February 21, 1974 -- This certainly ranks as one of the saddest days in Buffalo sports history. Buffalo fans woke up to the news that Sabres' defenseman Tim Horton had died at the age of 44.
Horton had been a big part of the Sabres' surprising playoff run in 1972-73, and he came back to play another season in 1973-74. In fact, as part of the deal general manager Punch Imlach agreed to buy Horton a fancy, fast car.
Horton had performed well the night before in Maple Leaf Gardens, as he was named one of the game's stars despite leaving early because of injury. Horton was speeding back toward Buffalo at more than 100 mph, and missed a turn in St. Catharines. He ran into a concrete culvert and died.
An autopsy released in 2005 reported that Horton's blood alcohol test was twice the legal limit. Public relations director Paul Wieland was called that night, and he and coach Joe Crozier went to Ontario to identify the body.
The team members were crushed. Jim Schoenfeld, a second-year defenseman, practically looked at Horton as a father figure, and the rest of the team looked up to the eventual Hall of Famer.
Horton's name is best known now, at least by the public at large, for a chain of coffee/doughnut shops in Canada and border areas like Buffalo. He had helped start it in 1966. But Horton will always be remembered here for his brief career as a Sabre.
--- Budd Bailey
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