George “Punch” Imlach

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National Hockey League Coach & General Manager

The key to the survival of any expansion franchise in professional sports depends on the abilities of a coach and general manager. While standout players are obviously important, the evaluation, trading and drafting and melding of talent into a team are indispensable to the success of any franchise. The Buffalo Sabres were a success on the ice and at the box office, almost from the inception of the franchise, primarily through the efforts of their first coach and general manager, George “Punch” Imlach.

Imlach began his National Hockey League coaching career behind the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs. From 1958-1969, the Leafs had only one losing season, and won four Stanley Cups (1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967). Punch’s overall coaching record, including his brief 1-1/2 year tenure with Buffalo, was 395-336-148. Only six coaches in NHL history won more games, and only two (Scotty Bowman and Blake) won more Stanley Cups.

During his tenure with the Leafs, Punch developed a reputation as a motivator, particularly skilled at utilizing the qualities of veteran players. Imlach’s 1967 Cup-winning Leafs were the oldest winners in league history; several of these veterans later joined him in Buffalo and added stability in the early years of the Sabres franchise.

Imlach traveled down the QEW to Buffalo in 1970, and assembled a talented, entertaining club which filled the auditorium and reached the playoffs in only three seasons, and the Stanley Cup finals in only five seasons. Rookie Gilbert Perreault was the cornerstone of the franchise, augmented by veterans Roger Crozier and former Leafs Dick Duff, Reg Fleming, Don Marshall, Tim Horton and captain Floyd Smith. Later, Imlach obtained youngsters Rick Martin, Jim Schoenfeld, Craig Ramsey, Don Luce, Danny Gare, Rene Robert and Don Edwards to form the nucleus of a Sabres team which excelled throughout the 1970s.

The Imlach era was a unique period in Sabres’ history, as enthusiasm for the growing team enveloped the Western New York area. Even after ill health removed him from the coaching ranks in 1972, Imlach the general manager was a familiar fixture among the usual sellout crowds which filled the Aud and cheered on the teams he built. Those teams achieved a record of consistent success which later squads have sought, unsuccessfully, to duplicate. Punch’s induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame is a reminder of the genesis of the rich history of his franchise, a history which breeds warm nostalgia in fans looking to the future with hope and confidence.