Two months into the Buffalo Sabres’ first season in 1970, tenor Joe Byron got a phone call that would make him a Buffalo pop culture icon.
The anthem singer wasn’t working out, and the Sabres asked if he was available.
It was a quick turnaround, and he never even had the chance to rehearse with organist Norm Wullen before he sang for the first time. His first night at Memorial Auditorium, he climbed up to Norm’s spot in the rafters – only to be told that he’d be singing from the penalty box.
He asked Norm to play some standard tunes on the organ on his way down, so he could get used to his playing, and their first rendition of “O Canada” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” went off without a hitch.
For next 15 hockey seasons or so, most Sabres home games would start with public address announcer Milt Ellis asking everyone to stand and for men to remove their hats for the singing of the anthems by Byron, accompanied by Wullen on organ.
Just about every part of Byron’s game night experience speaks of a simpler time.
After singing the anthem, Byron would leave the penalty box, and try to find an open seat to watch the game. He never had a season ticket, and was never assigned a seat by the club. He’d wander the aisles, and on most occasions, a friendly fan would recognize him and invite him to sit.
Before kiss cams, applause meters and T-shirt guns, it was Byron who kept the fans going during breaks in the action.
On holidays or special occasions, Byron’s voice was the Aud’s entertainment between periods. Christmas carols during the holidays: “Auld Lang Syne” for New Year’s, something romantic on Valentine’s Day and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” for St. Patrick’s Day.
After a series of heart attacks, he began to slow down in the early 1980s and gave up singing at every game, and along with Wullen and Ellis, faded into our Sabres memories.
You can hear Wullen’s organ and Byron’s national anthem starting at 7:42 in the video below.
There were 33 Tim Horton Donut shops, mostly across Southern Ontario, when the Buffalo Sabres defenseman spoke with Canadian Magazine in 1973.
“I devote more of my time to doughnuts now more than hockey,” said the 43-year-old Horton, while still an assistant captain with the Sabres. He was pumping his entire $125,000-per-year NHL salary into expanding the doughnut business. But that’s not all that was expanding.
Horton said it was expected that he’d eat three or four doughnuts every time he visited a store.
His favorite, the orange twist, is one of the 57 different kinds of doughnuts that were then offered at his shops. The orange twist has been gone for decades, but there are Facebook pages devoted to bringing back the namesake’s favorite doughnut.
Tim Horton’s second favorite Tim Horton doughnut was the apple fritter, which was invented by the company and remains popular to this day.
Around 1960, the Hall of Fame defenseman started thinking about his post-hockey career while he was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He decided on food sales, but his first attempt – a hamburger stand – ended disastrously. His four Toronto-area hamburger drive-ins went bankrupt in 1963.
The next year, with friend and former police officer Ron Joyce, he opened the first Tim Horton Donut shop in Joyce’s hometown of Hamilton, Ont.
That first shop was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it was a place where Hamilton’s steelworkers could afford 25 cents for a couple doughnuts and a cup of coffee. The first franchisees, in 1969, were some of Joyce’s old retired cop buddies. A few years later, Horton was making plans to open the Fort Erie store that many Buffalonians remember as the place they got their first Tim Horton coffee or doughnut.
These days, there are more than 4,600 doughnut shops with his name on the sign, but despite that, Tim Horton “couldn’t make a doughnut to save his life.”
“(Partner) Ron (Joyce) took me aside for a week and tried to teach me,” Horton told writer Lawrence Martin, “but I got burned all to hell. Baking doughnuts is worse than fighting in a war. I intended to learn, though, when I get out of hockey.”
Sadly, that chance never came. A year after this article was published, Horton was driving himself back to Western New York from a Sabres-Leafs game at Maple Leaf Gardens. He died in a single car crash on the QEW.
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.
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. 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:
Andre Savard with one of his two goals in the record-breaking period. Buffalo News archives
Gil Perreault scores one of his three in the record-breaking period.
Bill Hajt, Craig Ramsay, Andre Savard and Jim Schoenfeld celebrate another of the Sabres nine goals in the second period. Buffalo News archives
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.