Several dates can be considered the birthdate of the Buffalo Sabres franchise. December 2, 1969 is the date the Knox brothers were officially awarded a franchise by the National Hockey League. January 16, 1970 is the day that Punch Imlach was hired as general manager and coach of the new team. But December 2 seems more of a moment of conception and January 16 the hiring of a midwife. What do you really need to have an official birthdate? A kid. Or a couple of kids. Or 20 some kids. And the Sabres didn't have any kids until June 9, 1970.
At the NHL meetings in Montreal on this day, Imlach wears his lucky green suit that has not been donned since he won the Cup with the Maple Leafs three years before. Sure enough, everything old Punch touches this day turns to blue and gold. His luck begins when he manages to convince the NHL to allow the Sabres to participate in the Intra-League draft. In the first player transaction in franchise history, Imlach selects Kevin O'Shea, Cliff Schmautz, Brian McDonald and Bill Inglis.
After that, the Sabres and Vancouver Canucks, the other new team in the NHL for the 1970-71 season, participate in a lottery to determine who will pick first in the waiver, expansion and amateur drafts. Like a high roller in Vegas who can't lose, Imlach wins all three "games of chance" with the Canucks. First, he prevails in a coin toss and earns the right to go first in the waiver draft, picking up goaltender Joe Daley from Pittsburgh. League honchos proceed to haul out The Special Wheel -- no Vanna White, either -- to see who will go first in the expansion draft the next day and the amateur draft the day after that.
The Wheel has numbers one through 13, with the Sabres owning eight through 13, seven being neutral, and the Canucks hoping for one through seven. League president Clarence Campbell lets it rip, and the wheel stops on eight. The Sabres will take the first stab in the expansion draft the next day. Then, in one of the unforgettable moments in team history, Campbell spins again to see who will pick first in the amateur draft and announces the winning number -- one! And the Vancouver table goes crazy. "There has been a mistake," Campbell quickly announces. The winning number is actually 11! A grainy old film of Imlach captures the moment -- he wipes his brow and shakes his hand as if to cast off sweat. Or perhaps to actually cast off sweat.
Imlach is not coy about who he will select the next day. "Unless he dies between now and the draft, he's mine."
This Day in Sabres History :: June 9
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