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35 years ago, Don Edwards’ debut with the Sabres

February 12, 2012 Leave a comment

phil ranallo     

WHAT’S NEW, HARRY? February 26,1977

On February 13, 1977, Don Edwards played a role in perhaps the most unusual event in Sabres history. A day after Edwards reported to Buffalo from Hershey, Sabres general manager Punch Imlach ordered coach Floyd Smith to have Edwards replace expected starting goaltender Al Smith. The events of that month are captured in this vintage column written by legendary “Courier Express” writer Phil Ranallo.

DON EDWARDS, THE KID goalie who in two short weeks has made it as the people’s choice—despite the tremendous handi­cap of starting out as Punch Imlach’s personal choice—is listed in the Sabre press guide as standing 5 feet 9 inches and weighing 160 pounds.

Well, the other night, after Ed­wards put a horse-collar around the necks of the Philadelphia Flyers in that dandy hockey match, I got my first up-close peek at the young man —in the Sabre dressing room—and I’ll tell you this:

If Don Edwards stands 5-9 and weighs 160, so does Bill Shoemaker.

One look at Edwards convinced me that Paul Wieland, the Sabres’ director of public relations who compiled the
data in the press guide, should never serve as commissioner of weights and measures. Or be described as a fellow Edwards whose chief characteristics include the trait for which George Washington is best-remembered.

Paul Wieland, I now suspect, is the guy who measured—and okayed—Rene Robert’s hockey stick before the Philadelphia game.

The best one can say for Wieland is, if Don Edwards stood 5-9 and weighed 160 when Wieland took his “stats,” Edwards was standing on two unabridged editions of the Random House Dic­tionary and Frankie Christie had a heavy foot on the scale.

EDWARDS IS SMALL-SMALL, believe me.

If you didn’t know the Sabre players and walked into their dressing room, with the purpose of picking out the team’s last line of defense, the team’s last man between victory and defeat —the goaltender—the last guy you’d pick would be Don Edwards.

Since goaltending is one of the most hazardous jobs in all of sports, you’d never dream that Edwards is the guy who is more than a match for those 6-4, 200-pounder bruisers with the flailing sticks in their hand and the flashing bayonets on their brogans.

When Don Edwards strips, peels down to his skivvies, there Is almost nothing to him.

Since Thursday night’s game was unusually long—it was after 11 o’clock before the Sabres’ room was opened to, the press —the first thought that struck me, when I got my initial look at Edwards, was:

What’s this kid doing up this late?

IF I’D HAD ONE, I WOULD have given Edwards a lollipop. He looks just like the kid who delivers my newspaper. He’s one National Hockey League goalie, I’m willing to bet, who could get on a bus for half-fare.

Standing there, in his skivvies, Edwards did not look as tall —or as wide—as his goalie stick.

I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world Edwards, when he dons all of that heavy goalie paraphernalia— the pads and stuff—manages to stand up.

I’m not kidding, if Edwards went out on the ice without the padded armament of his profession, he could hide behind one of the goal-posts.

I you got a dressing-room peek at Edwards, you’d swear that if one of Bobby Orr’s rising shots —the kind that Orr used to fire when he was Bobby Orr —struck Edwards in the midsection, it would render poor Don airborne and drive him into the red seats.

WHY, IF EVERYBODY ON the Sabres’ squad was Edwards’ size, Seymour Knox and his brother, Norty, would be much wealthier gentlemen than they already are—if that’s possible. Because the Sabres could make their road trips in a Volkswagen.

But can this kid ever tend goal!

This kid is as good-looking a goaltender as he is good-looking.

I mean, Edwards is handsome.

Gals who get a look at Edwards, with his mask off, must go daft when they see that head of dirty blond hair and that shining face with the fine features—and that little blond mustache.

Gals have got to want to pick him up and hug him. If Edwards didn’t have that mustache, he could be in trouble if  a gal did pick him up. Because she might be tempted to put him over her shoulder and burp him.

BUT IF SHE DID, SHE’D be burping the hottest goaltender in the NHL. Since joining the Sabres on Feb. 13, this 21-year-old kid from Hamilton, Qnt., has worked seven games—and has skated off a winner six times.

Two of his victories have been shutouts. He has a goals against average of 1.71—best in’the NHL. He has stopped 154 of the 166 pucks fired at him, for an efficiency rating of .927—best in the NHL.

Punch Imlach, the man who brought Edwards up from Hershey and touched off that furor—by ordering Floyd Smith to play Edwards  in the Feb. 13 game, instead of backup man Al Smith—has been labeled a genius, the world’s No. 1 judge of  hockey talent.                 ‘

As Edwards keeps notching victory after victory, Punch Imlach keeps enjoying the last laugh, night after night, on his critics who lambasted him for pulling rank on Floyd Smith.

Since I was one of Imlach’s critics, a lot of people have been telling me they think it’s time I apologized to Punch.

Well, okay. I’ll apologize—when Imlach stops laughing.