This is part of a series highlighting this year’s class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. The 13-member class will be inducted Nov. 7. Tickets are available at GBSHOF.com.
Peter Scamurra first slipped into a pair of skates when he was 10 years old.
He never imagined he’d become the first Buffalo-born player in the National Hockey League.
“I started out not even thinking about professional sports or anything like that,” Scamurra said, “and things happened very quickly, and all of a sudden I was out there with the best players in the world.”
Scamurra, 64, was selected by the Washington Capitals with the 19th overall pick in the 1975 draft and remained the highest-drafted player from Western New York until Patrick Kane was selected first overall in 2007. The defenseman played four injury-plagued seasons with the Capitals, recording eight goals and 25 assists in 132 games. He also played 43 games with three AHL franchises and finished his pro career with SaiPa of the Finnish Elite League.
Scamurra will be inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 7.
“No one from Buffalo had played in the National Hockey League,” Scamurra said. “Now, you would grow up thinking, 'I have a chance.' But back then it wasn’t even a thought in the back of your mind. There was no ‘dream,’ so to speak. … There were 25 Americans in the whole league.”
Scamurra played tennis as a child, and from age 11 to 17 he was winning championships in singles and doubles alongside his brother David. He recalls his hockey career beginning on the outdoor rinks in the house leagues of Tonawanda. He played for Nichols as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Amherst.
During his senior season, Scamurra played for the Niagara Falls Flyers in the Tier II Junior A League and was named a first-team all-star. He was recruited by Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson, and he joined the reigning NCAA champions for a season in 1974, before joining the Peterborough Petes in the OHA (now the OHL). In his first season, the Petes were the top-ranked team in the league and were chosen to represent Canada in the World Junior Championships in the Soviet Union.
“I represented Canada in the first world junior tournament ever, so there were a lot of bugs involved. One of the first bugs was Americans were playing for Canada,” Scamurra said, laughing. “That wouldn’t happen today. It was quite an experience going to Moscow during the Cold War era, essentially, with the Soviet Union, soldiers marching in the street with missiles and tanks and whatever.
“At that time, I was 17 years old and I was a hockey player. That’s all I thought about, to be honest with you. I wasn’t even thinking – that’s how myopic you can be when you’re that young – you don’t see the whole picture.”
Team Canada finished with a bronze medal, behind Finland and the U.S.S.R.
The Petes returned to Canada and lost in the OHA finals to St. Catharines. In his second year with the team, he scored 62 points, was named an all-star and was the runner-up for the defenseman of the year award.
The same year Scamurra was drafted by the Capitals, he was also picked 50th overall by the Cleveland Crusaders of the World Hockey Association.
Scamurra said he had five knee surgeries and one groin surgery before retiring from pro hockey.
“I just couldn’t stay healthy,” he said. “It was just one of those things.”
Scamurra and his wife, Rebecca, have four children: sons Travis, Jared and Colin and daughter Hayley, who played for the Buffalo Beauts of the NWHL.
“It was a very neat experience to be the first Buffalo boy to make it to the National Hockey League,” Scamurra said, “and I’m very proud of that.”