Jim Schoenfeld

Home 5 Class of 1996 5 Jim Schoenfeld

Buffalo Sabres Defenseman

In 1972-73, the Buffalo Sabres posted the third-best single-season improvement in modern National Hockey League history and, in only their third season, achieved a playoff berth in a rugged Eastern Division stocked with established NHL powerhouses. The key to the Sabres’ rapid ascendancy was a defense spearheaded by ageless legend Tim Horton and his young protege, rookie Jim Schoenfeld.

The big redheaded defenseman was the Sabres’ first-round draft pick in 1972, and the first defenseman drafted in the NHL that year. Schoenfeld brought an aggressive and physical approach to the game, and soon earned a reputation as a tough customer. All NHL rookies face baptism by fire, and Jim was challenged often by bellicose veterans. However, he never backed down from a confrontation. Few Sabre fans will ever forget the 1972 December evening when Schoeny took Bruins’ Wayne Cashman “outside,” and, for good measure, man-handled two other big, bad Bruins in the same contest.

However, Jim desires to be remembered not for pugilistic encounters, but for the stellar defensive play, on-ice leadership, and inspirational qualities which endeared him to fans and teammates alike.

In September 1974, at age 22, Schoenfeld became the NHL’s youngest captain and, in 1980, was named the Most Inspirational Sabre of the 1970s. Sabre fans will likely recall the image of Schoeny sticking up for teammates in a scuffle, or throwing his often injured body in front of slapshots. Attributes such as these earned him recognition as a second-team NHL All-Star in 1979-80 and selection to the Sabres’ Hall of Fame.

After his retirement as a player in 1985, Schoeny continued to lead and inspire from behind the bench, starting with a brief stint with the Sabres in 1985-86, right through a successful season with the over-achieving Washington Capitals in 1995-96. His most memorable moment in coaching came in 1988, when he took the reins of a New Jersey Devils team languishing in last place in January and led it not only to it first playoff berth, but an upset win over Washington and a heart-stopping seven-game loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

During his days playing in Buffalo, Jim was a tireless spokesman and volunteer for a variety of charitable causes. Schoenfeld maintained a residence and business connection in the Buffalo area even after his relationship with the Sabres ended. He still maintains emotional ties to Buffalo and its unique fans, and this feeling is reciprocal among fans who have sorely missed the Schoenfeld fire on ice for many, many seasons.

In 1996, Sabre fans christened the Marine Midland Arena with a tribute to one of the players who created many of the special memories left behind in the Aud.