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Hunt's presence felt in hockey for decades

This is the last in a series of stories on the 2008 inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

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In 1965, Fred Hunt played in a golf game at Crag Burn Golf Club in East Aurora that helped change the course of Buffalo sports history.

Hunt was in a threesome with Seymour Knox III and Dr. George Collins that spring when the subject of major league hockey in Buffalo came up.

"[Hunt] felt all along that NHL hockey would be successful in Buffalo," Knox said in a 1989 interview. "He knew there was a lot of Canadian interest. That was a leg up for us on the other potential applicants for a franchise."

Knox called his brother Norty, who was in favor of the idea, and the two of them put together a group that eventually formed the Buffalo Sabres. That team put the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League out of work in 1970.

Hunt's work to get Buffalo into the NHL might have been enough on its own to put him into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday in HSBC Arena. But he did much more to boost hockey locally during his life.

Hunt wasn't the best hockey player ever born in Brantford, Ont. -- Wayne Gretzky always will have that distinction -- but he was a good player who overcame a smallish frame (5-foot-8, 160 pounds). Hunt played junior hockey for St. Michael's in Toronto before moving to Hershey, Pa., and Baltimore in the Eastern League in 1937-40.

Then he moved up, playing 15 games with the New York Americans of the National Hockey League in 1940-41 while spending most of that season with Springfield of the AHL. Hunt moved to Buffalo to join the Bisons in 1942, where he helped the team win the Calder Cup the next spring.

In Buffalo, he became a fixture on and off the ice. His best season came in 1943-44 -- another Calder Cup season -- when he had 27 goals and 53 assists for 80 points. That earned him a trip to the NHL a year later, where he had 13 goals and nine assists in 44 games for the New York Rangers.

It was back to Buffalo for almost all of the rest of his playing career. Hunt stayed through the 1948-49 season. He finished his career in Hershey, and was working as a car salesman when Bisons coach Art Chapman asked him to be an assistant coach in 1952.

Hunt became the team's general manager in the summer of 1952, and he stayed there for 18 years. He also coached the team a couple of times during that tenure. Hunt would be associated with the Bisons until the Sabres took over in 1970, going out in style as the Bisons won one last Calder Cup.

Hunt became the Sabres' assistant general manager when the franchise was formed in 1970, and he remained in that position until his death in 1977. Hunt was posthumously inducted to the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame in 1982. The American Hockey League created the "Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award," which honors a player for sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey, in his honor.

"He was the ultimate hockey guy," said Paul Wieland, who worked with Hunt in the Sabres' front office during the franchise's early years. "He was one of the most passionate believers in Buffalo as a major league hockey town."

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Jack Sunderland, a tennis prodigy and former U.S. Marine, will be inducted posthumously.

Sunderland was not a native of Western New York; in fact, he did not become a resident of the community until the early 1980s. Sunderland grew up in Indianapolis and held a 10th place national ranking in the boys 18-and-under division. After taking a break from tennis in 1943 for a three-year term in the Marine Corps, he continued his sports career at Kalamazoo College in Michigan and became its top singles player.

While winning four Intercollegiate Athletic Association singles titles and competing in other amateur tennis tournaments for the next three decades, Sunderland was a special agent for the FBI. He died in January at the age of 82.

In 2000, Buffalo News racket sports columnist Charlie Garfinkel ranked him No. 5 on his list of all-time Western New York players. According to Garfinkel, Sunderland played against the likes of such all-time legends as Pancho Gonzalez, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Vic Seixas and Frankie Parker.

For ticket information, go to gbshof.com

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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