Bill Hajt

Bill Hajt

Buffalo Sabres Defenseman

Team success in the National Hockey League hinges not only on the eye-catching feats of star players, but also on the steady, often unnoticed contributions of less heralded members of the 20-man roster. During his 14 years as a Buffalo Sabre, Bill Hajt fulfilled the role of consummate team player from his position on the blueline, to a degree perhaps unparalleled in team history.

Hajt was the Sabres’ third-round pick in the 1971 amateur draft, behind long-time Sabre teammates Rick Martin and Craig Ramsay. In his initial pro-season, 1972-73, he helped spark the Sabre’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Cincinnati Swords, to the Calder Cup Championship. After 66 games with the Swords the following season, Hajt landed in Buffalo in 1974-75 as a defensive key to a squad generally considered the Sabres’ best ever, a squad which fell only two games shy of a Stanley Cup Championship.

Hajt steadied the Sabres’ backline for 13 additional seasons as an old-school “stay-at-home” defenseman. He seldom rushed the puck in the fashion of many defensemen of the times, and his style of play was not calculated to bring the fans out of their seats with wild applause. His positive contributions were too subtle, too routine for most fans to appreciate. For instance, Bill used his size and strength not to punish opposing forwards with thunderous body checks, but to steer them away from the goal area while stripping the puck. While not a frequent shot-blocker, Hajt was always in position to make the smart, safe play. Hajt’s steady, reliable manner gave his defense partners the confidence to take chances, secure in the knowledge that the dependable, “defenseman’s defenseman” would cover up.

Later in his career, Hajt’s experience benefitted a crop of younger defensemen. Bill’s increased age led not to less playing time, but to increased taps on the shoulder from coaches such as Scotty Bowman, who appreciated the importance of strong defense to winning teams. If Hajt was underappreciated by the fans, such was not the case with the media, who selected Bill as the Sabres’ Unsung Hero in 1974-75 and 1979-80, nor with NHL coaches who selected Bill as an All-Star in 1980-81 and 1984-85.

With career totals of 854 games (second among Sabre defensemen to Mike Ramsay, and fourth for the team overall), 42 goals and 202 points (7th among Sabre defensemen), Hajt’s place in Sabre history is secure. Tonight, the fans of Buffalo solidify Bill’s standing among the City’s sports greats by welcoming him into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.