This week’s edition of “What’s in a Name??” features one of the very first teams I ever knew anything about. I was very young and we ended up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and were in a sports store. I saw a hockey jersey on the rack, and because it was the 90’s and hockey jerseys were cool (they are making a comeback), I needed to get one. The one I picked was the Buffalo Sabres. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It had swords and a buffalo on it, what could be better?
So I think I need to put out an early disclaimer. I try to be very impartial to teams and not editorialize too much. However, this post will probably be me complaining about a lot of things. It’s hard not to when you spent your formative years studying fencing. I know that makes no sense just yet, but think about it: Buffalo Sabres. I will have plenty of commentary on my thoughts on their naming convention and I hope you all take it with a grain of salt. Of course, by that, I mean take it to be an absolute statement of fact because how could I be wrong? It would never happen. Plus, I am the best at being modest.
Buffalo has always been a hockey hot spot. Players like Patrick Kane and Lee Stempniak, to some guy name Jack Brownschilde and his brother Jeff have come from Buffalo and played in the NHL. Of course there are others, but I needed a modern hockey example that people might have heard of, and then the Brownschildren (yes, that is the plural I am going to go with) were the only people who played in the NHL before 1999.
Buffalo was home to the Buffalo Bisons. The Buffalo Bisons were an American Hockey League team that played in the Memorial Auditorium (the Sabres’ first home) from 1940 to 1970. They were a pillar in the AHL, winning five regular season titles, eight division titles, and five Calder Cups. For those of you who don’t know what a Calder Cup is, it’s a trophy named after a guy named Calder. It’s also the championship trophy for the American Hockey League.
But what does this have to do with the Sabres? Honestly, almost nothing. You see, the NHL decided to give a team to Buffalo in 1970. The first owners were Seymour Knox III and Northrup Knox. They were descendants of a “prominent Western New York family.” This is a hard question, but do you know what the name of that family was? If you guessed anything other than Knox, you should probably stop reading now. Anyway, these guys bought the Buffalo team and immediately commissioned a name-the-team contest.
It’s pretty obvious why the Knoxes had a naming contest, they needed a name for their team. However, there was a large group that wanted the Buffalo team to be called the Bisons. They felt that the pillar of Minor hockey needed to be honored, but the Knoxes felt that that was why they should change the name. They wanted their team to be associated with winning, which the Bisons were, but they did not want their team to be associated with the Minors. The fact was, they had a National Hockey League team now, and they were not going to settle for an American Hockey League team name.
There were a lot of names sent in to the Knoxes—not thousands or hundreds, but lots (mostly because no one could supply a number for me)—and they settled on the name “Sabres.” The Knox boys were very interested in knights, cavalry, and chivalry themes so the name piqued their interest. Moreover, Seymour Knox, (who always had more Knox in view) felt that the sabre was a weapon that a leader would carry. He noted that a sabre is swift and strong on offense as well as defense.
This is where I should interject with my thoughts, as we have hit the part that relates to fencing, but the story isn’t done yet, so we have to wait. The story comes to its close with the Knoxes once again. They had tried twice before to get a team to Buffalo. First time they tried was during the expansion of 1967 (think Philadelphia Flyers). The second time, they tried to purchase the Oakland Seals and move them to Buffalo, but the NHL denied them. Finally, they got it on the third try. In a move of great forethought, the Sabres organization exercised their right to created an AHL team, thus the Cincinnati Swords (I know, really creative) were born.
So, now I get to add my thoughts, and luckily for you I don’t have too many on this topic. As many of you know, I always have a lot to say, and could probably talk for hours on this topic, but I will spare you. The issue I have comes from Seymour saying that the sabre is a defensive weapon. Yes, I guess if you had to, you could use it to block an attack, but the sabre is designed to be completely offensive.
In the cavalry, you use the sabre to cut down enemy soldiers from atop a horse. You aren’t hopping down and pulling out your sabre and saying, “Hey, you. Yes, you. I challenge you to a duel with my sabre.” Unless you are an Olympic athlete, you are not using a sabre defensively. The design of the weapon prevents it from being used on defense. Its curved blade does not give a surface to parry on, and the hilt is minimized to make it less bulky and transfer the weight appropriately for a downward cut. Therefore, I say that Seymour sees less. I say he has no idea what a sabre is used for, and he should go back to his mansion and swim in his dollar bill swimming pool.
Not much else is left to tell about the Sabres. They have won 6 Division championships, three Conference championships, and one Presidents’ Trophy (most points in the league at the end of the regular season). Something fun to note, in 1974, Buffalo went to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. They were playing the Philadelphia Flyers (who were recently dubbed the Broadstreet Bullies). In this series, the legendary Fog Game occurred. Due to excessively hot weather in Buffalo, portions of the game were played in heavy fog. Players, officials, and even the puck were invisible to most of the spectators. During a face –off, Jim Lorentz (a Sabres centerman) sees a bat flying through the fog. He takes his stick and smacks the little bastard right out of the air. After that, the puck dropped and the game continued (he didn’t even get a penalty for high sticking). It is the only time an animal has been killed during an NHL game. It happens all the time in baseball…