BUFFALO – More than 43 years later, Sabres legend Danny Gare still sounds surprised he hit the prestigious 50-goal mark in the grandest of fashions.
That night, after all, was supposed to be about Rick Martin’s pursuit of the milestone. The sniper needed to score just once to reach 50 goals for the third consecutive season.
Gare, meanwhile, had scored 47 times entering the season finale on April 4, 1976 against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Memorial Auditorium.
“I was close, but I never thought I’d get it, you know?” said Gare, one of 15 former captains the Sabres honored as part of their 50th anniversary celebration before Saturday’s home opener against the New Jersey Devils.
All the attention, Gare said, was focused on Martin.
“As deservedly it should’ve been,” Gare told the Times Herald. “He … was a 50-goal man.”
Gare wasn’t yet. Sure, the diminutive winger was within striking distance. Yes, he had recorded two hat tricks earlier in his second NHL campaign.
But would Gare really score three times that night?
Few probably expected someone could score 50 times on a checking line. But the trio of Gare, Don Luce and Craig Ramsay produced an incredible amount of offense while shadowing the opponent’s best every night.
“We did a lot more scoring than any checking line,” said Luce, who scored 33 goals in 1974-75.
Luce and Ramsay’s defensive skills combined with Gare’s scoring prowess made them as lethal as almost any No. 1 line.
“We tried to play in the other end,” Gare said. “It’s kind of funny. That’s normally what the top lines would do.”
Gare hadn’t thought much about scoring 50 goals until Fred Stanfield approached him before the game. Having played beside Boston Bruins legends Johnny Bucyk and Phil Esposito, the veteran knew all about the special number.
“He goes, ‘You know, you could get 50 tonight,’” Gare said. “He says to me, ‘Don’t think you can’t, you know? I know Rico’s going to get it and you got a shot at it, too.’”
Stanfield’s encouragement made Gare start believing he had a chance.
Then, according to Gare, everything changed prior to the opening faceoff. His trio lined up against Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams.
“(That was) the turning point in all this,” Gare said.
Gare knew Williams – “He’s a pain in the (butt),” he said – from their junior days in the Western Hockey League.
Williams told Gare he wouldn’t “get a sniff tonight at 50.”
“So I got (ticked) off,” Gare said. “To hell with you, Tiger.”
The Aud buzzed all night in anticipation of something special happening.
“Every time Rick was on the ice or I was on the ice you could feel the excitement,” Gare said.
Stanfield assisted on Gare’s 48th goal in the second period. After that, Gare said Sabres coach Floyd Smith finally put him on the power play.
Incredibly, Gare only scored eight power-play goals in 1975-76.
Gare deflected Martin’s shot in for his 49th in the third period, a goal many thought Martin had scored.
As the game progressed, Smith started putting Gare and Martin out with top center Gilbert Perreault.
Perreault had no idea what to do.
“He said, ‘Just stand there, Danny. I don’t know who to give the puck to,’” Gare said.
Ironically, Gare buried a rebound from Martin’s shot on the power play for his 50th, the final goal in a 5-2 win.
“I was was like, ‘Wow,’ I just couldn’t fathom it,” Gare said. “It was just bizarre.”
After Gare’s teammates mobbed him on the ice, he skated by Toronto’s bench and flipped the puck in the air as he passed Williams.
“He was upset,” Gare said, “let’s put it that way.”
Gare said Martin, who didn’t score, was gracious after he joined an exclusive club. Only four Sabres – Gare, Martin, Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny – have scored fifty goals. Gare, who scored 56 goals in 1979-80, and Martin both did it twice.
Growing up in Nelson, British Columbia, Gare watched Rocket Richard and Boom Boom Geoffrion score 50 goals for the Montreal Canadiens.
“Those guys are like iconic to me,” Gare said. “To be named amongst them in the 50-goal club, you’re grateful.”
Perreault, the most iconic of Sabres, said facing the Montreal Canadiens and the legendary Jean Beliveau in Buffalo’s first home game on October 15, 1970 is his most vivid memory of the team’s first season.
“I thought I was going to play against my idol Jean Beliveau that night, but I didn’t have a chance to play one shift against him,” Perreault said inside KeyBank Center. “But it was a great challenge playing against the Montreal Canadiens. Being from Quebec, Montreal was are our team, and I was looking for that game.”
The Sabres used Thursday’s lineup that beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1, meaning defenseman John Gilmour and forward Evan Rodrigues sat out as healthy scratches.