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Oct. 10, 1970: Buffalo Sabres make NHL debut

On Oct. 10, 1970, 46 years ago, hockey was born in Buffalo.

The Sabres played their first regular-season game in team history at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. The Sabres defeated the Penguins, 2-1, behind a game-winning goal by Gilbert Perreault.

The rest of the season didn’t go so well. The team finished 24-39 and missed the final playoff spot by nine points. Perreault finished with 38 goals and won the Calder Memorial Trophy, the Rookie of the Year award.

Here’s  The News’ story on the team’s first game by longtime News reporter and columnist Larry Felser.

Sabres surprise Penguins, 2-1, in NHL debut

By Larry Felser

News Sports Reporter

Pittsburgh, Oct. 12 — President Clarence Campbell and the National Hockey League announce, with mixed emotions, the birth of an infant, the Buffalo Sabres.

The birth took place Oct. 10 (Editor's Note: The actual date published in the 1970 paper was incorrect) in the Pittsburgh Civic Center.

The little brat showed immediate contempt for its elders by forechecking the midwife, Pittsburgh’s Penguins, into dizzy frustration and defied tradition by scoring a 2-1 victory before it was out of the delivery room.

For the record, let it show that Gilbert Perreault, a super star in current embryo, scored the winning goal and Roger Crozier contributed superb goaltending as the Sabres’ inaugurated a new era in Niagara Frontier sports.Sabres

What won’t show on the record is that Sabres revealed the technique and style they’ll use to survive in their first season of major league hockey.

They were outshot and outmanned, as it is expected they will be often during their first year, but they hustled and hit and skated tirelessly to protect a one-goal lead at the end.

On the momentous occasion (that’s Coach "Punch" Imlach’s phrase) it was enough to win.

“Not too many expansion teams ever won their first game,” reminded the elated Imlach, who disappeared backstage after the game to cool off from the tension from the contest.

“And on the road!” added the Sabres’ president, Seymour Knox III, who rushed down to congratulate his new team.

“What can I say?” continued Imlach. “The boys said it for me out on the ice.

“We made lots of mistakes but came back from them. It was a terrific game four our players and we got just great goal tending.”

Crozier was superb as the Penguins outshot the less-experienced Sabres, 2-1, in the last two periods. The 28-year-old former Detroit Red Wing all-star goalie stopped 25 pucks during the 40 minutes. Buffalo got only 14 in the same length of time.

Roger was voted the three-star award for the game with Perreault, who kept the puck in play to enable defenseman Jim Watson to score the first goal, getting two stars. Crozier had a total of 36 saves.

“No, Punch didn’t say anything special to us before the game,” said Crozier. “Just how to play this team.

“But the guys really wanted to win this one, being our first regular-season game.”

The tension was obvious. The Sabre reserves were on their feet for most of the last period. There was something special added by the large crowd of Buffalo  fans — possibly as many as 1,500 — who wildly cheered on the Sabres. At point the chance “Let’s Go Buffalo” drowned out the Pittsburgh crowd.

The Buffalonians helped swell the crowd to a record 11,189.

They went into frenzy when Perreault scored the decider at 11:26 of the last period after Pittsburgh’s prize rookie, Greg Polis, was penalized for tripping leaving the Penguins a man short.

Gerry Meehan fired a high slap shot off the boards behind goalie Les Binkley. Perreault, the 19-year-old first prize in last spring’s amateur draft, took a swipe at the rebound and knocked it in.

It appeared to have ricocheted off Binkley’s hip but Perreault said it went into the net off Gil’s stick without touching anything else.

The honor of scoring the first major-league goal for the Sabres belongs to defenseman Jim Watson. His 50-foot slap shot was deflected off a Pittsburgh leg and flew past Binkley at 5:01 of the second period. Perreault cleverly steered the puck to the boards and into Buffalo possession to keep the Sabres’ pressure alive.

Walley Boyer skated in via two slick moves to whip a backhand past Crozier at 8:09 of the same period as Reg Fleming was skating out of the penalty box after finishing his two minutes for tripping.

The Sabres might have been outshot, but there wasn’t anything timid about their play. Tracy Pratt set the style when he went after ex-teammate Dunc McCallum after the belligerent defenseman blasted Doug Barrie with a charge.

The Sabres first major fight was a near free-for-all. It started when Brian McDonald of Buffalo elbowed Bryan Hextall. Hextall wrestled with linesman George Ashley trying to get at McDonald, which eventually cost the Pittsburgh player a game misconduct.

Meanwhile Buffalo’s Butch Deadmarsh landed a couple of chopping rights to the head of John Stewart before the Pittsburgh rookie fell on top of him. Pratt tangled with Brian Watson in another match.

“No one is going to push us around,” chuckled Imlach.

The Sabres get their crack at the old NHL establishment Wednesday night when they play the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden. Thursday they open the home season against the Montreal Canadiens in Memorial Auditorium.

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