina Trophies.

     The oddity is that a player in the NHL who was already wearing a Stanley Cup Championship ring from the last season with one team has the opportunity to earn and did capture rookie of the year honors by winning the Calder Memorial Trophy with another team in the next season.

     Some of my earliest memories of Tony Esposito were in the 1975 Stanley Cup Quarter Finals between my boys and the Blackhawks. All one can say is that this particular series was not Mr. Esposito’s finest moments played for his Chicago Blackhawks.  

     I have weaned myself off of morbid curiosity and by this I mean I do not celebrate “death dates” of people and players I admire, instead I have been celebrating their “birth dates”.

     For example with Tony Esposito I will mark my Hockey calendar April 23rd his birthday to remember his NHL achievements and to take note of such an incredible career.  

First GM and HC 1970

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.

Fortuitous Knox

Continuing on with my love and understanding of Hockey I had begun with the press box now I delve into ownership.

Seymour Horace Knox III and his younger brother Northrup Rand “Norty” Knox are the main reason why my city has an NHL team.

It was a frustrating process that began in the autumn of 1965 when the Knox brothers submitted their application for a team to the NHL along with 14 other applicants from nine other cities.

Ironically the brothers were told that they were the best organized and structured application with all the parameters met. Then they were placed second behind Baltimore of all places in the event one of the original six applicants withdrew.

Shortly after the 1967 expansion denial, Seymour took advantage of a financial situation by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in reparations owed by the Oakland Seals.

This move made possible for Seymour to claim a stake in ownership and become a minority owner. Because of this Seymour was elected Alternate Governor for Oakland and could attend and participate in the NHL meetings.

When Seymour initiated a push to move Oakland to Buffalo in 1968 the NHL stated “Absolutely not”, because the NHL insisted on having Bay area teams, no matter what.

Seymour was solidifying associations and friendships with the other NHL Governors during this time and on January 20th 1969 the NHL meeting confirmed two new expansion teams would be selected.

To begin Seymour had to manage selling his share of Oakland, which was picked up by Trans-National Communications who changed the team’s name to California Golden Seals.

He then had to come up with the increased entry fee of six million dollars, and recreate the agreements and blueprints from 1965 with the city of Buffalo, then submit another bid for a team. Seymour and his brother were able to complete all of this incredibly in less than three months.

Then on December 2nd 1969 Buffalo and Vancouver were awarded NHL franchises. Seymour and Northrup Knox were the principal owners of the Buffalo Sabres from day one until two years after Seymour’s death in 1998 when Norty sold the Sabres to John J. Rigas. It was three years before his passing that Seymour was in 1993 inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Not only do I appreciate and am grateful for their efforts to bring the NHL to Buffalo, I also am thankful for Seymour’s decorated service as a Corporal in the Field Artillery during WWII.

Some people scoff at collegiate Hockey but Norty earned two NCAA Varsity letters in Men’s Ice Hockey as a goaltender for Yale University. He also was the Court Tennis World Champion from 1959-69 until he retired, and was the number one player on the 1969 US Polo Team.

Two incredible men whom I have never met but feel indebted to and grateful for all that they accomplished for my city and making it possible for me to become a Buffalo Sabres Fanaticus.

Commentator Extraordinaire Ted Darling

I would like to pay homage to the people responsible for my love and understanding of Hockey and I begin oddly with the press box.

Out of the three Buffalo Sabres broadcasters to be recognized by the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame with the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, Rick Jeanneret and Harry Neale are fine, but for me right from the start it has been Ted Darling, The Voice of the Buffalo Sabres.

Born in the “Limestone City” Kingston, Ontario June 9th, 1935, Edgar Lee “Ted” Darling is a 1958 graduate of Canada’s premier RTA Ryerson University Toronto.

During the 1960s, Ted worked in Sudbury, Huntsville, and Kingston radio stations, CBC Ottawa, and was hired by CBC Montreal’s Hockey Night in Canada in 1968 as an intermission host on Saturday Nights.

Preferring play-by-play over color Ted made a recording of himself broadcasting a Sabres game before the 1970-71 Season began, (which was quite a feat in of itself considering the Sabres have yet to play a game), for General Manager Punch Imlach. The result was an offer from a brand new NHL team the Buffalo Sabres to be their play-by-play broadcaster on radio and television.

It was October 10th 1970 in Pittsburgh when the Buffalo Sabres began their inaugural season with a win, and for the first time Ted Darling would be a play-by-play man for an NHL team. In the next press box over for the Canadian broadcast sat Foster Hewitt himself, an idol of Ted’s.

Ted’s voice has been described as authoritative with a soothing tone, friendly and approachable, and it was Ted’s calling of the game that night after Horton’s death I listened to with a heavy heart.

When the Sabres marched all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 1974-75 Season, it was Ted’s voice emitting from my transistor radio making vivid that Quarter Finals victory over the Blackhawks and unimaginable excitement created with the Semi Finals victory over the Canadiens in Montreal.

Making his home in “Southern Ontario” at Lockport, NY, it was during the Blizzard of ’77 Ted was snowed in and called a road game for the Sabres from his family room watching on TV.

Ted related that an engineer mixed his telephone broadcast with crowd reactions and that his son assisted by keeping track of penalties and time left in the period.

As a bartender in Buffalo I would always try to have the game on during my shifts, Ted was always in my background during the 80s.

After listening and watching this man I had to read disparaging articles on Ted’s alleged alcoholism and why he was let go by the Sabres. The public came to find out that Ted was suffering with Pick’s disease and in 1991 he was relieved from broadcasting for the Sabres when the disease affected his on air work, he succumbed to the disease approximately five years later in 1996.

Nostalgia is literally pain from an old wound, how deliciously sweet it is to hear Ted Darling making the call on some recording and being transported back to my youth, if only for a moment. Then the slight twinge I feel for him when I remember he was only 61 and had to endure a disease for years before passing.

I like to think, although short, Ted Darling’s life was full and wonderful, that not only included Family and Hockey but he was able to translate his love for both through his broadcasts to not only myself but literally thousands of other Western New Yorkers and Southern Ontarians.