It was 40 years ago that Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tim Horton died in a high-speed car crash on his way back home from a game in Toronto against his old team, the Maple Leafs.
That tragic day is recalled in a new exhibit on the Sabres’ first five seasons. It opened Friday in the Buffalo History Museum on the 40th anniversary of the death of the 44-year-old hockey player and mentor to his young teammates.
Meaghan Tent was at the museum Saturday telling her 9-year-old son and hockey player, Braden, that Tim Horton is not just the name of a chain of doughnut shops.
“I knew he was a hockey player,” she said after viewing the exhibit in the museum’s large first-floor court room. “But I didn’t remember the whole story about how he died.”
Her son said he knew the name from the doughnut shops but didn’t realize it was the name of a former Sabre.
The exhibit includes six displays of photos, hockey jerseys and other memorabilia from the Sabres’ early years.
The display for the 1973-74 season, “A Tragic Step Back,” focuses on Horton, who had been lured to Buffalo by Sabres General Manager Punch Imlach with a one-year contract that included a high-powered Italian sports car – a De Tomaso Pantera.
A front-page story from The Buffalo Evening News for Feb. 21, 1974, says Horton lost control of the vehicle about 4:30 a.m. on the QEW near St. Catharines, Ont., while traveling at an estimated 100 mph. The car flipped several times, ejecting Horton.
Horton had the team’s OK to drive back to Buffalo for an early-morning doctor’s appointment after a puck hit his jaw during practice the day before the Toronto game.
In addition to a large blown-up photo of Horton, the display includes a smaller photo of his teammates standing on the blue line at Memorial Auditorium observing a moment of silence at their next home game.
It also features the Sabres No. 2 jersey with the assistant captain’s “A” on it that he wore during his final home game before the fatal crash.
The exhibit, “Forging a Connection: Your Buffalo Sabres 1970-75,” attracted about 1,100 visitors on opening day, which coincided with the museum’s M&T Third Friday program, when admission is free. Museum officials said it was one of the largest turnouts for the program.
The exhibit, which runs though May 25, starts with “1965-70: Crashing the NHL Party,” recalling the campaign led by Seymour H. Knox and his brother Northrup to bring an NHL franchise to Buffalo, with the franchise awarded in December 1969.
A large photo of a young Gilbert Perreault dominates the next display, “1970-71: Punch and Perreault,” recalling the hiring of Imlach, who had spent a decade as the Toronto coach and general manager, and his selection of the playmaking center as the first pick in the amateur draft. Perreault went on to set a record for the most goals by a rookie with 38.
But Perreault’s teammate, winger Rick Martin, broke the rookie record the next season with 44 goals, according to the next display, “1971-72: Raising the Roof.”
That display recalls the roof on the Aud being raised by 24 feet as the Orange Section seats were added to increase capacity by one-third. It includes the No. 15 sweater Gerry Meehan was wearing when he scored the winning goal with 4 seconds left to keep the Philadelphia Flyers out of the playoffs.
The next season, “1972-73: Making the French Connection,” focuses on the famous Sabres scoring line of Perreault, Martin on left wing and Rene Robert on right wing, who led the Sabres to their first playoff appearance.
The Sabres’ first trip to the Stanley Cup finals is recalled in “1974-75: We’re Gonna Win That Cup.”
The Sabres lost the first two games to the Flyers in Philadelphia but won the next two games in the Aud, including Game 3, when fog stopped play several times as a late May heat wave and a lack of air-conditioning reduced visibility.
The Flyers came back and won the next two games to capture the Stanley Cup. A large photo shows Sabres goalie Roger Crozier in line shaking hands with the Flyers after a 2-0 loss in Game 6 at the Aud. The No. 1 jersey he wore in that final game is also on display.
All the items in the exhibit are from the collection of Dr. Joseph Gambacorta, founder and president of the Buffalo Hockey Experience + Museum, which is seeking a permanent facility to display Buffalo hockey memorabilia dating back to the 1920s.