This is the first in a series of articles meant to familiarize the casual reader with the history of the Buffalo Sabres.
For a town as hockey-crazed as Buffalo, the average citizen recognizes the name “Tim Horton” for all the wrong reasons. On any given winter morn, a blue collar worker might pull up to a drive-thru window for a steaming cup of Joe, glance at a receipt that says “Always Fresh,” and never give the name a second thought.
Here’s what the Buffalo Sabres fan, and even more so, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, thinks of when we hear “Tim Horton”:
Tim played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Buffalo Sabres in a career that spanned from 1949 to 1974. He won 4 Stanley Cups as a member of the Maple Leafs and was a six-time All-Star. His 1,446 NHL games resulted in 115 goals and 403 assists.
Tim was inducted posthumously into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977, and his No. 2 jersey was retired by the Buffalo Sabres in 1998, just the fourth number retired by Buffalo.
Gordie Howe, arguably the greatest hockey player ever, called Tim Horton “The strongest guy in hockey.” One look at Tim and you would be hard-pressed to argue. His signature fighting move was to wrap an opponent in a crushing bear hug. Tim Horton’s Wikipedia article recounts the following anecdote:
Boston Bruins winger Derek Sanderson once bit Horton during a fight; years later, Horton's widow, Lori, still wondered why. "Well," Sanderson replied, "I felt one rib go, and I felt another rib go, so I just had—to, well, get out of there!"
Bobby Hull adds: "There were defensemen you had to fear because they were vicious and would slam you into the boards from behind, for one, Eddie Shore. But you respected Tim Horton because he didn't need that type of intimidation. He used his tremendous strength and talent to keep you in check."
King Clancy, who wore No. 7 before Tim Horton in Toronto, once stated that “If only he’d (Horton) would get angry, no one would stop him in this league.”
His long-time coach, “Punch” Imlach, sadly recounts his last conversation with Tim: "He was hurting too bad to play a regular shift in the third period. We faded without him and lost the game to the Leafs. After the game, he and I took a little walk up Church Street and had what was our last talk.
"He was down in the dumps because he didn't like to miss a shift and he felt he had cost us the game. I got on the bus with the team. Tim drove the cursed car back to Buffalo. He didn't make it."
On his way back to Buffalo at 4:30 the morning of February 21, 1974, Horton lost control of his speeding car on the highway near St. Catharines, rolling it several times. Tim Horton was killed instantly.
Between 1961 and 1968, Tim set the NHL record for consecutive games played by a defenseman with 486 consecutive games, and remained until 2007 when Kārlis Skrastiņš passed the mark. It still stands as a Maple Leafs record.
In the 1962 Stanley Cup run, Tim’s 16 points in 12 playoff games (it only took 12 wins to win the Cup back then. It takes 16 now) stood as a Maple Leafs defenseman record until 1994.
In 1969, Tim was awarded the J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup in recognition of his outstanding service to the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club.
Tim’s last year in the NHL was the 1973-1974 season, the year before the Sabres made their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. Tim’s leadership is credited with aiding the maturity of the young Buffalo club into a serious Cup-contending team.
In 1995, the Toronto Maple Leafs listed Tim’s No. 7, a number shared with King Clancy, as an “Honoured Jersey Number.” (Check here for an explanation of the Maple Leafs unique policy on jersey numbers)
In 1998, The Hockey News listed Tim as No. 43 on its list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
I do not have a citation for this, but Tim Horton is credited by some as the inventor of the slapshot.
Toronto has not won a Stanley Cup since Horton’s playing days.