1128 for publication Sept. 25, 2015
Sitting out on the back deck, the September sun beating down in its 30-degree Celsius – 88 American – glory, a random thought crossed my mind.
45 years ago the first Buffalo Sabres training camp was held in Peterborough, Ontario. 1970. As the Sabres are doing right now, just not in Peterborough.
For the newer hockey afficianados ages 14 to 30, the ones I’ve already confused suggesting an NHL team didn’t train in their own backyard, in those days Punch Imlach was the GM and coach of the Sabres. He once held the same rank with the Toronto Maple Leafs who won four Stanley Cups in the space of six seasons, and if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for Punch’s ‘70’s crew called the Sabres.
That first season was my first with the Sabres too, and it fell to me to get our photographer, Buffalo Bob Shaver, up to the Kawartha Lakes area in order to snap Perreault for the first-ever Sabres magazine cover. Until then, there were no photos of “Bert” in a Sabres uniform.
So, on this sultry day, I called Mr. Perrault on his cel, and with call ID he answered as he’d often done in the past. “Allo, me?” It never failed to catch me off-guard and break me up. Then snickering at his phone he asked in perfect English, “call me back on the house phone.” Who among us hasn’t had problems with voice delays on echo-ing cell-phones?
When he answered the second call, it was a man completely at ease with two languages, unlike me, and we spoke of his next visit to Buffalo, and getting together for an informal catch-up interview, maybe a column.
“This time without your interpreter,” I suggested, remembering our first time in ’70 when veteran centre Phil Goyette did the translations.
“Unless I need one for you,” he added, with the hearty laugh we rarely saw or heard in his early seasons as a Sabre.
Our future arrangements made, I later dug out stats on that 1970 amateur draft, held in Montreal. Like the many gambles that have followed since then, it held surprises, revealed startling errors in judgment, and showed how tenuous and risky the gamble over young talent can be.
That year the argument had raged in the media about who would be the first pick. But either Perreault, or Dale Tallon would be 1-2 for the two newest expansion teams in the League. And, it went exactly that way, much like the McDavid/Eichel draft.
Reggie Leach was the third pick, Rick MacLeish fourth, both by Boston who had four selections in the first-round of fourteen. Fifth was Ray Martynuik, a goalie from the Flin Flon Bombers, selected by Montreal, who would play in every minor pro League except the ECHL, yet never made the NHL, or the WHA. He left the game in 1979. Sam Pollock was the Habs GM. Mistake made.
The sixth spot went to highly touted Chuck Lefley, also chosen by Montreal, who played only 5 NHL seasons and bowed out. Next came Greg Polis, (PIT-10 NHL seasons), Darryl Sittler (TOR-15), Ron Plumb (BOS-1 WHA-8), Chris Oddleifson (CALIF-9), Norm Gratton (NYR-5), Serge Lajeunesse (DET-5), Bob Stewart (BOS-9), Dan Maloney (CHI-11).
And, if Buffalo hit a home-run with Perreault, they struck out with the 15th, and first selection of the second-round in Butch Deadmarsh. Imlach obviously wanted some toughness, but Deadmarsh spent only ten games with the Sabres that first season and only 46 more in two partial schedules before dropping to the minors and finished his career with four seasons in the WHA.
Perreault, the guy I wrote “was a 6-foot, 200-pound rocket who could accelerate and maneuver like a sports car,” played all his 17 seasons with Buffalo. Sittler put 15 into the NHL, and both are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Only Leach (1) and MacLeish (2) won Stanley Cups.
Tallon began his career with Vancouver for three seasons but the Canucks couldn’t make up their mind to play him at centre or defence. He went to Chicago for five, then two years with Pittsburgh before a back injury forced him to retire.
It only proves the amateur draft is risky business, and what a dicey crap-shoot it can be.
And, happy anniversary ‘Bert. You’re still a class act.