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SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT HITS HOME FOR EDWARDS

He stood in the lobby of HSBC Arena, taking it all in.

Don Edwards never expected to be enshrined in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. The whole concept was surreal to him, until Wednesday night when he arrived early for the induction dinner and watched the other honorees, family and friends filter into the new home of his old team.

"I was tickled, to be honest with you," Edwards said. "Looking back, you really don't realize the impact of how a community will affect you. But when I received the call I was pretty stunned by it and very honored.

"It's sort of tough to accept in some ways that you're going to be an inductee. Now that you're here and people are starting to come in, it's starting to hit home. The butterflies are starting to go a little more."

The former Buffalo Sabres goalie was one of 11 men and women inducted into the hall.

Edwards was a sixth-round draft pick of the Sabres and made a memorable entrance into the National Hockey League during the 1977-78 season.

When starting goalie Gerry Desjardins suffered a severe eye injury, the Sabres called up Edwards from Hershey. He got his start against Philadelphia that night, winning, 3-1, and went on to set the record for most games played by a rookie (74).

Before that other guy - Dominik Hasek - burst onto the Buffalo scene, it was Edwards who held the title as best goaltender in Sabres history.

Edwards posted four straight 20-win seasons during his five years in Buffalo, winning 156 games with 14 shutouts and a 2.90 goals-against average. In 1980, he and Bob Sauve won the Vezina Trophy and earned a spot on the NHL All-Star team. That also was the year the Sabres defeated the visiting Soviet Red Army, 6-1, paced by Edwards' 20-save performance.

"We had a good hockey team, and Donny made it better," said former teammate Danny Gare. "I think what Donny did best was just his competitive style that he brought to the team. He hated to lose. He was a guy who complemented Bob Sauve very well. They were guys who got along very well, which in goaltenders you don't normally see."

Regardless of what he's accomplished on the ice, Edwards counts the relationships with his teammates and the community among his best memories of his tenure in Buffalo.

"I think the greater appreciation I honestly have is the super individuals I played with," said Edwards, a goaltending consultant with the Carolina Hurricanes. "Being in their surroundings and being in their environment, you're touched more that way. Then just the camaraderie and friendships you form with them, the practical jokes and all the things that go along with it. It's a job. You know, we all look at the wins and losses and those unique moments, but it's really the relationships you form with people that mean the most."

What strikes him most about his time in Buffalo was the unique bond that forms between fans and players. It's a give-and-take relationship unlike any in other pro sports towns.

"One of the things that really hits me hard is when I first came to Buffalo, there were virtually 60,000 people unemployed here because of Bethlehem Steel," Edwards said. "So, even despite the fact that there were hardships and the loss of jobs and people looking for new avenues of opportunity, there were always 16,433 people in that building next door (the Aud). That in itself showed me the resilience and the spirit of the people here in Western New York. Their dedication and their love not only for their sports teams but for the athletes who play here.

"The honesty of the love and respect is, I think, double in turn from the players back to the community and the people who live here. There is a very real bond that's very, very hard to explain that few people can ever understand."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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