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

By Steve Cichon

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.”