In 1948 Fort St. James officially becomes a National Historic Site of Canada and one year later one of Fort St. James citizens was born. And 20 years later that citizen Brian Spencer is drafted in the fifth round, 55th overall in the NHL 1969 Amateur Draft.
The pride of north-central British Columbia, (where the community today still is around 1700 population), Mr. Spencer makes it to the NHL and bounces back and forth in the NHL and the CHL for five seasons before being acquired by Buffalo.
The season before the Cup Finals run the Sabres traded for LW Brian Spencer from the Islanders for C Doug Rombough.
Mr. Spencer does not have the accolades like other Sabres but he did have spirit, and a style of play that earned him the nickname “Spinner”. He scored three times in 13 games totaling five points for the Sabres after the trade.
Mr. Spencer’s first full season with Buffalo was his best point production totals during the regular season and playoffs for his career.
Overshadowed by a team full of offensive players, Mr. Spencer made the most of his minutes and the fan base here in Buffalo embraced him.
An NHL career that began in pain and tragedy and a life that ended the same way, a player whose contributions to a team that had endeared him to a city clear across a continent from where he was born. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Brian “Spinner” Spencer.
In continuing with my love and understanding of Hockey when I was an older boy, young teen, one of my favorite players was Rick Dudley. There was an amazingly talented player who could score 30 or more goals and collect fighting penalties as if it were a side hustle.
He is a Hall of Famer, earned multiple Championships, and Coach of the Year, has played successfully in the NHL as well as the WHA, became an NHL HC, Mr. Dudley continues today in an Executive NHL career.
Mr. Dudley is one of only three players to don the number 99 while playing Hockey in the NHL which is just one of many experiences of someone who can literally say they have been there and done that.
At 19 years of age in 1968-69 Mr. Dudley played for the St. Catharines Black Hawks of the OHL with teammate 17 year old Marcel Dionne and 19 year old Dick Redmond.
After his last season in the OHL Mr. Dudley was not drafted by the NHL yet was able to eventually play and be the only LW considered and voted on for the Hart Trophy in the 1974-75 NHL season where he amassed 70 points in 78 games.
Even after watching the Buffalo Sabres let Mr. Dudley walk to the WHA I followed his career, and to my happy surprise Buffalo had brought him back after four seasons had passed by.
Mr. Dudley had played out his prime in Cincinnati and after a few seasons back in the fold on the Sabres it was apparent he was no longer the player we hoped he would be.
Again I was forced to watch one of my favorite players walk and play for another team, this time the Winnipeg Jets.
At 32 years of age Mr. Dudley played his last seven professional Hockey games for the 1981-82 Jacques Demers coached Fredericton Express of the AHL.
I still followed Mr. Dudley’s career and again to my happy surprise he was brought back this time around to be the Buffalo Sabres Head Coach. Not being able to get past the first round in two seasons followed by an abysmal start and being replaced in the third season ended Mr. Dudley’s Sabres career for the third time.
Mr. Dudley has been hired by multiple teams in the NHL for a variety of Executive positions, including GM, Assistant GM, Director of Player Personnel, Hockey consultant, and Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations.
Rick Dudley won me over as a player when I was a young Sabres Fanaticus watching Buffalo march their way to their first Stanley Cup Finals.
I started out as a fan of Rick Dudley the player, now I admire Mr. Dudley as one of the most experienced and knowledgeable Hockey people I have witnessed and read about.
In continuing on with writing about my love and understanding of Hockey I am going to keep writing about the players that have donned a Buffalo Sabres Hockey sweater since 1970 in no particular order, after Mr. Martin of course.
The Buffalo Sabres in 1971 selected in the first round, fifth overall, in their second amateur NHL draft, Montreal Junior Canadiens stand out Richard Martin.
As a rookie Mr. Martin scored an unheard of 44 goals which the NHL never before seen a rookie even touch 40 goals much less eclipse that amount. Mr. Martin averaged a point per game in his rookie season with 74 points in 73 games. It was at the end of his rookie season when the Buffalo Sabres traded for a player that would compliment and benefit from Mr. Martin, and help form and create the French Connection line.
Mr. Martin was one of the greatest natural goal scorers in the NHL during the 1970s that had put in back to back 52 goal campaigns in only his third and fourth season in the NHL. During his fourth season Mr. Martin played only 68 regular season games but had 95 points, the French Connection was flying, the Buffalo Sabres more than qualified for the 1974-75 playoffs and earned a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals.
In January of 1976 the Buffalo Sabres became the first NHL team to beat one of the USSR’s allegedly superior Hockey teams. During the offensive onslaught that was a 12-6 Buffalo Sabres victory, Mr. Martin scored unassisted in the first period, had two primary assists in the second, and one more primary assist in the third period.
The 1976 Canada Cup team is considered one of the greatest National teams put together to represent Canada in international play that saw for the first time professional Hockey players participate in a best-on-best tournament. Mr. Martin played four games for victorious Team Canada and had five points with three goals.
In 1978 the 31st NHL All Star Game was held in Buffalo at Memorial Auditorium and had two of the Buffalo Sabres best offensive players on the roster, Rick Martin and his French Connection center. In an incredible game I witnessed as a teenager Mr. Martin with less than two minutes remaining in the contest scored and sent the All Stars into their very first Sudden Death overtime game in NHL history.
On November 8th 1980 a controversial trip and kicked knee caused an injury that saw Mr. Martin play only 14 more NHL games. Mr. Martin reportedly never forgave the goalie who came way out of his net to purposely kick Mr. Martin’s knee to knock him back down causing an injury that resulted in the demise of a great career.
Then on March 10, 1981, one of the worst trades the Buffalo Sabres ever made by their worst GM ever (who was named in a 10 million dollar malpractice lawsuit settled out of court in Mr. Martin’s favor approximately 10 years later) was completed sending French Connection star Rick Martin and beloved Don Luce to the Kings for a pair of draft picks.
Sadly on a Sunday March afternoon in 2011 Mr. Martin’s heart condition caused him to have a single vehicle accident, valiant efforts to keep Mr. Martin with us was not to be as he was pronounced gone upon arrival at the Hospital.
Writing about my love and understanding about Hockey began with the Press Box, the Owners, and then the first GM/HC, now I will write about the players, and of course the very first player I want to write about is Gilbert Perreault.
To me Gilbert “Bert” Perreault truly is the face of the Buffalo Sabres and he has since day one through all of Buffalo’s timeline and great players been the one player to represent the Buffalo Sabres.
There are younger Hockey fans that see this player as ancient history, not the face, I have heard and read about LaFontaine or Hasek, and now with Captain Jack the waters are muddied.
As a teenager in the 1970s I witnessed Mr. Perreault in his prime, one of the most breathtaking danglers of a generation. Gilbert could just take over possession of the puck behind his own goal line and literally skate through every player through the length of the ice to get a shot on net or a deft pass to another scorer on the team.
In 1970 Gilbert Perreault was drafted first overall in the amateur draft for one of the two newest NHL franchises, the Buffalo Sabres. For the next 17 seasons, number “11” would be on the ice for the Buffalo Sabres.
In his Rookie season Mr. Perreault would score an amazing 38 goals for 72 points and be awarded the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year and was considered and voted on for the Hart Trophy that season as well.
The Sabres as a team experienced the “sophomore jinx” but Mr. Perreault did not, he increased his point total by two over his Rookie of the Year performance, on the strength of 48 assists.
In between his second and third season Mr. Perreault had the honor of playing for Canada in the Canada – USSR series, later referred to as the “Summit Series”. In only two games of play Mr. Perreault scored an unassisted spectacular end to end goal and had an assist.
In his third NHL season Mr. Perreault was even better with 60 assists and his point production went up over a dozen points, The French Connection was flying, he is awarded the Lady Byng trophy, comes fifth in voting for the Hart trophy, and the Sabres make the playoffs.
Against a first place Montreal team Mr. Perreault gets 10 points in six games in his and the Sabres very first NHL Stanley Cup playoff series.
During his fourth NHL season Mr. Perreault breaks his leg and he plays only 55 games but gets 51 points and the Sabres do not qualify for the playoffs.
Then the Sabres magical fifth season saw number “11” lead the Sabres to the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Buffalo Sabres earned the right to skip the preliminary round and in the 1974-75 Stanley Cup Quarter Finals Buffalo ousted the Blackhawks in five games. Mr. Perreault led the team with eight points against a Chicago team led by none other than Stan Mikita, Dennis Hull, and Tony Esposito.
As good as the Sabres and Mr. Perreault played against an aging Blackhawks squad no one was able to predict what was about to happen next during the 1974-75 Stanley Cup Semi-Finals against the Mighty Montreal Canadiens.
The series opened in Buffalo and Mr. Perreault scored and had two assists during the victory in game one, and then in the all important game five with the series tied at two, Mr. Perreault does it again. Number “11” scores in the first period and then gets the lone assist for the GWG in OT to be able to take the 3-2 lead into Montreal where the Sabres finish off the Canadiens in game six to advance to the 1974-75 Stanley Cup Finals.
During the 1975-76 NHL season, Mr. Perreault once again is pitted against the Soviets as the Buffalo Sabres become the first NHL team to defeat one of the USSR’s supposedly superior Hockey teams. In a raucous 12-6 old fashion butt kicking Mr. Perreault scored and had two assists in a contest that seemed surreal with the Sabres seemingly scoring all game long.
The 31st NHL All Star game was held January 24th 1978 in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium in what can only be described as Hollywood perfect. In a game where the Wales Conference outshot the Campbell Conference 40-12 in regulation the contest ended tied at two. The NHL had its first ever Sudden Death Over-Time All Star game in history.
The hometown crowd of well over 16,000 witnessed the Buffalo Sabres Richard Martin tie the game with less than two minutes remaining to send the contest to over-time. Then Mr. Perreault with just five seconds shy of four minutes into OT scores and wins the All Star game sending the already giddy crowd into pure jubilation.
As the stats and his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame bear out, Gilbert Perreault was an exceptional player who led very good and competitive Buffalo Sabres teams throughout the Seventies and into the early Eighties.
One of the few players to play for only one NHL team, one man, one team, one city, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the one and only Gilbert Perreault.
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.
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.
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.
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.