[Ed. Note: Some lists chronicle the best in hockey. Others the worst. Others the most memorable or greatest or essential. What Puck Daddy’s 2016 Summer Series seeks to do is capture those indefinable, quirky, oddities that occur every season. Moments that defy prediction or, in some cases, logical explanation. Welcome to WEIRD NHL.]
#1) The Butt Goal
In reality you could probably cobble together a list of 15 really strange moments from the last 45 years of Sabres history. You don’t have to look past the team’s uniform history to find some strange and downright bad choices.
Through the years Sabres fans have seen phantom goals, fog goals (more on that later) and on December 23, 2013, we got a Butt Goal.
Mike Smith’s, um, let’s say assist on Mark Pysyk’s overtime tally wound up as an early Christmas present for Buffalo’s faithful in a season that would turn out to be quite a drag as the Sabres plodded towards a 30th place finish.
Maybe somewhere it’s written that strange things need to happen when the Coyotes roll into Buffalo as a little over a year later fans were torn on which team to root for in the height of McDavid mania. Luckily that turned out alright in the end. But as weird as the 2015 Sabres-Coyotes showdown was, it couldn’t top Butt Goal on this list.
Million to one shot, doc. Million to one.
#2) The Collapse of the Marine Midland Arena Jumbotron.
Less than two months after Marine Midland Arena opened, the multi-million dollar Jumbotron fell to the ice prior to Buffalo’s game against Boston on November 16. The 20-ton scoreboard left a smallish mess on the ice surface and it was sometime before a replacement was installed.
As you may expect, the scheduled game against the Bruins was postponed and replayed later in the year. The lack of a fancy scoreboard to go along with the sparkling new arena was an odd juxtaposition as the team awaited the replacement. The lasting memory of this event is the iconic photo of the crumpled Jumbotron with the final two panels still dangling from the roof.
#3) Jim Lorentz & The Fog Game
Game three of the 1975 Stanley Cup Final was odd for a couple of reasons. The Fog Game, as it’s come to be known colloquially, remains an iconic Stanley Cup moment thanks to the dense fog that plagued the game for almost the entire contest.
Due to high heat and humidity both outside and inside the arena, fog descended on the ice surface for most of the game. The thick fog forced stoppages to try and clear the ice but to little avail; it’s front and center for Rene Robert’s overtime winning goal.
As weird as it is to have played a Stanley Cup Final game through a soupy fog, Jim Lorentz had an odd run in of his own earlier in the night. As the game began, a bat began flying around the arena and eventually began taking runs at the players on the ice.
Prior to a faceoff, Lorentz picked the bat out of mid-air with his stick, killing it on the spot. Depending on how superstitious you are the bat’s death either triggered the fog that descended later in the game or even was the cause of Buffalo’s defeat in the series. Or both.
(Analytics tells me that the bat was responsible for both of those events as superstitions are, in fact, real things.)
#4) Blue Ice & Arched Nets
The dregs of the 2004 Lockout left Larry Quinn and the Sabres organization with plenty of extra time on their hands. All that extra time resulted in some really weird ideas.
Due to the convenience of the Rochester Americans being an hour up the road, HSBC Arena played host for the Amerks a few times while the NHLPA and owners tossed a season out the window. As part of the treat for hockey fans in Buffalo, Quinn worked in unison with the NHL and AHL to develop some experimental ideas for improving the game.
Among the new ideas floated was changing the color of the ice surface to a light blue in an attempt to improve visibility for those in the arena and those watching on TV at home. Along with the blue ice came replacements for the red and blue lines (blue and orange, respectively). They also thickened both lines in an attempt to increase flow and expand the size of the attacking zones.
The end result was something that resembled a roller hockey rink with novelty sized markings on the boards for the recolored red and blue lines. When I think back to those games the blue ice became easy to ignore once the game really got going. The weirdest sensation was how the surface looked when you first walked into the arena. What wasn’t easy to adjust to were the super sized “red” and “blue” lines was a different story. The bright orange blue lines were the harder of the three to ignore, adding the fact that the additional thickness made them far more prominent on the ice surface.
Ironically, thicker blue lines may have come in handy this season with the league’s awful offside review rule.
Blue ice wasn’t the only unusual creation the Sabres rolled out that year. While the ice was the only idea that was actually put to use, another one of Quinn’s creations only enjoyed a cameo appearance in an intermission shootout. As part of a study looking into altering the size of the nets, the Sabres developed a version with bowed goalposts which was at least the second most ridiculous thing ever done by the organization.
The experimental nets increased the available space to shoot by 13% (per USA Today) and looked downright terrible. Luckily cooler heads prevailed when it came to evaluating net size and the experiment didn’t get beyond their debut in 2005 and a cameo at the NHL Research & Development Camp a few years back.
What’s amazing is that the bowed monstrosities still reside in the bowels of First Niagara Center (soon to be KeyBank Center) – at least they did as of my last venture around the Zamboni entrance. I suppose there isn’t much of a market for goofy looking nets.
#5) The Legend of Taro & Paul Wieland’s Legacy
Buffalo’s former PR man, Paul Wieland is lauded as practical joker who was never afraid to try and pull one over on the media and even the league. When you compare the sterile nature of the majority of team and media contact is these days, Wieland’s resume of pranks is much more impressive.
Among his greatest hits were a litany of April Fools jokes which always came complete with embargoed press releases sent along to media outlets.
His 1978 prank noted the Sabres would be building a 43,000 unit housing development behind their practice facility. The year previous the 11:00 news broadcast led with Buffalo’s decision to switch the playing surface at The Aud from ice to “Sliderex”. He even swapped out the entire broadcast team on April Fools in 1990.
Of course, the most celebrated prank Wieland had a hand in was the drafting of Taro Tsujimoto.
Tsujimoto, as you may know, was a player created by the Sabres and picked with their 11th round selection in the 1974 draft as a form of protest to the drafting process. The hoax was cooked up by Punch Imlach and Wieland and became one of the strangest and most unique features of franchise history, spurring the saying Taro Says (or sez) and even a special edition hat by New Era Cap.
The genesis of the prank came from the tedious nature of the draft which Imlach had grown to loathe. As another draft dragged along, he, Wieland and a few other staffers cobbled together the necessary information that ultimately created Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas – roughly translated as the Tokyo Sabres, get it?
With no one around the league none the wiser, the only reaction the pick got was doubt as no one was investing much scouting into the professional hockey league in Japan at that time. So, the pick was recorded and the draft proceeded as if nothing unusual had occurred.
Of course, Imlach and Wieland knew the true story and allowed the hoax to play out. Taro would be listed on the team’s training camp roster and he was even set up with a stall at camp, helping the players and even ownership to buy in. It wasn’t until Wieland pulled a joke on team owner Seymour Knox that everyone connected with the team truly knew Tsujimoto didn’t exist.
Eventually the League caught on and erased Tsujimoto’s name from the official guide and record book. However, The Legend of Taro continues to exist in Buffalo. Tsujimoto’s name is still listed as the team’s official pick from the 1974 draft in each year’s media guide despite the lack of league acknowledgement. A reminder of a weird, yet clever way to pull one over on the league.
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About the author: Chris Ostrander founded Two in the Box in 2010 and the site has grown to cover all things Sabres and the city of Buffalo. You can even catch The Instigator Podcast on iTunes if that sort of thing interests you. Follow Chris on Twitter: @2ITB_Buffalo.