Monday

Morris Titanic

Morris Titanic was drafted by Buffalo in the 1st round, 12th overall in 1973, two spots ahead of Rick Middleton.

It turned out to be the wrong choice, as Middleton went on to a long NHL career. But, hey, at the time Buffalo's GM Punch Imlach had a real streak going. His previous 1st round choices had been Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Jim Schoenfeld, three players who went on to play a total of 2823 NHL games, scoring 2454 points.

Morris only managed to play 19 games in the big league. He played 17 games for Buffalo in 1974-75 and 2 games in 1975-76, not scoring a single point. Because of Buffalo's fine drafting the previous seasons the pressure on the 20-year old winger was substantial.

Titanic had just completed a fine All-Star season for the Sudbury Wolves where he scored 121 points - including 61 goals - in 63 games. Before that Morris had played for the Niagara Falls Flyers.

Back in 1973 when Morris was picked in the 1st round it wasn't much of a big deal like today. At the draft day Morris was working at a gas station in Niagara Falls. His landlady came over to him and told him that he had been picked 12th overall by Buffalo. Later that day Punch Imlach called him and asked him how much money he wanted. Today the media scrutiny is enormous on the potential 1st round draft picks during draft day and player agents are swirling around their clients like sharks.

Morris' cool name Titanic is Ukrainian. His father emigrated to Toronto with his parents as a little child. Morris bad fortune was that he got a nagging back problem in his second professional season. After a back operation Morris almost had to quit hockey. A spinal fusion operation forced him to go through two years of rehabilitation.

When Morris came back at the start of the 1977-78 season he went on to play in the AHL and IHL. He scored a fine 70 points in 75 games for the Milvaukee Admirals in the IHL 1978-79. But early in the 1979-80 season he tore up his knee while playing for the Rochester Americans in the AHL and his playing days were over.

He had to quit at only 27-years old. He went on to coach at the Junior B levels before finally pursuing a career outside the hockey rink as a salesman in 1985.

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Tuesday

Daren Puppa

When Tom Barrasso shocked the hockey world with his incredible rookie season in 1984-85, the Sabres must have envisioned no goaltending problems for the next decade or more. Right out of high school Barrasso stepped in, pushed aside veterans Bob Sauve and Jacques Cloutier and was the best goalie in the game.

A very few seasons later, the same thing happened in Buffalo. Only this time, Barrasso was the goalie being pushed aside by another hotshot newcomer. That newcomer was Daren Puppa.

Puppa certainly didn't have the credentials Barrasso had when he finally burst onto the scene. A native of the hockey hotbed of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Puppa earned a scholarship with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State where he attended classes and backstopped the school's hockey team from 1983 to 1985. He left school early at the Sabres encouragement, but continued classes in the off-season and eventually earned an engineering degree from RPI.

The Sabres drafted Puppa 74th overall in 1983. He was a virtual unknown since he did not play junior hockey and had yet to attend RPI. Sabres GM Scotty Bowman had a conversation with former Montreal Canadiens star Ralph Backstrom, then the head coach of the University of Denver and also a cousin of Puppa's father. Bowman sent his scouting staff to go see Puppa play in Kirkland Lake, and selected him in 1983 as a virtual secret.

Though he would make an instant splash in his 1986 NHL debut, shutting out Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers 1-0, Puppa apprenticed in the minor leagues for 3 seasons, winning the AHL championship in 1987, as Barrasso continued to star. Puppa finally got the starting job in 1989-90. As a strong, stand-up goalie who reminded many of the great Ken Dryden, Puppa won 31 games and was runner-up to Patrick Roy in balloting for the Vezina Trophy. The Sabres traded Barrasso away to Pittsburgh, feeling that Puppa was the real deal.

But over the three seasons that followed, Puppa struggled to regain his form, thanks in part to chronic back problems. In 1993, he was shipped to the Leafs where he played eight games before being claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Expansion Draft of 1993.

Puppa was able to re-establish his status as an elite goalie in Tampa, and game the young franchise instant credibility. By 1995-96 Puppa racked up 29 wins, 19 losses, and 9 ties, topped off by the Lightning's first trip to the playoffs in 1996.

The nagging back injury returned shortly thereafter. Puppa managed to hang in with the club over the four seasons that followed but was able to appear in a total of only 50 games. He then hung up his pads for good in 1999-2000.

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Sunday

Bob Boughner


His nickname was a play on his surname, but it was also very fitting. Bob Boughner, aka The Boogeyman, was a rough and tumble defenseman who was willing and able to take on all the league's toughest customers. He was very aggressive and loved to hit. He was a great teammate who would come to the aid of his friends in an instant.

And his teammates loved him for it.

"He's a total team player, he's a very tough guy and he'd always be happy to be the first guy in there to fight for anybody," said Jarome Iginla.

Boughner was by no means a goon. He 630 games in the NHL because he was a reliable depth defenseman and great teammate, first and foremost. He played a very conservative role as a depth defensive blue-liner. He could draw short-term assignments against the other teams top lines, but was more comfortable in the fifth or sixth role.

Boughner provided next to no offense (15 career goals) and was pretty much strictly a chip-it-off-the-glass type of defender. But with his physical exuberance he could set the tone of the game and for his teammates, knowing exactly when to inject needed energy into the game.

Not that anything ever came easy for the big right-handed rearguard. A second draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings back in 1989, Boughner spent five years in the minors before finally getting his shot.

Boughner had captained the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the 1990-91 OHL championship in his final junior season but Detroit had too many veteran d-men in the early 1990s. Paul Coffey, Doug Crossman, Brad Marsh, Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon blocked the way for any prospects.

The Wings actually let him walk after three years. He signed with the expansion Florida Panthers but still never got a shot.

Things changed when Ted Nolan, Boughner's coach in Sault Ste. Marie, became the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Nolan was sure to give his former captain a chance to make the team.

"He called me a few times and told me he was going to try and trade for me and it eventually happened (Feb. 1, 1996) ... That was my huge break. If it wasn't for Teddy, who knows? I could still be down there," said Boughner.

After his Buffalo breakthrough, Boughner was picked up by Nashville in the 1998 expansion draft before moving on to Pittsburgh, then Calgary, Carolina and finally Colorado. He never stayed anywhere too long to get comfortable. But his many teammates always appreciated him on and off the ice.

Boughner returned to junior hockey after hanging up his NHL skates in 2006. He purchased the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL and named himself president and CEO as well as head coach. He turned the Spitfires around remarkably, leading them to back to back Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and 2010, making him one of the top coaching prospects in the game.


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Andre Savard

This is Andre Savard. For 790 games over 12 seasons he was a solid two way checking center able to provide some offense. He started in Boston with the Bruins and ended his career in Quebec where he starred as a junior, but he is best remembered as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

The Bruins drafted Savard 6th overall in 1973, behind a couple of gems like Denis Potvin, bob Gainey and Lanny McDonald. Savard had a monster year in Quebec, scoring 67 goals and 151 points in just 56 games. 12 of those points came in a single game!

That offense was not nearly so potent in the NHL. He topped 20 goals three times, including a 31 goal, 74 point campaign in 1980-81, but generally speaking he was regularly a 20 goal, 40 point 3rd line center.

Savard was buried behind some big names in Boston, with the likes of Phil Esposito and Jean Ratelle ahead of him on the depth chart. That led to a stalemate when contract time came in the summer of 1976. The result was Boston trading his rights to Buffalo for the rights of Peter McNab, who similarly was having troubles coming to a new contract.

Where he came to excel at the NHL level was as a checking center. The fans appreciated it, too. He was named the most popular player in Buffalo as well as the unsung hero and most enthusiastic player team awards. I remember him best on a very effective line with Craig Ramsay and Ric Seiling. He and Derek Smith were shoehorned into the second line center spot at times.

A serious knee injury ended Savard's career prematurely. In 790 NHL contests Savard scored 211 goals, 271 assists for 482 points. In 85 playoff games he added 13 goals and 31 points.

He went on to become a long time coach, scout and manager. He had short stints as head coach in Quebec and as general manager in Montreal.


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