By Conor Thompson
As we continue our journey through each decade of the Buffalo Sabres, we will be entering the best decade of Sabres hockey, the 90s. To start the 90s, the Sabres made a blockbuster 7 player trade to bring hall of fame member Pat Lafontaine to Buffalo. Only a year later Dominik Hasek would become a Sabre, who many would say was the greatest goalie to put on the pads. Hasek would then out muscle another hall of fame member, Grant Fuhr for the starting role.
In 1993, Buffalo not only pulled an upset over the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, but swept Boston after a game 4 overtime goal scored by former Sabres announcer Brad May. What is simply known as the “May Day” call by Rick Jeannerrett, who some say is their favorite call by the Sabres hall of fame member. The excitement of the sweep over the Bruins would be short lived however, as the eventual Stanley Cup champions Montreal Canadians would go on to beat the Sabres in the playoffs. . It is worth noting that 3 of these losses were in overtime.
The 1994 season leads us into another historic Sabres moment. Not only Sabres moment, but NHL moment as well. In the first round of the playoffs a goaltending duel happened at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Dominik Hasek faced off with New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. The game went to 7 total periods with Hasek being the winner of the duel making 66 saves as Dave Hannon scored the game winner. But just like the prior season, this victory was short lived as the Devils would go to beat the Sabres in game 7.
After many seasons and great memories the Sabres left Buffalo in Aud, the time came for the Sabres to build a new home. At the last game at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, the Sabres defeated my hometown Hartford Whalers by a score of 4-1. After the victory, Pat Lafontaine scored the final goal for the goodbye ceremony by tapping the puck in a empty net. The Aud was the last NHL arena who’s ice surface was below the league minimum of 200 feet. The Aud remained abandoned until 2009 when it was demolished. However, some fans snuck into the Aud through tunnels while it was abandoned and took photos which you can find online.
The Sabres moved to their new home which was originally named Marine Midland Arena. Not only did the Sabres welcome a new home, they welcomed new black and red jerseys, while also introducing a new logo which is referred to by many as, the goat logo. Head coach Ted Nolan led the Sabres to the division title that year and a new type of Sabres, who were known as the hardest working team in the NHL. Nolan would go on to win the Jack Adams award as the leagues top coach, while Dominik Hasek went on to win both the Hart and Vezina trophy that year.
While the Sabres were dominant on the ice, there were problems off the ice. Hasek and Nolan had a feud brewing all season. While there’s only rumors as to why this feud started, the Sabres had a decision to make. Do you keep the leagues top goalie or do you keep your award winning coach. The Sabres ended up choosing Hasek, even while he had a injury during the playoffs that season that many in the media questioned. Hasek even attacked a writer after practice, tearing his shirt, which led to the Sabres suspending Hasek. Buffalo would go on to be eliminated in the playoffs by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Looking to forget the previous season, the Sabres hired former team captain Lindy Ruff to be the head coach in 1997. Not only did buffalo receive a new coach, they received new owners as the Knox family sold the team to John Rigas. However, this move would go on to bite the Sabres, which we will cover in the 2000s era. The Sabres went on to another successful season, but only to lose to the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference finals.
In 1999 the Sabres continued their hot form, reaching the Stanley Cup finals. The Sabres were down in the series 3-2 and in game 6 of the finals in overtime, Brett Hull scored the controversial game winner. Brett Hulls foot was in the crease which at the time was illegal as he scored the goal, but all referees on the ice missed the call. The city of Buffalo still had a ceremony for the Sabres in downtown Buffalo. With head coach Lindy Ruff taking the stage and saying two famous words, “No goal.”
The 90s were a exciting time in Buffalo, even though the most important trophy is missing on the shelf. This decade not only left the Sabres with many legendary and fan favorite players, it also left NHL legends as well.