On Dec. 2, 1969, Buffalo's long wait for a National Hockey League team came to an end when the city was awarded a franchise. The ownership group was headed by brothers Seymour and Northrop Knox, who had wanted to make a civic gesture along the lines of the one made by their father, Seymour Knox II, who helped found the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Thirty years ago, Memorial Auditorium was a perfect setting for a sports team. Franchises weren't divided into "small market" and "large market." The typical fan didn't know what "revenue streams" or "luxury box" meant. John Rigas was trying to build a very tiny cable-television business in Pennsylvania into a tiny one. Most of the Sabres weren't even born yet.
As the Sabres prepare to begin their 30th season, the Knox brothers have died. The Rigas family, probably the only people who have a chance of making major league hockey a financial success in Buffalo because of their communications interests, are in charge. The team plays in Marine Midland Arena, which is "state of the art" by today's standards.
There haven't been any Stanley Cup parades in the past 29 years, but there have been plenty of thrills. Here's a look back at some of the events and personalities that have made it a fascinating ride.
Ten Most Memorable Games
1. June 19, 1999 -- Dallas 2, Buffalo 1. "No goal." You know the rest.
2. April 27, 1994 -- Buffalo 1, New Jersey 0. This four-overtime game set all sorts of records, most of which had the word "longest" somewhere in them. The longest Sabres' game ever. The longest Aud game ever (125 minutes, 43 seconds). The longest 1-0 game in NHL history. Dominik Hasek had 70 saves, a number believed to be the largest ever recorded in a shutout. Dave Hannan finally ended it with a backhander past Martin Brodeur of the Devils at 1:52 a.m.
3. May 20, 1975 -- Buffalo 5, Philadelphia 4. The first Stanley Cup final game ever played in Buffalo is remembered for Jim Lorentz swatting a bat out of the air, for the fog forcing 11 breaks, and for Rene Robert scoring at 11:55 p.m. in overtime.
4. April 14, 1996 -- Buffalo 4, Hartford 1. There was absolutely nothing at stake in this game, and no one who was there will ever forget it. The last game ever played in Memorial Auditorium was a festival of memories. In a postgame ceremony, owner Seymour Knox expressed the thoughts of hockey fans throughout the region when he said, "Farewell, old friend." Pat LaFontaine waved to the crowd and tapped a puck into an empty net, and the lights in the Aud went out forever.
5. Jan. 4, 1976 -- Buffalo 12, Wings of Soviet 6. This was one of the games in the first-ever series between NHL teams and a pair of touring squads from the Soviet Union. With the entire hockey world watching, Buffalo played its finest offensive game ever. Buffalo received a long ovation upon taking the ice in its next NHL game -- in Montreal.
6. April 29, 1997 -- Buffalo 3, Ottawa 2. Derek Plante buried a number of demons as he led the Sabres to the first seventh-game victory in the franchise's history. Plante's slap shot at 5:24 of overtime trickled over the goal line for the series-winning goal. The win served as a springboard to the team's postseason success in the next two years.
7. Nov. 18, 1970 -- Buffalo 7, Toronto 2. Punch Imlach went back to Toronto, the scene of his greatest triumphs, and his expansion team beat the Maple Leafs badly. The Toronto fans were cheering Sabre goals by the third period.
8. April 7, 1983 -- Buffalo 3, Montreal 0. Bob Sauve already had shut out the Canadiens in Montreal in the first game of a first-round playoff series. He did it again this night. No one else ever recorded two straight playoff shutouts in the Forum.
9. May 31, 1999 -- Buffalo 4, Toronto 2. Not only did this game finish off the playoff series in five games, but it guaranteed the team's first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 24 years. And it came in the first playoff series between Buffalo and Toronto. It couldn't get much sweeter than that.
10. April 24, 1983 -- It was Buffalo's first-ever seventh game, and the Sabres lost it in heart-breaking fashion. Brad Park whistled home a shot from the right point in overtime to end a brave Sabre playoff performance and prevented Buffalo from going to the conference finals.
Ten Most Memorable Moments
1. April 24, 1993 -- This was a wonderful game, but an even better moment. Brad May kissed his stick for luck, then deked Ray Bourque and beat Andy Moog to score the overtime goal in a 6-5 win. It finished off a four-game sweep of the Bruins, and ended 10 years of playoff frustration. Rick Jeanneret's "May Day" description will be used in hockey retrospectives forever.
2. April 12, 1973 -- Montreal 4, Buffalo 2. When the Sabres were certain to be eliminated in the sixth game of their first playoff series, fans at the Aud rose to their feet and chanted "Thank you Sabres". It may have been the high point in the relationship between the team and the community.
3. Oct. 15, 1970 -- A region's hockey dreams came true this night when the Canadiens' Jean Beliveau and the Sabres' Floyd Smith took a ceremonial face-off from NHL president Clarence Campbell before the first NHL game ever played in Buffalo.
4. March 22, 1989 -- An errant skate caught Clint Malarchuk in the neck, cutting his jugular vein. The Sabre goalie received immediate medical attention, which saved his life. Malarchuk returned to the Aud two nights later to take an emotional bow.
5. Feb. 21, 1974 -- The Sabres said farewell to Tim Horton, who was killed while driving home from Toronto after a game the night before. The team was crushed by the loss of a man who was a father figure to many of the younger players. Jim Schoenfeld wiped back the tears with a towel during a pregame moment of silence.
6. April 10, 1973 -- Rene Robert's overtime goal gave the Sabres their first road playoff victory. Fans can still picture his slap shot from the faceoff circle beating Montreal goalie Ken Dryden.
7. March 9, 1986 -- Gil Perreault took a pass from good friend Mike Foligno and slipped the puck past Devils goalie Alain Chevrier to score the 500th goal of his career. It ranks as the top individual milestone in franchise history, and was a fitting a climax to a career that had provided countless thrills to the Aud's fans.
8. May 14, 1998 -- The final buzzer signaled a 3-1 win for the Sabres over the Montreal Canadiens and finished a four-game sweep. It was the only time in history that a team finished a sweep in Montreal's home, and punched Buffalo's ticket to the conference finals for the first time in 18 years. The young Sabres almost couldn't express the joy they felt that night.
9. April 14, 1979 -- The Sabres had many difficult playoff losses during the 1970s, but this was the toughest. George Ferguson of the Penguins went around defenseman Ken Breitenbach and scored on a breakaway in the first minute of overtime in the third and deciding game of the series. Afterward, some Sabre players were crying in the locker room. Breitenbach never played another game for the Sabres.
10. Dec. 13, 1972 -- Rookie Jim Schoenfeld personified the attitude of the then-rising young Sabres when he and Bruins winger Wayne Cashman crashed through the boards of the Zamboni entrance of the Aud while fighting.
The Five Best Trades
1. Stephane Beauregard and a draft choice to Chicago for Dominik Hasek (Aug. 7, 1992). This is the way the deal is listed in the history book, although the Sabres actually wound up dealing Christian Ruuttu to Chicago for Hasek in a complicated series of transactions. List it anyway you want, but put it under the great heists in history of sports trades.
2. Eddie Shack to Pittsburgh for Rene Robert (March. 4, 1972). This was considered Buffalo's all-time swindle until the Hasek deal came along.
3. Rick Martin to Los Angeles for two draft choices (March 10, 1981). Martin, sadly, was at the end of his career due to his knee injury. The Sabres took Tom Barrasso with one of the draft choices; he was good in Buffalo and is still playing in Pittsburgh.
4. Barrie Moore and Craig Millar to Edmonton for Miroslav Satan (March 18, 1997). Every time Satan scores a goal -- and that should happen a lot in the future -- this deal will look even more one-sided.
5. Jerry Korab to Los Angeles for a first-round draft choice (March 10, 1980). This 1980 deal allowed the Sabres to acquire Phil Housley, who had eight good seasons here and who is still playing in Calgary. Korab's career was about over at the time of the deal. In a couple of years, this trade probably will be replaced by the deal that sent Alexander Mogilny to Vancouver for Michael Peca, Mike Wilson and Jay McKee.
The Five Worst Trades
1. Tony McKegney, Andre Savard, J.F. Sauve and a draft choice for Quebec for Real Cloutier and a draft choice (June 6, 1983). Buffalo sent a large collection of talent up north in hopes of acquiring a needed sniper. Cloutier was out of hockey in two years, and the ex-Sabres helped knock their old teammates out of the playoffs in 1984.
2. Dave Andreychuk, Daren Puppa and a first-round draft choice to Toronto for Grant Fuhr and a draft choice (Feb. 3, 1993). This looks worse in hindsight, since Buffalo already had Hasek on its roster. However, it was still a huge package to give up for a goalie who was going to be exposed in the expansion draft the following summer.
3. Ray Sheppard to the New York Rangers for future considerations (July 9, 1990). The Sabres didn't think Sheppard would fit in here. You'd think they could have found room for someone who would score at least 20 goals in the next seven seasons, including 52 in 1993-94.
4. Larry Carriere, a first-round draft choice and cash to Atlanta for Jacques Richard (Oct. 1, 1975). The Sabres hoped to add a scorer to improve on the team that reached the finals the previous spring, but Richard only scored 24 goals in three seasons in Buffalo.
5. Tom Barrasso and a draft choice to Pittsburgh for Doug Bodger and Darrin Shannon (Nov. 12, 1988). This was understandable at the time, since the Sabres had two good goalies who didn't get along (Barrasso and Puppa). Shannon never developed as well as Buffalo thought he would, and Barrasso helped the Penguins win two Stanley Cups.
Best Low Draft Choices
1. Alexander Mogilny (5th round, 1988)
2. Donald Audette (9th round, 1989)
3. Uwe Krupp (11th round, 1983)
4. Richard Smehlik (5th round, 1990)
5. Don Edwards (5th round, 1975).
Worst First-Round Draft Choices
1. Jiri Dudacek (1981)
2. David Cooper (1992)
3. Joel Savage (1988)
4. Morris Titanic (1973)
5. Shawn Anderson (1986)
Collectibles You May Have Missed
1. Sabre sword. A few hundred of these were handed out to commemorate the start of the franchise in 1970. The silver in them alone makes them worth somewhere in the low four figures.
2. The 45 rpm single, "We're Gonna Win That Cup." Veteran Sabre fans still can do a chorus or two of this 1975 release with a little prompting.
3. The Book of Sabre Knock-knock Jokes. Author Stan Roberts probably has a few left in his attic.
4. "The Season Opener." This was a bottle opener that was handed out at the start of a season about 10 years ago.
5. Mike Ramsey growth chart. Perfect for seeing how your children measure up to the current Sabre assistant coach.
1. Terry O'Reilly -- He personified the Bruins when they were always just a little bit better than the Sabres in the 1980s. Dale Hunter and Billy Smith are close behind when it comes to unpopular visiting players.
2. Scott Bowman -- Sabres fans always will wonder why he won Stanley Cups everywhere but here.
3. Kerry Fraser -- His non-call of a crease interference play in Game Two of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals may have turned that series in favor of the Washington Capitals. Wally Harris' "relaxed" style of officiating never went over too well in Buffalo either.
4. Bert Marshall -- As in, "The Curse of . . ." The offensively-weak defenseman of the New York Islanders scored a late goal to win Game Five of the 1976 playoff series with the Sabres. Buffalo had felt invincible in close playoff games before that; Marshall's goal arguably turned Buffalo's playoff fortunes toward a 20-year run of bad luck.
5. Matthew Barnaby -- Loved when he was here, Barnaby's act ran out of steam and he was traded to Pittsburgh last year. Chances are that he'll hear boos here whenever he comes to town.
All-Time Sabre Team
First line: Rick Martin, Gil Perreault and Rene Robert. One of the most famous lines in hockey history, "The French Connection," shouldn't be broken up here.
Second line: Dave Andreychuk, Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny. Who would have thought seven years ago that Andreychuk probably would wind up leading the other two in career goals?
Third line: Craig Ramsay, Don Luce and Danny Gare. This trio was a terrific mix of offense and defense in the '70s.
Fourth line: Miroslav Satan, Michael Peca and Rob Ray. Satan could help on the power play, Peca is a top penalty killer, and Ray can supply toughness.
First defense: Mike Ramsey and Phil Housley. Ramsey is the best all-around defenseman in team history. He'd be willing to stay back while Housley takes off to create offense.
Second defense: Jim Schoenfeld and Jerry Korab. No one went near the slot when these two guys played together.
Third defense: Bill Hajt and Alexei Zhitnik. Not only would they be an effective combination, but Hajt could help the penalty-killing while Zhitnik would be very useful with the man-advantage.
Goalie: Dominik Hasek and Roger Crozier. Buffalo may have had better goalies than Crozier, but he'd be a perfect backup to Hasek -- the single most valuable player in franchise history -- on this team.
Spare players: You'd want Mike Foligno, Dale Hawerchuk and Tim Horton around.
Coach: Lindy Ruff. It's difficult to argue with his record of success.
General Manager: Punch Imlach. He did a wonderful job of making something from nothing when the Sabres were formed.