Don Luce

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Buffalo Sabres Forward

While the French Connection grabbed the headlines for the Sabres of the early 1970s, the team’s acquisition of checking center Don Luce from the Detroit Red Wings in 1971 was equally critical to the team’s success. In fact, Luce may have been the most versatile performer ever to wear the Sabres sweater, combining offense prowess and checking tenacity to a degree unequaled in team history.

Throughout his career, Luce was acknowledged as a premier defensive forward and penalty-killer and was a frequent candidate for the Selke Trophy, annually awarded to the league’s top defensive forward. To Luce and linemate Craig Ramsay fell the task of negating Sabres’ opponents top scoring line, and the success of the Sabres’ “checking line” was instrumental in the team’s stirring drive to its first playoff appearance against Montreal in 1972-73. However, Luce developed an offensive aspect to his game which was often overlooked. His goal totals jumped from 11 in 1971-72 to 26 by 1973-74, and 33 in 1974-75. The 1973-74 goal total was second on the Sabres (to Rick Martin’s 52) and garnered for Don the Sabres’ Most Valuable Player Award for that season. The 1974-75 outburst included a then-NHL record eight shorthanded goals, and propelled Luce into the league spotlight as the winner of Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey.

The fact that Luce was often overshadowed by flashier teammates and by Selke Award winners on other teams warrants a closer look at his marvelous 1974-75 season, perhaps the most remarkable year ever registered by a Sabre. While the NHL and the Sabres have duly lauded the 20-goal season which captured the Selke Trophy for Michael Peca in 1996-97, Luce produced 33 goals (8 shorthanded), 52 assists, and an astonishing club-record plus-61 rating in his role as chief penalty killer and defensive stalwart.

A durable center, Luce missed only 14 games for the Sabres in a 10-year tenure which produced 216 goals and 311 assists and earned him induction into the Sabres Hall of Fame in 1986. Since 1985, Luce has continued to serve the organization in a variety of assistant coaching and scouting roles, including that of director of U.S. scouting and director of player personnel. Perhaps Luce’s best-known accomplishment as a scout was his role in the daring luring of Alex Mogilny from the former Soviet Union in 1989. Don has had a hand in bringing many other promising prospects to Buffalo, and the exiting young team which Buffalo now ices at the HSBC Arena bears the imprint of Luce’s efforts.

In 1986, Luce and Ramsay were inducted together into the Sabres Hall of Fame. In 1997 Luce joined his cohort in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.