Throughout the year, the Sip Advisor will alphabetically travel the National Hockey League (NHL), discovering the best and worst each team has to offer in a variety of subjects. We will also feature a drink based off the franchise. Today, we journey to Buffalo to eat some wings… er, I mean learn about the Sabres and what makes them so tasty (sorry, still thinking about those wings!):
Establishment Story: The Sabres entered the NHL as an expansion team in 1970. The original owners, the Knox family, had tried twice before to bring an NHL team to Buffalo, first for the original league expansion in 1967 and next when trying to relocate the Oakland Seals. The same year the Sabres joined the NHL, the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Braves joined the National Football League and National Basketball Association, respectively.
Stanley Cups: Much like their expansion cousins, the Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo has never won the Stanley Cup. They have reached the finals twice, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975 and Dallas Stars in 1999. Their defeat by Dallas is best remembered for the controversial series-ending overtime goal, scored by Brett Hull, with his foot in the crease. For years, this act resulted in no goal being awarded and the rule was changed following this moment.
Celebrity Fan: Actress Noureen DeWulf, who has appeared in movies such as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and The Back-up Plan, as well as the TV series Anger Management, took her fandom of the Sabres to a whole new level in 2011, when she married goaltender Ryan Miller. DeWulf later appeared on the reality series Hockey Wives, which followed her life and others married to or dating NHL players.
Super Fan: Anna Szczepanksi (aka Momzie) has been a fan of the Sabres since their inception, attending nearly every home game the team has ever played from her rinkside seat. Following the 2018-19 season, at the age of 95, Szczepanski was presented the Sabres Fan of the Year award, which came with the honour of dropping the puck for a ceremonial face-off at the last home game of that campaign.
Mascot: Sabretooth is a sabre-toothed tiger, with a coat of the Sabres blue and yellow colours. His favourite foods include chicken wings (I’m guessing in Buffalo sauce) and fired penguin, while his preferred songs are comprised of Let Me Clear My Throat, Sabre Dance and Eye of the Tiger. Sabretooth was also the mascot of the National Lacrosse League’s Buffalo Bandits from 1992 to 1998.
Tradition: Sabre Dance is a musical movement from the 1942 ballet Gayane, which features dancers using sabres. It has been used as an unofficial anthem for the Sabres throughout their existence. Although it disappeared for a time, the song returned in 2011 and is played as the Sabres return to the ice after the first and second intermissions, as well as after goals.
Appearances in Media: Part of the movie Bruce Almighty’s climax involves the Sabres winning the Stanley Cup, which results in fans rioting and chaos spreading across Buffalo. It should be noted, not a single rioter is wearing Sabres gear, but a more generic version of the team’s red and black colour scheme. Also, the Sabres defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs, which isn’t possible, since both teams are in the same conference.
Events/Scandals: Jack Eichel’s exit from Buffalo came with much controversy. When the captain suffered a disc herniation in his neck in April 2021, Eichel wanted to undergo disc replacement surgery, while the team preferred he have the more common fusion surgery. The saga ended with Eichel being stripped of his captaincy and later traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for a package of assets. Eichel then finally had the surgery of his choice in November 2021.
Rivalry: The Sabres two greatest rivals are Atlantic Division opponents the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. Their feud with the Leafs is known as the Battle of the QEW, the route which connects the team’s arenas, only 100 miles apart from each other. This brings a large contingent of Leafs fans to any game in Buffalo. The Sabres and Bruins have met in the playoffs eight times, with the Bruins winning the first five series, before Buffalo finally broke through in 1993.
Tragedy: Defenseman Tim Horton played the last two seasons of his long NHL career with the Sabres. On February 21, 1974, Horton was killed in a single-vehicle car crash, while returning to Buffalo, following playing in Toronto the night before. It was later revealed he was driving while intoxicated. Despite being named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in 2017, Horton is best recognized for co-founding the Tim Hortons donut chain, which is iconic across Canada.
Player Nicknames: Dominik Hasek’s ascent to being one of hockey’s greatest goalies ever may have never happened were it not for his trade from the Chicago Blackhawks to Buffalo. Once a member of the Sabres, his talents shined and he was aptly nicknamed The Dominator, as a result. Hasek’s success was credited for opening the door for other European goalies to make their way to the NHL.
Line: The French Connection line of Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert, played together from 1972 to 1979. The trio was named the French Connection, based off the 1971 movie, because all three were from Quebec. They combined for 1,681 points over 1,536 games played together. Statues of each of the three players can be found outside the KeyBank Center.
Captain: Gilbert Perreault played his entire 17-season career with the Sabres. He was the team’s first ever draft pick and captained Buffalo from 1981 to 1986. Perreault holds the Sabres franchise records for goals, assists, points and games played. Another interesting note about Perreault, he originally retired at the end of the 1985-86 season, but returned for 20 games the following campaign, in order to be eligible for a better NHL pension.
Enforcer: Rob Ray holds the record for most penalty minutes in franchise history at 3,189. He was such a prolific pugilist, a rule was even created based off his fighting style, where he would quickly discard his jersey and shoulder pads, allowing freedom from his opponent’s grasp and being able to throw punches at will. Today, a player whose jersey is not tied down and comes off in a fight, receives a game misconduct.
Family Values: Brothers Bob and Jean-Francois Sauve were members of the Sabres organization from 1980 to 1983, except for a 41-game tenure for Bob with the Detroit Red Wings. Bob was a goalie for the team, while Jean-Francois played center. Decades later, brothers Cal and Ryan O’Reilly would be teammates together, but while Ryan was a star with Buffalo, Cal spent the majority of 2015-2017 with the minor league Rochester Americans.
Returning Players: Dave Andreychuk was drafted 16th overall in 1982 by the Sabres. He spent the first 11 seasons of his career in Buffalo, before being traded to Toronto. After stints with four teams, Andreychuk returned to the Sabres for the 2000-01 season. He moved on to the Tampa Bay Lightning next, where he would win his only Stanley Cup in 2004. Andreychuk was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017.
Short Stint: Following being traded to Buffalo, as part of the deal that sent Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues, Patrik Berglund played in only 23 games, before leaving the team, resulting in him being suspended and his contract terminated. Berglund walked away from $12.5 million remaining on his contract, in the name of improving his mental health. He returned to hockey the next season, playing in Sweden.
Undrafted: Rick Dudley joined the Sabres in 1972-73 and played 279 games over two stints with the club (he spent four seasons with the Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association (WHA) in between). In 1989, Dudley returned to Buffalo as head coach of the Sabres, lasting two and a half seasons before being fired. Dudley is currently a Senior Advisor to the GM with the Florida Panthers.
Trade: The absolute steal of acquiring Dominik Hasek from the Chicago Blackhawks is the Sabres greatest trade ever. All they had to give up was fellow goalie Stephane Beauregard and a fourth round pick in the 1993 draft, which was used on Eric Daze. Out of the shadow of Blackhawks starter Ed Belfour, Hasek flourished in Buffalo, going on to capture six Vezina Trophies and two William M. Jennings Trophies.
Signing: The Sabres are guilty of making some really bad signings over the salary cap era. This included Ville Leino (six years, $27 million) and Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $40 million) in 2011, Matt Moulson (five years, $25 million) in 2014, and Kyle Okposo (seven years, $42 million) in 2016. Leino and Ehrhoff would receive compliance buyouts in 2014, while Moulson was demoted to the minors in 2017. Okposo remains with Buffalo, but has never lived up to the expectations of his contract.
Draft Pick: The Sabres first-ever draft pick was the first overall selection of the 1970 entry draft. Gilbert Perreault was the obvious choice and he would write much of their record book, while playing his entire career with the team. Buffalo has selected first overall three other times, picking Pierre Turgeon in 1987, Rasmus Dahlin in 2018 and Owen Power in 2021. The Sabres also had back-to-back second overall picks in 2014 and 2015, taking Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel.
Holdouts: Mike Peca sat out the entire 2000-01 season, before finally being traded to the New York Islanders for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt, the fifth and eighth overall picks in the 1999 draft. Peca was the Sabres captain at the time of his holdout, a role he gave up midway through the contract dispute. Peca had been the team’s captain since 1997, leading them to the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals.
Buyouts: Aside from the previously mentioned buyouts for Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, the Sabres also bought out center Cody Hodgson in 2015. Just two years prior, Hodgson had been signed to a six-year, $25.5 million pact, but recorded only six goals and 13 points in the second year of the deal. Following one season with the Nashville Predators/minor league Milwaukee Admirals, Hodgson was forced to retire due to malignant hyperthermia.
Unique Game: The Sabres were part of the NHL’s first outdoor regular season game in the U.S. when they participated in the 2008 Winter Classic vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their next Winter Classic appearance would be in 2018 against the New York Rangers. The Sabres were outside again against the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2022 Heritage Classic in Hamilton, Ontario. Buffalo also opened the 2011 season against the Anaheim Ducks in Helsinki, Finland and Los Angeles Kings in Berlin, Germany.
Goal: While Brad May wasn’t known for his scoring prowess, he scored one of the most memorable goals in Sabres history. In the first round of the 1993 playoffs, the Sabres had pushed the heavily favoured Boston Bruins to the brink of elimination. In overtime of Game 4, May scored, completing the sweep. Perhaps better than the actual goal was legendary Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret’s call, where he repeatedly shouted “Mayday”, giving the famous game-winner its name.
Fight/Brawl: Rob Ray’s fighting skills were also handy off the ice, as seen during an April 14, 1992 game versus the Quebec Nordiques. While a scrum was taking place on the ice, an inebriated Nordiques fan came on the ice and charged at the Sabres bench. Ray pummeled the fan with repeated punches, as security tried to pull the fan away. Luckily for Ray, no criminal charges or NHL discipline were levied for the incident.
Injury: In one of the NHL’s most gruesome injuries of all-time, Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk had his carotid artery and jugular vein cut by an errant skate blade. Malarchuk survived because of the quick action of trainer Jim Pizzutelli, a former US Army combat medic. The cut needed 300 stitches to be repaired and Malarchuk remarkably returned to action 10 days later, but the incident caused him post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues.
Penalty: During the 1997 playoffs, Dominik Hasek claimed he had injured his knee. Journalist Jim Kelley questioned whether the injury was legit and accused Hasek of having “poor mental toughness”. When Kelley approached Hasek for an interview days later, Hasek attacked the writer, ripping his shirt off. This resulted in Hasek being suspended for three games and fined $10,000.
Wildest Story: In 1989, Alexander Mogilny became the first hockey player to defect from the Soviet Union. He had been drafted by the Sabres in 1988 and following the conclusion of the 1989 World Championships in Sweden, he fled with the help of Sabres officials. For his debut with Buffalo, Mogilny wore jersey number 89, is honour of the year he arrived and also his draft position.
Blooper: During a game against the San Jose Sharks on March 14, 2017, Sabres center Jack Eichel was passed the puck deep in his own zone. He was checked as he went to pull the puck forward and it bounced off his skate and dribbled into the net past goalie Robin Lehner. The own goal would prove to be the game winner that night, as the Sharks defeated the Sabres 4-1. On the plus side, Eichel scored for his own team, as well.
Miscellaneous: The Sabres 11th round draft choice (183rd overall) at the 1974 NHL amateur draft was the fictional Taro Tsujimoto. Buffalo GM Punch Imlach made the selection in protest of how the draft was being operated, in order to thwart the rival WHA. Tsujimoto was said to have previously played for the Tokyo Katanas (similar to a sabre). On occasion, fans would chant ‘We Want Taro’, following the hoax being revealed and a jersey with his name and number 74 is available for sale.
Buffalo Sabres: Buffalo Cocktail
- 1.5 oz Whiskey
- Top with Club Soda
- Splash of Lemon Juice
- Garnish with a Lemon Slice
I searched extensively for a Sabres-themed cocktail and came up empty. The best I could find was this drink, suggested to be consumed while supporting Buffalo-based teams. To jazz up the recipe, I used Crown Royal Peach Whiskey and Mango Club Soda.