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.
Tonight the Buffalo Sabres will have a fan appreciation night featuring the return of over 75 Sabre alumni players. Unfortunately the impressive list will not include Roger Crozier, Buffalo’s standout goalie from the 1970’s.
Crozier passed away in 1996 after a stellar career that included a Conn Smythe Trophy (the first player to earn the award on a losing team in the Stanley Cup Finals) with the Detroit Red Wings in 1967 and induction into the Sabres Hall of Fame in 1980.
Phil Ranallo, veteran writer of the “Buffalo Courier Express” newspaper brilliantly recounts Crozier’s performance during the 1972-73 season in his morning column: “What’s New, Harry?”.
In a style that made him a staple at Western New York breakfast tables for decades, Ranallo describes that coming of age season and Crozier’s appreciation for the Sabres team assembled by General Manager Punch Imlach, and defenseman Tim Horton, who watched Crozier’s back that season.
WHAT’S NEW, HARRY?
Phil Ranallo, February 22,1973
AT LAST, LIFE IS beautiful for Roger Crozier or almost as beautiful as life can get for a fellow who holds down one of the most terrifying and dangerous jobs in the world of fun and games.
For the first two years of the existence of the Buffalo Sabres, Crozier stood smack-dab in the center of the bull’s-eye. The cat-quick goaltender was the Sabres’ first line of defense.
Pucks, pucks, pucks, pucks, an endless barrage of rock-hard pucks was fired at him. Tending goal for the Sabres was like being positioned at the wrong end of things in a shooting gallery.
Roger survived those two frightening years; but ended up with more lumps and bruises than a guy who had picked an argument with a cement mixer – while inside the cement mixer. It was enough to give a fellow a nervous twitch.
THIS SEASON, THOUGH–heaven, at last! Players still swarm in on Crozier with sticks in their hands and knives on their feet. But the Sabres have taken some of the pressure off “No. 1,” the gutsy guy who resides in “No-Man’s Land”, the crease, that oblong area in front of the net.
“Yes, Life is a lot easier on me now,” says Crozier, who in his 13-year career has collected numerous badges of his trade-three broken jaws, one broken nose, one broken cheekbone and facial crocheting that adds up to “maybe 300 stitches.”
“It’s easier because we’re a good hockey team now. We’ve come ‘quite far quite fast because of the great job management has done-Punch Imlach and Joe Crozier.
“At the beginning of the season, when we went through 10, games unbeaten, we didn’t really know how good we were, and wondered whether we were just lucky.
“NOW THAT WE’VE GONE through 60 games, it’s different. We know we’re not a flash-in-the-pan team, We think we’re as good a hockey club as there is in the league-with the exception of Montreal, maybe.”
Then Crozier spoke of the Sabre defense and paid special tribute to Buffalo’s geriatric marvel Tim Horton, the 43·year-old Sabre who is making his mark as hockey’s George Blanda.
“I’d watched Horton play for years, but never realized how good a defenseman he is. I didn’t appreciate him (until I played behind him.
“Nobody takes the puck away from Tim in the corners and nobody can check him in front of the net, He’s unbelievably strong, He’s great at getting the puck out of ‘our end of the rink,”
THE CONVERSATION SWUNG back to goaltending and Crozier confessed that he does not regard it as the greatest job in the world-or in hockey. He mentioned the pressure of being the last line of defense pressure that gnaws at a goalie’s stomach-literally in Crozier’s case, since he is prone to attacks of pancreatitis.
“If a forward or a defenseman is playing badly,” Crozier said, “he gets a chance to go to the bench and get re-organized. But a goalie has to stay out there-and it’s murder on him when he’s having a bad night.”
Crozier said he has one fear-the fear that he will play a bad game, “It’s the same-fear every goalie has when he first hits the ice-because he can’t be sure if he’s going to be good or bad.”
SO WHY DID CROZIER become a goalie? “When I was a kid, goaltending seemed like a pretty good idea,” he explained, “I worked at it hard and the first thing I knew it was the only position I could play with ability.”
“If I had my choice over again, though, if I could go back and start all over again, I’d be a forward or a defenseman-for sure,”
Sabre fans are happy that Roger Crozier, the great goaltender with the marvelous moves, does not have that choice. Tonight, when the Sabres meet the Vancouver Canucks in Memorial Auditorium, could be a special night in the life of Roger Crozier. Roger could reach a milestone, if he makes 26 saves, he’ll reach the 4,000 save plateau as a Sabre goaltender. That’s more than half-ton of vulcanized rubber he has kept out of the net in less than three years.
By Chris Wendel
Clear skies and unseasonably warm weather greeted my brother Tim and I as we visited Western New York last week. Despite our affinity for the area we grew up in, it’s not often that we are there at the same time.
Tim was invited to speak in our hometown of Lockport, at an author’s event held at the Lockport Public Library. Also featured was Buffalo News sportswriter Amy Moritz. Both reflected on their Lockport roots and the impact of growing up in the area had on their career paths, writing, and relevant sports related topics. There were plenty of Braves fans at the event, many of which were still seeking clarification on the final resting place of the franchise (it’s complicated, but the answer is Boston).
The two-day tour also included visits to the Archive Department of Buffalo State College whose staff was instrumental in the compilation of the book Buffalo, Home of the Braves, the Sabres photo exhibit at the Albright Knox Art Gallery, restaurants serving great but not necessarily the most nutritious food (can you say Ted’s?), and our parents’ house (where we also grew up) near the Erie Canal.
The Sabres exhibit is worth seeing, with an interesting short film loop with incredibly fast paced footage taken from player helmet cameras at a Sabres game played at HSBC Arena.
By Chris Wendel
40 years ago today the Buffalo Braves played their first regular season basketball game, a 107-92 win over the Cavaliers before 7,129 fans in the pre-expanded Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Today, watching the Buffalo Sabres celebrate their 40th anniversary with much fanfare, it makes sense (and stings some too) to revisit why the Braves were the first of many “what could have been(s)” for Buffalo sports fans.
While many of us ponder with angst the future of the Buffalo Bills, the thought of replacing NFL football with another NBA franchise has been bantered about. In a town that can’t figure out a practical development strategy for the old Aud site, it’s almost impossible to grasp a scenario where the NBA and a local ownership group would see value in investing in another NBA basketball franchise.
With all of this in mind, and on the 40th anniversary of the start of NBA basketball in Western New York, it is appropriate to revisit the legacy left behind by the Buffalo Braves:
- High scoring offense: After two lousy seasons that were typical of a new franchise, the Braves followed with a sudden meteoric rise utilizing a fast paced offense that was the precursor to today’s modern transition game. To get an idea, take a look at this archive video of a 1976 NBA Eastern Conference Semi-finals between the Braves and the Washington Bullets.
- Some solid draft choices : The Braves had three NBA Rookies of the Year in eight seasons with Bob McAdoo, Ernie DiGregorio, and Adrian Dantley. Dantley became the first Rookie of the Year in any major sport to be traded from his team before the start of his second season (more on that kind of catatonic management style in a minute). There were ill-fated draft picks as well including John Hummer and Tom McMillen.
- Bob McAdoo: The amazing emergence of Bob McAdoo, who followed up his Rookie of the Year season with three straight NBA scoring titles and NBA MVP honors for the 1974-75 season. Basketball Reference recently described McAdoo as “strangely absent from the NBA Top 50” selections.
- The unlikely path of Randy Smith: Drafted in the 7th round of the 1971 NBA draft (a courtesy pick by GM Eddie Donovan for not drafting Niagara standout Calvin Murphy in 1970). Smith’s raw talent and determination won out over time as he attained the NBA ironman record for most games played (since surpassed by A.C. Green) and became the MVP of the NBA All-Star game in 1978. Many of Smith’s franchise records (Braves/Clippers) remain intact almost 30 years after his retirement.
- Two Hall of Fame coaches, Dolph Schayes and Jack Ramsay: Ramsay left the Braves after the 1975-76 season and coached the Portland Trailblazers to the NBA title the following season. Schayes was fired one game into the team’s second season after failiing to produce a miracle with a team of older veterans and journeymen.
- Unhinged ownership: The Braves ownership was unstable from the start. Paul Snyder purchased the team shortly before the Braves first season and may not have known what he was getting into. Snyder’s management style accounted for the team’s rather quick improvement through player acquisition, but his impatience led to knee jerk coaching and personnel changes that short circuited any long-term stability. Snyder’s controlling behavior eventually drove away Jack Ramsay. In 1975 Snyder wanted out because of the Sabres’ control of decent playing dates (a valid point) selling the team to Kentucky Fried chicken mogul John Y. Brown. The bonehead moves made by the Braves during both the Snyder and Brown regimes are staggering to recount years later. Perhaps the biggest “what if” of them all were the transactions that obtained and traded Moses Malone (for money) after only two games and six minutes of playing time with the Braves. If Malone had stuck in Buffalo the Braves’ front line would have included Malone, McAdoo, and Dantley (all NBA Hall of Fame honorees). All three were traded within a year and the team was destined for somewhere other than Buffalo.
- Positive fan support: The Braves fans generally supported its team and were never given a stable product in return. Meanwhile the Knox brothers quickly built the Sabres into contenders by understanding the concept of fan loyalty, keeping key players in Buffalo for most of their careers (not trading them like commodities). The Braves averaged close to 12,000 fans a game when they had winning seasons. Attendance predictably waned as the team traded its good players, the ownership whined about the lack of city and fan support, and the Sabres continued to build their team and fan goodwill.
With a more devoted ownership that stuck to any type of strategic plan, the Braves may have survived long-term in Buffalo. Regardless of the outcome, the Braves remain one of the NBA’s interesting historic footnotes. I know well versed NBA fans that are now in their 50’s who recall little about the Braves, yet history shows that for a brief shining moment professional basketball was significant and successful in Western New York.
By Tim Wendel
Good to see the Blackhawks end 49 years of frustration by capturing Lord Stanley’s Cup. I’ve always enjoyed the Hawks, especially after doing a children’s book with Stan Mikita a few years ago. And I’ll admit it — I’ve never forgiven Philadelphia for taking out the Sabres in 1975. Yes, I was at the famous “fog game.”
But as I watched the improbable ending to this season’s playoffs, an overtime goal by native son Patrick Kane that hardly anybody saw, I couldn’t help but wonder, when is our time going to come?
After all, Buffalo sports haven’t won a title since the Bills in 1965. (I don’t count teams other than the big four.) Certainly it’s high time the losing streak came to an end. Still, when I consider the state of the Bills and even the Sabres, we may be a while longer in the wilderness.
The success of the book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” began long before it was published, with the establishment of a strong online presence. We started our internet work with A Bigger Voice, a community-building organization out of Colorado and continued drawing interest through the book’s writing, editing, and publishing phases, finding those who fondly remember the “Golden Era of Buffalo Sports” of the 1970’s, when Western New York had three viable professional sports franchises.
A few days ago we formed a Facebook Group Page that has quickly gained over 250 followers and has sparked more discussion about Buffalo’s sports history. Along the way we’ve sold quite a few books, and continue to find a loyal audience of folks who like us, grew up attending Sabres and Braves games at the Aud.
Through our blog site Buffalo Nation and other related sites we’ll continue the dialogue. Look for a new book related to that “Golden Era in Buffalo Sports” that will be released later this year. More on that soon.
Two Buffalo area events scheduled for next week will resonate for those who have memories and interest in the Buffalo Braves. The most noteworthy is Buffalo State College’s tribute to their three-sport All-American Randy Smith to be held during the halftime of the mens basketball game against Cortland State on Friday February at 8 PM at the Buff State Sports Arena.
Smith who died unexpectedly last spring, excelled in track and soccer at Buff State while also honing his basketball skills with the Bengals, before embarking on an improbable NBA career with the Braves.
According to an article which appeared in The Record (student newspaper) on Wednesday, Feb. 10th, “Smith’s mother, wife, and daughter along with several coaches and teammates will be on hand for the ceremony that will include a banner being raised in his honor being raised to the rafters.”
For those of us who have been banging the drum for the Buffalo Sabres and HSBC Arena to honor Randy (sorry I can’t keep referring to him as Smith) with a banner, it’s nice for Buff State’s Athletic Department to have an appropriate ceremony for “arguably the greatest student-athlete to ever don Orange and Black in Buffalo State history.”
Another special event slated for Tuesday February 16th features devout Buffalo Brave fan and Western New York native John Howell. “If you’re from Buffalo…Is Suicide Really Redundant?” plays off the painful punchline from the musical “A Chorus Line” to produce a powerful presentation about Buffalo’s roots and more importantly suggests that the future of Western New York is brighter than one would imagine. Howell wrote a great piece on after Randy Smith that we’ve featured before, but “Remembering Randy Smith” is always worth revisiting.
Chris Wendel, co-author of “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” will also be at the event to sign and sell copies of the Braves coffee-table style book.
“If you’re from Buffalo…Is Suicide Really Redundant?” will be held at 8 PM on Tuesday February 16th at Allen Hall at the University of Buffalo’s South Campus.