The poor off again on again performance of the on ice Buffalo Sabres has dampened much of the excitement surrounding the fortieth anniversary of Sabres hockey in Downtown Buffalo. Also overshadowing the celebration has been the cancerous rumors and eventual announcement, and now pending transaction of the team from Tom Golisano to Terry Pegula.
Much like the fortieth anniversary celebration, not all times in Buffalo Sabres history were bright spots. There is at least one dark spot on the permanent record of this organization that Sabres owners, players, alumni, boosters, fans and media alike would rather forget than memorialize in each decade.
The Growing Pains 1970-1979
It might be easiest to chalk up any of the subpar seasons that made up the Inaugural nine seasons of play. But there were really two events in the 70’s that mar the annals of Sabres lore.
Tim Horton’s Death 1974
This era of Sabres Hockey is pretty distant for me, as I can only relate what I have heard and read from third hand sources. Being born in 1982 really prevents me from know much about this time in Sabres history. The fact of the matter is, Tim Horton was killed in a car accident while driving from Toronto to Buffalo after the Sabres played the Leafs. Despite being on the Sabres squad at the time, most of his Hall of Fame career was established in Toronto. While traversing the QEW, he lost control of his car and was killed when he was thrown from the vehicle.
1975 Stanley Cup Finals Loss
Paling in comparison on a reality level to the death of Tim Horton the year before, many Sabres fans would also like to forget the 1974-1975 season, or at least the way it ended. The five year old franchise faced the storied Broad Street Bullies for the chance at the Stanley Cup. The tougher Flyers ended up winning the series 4 games to 2. Despite happening seven years before my birth, it still is the foundation as to why I hate the Philadelphia Flyers.
The decade that brought us such one hit wonders as “Mickey”, “8675309/Jenny” and “Tainted Love” The 1980s would have many Buffalo Sabres fans thinking that their hockey team would be the same one hit wonder. While only really missing the playoffs twice in this decade, the Buffalo Sabres never made it out of the Division semi-finals. It looked like the 1975 appearance in the Finals was going to be the closest we would ever come to lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Buffalo Sabres would almost make it out this decade with nothing more than a bad playoff record, when the fated night of March 22, 1989 occurred.
It happened so fast, and at first no one knew what was going on. Ted Darlings words of turn it off, turn it off resounded through the hallowed halls of Memorial Auditorium. Clint Malarchuk thought he was going to die. Steve Tuttle and Uwe Krupp became tangled in front of the Sabres net, and the scuffle was more than a close shave for the Sabres netminder, as Tuttle skate cut into his neck. Pools of blood started collecting on the ice. It was so bad for the Sabres netminder that he had a trainer call his mother to tell her that he loved her, he wanted to get off the ice so he didn’t die in front of the entire city of Buffalo, and he even asked for a priest. Despite all of this, Clint Malarchuk was back on the ice four days later to play the Quebec Nordiques. Clint is still active in the NHL, as of 2010 he signed with the Atlanta Thrashers as a goaltending coach consultant.
A franchise unraveling. The team was sold for the first time. They finally made it back to the finals. Dominik Hasek, Ted Nolan, John Muckler, Larry Quinn part one, The start of the illegitimate Rigas legacy.
1999 Stanley Cup Finals.
No Goal. Not so much am I talking about the actual non-call of the no goal, but the response the team got. When the Sabres returned from Dallas, a Champions parade was held for the second place team in the NHL, and another disappointing season was concluded with Lindy Ruff standing downtown leaving the city with the words “No Goal”. Its actually disappointing that I still see the occasional bumper sticker or have someone refer to that fated goal. The Dallas Stars did not beat us to win the Stanley Cup just on that one goal. My favorite rebuttal to people who choose to say one bad call cost them a game or a championship is you should not have put yourself into a position to allow that to be a factor.
Death of the Blue and Gold
The closing of the Aud came to my mind when I started writing this article, but much like any other buildings, the time had just come. While it is sorely missed, a much poorer decision than closing the Aud was to go to the black, red, and white jerseys that dominated the late nineties. At least this was one black mark in the archives they could at least try to cover up a little bit by reverting back to the blue and gold scheme and a prouder tradition.
Where to begin, bankruptcy – Brier, Drury, the lockout. Another Sale.
The bankruptcy and subsequent sale of the team again, were more a blessing than a curse, and even better is the third sale of the team to current owner Terry Pegula. Bad management decisions are ultimately the worst part of this decade, as player personnel decisions post-lockout have the Buffalo Sabres gasping for breath as a new ownership team is coming to terms with the fact that they have a hockey club that is average at best. The biggest debacle of the 2000s so far has been free agency; as the list of stars that were allowed to get away from the Buffalo Sabres is quite the lofty one, headed up by Drury, Briere, Campbell.
The worst grievance that Sabres fans can take to the rewriters of history was an unfortunate sign of the times that Sabres fans would like to forget, especially if it means forgetting it or eliminating it from team history might change the fortunes of the rest of the 2000s. Last minute contract talks and failure to act all started with the Zigomanis-gate, where a problem with a fax machine lost the Sabres the rights to 1999 draft pick Zigomanis because his contract was not received by the NHLs central registry office by the June 1 Zigomanis, a sign of times to come, if only we had the hindsight of the past ten years when dealing with that contract.
I was seven the first time this happened, and the second time it happened I was actually present for it, and it was even more of a freak accident than the first time. Richard Zednik became the second player in the history of the NHL to have his throat cut by the blade of a skate. Coincidentally, they both happened in Buffalo. Thankfully, both players involved survived.
Plenty of bright spots, many low spots – and several blights on the record. There are probably more that could be easily listed as bad memories that we might want to forget. If you have any that you would like to add, feel free to comment and let me know.