As we get set for the Sabres' 40th anniversary season, thinking back on the first 39 campaigns is like going through a time capsule of NHL hockey in Buffalo. Here are 40 memories, some that are time-tested classics.
1. The first game. It was a 2-1 win at Pittsburgh on Oct. 10, 1970. Jim Watson scored the first goal and Gilbert Perreault scored the winner.
2. Great sounds of the Aud: Milt Ellis, tenor Joe Byron, organist Norm Wullen (Who didn't love when the Penguins took the ice to the "Pennsylvania Polka"?).
3. An iconic picture: The first ceremonial faceoff at the Aud between Floyd Smith and Montreal's Jean Beliveau (1970). Seymour Knox dropped the puck as Rick Azar, Mayor Frank Sedita and NHL president Clarence Campbell all stood by.
4. Remember Them: The Sabres have played nine teams that no longer exist, either because they moved or folded. Here's the list: California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, Kansas City Scouts, Atlanta Flames, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota North Stars, Quebec Nordiques (a bitter playoff foe), Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers. Buffalo's biggest goal output ever on the road was a 13-3 win at Cleveland on Feb. 25, 1978.
5. On the air: There have been a whole lot of voices on TV and radio over 40 years, more than just Ted Darling and Rick Jeanneret. Here's an alphabetical list we compiled: Sam Anson, Rick Azar, Don Dussias, Barry Beutel, Brian Blessing, Brenda Brenon, Jim Brinson, Danny Gare, John Gurtler, Pat Hannigan, Dave Hodge, Bruce Hood, Ralph Hubbell.
And, Ed Kilgore, Jim Lorentz, Gerry Meehan, Dave Miller, Harry Neale, Larry Playfair, Stan Roberts, George Robertson, Mike Robitaille, Rob Ray, Howard Simon, Jennifer Smith, Kevin Sylvester, Pete Weber and Paul Wieland.
6. Azar drew praise from fans and scorn from critics after the huge trade with Detroit in 1981. An emotional Jim Schoenfeld was dealt and was shown on camera in tears hugging the Channel 7 sports director.
7. In the press box: Rick Jeanneret will join them someday but there are five media members in the Hockey Hall of Fame who covered the Sabres. The list is topped by longtime broadcaster Ted Darling. Also inducted are former Buffalo News writers Dick Johnston and Jim Kelley, former Courier-Express writer Charlie Barton and Jack Gatecliff, longtime sports editor of the St. Catharines Standard.
8. True Character. There were few cutups in franchise history like longtime former PR guy/broadcaster Paul Wieland. And don't forget to add practice goalie to Wieland's list too. Wieland used to throw an April Fool's joke out every year. In 1977, he issued a press release announcing the Sabres were switching to plastic ice called "Sliderex." It even made local TV news. Of course, it was a hoax.
9. Great pad caper. It was Wieland who did the dirty work on the pads of Montreal goalie Ken Dryden during the 1973 playoffs, sneaking into the Habs' Aud dressing room prior to Game Three and measuring them. They were wider than the maximum 10 inches. The Sabres filed the info away and then called for the measurement in the final minute of Game Five, earning a key power play. They didn't score on that one but won a few minutes later on Rene Robert's dramatic goal.
10. Stay off my rink. Of all the fights Rob Ray had in his career, the strangest one came April 14, 1992 in Quebec City. A 21-year-old fan accepted a dare to jump on the ice in front of the Sabres' bench. Ray grabbed him by the shirt and pummeled him until a cop carried the kid away.
11. Fit to be tied. Robert scored twice in 20 seconds inside the final two minutes to provide a 3-3 draw against Pittsburgh at the Aud in 1977. It can be found on YouTube with gravelly-voiced Hall of Fame Pirates announcer Bob Prince in his only year of hockey work.
12. Best brawls. Sure, you're all going to talk Ottawa, 2007 and that's fine. I got better ones. You have to like Shields vs. Snow in the 1997 playoffs with Philadelphia. How about 1991 vs. Calgary in the wake of Pat LaFontaine's injury? What about the 1978 bench-clearer against Minnesota where Jerry Korab came from the blue line to crush goalie Gary Smith? Or the 1991 scrap with Detroit featuring both goalies and Kevin Maguire and Bob Probert?
13. Through the boards. The most memorable single fight is easy. Jim Schoenfeld and Boston's Wayne Cashman through the Zamboni entrance of the Aud and into the tunnel in 1972. The Sabres won, 7-3, and told the Bruins and the hockey world they were for real for the first time.
14. Oddest draft pick: No, we're not talking about Morris Titanic or Jiri Dudacek. The Sabres drafted Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas (Japanese equivalent of "sword") in the 11th round of the 1974 draft. One problem: He didn't exist. Wieland and GM Punch Imlach were behind the joke, a swipe at the draft's slow pace.
Tsujimoto remains in the Sabres' media guide for that draft. There was a sign starting with "Taro Sez:" and a shot at the opponents on the facing of the Aud balcony almost every night for years after.
15. Saddest day: Feb. 21, 1974. The night after beloved defenseman Tim Horton was killed in a car accident driving home from Toronto, the Sabres met Atlanta in the Aud. The players wore black armbands and stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the blue line during a moment of silence. Many openly wept, with Schoenfeld's shoulders heaving through the sobs.
16. Saddest day II: Feb. 13, 2009. The night before, Continental flight 3407 crashed in Clarence -- less than a mile from many players' homes. The NHL wondered if the game against San Jose should go on, but it did after a chilling, 30-second moment of silence for the victims in a largely darkened arena with the HD board turned off.
The Sabres won in a shootout, 6-5, after Jason Pominville's tying goal in the final four seconds sparked one of the loudest regular-season roars the building has ever heard. Said Derek Roy: "Nobody was not going to let us come back and tie this game for these people."
17. To Russia with Love: Back in the days of the Cold War, there were exhibition games called the "Super Series" between NHL teams and touring Soviet clubs. The Sabres posted two of the most memorable victories ever by pounding the Soviet Wings, 12-6, in 1976 and the Central Red Army, 6-1, in 1980.
The day after walloping the Wings, the Sabres got a standing ovation in the Montreal Forum -- when they took the ice for the pregame warm-up.
18. Worst injuries. We've had the misfortune of seeing two bloody near-death injuries (Clint Malarchuk at the Aud in 1989 and Florida's Richard Zednik at HSBC in 2008). Equally frightening was when Rick Martin went into convulsions after hitting his head on the Aud ice in 1978 against the Rangers. Many Sabres went to helmets after that.
19. Here's your chronological list of head coaches: Punch Imlach, Joe Crozier, Floyd Smith, Marcel Pronovost, Billy Inglis, Scotty Bowman, Roger Neilson, Jim Roberts, Bowman again, Jim Schoenfeld, Bowman a third time, Craig Ramsay, Ted Sator, Rick Dudley, John Muckler, Ted Nolan, Lindy Ruff. Ruff leads with 483 wins, Bowman had 192 and Smith had 143.
20. Big blowouts. The Sabres have scored 14 goals -- yes, 14 -- twice in their history and both times at the Aud. They whacked Washington, 14-2, in 1975 and trounced Toronto, 14-4, in 1981.
They finished the Washington game with 40 total points and scored nine goals and 23 points in the second period against Toronto. All three figures are NHL records that still stand!
21. Take it outside. No Sabres game has meant more to the league as a whole perhaps than the Ice Bowl. They call it the Winter Classic but it was our idea. Jan. 1, 2008 in the snow at The Ralph vs. the Penguins. Now a fixture on the hockey calendar. Other than the final score, it was perfect.
22. Most memorable playoff games: The Fog Game, No Goal, Dave Hannan in the fourth OT and May Day quickly come to mind. So do Pominville in OT, Drury/Afinogenov and the crowd in the plaza. But don't forget some 70s classics: Robert scored in OT to beat the Habs in both '73 and '75. And Gare slid into the boards after his Game One winner against Montreal marked the Sabres' first semifinal game in '75.
23. To Philly with love. Before the '75 finals was this: Gerry Meehan scored with four seconds left in the '72 regular-season finale to give the Sabres a 3-2 win. It was a crusher for the Flyers, who needed only to tie to make the playoffs.
24. Star power. The 1978 All-Star Game was held at the Aud and the Wales Conference trailed, 2-1, late in the game. But Rick Martin scored with 1:39 left to force overtime and Gilbert Perreault, who had received a thunderous ovation during introductions, won it at 3:55 of OT as his backhand feed from the right corner was accidentally tipped home by Phil Esposito.
25. Live from the living room? With the Blizzard of '77 raging at home, just 14 Sabres made it to the airport for a flight to Montreal and an heroic 3-3 tie against the Canadiens on Jan. 29, 1977. Ted Darling called the game on television from his living room in Lockport, with his son handing him notes off the CBC telecast.
26. Sick bay. Brian Campbell got plenty of attention for the wrong reason in 2003. His sister-in-law, who worked at a Toronto hospital, visited him and then started showing SARS symptoms and was hospitalized. Campbell was quarantined and missed three games. He did not get SARS.
27. Crash. Or, as The News headline called it, "Jumbletron." A Nov. 16, 1996 home game against Boston was postponed when the Jumbotron crashed to the ice that afternoon. No one was hurt but it was months before a new board was in place.
28. See ya, Seymour: Best exit came on Feb. 13, 1977 from journeyman goalie Al Smith. When Gerry Desjardins got hurt, Smith assumed he was taking over. But Punch Imlach called up Don Edwards from Hershey and ordered him into net. As soon as the national anthem ended, Smith hopped the boards, issued his three-word goodbye to Seymour Knox and left the ice. The Sabres beat Minnesota, 6-2, as Edwards won his debut with no backup.
29. Heartbreak in OT: The Sabres' season has been ended by an overtime playoff goal on seven occasions. The list includes Pittsburgh's George Ferguson (Game Three, 1979), Boston's Brad Park (Game Seven, 1983), Montreal's Kirk Muller (Game Four, 1993), Washington's Joe Juneau (Game Six, 1998), Dallas' Brett Hull (Game Six, 1999), Pittsburgh's Darius Kasparaitis (Game Seven, 2001), and Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson (Game Five, 2007).
30. Farewell, Old Friend: No way you kept a dry eye during the closing ceremonies at the Aud on April 14, 1996. Michael Peca scored the building's final goal in a 4-1 win over Hartford. Then came the speeches, with a cancer-stricken Seymour Knox uttering the iconic line about the team's home for 26 years and an emotional Rick Jeanneret wishing Ted Darling was alive to see the finale.
The banners came down from the rafters, the alums skated around for one final lap with a thunderous roar for The French Connection. And then Pat LaFontaine took the puck, raised his hand to the crowd and slid it into the empty net as the fog horn bellowed one last time. Wonderful.
31. Quick, name the sections of the Aud. Go. (OK, it was lower gold, upper gold, red, blue, orange, standing room, and -- for a brief time -- gray).
32. In the owner's box. Tom Golisano saved the franchise after John Rigas just about killed what Seymour Knox had nurtured for a quarter-century. And whatever happened to Mark Hamister?
33. In the GM's office. Fedora and all, Punch Imlach was a true original, pushing the team toward greatness when it was in its infancy. He loved his 7-2 win over his old team, the Leafs, at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1970 and Sabres fans loved seeing Punch and wife, Dodo, every night in their corner seats.
34. Best trade: Stephane Beauregard for Dominik Hasek in 1992. Runner-up: Chris Gratton for Daniel Briere, 2003.
35. Worst day: July 1, 2007. It took two full seasons to recover.
36. Long nights, short rewards: The Sabres are just 4-5 in multi-overtime playoff games and have lost three straight. Longest win: in four-OTs over New Jersey in 2004 that lasted 125:43. Longest loss: No Goal against Dallas in 1999 went 114:51.
37. Unkind Game Sevens. The Sabres have won only one in 39 years -- 3-2 over Ottawa on Derek Plante's overtime goal in 1997. They've lost four (Boston in 1983 and 1992, Pittsburgh in 2001 and Carolina in 2006).
38. So close. Folks certainly know how close the Sabres came to a Stanley Cup in 1975, 1999 and 2006. Two other teams that don't get mentioned enough but probably should are 1976 (105 points and blew 2-0 series lead against Islanders) and 1993 (Pat LaFontaine's knee injury vs. Bruins and Alex Mogilny's ankle injury in four-game sweep to eventual Cup-winning Canadiens -- marked by four one-goal losses, three in overtime).
39. Forget the goat head or the slug. Anyone still have a Sabrejak?
40. "Thank You, Sabres. Thank you, Sabres." It was the impromptu chant that filled the Aud as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the Sabres were about to be eliminated by Montreal in Game Six of the 1973 quarterfinals. The greatest unscripted fan moment in the history of Buffalo sports.