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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Get to work

    November 30, 1939 -- Sometimes big projects in Western New York take a long time to go from conception to result. Or, to put it another way, have you gone over the new signature Peace Bridge lately?

     Not too many people can give a first-hand judgment as to whether the area had the same reputation in 1939, but there was a signal on this date that Buffalo was headed toward the sporting map. The cornerstone for Memorial Auditorium was placed in the ground around the end of Main Street.

     The city was one of the biggest in the country, but it didn't have a facility to host large events. New York had Madison Square Garden, Boston had the Boston Garden, Chicago had the Chicago Stadium ... and Buffalo had the Broadway Auditorium.The federal government was helping to fund such projects in order to jump-start the economy in an effort to push the nation out of the depression. The $2.7 million project qualified.

     Once the cornerstone was in the right spot at the foot of Main Street, the construction crews went right to work. The spiffy new facility that could seat more than 10,000 people was open for business in less than a year.

     Maybe they were the Good Old Days.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Finders keepers

     November 29, 1993 -- There's an old saying that an injured player never should lose his job. Tell that to Grant Fuhr.

     When Fuhr got hurt in the 1993-94 season, Dominik Hasek took over the starting job and more or less kept it for almost eight years. Hasek's first shutout as a Sabre came against the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-0 on the road.

     The Sabres thought their season was in trouble when Pat LaFontaine suffered a knee injury early injured early in the season; in fact, the operation took place only four days after this game. Yet the Sabres were showing definite signs of life, going 9-5-2 since a slow start.

     The offense on this night was supplied by Wayne Presley, Craig Simpson and Alexander Mogilny, who all had goals. Hasek did the rest, making 24 saves including three big ones early in the third period.

     When asked about his night, Hasek replied, "Maybe three or four big shots; maybe one or two rebounds."

     Hasek had 54 more shutouts in his Buffalo career, easily setting a team record.

--- Budd Bailey

Book report: Hockey Holidays

I've read some of the new hockey books that are out just in time for the holiday shopping season. The most interesting comment about hockey, though, came in a book on, of all things, politics.

Former Canadians goalie Ken Dryden has written a book on the situation in Canada. He's a Member of Parliament and once ran for the head of the Liberal Party.

At one point in "Becoming Canada," Dryden refers to his time with the Canadiens, and how the entire organization was dedicated to the concept of winning before anything else. The front office assembled the best possible players, and the coaching staff put the players in position to win. If the players didn't win, it was essentially their fault -- no excuses.

How many sports teams can say the same?

Here's a short review on some other titles. You can click on the title to get a full review on a Web site I keep on such matters:

The Final Call -- by Kerry Fraser -- This is rather routine staff, as are most books by officials. Fraser comes off as a solid professional, though.

The Making of Slap Shot -- by Jonathon Jackson -- If you think "Slap Shot" is one of the funniest movies ever made -- and most hockey fans do -- then you'll love this thoroughly researched book on how the movie was put together.

I Am Not Making This Up -- by Al Strachan -- The veteran Canadian hockey journalist tells some stories about his career.  There is a little bit of "things were better in the good old days," but has some insight and laughs.

The Greatest Game -- by Todd Denault -- This is all about the Canadiens-Red Army game of 1975 in Montreal, considered the best game every played by some. This makes a pretty good case for that claim.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: The one in 1-13

     November 28, 1971 -- Veteran Bills' fans are still trying to forget the 1971 team, which stumbled its way to a 1-13 record that season. Well, this is the anniversary of the lone win.

     The Bills defeated the New England Patriots, 27-20, to stop any talk of a winless season. Dennis Shaw threw a couple of early touchdown passes to J.D. Hill, and O.J. Simpson scored on a 1-yard run.

     For New England, Jim Plunkett was only 10 of 22 for 138 yards and a touchdown (Ron Sellers). Carl Garrett ran for 127 yards.

     It was Harvey Johnson's last win as a Bills coach (he finished with two in his NFL coaching career), and here's a clue as to one of the problems that year. In that game, Simpson had 14 carries. Wayne Patrick had 17 carries. Not to put Patrick down, but which one would you have carrying the ball most of the time?

     The Bills certainly earned the first draft choice with its season, and -- to show you what sort of season it was -- even that didn't work out well. Buffalo took defensive end Walt Patulski with the pick, and he never panned out. But the Bills' next coach was Lou Saban, who knew enough to give the ball to Simpson ... a lot.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Snowed under

     November 27, 1960 -- Whoops. The Buffalo Bills looked like sure winners in their game against the Denver Broncos. They were ahead, 38-7, late in the third quarter -- in Denver, no less.

     The Bills didn't lose, but they didn't win either. Denver scored the final 31 points of the game to finish in a 38-38 tie.

     The game is remembered by the Bills' players for its unusual weather. It was 45 degrees and sunny in the morning. But by the time the game started, a snowstorm had begun.

     "At halftime there were six to seven inches of snow on the ground," Joe Kulbacki said in the book, "Rockin' the Rockpile." "By the second half it had become a complete blizzard."

     The main villain was wide receiver Lionel Taylor, who scored three touchdowns on passes from Frank Tripucka (also known to basketball fans as Kelly's father). Taylor finished the day with nine catches for 199 yards. Gene Mingo's 19-yard field goal lifted the Broncos into the tie.

     For the Bills, Elbert Dubenion caught six passes for 134 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Cigar Mile preview

By Gene Kershner

The $250,000 Hill n’ Dale Cigar Mile Handicap will be run on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park for the 22nd time.  One of my favorite races of the year run traditionally during the holiday weekend, the Cigar Mile is named after Hall of Famer Cigar, who won the race in 1994 when it was known as the NYRA Mile. 

Bribon Last year’s race was won by Kodiak Kowboy and returns two entrants from that race in three-time Cigar Mile winning trainer Todd Pletcher’s Bribon and Godolphin Stable’s Vineyard Haven.  It is a solid field that will load in this year’s gate, including two horses, Haynesfield and Musket Man, that raced in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, one that ran in the Sprint (Girolamo) and one that ran in the Dirt Mile (Vineyard Haven).  It wouldn’t surprise me to see the race record time of 1:32.46, set by Discreet Cat in 2006, fall on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the nine contenders trying to win the last Grade 1 race to be held in New York in 2010 (trainer, jockey and morning line odds in parentheses):

 1 – Girolamo (bin Suroor, Garcia, 5-2): Godolphin’s talented colt drew the rail, but it won’t be as crowded as his inside draw in the Breeders’ Cup.  The coupled entry with Vineyard Haven was named the morning line favorite and he should get a better trip in this one.  He shows a nice workout after the Cup and as one of the few Grade 1 winners in the field should be contending for the win.

1A - Vineyard Haven (bin Suroor, Cohen, 5-2): The other part of the entry also struggled in the Breeders’ Cup, finishing sixth.  “Vineyard Haven was drawn outside and stalked a very fast pace,” said assistant trainer Rick Mettee. “He’s another one who should pull a better trip.” The winner of the Grade 1 Champagne in 2008, he is a solid horse that along with his entry mate is a must use in the exotics.

2 – Soaring Empire (Gambolati, Prado, 20-1):  This long shot, drawing Edgar Prado for the first time, has been working sharply, but I think that the competition in here is much too difficult for him to catch any more than a piece of the superfecta.  He shows some nice works, but over his head in here.

3 - Bribon (FR) (Pletcher, Velazquez, 3-1):  Nudged out of the winners’ circle for the past two years, he skipped the Cup to point towards this race.  Trainer Todd Pletcher adds “It’s the last significant Grade 1 on the East Coast, and always attracts the best sprinters, the best middle-distance horses, and horses backing up as well. Given that, I think Bribon fits in very well.”  Leave Bribon off your tickets at your own peril.

4 – Haynesfield (Asmussen, Castellano, 4-1): Finished a disappointing 11th in the Classic, won by the possible Horse of the Year, Blame, who he beat in the previous race when he got away from the field.  Has the potential to go wire to wire, but I don’t think anyone will let him get away with it on Saturday.   He has never faced Grade 1 company at this distance.  Haynesfield is one of two New York-breds in the field.  Dangerous, must respect.

5 – Jersey Town (Tagg, Velasquez, 12-1): Barclay Tagg’s promising colt will try to provide him his second Cigar Mile winner as Tale of Ekati won in 2008.  A nice showing in the 7-furlong Bold Ruler behind Bribon gave his connections the confidence to give it a go against this field.  We’ll be siding elsewhere as this one has to prove he belongs.

6 – Friend or Foe (Kimmel, Solis, 8-1): The other New York-bred in the race is 4 for 4 around one turn.  “I wouldn’t trade places with anyone,” said Kimmel, who trains the 3-year-old colt for Chester and Mary Broman. “He’s doing great, we drew well with post position 7, and I think he deserves a shot.”  He’s also gaining a 4- to 5-pound weight break on the top contenders in here.  I have a feeling he’s ready for a break out race, so we’ll be using him in a big way.

7 – Musket Man (Ryan, Maragh, 5-1):  Tough to leave this 4-year-old out of your trifecta, he’s only missed the board once in his career, earlier this month in the Classic.  His last try at the mile distance was in this year’s Met Mile where he finished second to Pletcher’s Quality Road.  He’s had a long year facing top competition so I’m going to pass on him in the Cigar Mile.

8 – Half Metal Jacket (Rodriguez, Jara, 12-1): This horse for the course (three wins and a place at Aqueduct lifetime) has a hot trainer, but is probably in too deep with these quality horses.

Post Time Selections: 1 – Haynesfield 2 – Friend or Foe; 3 – Godolphin Entry; 4 – Bribon (Fr)

Exotics:  Box those four in exactas and trifectas.

Good luck and let’s go cash some tickets!

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.comand tweets @EquiSpace.

Photo: Bribon wins the Bold Ruler (Courtesy of Ross Woodson/Horsephotos.com)

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Never better

     November 26, 1974 -- This might have been the high point of the Buffalo Braves' franchise.

     The Braves completed the best month in their history on this night, beating Philadelphia, 103-99. The team only lost two games for the entire month while winning 12. The losses came at Portland and at Chicago, so the Braves were a perfect 6-0 at home for the month. In the middle of the month they had an 11-game winning streak.

     Oddly, the Braves were doing it without Ernie DiGregorio, their rookie of the year from the previous season. Buffalo lost Ernie D to a knee injury, and used Ken Charles as the starter. Bob Weiss and Lee Winfield were the spare guards.

     The Braves were a different team without DiGregorio. They certainly didn't resemble the fast-paced team that was thrilling to watch the previous year. Still, they had a better winning percentage when Charles started. This was not a good sign for Ernie D's career, but that issue could be put off for the time being.

     The Braves went on to a 49-33 record that season. Not only was it the best record in Buffalo Braves' history, it's never been topped by the Clippers in their history.

      For more on that 1974-75 season, click here.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Travelin' Man

     November 25, 1970 -- Mike McMahon was a hockey player who had seen the continent over the years. This date was one of his longest moves, and one remembered well by veteran Buffalo hockey fans.

     As of 1970, McMahon probably was thinking he had found a home with the expansion Sabres. His hockey career had taken him to Kitchener, Sudbury, St. Paul, Baltimore, New York, Minnesota, Houston, Quebec, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Springfield. Could he finally unpack?

     No. Sabres GM/Coach Punch Imlach got an offer he couldn't turn down, taking old friends Eddie Shack and Dick Duff for McMahon in a deal with the Kings.

     Shack proved useful, especially in that first year. He scored 25 goals in 56 games as a Sabre in 1970-71, and provided some excitement for a team that could use it when Gil Perreault and Roger Crozier weren't on the ice. Duff, a future Hall of Famer, offered plenty of experience for a young team that could use it.

     McMahon never made it to Los Angeles, playing in the American Hockey League for Springfield. Then it was on to a couple of more stops, including Rochester, before he jumped to the WHA. There he played for Minnesota and San Diego. His career ended in Springfield in 1977.

   Here are McMahon's statistics.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Leaving on a high note

     November 24, 1929 -- The Buffalo Bisons of the National Football League had a miserable 1929 season, but at least they went out on a high note.

     The Bisons came into their final game of the 1929 season with a 0-7-1 record. They hadn't scored more than seven points in a single game all season long.

     Imagine the surprise, then, when the Bisons went into Chicago and beat the Bears, 19-7.

     A crowd of 3,500 watched the game in Wrigley Field. The Bears had a couple of Hall of Famers on the roster that day. Red Grange, who scored a touchdown on a 3-yard run, and Paddy Driscoll were no match for the Bisons on this day.

     Swede Hagberg was a star for the Bisons that season. He checked in at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, and scored three touchdowns for Buffalo that season.

     Buffalo didn't have a team play a full game in the NFL for 41 years. The Bears finally got their revenge on a Buffalo team on November 22, 1970, as they beat the Bills, 31-13.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Hammerin' Hank

     November 23, 1937 -- When the list of the greatest boxers of all-time is compiled, Henry Armstrong usually is on it. He once was good enough to hold the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight championship. That's three titles when there were eight weight classifications.

     It must have been quite a treat to see him fight in Buffalo's Broadway Auditorium.

     Armstrong took on Syracuse's Joey Brown on this date. It wasn't much of a contest, as Armstrong scored a knockout at 0:39 of the second round. Brown had the odd-looking record of 16-13-19, including a 1935 fight in Offermann Stadium.

     Apparently Armstrong wasn't getting enough work in his fights back then, because he had fought four days before the Buffalo date in New York, and he had two more bouts before the middle of December.

     It was a good warmup for 1938. Armstrong beat Barney Ross for the welterweight title in May, and then downed Lou Ambers for the lightweight title in August. 

     Armstrong finished with a 149-21-9 career record with 100 knockouts.

--- Budd Bailey

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