“The Drury goal” and the elevator dent

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

One of the most memorable moments in Sabres History,  11 years ago today. Game 5, Sabres and Rangers. Jay Moran had already announced, “last minute in regulation time” over the PA. The Sabres were down by a goal.

Then this happened:

“The Drury Goal” made for one of the my most memorable moments in covering sports.

I was in HSBC Arena covering the game, but I didn’t get to see the goal live.

Reporters have to be down in the dressing room/interview room area when the game ends, so we start leaving the pressbox and getting on the elevators with a few minutes left in regulation.

Especially for a playoff game, there are maybe 30 people crammed onto a cargo elevator with a little TV in the corner with the game on. I happened to be jammed next to two of the Rangers players who were scratched from the lineup.

As the elevator very slowly groaned down the five or six levels, I was close enough to hear them talk about their plans for visiting with friends and family during the next round of the playoffs. The win was about to put the Rangers up 3-2 in the series, with the teams heading to New York City for Game 6.

But that quickly changed.

When Drury scored that goal, the elevator shook with the rest of the building. There’s no cheering in the pressbox, but there was an audible bleat of excitement as Jeanneret’s amazing mindless call blared out of the tinny speaker on the tiny TV in the corner of the elevator.

The only noise that wasn’t excitement came from the foot of that New York Rangers player, whose body pressed up against mine when he made the motion to backwards kick the wall of the elevator with his heel– leaving a dent that was there at least through the following season.

That little dent made me smile every time I saw it. The Rangers didn’t make it to the next round of the playoffs. One of my favorite moments in 20 years of covering sports.

Sabres #23 Chris Drury goal with #19 Tim Connolly, during the third period of their game at the HSBC arena in Buffalo, Friday May 4, 2007. (Buffalo News photo/ Mark MULVILLE)

Buffalo in the ’80s: Sabres score nine goals in a single period

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Second period box score
second period box score

It’s an NHL record that stands to this day.

On March 19, 1981, the Buffalo Sabres became the only team to score nine goals in a single period. The torrent of goals came in a 14-4 trouncing of the Toronto Maple Leafs at Memorial Auditorium.

In just that second period, Gil Perreault had a hat trick. Andre Savard and Ric Seiling each had four points. Savard had two goals, Seiling, Derek Smith, Craig Ramsay and Danny Gare also each had a goal.

The score after two periods at Memorial Auditorium. Torontos three goals combined for the most ever scored in an NHL game.

The score after two periods at Memorial Auditorium. Toronto’s three goals combined for the most ever scored in an NHL game.

Perreault returned from a rib injury that night to “the easiest hat trick (he)’d ever had.”

“It was a great, beautiful night,” said Andre Savard, who had three goals and six points on the night. “We played well in the first period and couldn’t score, but we did score in the second period.”

Here are photos of four of the nine goals:

sports090

Andre Savard with one of his two goals in the record-breaking period. Buffalo News archives

sports090-22

Gil Perreault scores one of his three in the record-breaking period.

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Bill Hajt, Craig Ramsay, Andre Savard and Jim Schoenfeld celebrate another of the Sabres nine goals in the second period. Buffalo News archives

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Ric Seiling scores top shelf.

What it looked like Wednesday: The Zamboni drives up Main Street, 1975

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The City of Buffalo owned Memorial Auditorium and ran the day-to-day operation of the venue in a way that doesn’t happen with Erie County and First Niagara Center. This included apparently, changing the oil on the Zamboni.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

So, as Sabres fever in Buffalo was hitting a high point in February of 1975 — as the Sabres where destined for the Stanley Cup Finals that year — Jim Lombardo took the Zamboni in for “routine maintenance.”

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

Whatever exactly that meant, it involved driving the Zamboni from Memorial Auditorium up Main Street to a city garage for repairs. The maximum speed for this vehicle — which is cruising the 600 block of Main in these photos — was 8 mph.

Likely the heads of a few lunch patrons at the Swiss Chalet’s original location (across Main from Shea’s) were turned, as The Aud’s ice resurfacer incongruously schlepped its way past the window.

The repairs must have worked. The ice was so great at The Aud the following night that the Sabres and Flyers combined for 12 goals in a 6-6 tie.

Buffalo in the ’70s: Sabres sign draft picks Carriere and Schoenfeld

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

With the world’s finest 18-year-old hockey players descending on Buffalo last month for the NHL Entry Draft at First Niagara Center, hockey fans here remain excited about the potential of the players drafted by the Sabres.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

If the Sabres top picks of 2016 turn into the level of players drafted by the Sabres in 1972, fans will be plenty happy. The August, 1972 photo shows defensemen Larry Carriere and Jim Schoenfeld—the Sabres top two draft picks—in Buffalo to sign their contracts.

Schony was a 200-pound lefty who played junior hockey for the Niagara Falls Flyers with 20 goals and 29 assists. He was the fifth pick overall in the 1972 draft.

Larry Carriere was the 25th overall pick, and started the season with Buffalo’s AHL farm club, the Cincinnati Swords. His NHL break came when fellow defensemen Schoenfeld and Mike Robitaille went down with injuries and he was called up to the big club.

He was with the Sabres through the 1975 Stanley Cup season, but Carriere was traded to the Atlanta Flames.  He returned to the Sabres for seven games in 1978, but after a two-game stint with the Leafs in 1980, his playing days were over.

Carriere returned to the Sabres again, this time in the front office. He started as a scout, and worked his way up to Assistant General Manager under Darcy Regier. Though he still lives in Buffalo, he holds that same Assistant GM title in Montreal with the Canadiens.

 

Buffalo in the ’90s: Rob Ray gets ready for his second full season

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Rob Ray’s story in Buffalo began with scoring his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot, after being called up from the Amerks in 1989. As a hockey player, man and volunteer in the community, tavern owner, and broadcaster — Rob Ray has been a Buffalo favorite for parts of four decades now.

Rob Ray, 1991. (Buffalo News archives)

With knowing what he has meant to the Sabres and the community over the last 27 years, it’s difficult to remember the young player headed into his second full season with the Sabres — which he was when News Photographer Ron Moscati took these photos of Ray working out at Sabreland, the Sabres’ old practice facility in Wheatfield.

Rick Dudley is one of the Sabres’ all-time tough guys. He was the Sabres’ head coach when these photos were taken. “I think he’s the hardest guy in the NHL to play against,” Dudley told News reporter Milt Northrup about the then-23-year-old winger. “Robbie’s whole function is to be a pain in the butt and he does it very well.”

The previous season, Ray shattered the Sabres’ previous all-time penalty minute tally. He also led the NHL with 348 penalty minutes — 59 two-minute minors, 26 five-minute majors, eight 10-minute misconducts and two game misconducts.

“You can hit a guy hard. Sometimes when the ref’s not looking you give him a jab,” Ray told Northrup describing his game in 1991. “You’re saying something to him, you’re doing something dirty to him that you’re not going to get caught, and this guys’s ticked off because the ref’s not calling it or he’s mad at you because he knows what you’re like and it eventually works on him. You’ve just got to hope when he takes a shot, the ref’s looking.”

Both Dudley and Ray talked about work ethic. It came naturally for Ray, who watched his dad run his own farm machinery dealership in Stirling, Ontario. “He’s there every day and he’s working on the machines, he’s fixing tractors. He’s not a guy that stands around and tells everybody what to do,” said the younger Ray.

He was already a fan favorite after only 92 games, possibly, wrote Northrup, the most popular player on the team. Perhaps it was because he knew his role that year and for the next decade.

“I don’t think there’s as much pressure on me doing what I have to do as there is on a guy like Pierre (Turgeon) going out there and having to score goals every night. If he doesn’t score a goal, he’s not doing his job.

“I might not get a goal or a point but if I make a big hit, I’ve done my job.”

 

Buffalo in the ’90s: Sabres swept by Bruins, meet reporters at the airport

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Long before the Buffalo Sabres were known for not making the playoffs, the club was known for first round exits. During the 1991-92 season, Head Coach Rick Dudley was fired and John Muckler was brought in. Despite a losing record, he led the Sabres to a first round playoff series against the Boston Bruins.

After his team lost Game 7 of the opening round of the Adams Division playoffs, Sabres Head Coach John Muckler leaves the United Terminal of the Buffalo International Airport. (Buffalo News archives)

The team showed grit in making the playoffs, and again in that series with the Bruins. Down 3-1, the Sabres fought back to even the series at three before losing Game 7 at Boston Garden.

Christian Ruuttu breezes past the microphones of Chuck Howard, Wes Goforth, Bob Dingwall, and Rick Maloney. (Buffalo News archives)

When the team returned home the next day, players and coaches were met by the media right inside the terminal of the old Buffalo Airport, before the days of heightened airport security and the wide open spaces that make up the current terminal, opened in 1997.

Alexander Mogilny had no goals in two games against the Bruins. He flew home with the team despite his long publicized fear of flying. The following season, Mogilny scored 76 goals, tying Teemu Selanne for the league lead.

Buffalo in the ’70s: Blame Punch Imlach for your coffee cravings

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

His colorful way and hockey know-how helped solidify the young Buffalo Sabres as an institution in Western New York. But even among non-hockey fans, Punch Imlach’s legacy has crept into the morning routines of tens of thousands of Buffalonians.

When Stafford Smythe fired George “Punch” Imlach as the head coach and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1969, Imlach said that someday he’d “shove those words down (Smythe’s) throat.”

It came to pass when Imlach was hired to manage and coach the Sabres two years later, he took out full page ads in the Toronto Telegram with the words, “Remember Me? I am in Buffalo now. Come over and see me!” next to a photo of the unmistakable hockey legend with his trademark white Canadian beaver hat.

Buffalo News archives

Imlach was the first coach of the Sabres, pictured here behind the bench with a young Richard Martin looking on. Punch was also the Sabres’ first general manager, and when health concerns forced him to give up coaching, he and his hat moved up to the Aud’s prime seats in the golds next to his wife Dodo.

Buffalo News archives

It was Imlach’s tenacity and temerity that brought Gilbert Perreault to the Sabres. After it was announced that Vancouver had won the first pick of the 1970 NHL Draft, Punch stopped NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell dead in his tracks as asked him to check the giant roulette wheel again — the Sabres had actually won.

He was a tough, old-school coach, which many of his tough, old-school players loved. When the Leafs fired Imlach, one of his star players — a 20-year veteran defenseman — vowed he’d follow Punch.

It took a few years, but Tim Horton — who was still known for his solid play on the blue line more than his solid cup of coffee — came to play for his beloved Imlach in Buffalo in 1972.  Horton died in a one-car crash, speeding back to Buffalo after playing in Toronto in 1974. Horton’s time playing in Buffalo was brief — but likely wouldn’t have happened at all without Imlach.

At the time of his death, Horton co-owned 40 doughnut shops across Canada. There’s little doubt that Horton’s popularity as a player here led to the first U.S. Tim Horton’s store to be built at the corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Ridge Lea Road just south of I-290, a decade after his death in 1984.

It was Punch who brought Horton, and Buffalo’s love of the defenseman — which was the kindling in the raging inferno of love Buffalo has for double-doubles, ice caps and crullers.

 

Buffalo in the ’70s: Rick Jeanneret in the Aud Press Box

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Spine-tingling. Quirky. Explosive. Imaginative. These are all words that have been printed in The News over the last 45 years to describe Rick Jeanneret’s colorful Buffalo Sabres play-by-play style. Rick, in comparing himself to another wild and exciting play-by-play man said, “I don’t think he’s quite as nuts as I am.”

Buffalo News archives, 1989

Like most of us who have grown up with Jeanneret as an inseparable part of what the Sabres are to us, it was easy to take his style and personality for granted. “This is how hockey—how Sabres hockey—sounds, right?”

The new announcers who have taken some of the load off Rick’s schedule over the last few years do the job well. They describe the play in a knowledgeable, exciting, fun, and professional manner. But Rick is, well, in his word, “nuts.” There’s nothing forced about him talking about how tough a “lady is for taking a puck off the coconut” and “not even spilling her beer.”

Rick Jeanneret and the late Voice of the Bills Van Miller are different in almost every conceivable way, but the one way  they were exactly the same is the same way they honest-to-goodness lose their minds when their team—our team—does the extraordinary. There’s nothing fake in the shouting. Rick’s goal calls mix perfectly with the explosion of screaming at taverns and gin mills and in living rooms and in cars all over the place—because it’s the same excitement.

We all remember “May Day” and “LalalalalalaFontaine” and “Hasek robbed him blind!,” but there was also, “whooooa, he really PUNCHED him,” and “HERE COMES SHIELDS,” as goalie Steve Shields skated the length of the ice to make sure his teammates weren’t outnumbered in a fight. There was also the infamous question for a Quebec Nordiques goalie  shouted in the course of impassioned play-by-play, “Richard Sevingy–  Where’s your jockstrap!?!?”

Our guy RJ, inseparable from our love for Sabres hockey, watches the game and says the things we wish we were smart and cool enough to say. If he were only one of us, he’d be the funniest, most excitable, best-informed guy watching the game with us at the tavern. Instead, for 45 years, he’s been the funniest, most excitable, best-informed guy in every tavern in Western New York.

When News reporter Lee Coppola visited Jeanneret in the Memorial Auditorium press box in 1979, he wrote that when watching Rick work behind the mic high above the Aud ice, “it’s his feet that catch the eye … a cup of beer to his right and a filter cigarette in the ashtray to his left.”

Buffalo News archives, 1979

His feet never stopped tapping while he was telling us what he saw on the ice, but he says he limited himself to one beer per period to “help loosen his tonsils” while calling the game the way he’d want to hear it. By 1989, the beer drinking during the games had dried up—mostly because, Jeanneret told The News in 1992, new arenas were being built without thinking of a play-by-play man’s washroom needs.

It all started one day in 1963, when Jeanneret was a disc jockey at CJRN Radio in Niagara Falls. He went to a junior game as a fan. Despite the fact that he’d never done hockey play-by-play before, folks from the station came to find him when the guy who was supposed to announce the game on the radio called in sick. He’s been a hockey announcer ever since, including for some time with the American Hockey League Buffalo Bisons, and living inside our radios and TVs as one of the voices of Sabres hockey since 1971.

“I’ve got a better job than Wayne Gretzky,” RJ told The News in 1992. “I just don’t make as much money.”

Buffalo in the ’70s: The first look at the Sabres in uniform at training camp

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The Buffalo Sabres were a new franchise in 1970. When training camp opened in September 1970, fans were getting the first good “action shots” of their team in the uniforms Sabres players would wear, mostly unchanged, until 1997.

Buffalo News archive

Can you name these Sabres?

On the left, No. 7 is Cliff Schmautz. He played 26 games with the Sabres in 1970-71 before being traded to the Flyers. He also played for the AHL Buffalo Bisons from 1961 to 1964, where he scored 41 goals over parts of three seasons.

Phil Goyette, No. 10, was a member of four straight Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup-winning teams in the ’50s and ’60s. When the New York Rangers left the past Lady Byng Award winner exposed in the expansion draft, he became an original Sabre. He played most of the Sabres’ first two seasons here before being traded back to the Rangers.

The third guy, No. 18, is a bit more of a mystery.

It’s not Kevin O’Shea, who wore that number for the Sabres during the regular season in 1970-71. Nor is it Brian Perry, another member of the 1970-71 Sabres, whose name is stamped on the stick.

Buffalo in the ’70s: Up in the Oranges, hanging on for dear life

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

As hockey season gets underway in Buffalo, inevitably someone will wax poetic about the great old days of watching the Sabres at Memorial Auditorium.

Buffalo News archives

While the memories might be sweet, the modern hockey fan might not last even one period without complaint.

This 1973 photo shows the extreme pitch of seats in the Orange section of the Aud as compared to the grade in the Upper Blue section just below.  Even the most thrilling fights on the ice were often outmatched by the hundreds of people fighting vertigo after standing up too quickly from their perch in the Orange section after a beer or three.

The photo also shows one of The Aud’s features which even the most nostalgic fan has a hard time recalling with warmth. Look at the legs underneath the lighted sign, and remember the obstructed Upper Blue seats, from which fans watched a good portion of the hockey action on ancient television sets dangling from the underside of the Oranges.

The plastic-backed orange seats date to the 1971 expansion of The Aud, when the roof was raised to make room for the upper level.

The wooden blue seats—which before the expansion were gray—dated back to the original construction of Memorial Auditorium in 1940.

The Aud closed in 1996 as the Sabres (as well as the Bandits and Blizzard) moved into Marine Midland Arena (now First Niagara Center.)

Memorial Auditorium was slowly dismantled in 2009, and the site is now covered with canals replicating the original Erie Canal. The canals are open for paddle boats in warmer weather, and ice skating when frozen. A marker in the canal points to where The Aud’s center ice faceoff dot once was.