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Buffalo Sports History: A change in focus

"This Day in Buffalo Sports History" has been appeared in our pages and on this blog for two years. If you'd like to read the full story about how this feature came to pass, click here.) After more than 700 different recaps, it's time to come up with a new approach.

I thought it would be fun to honor Western New York's greatest athletic figures with biographies, similiar in format to what we've been doing with dates. I'll use their birthdays as a way to celebrate their accomplishments. The series will start on Thursday with Bills' defensive lineman Erik Flowers.

But this idea could use your help.

There are plenty of local sports figures, including some in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, who have accomplished much but don't have their birthdays available. This obviously applies to high school and college athletes and coaches; the pros' data is usually available.

So ... feel free to send me some names and birthdays (, and I'll see what I can do to honor them in this way. And thanks for the many kind words that have been sent this way about the daily history series over these many months.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Bouncing back

   February 29, 1976 - It's not easy to find a highlight for Leap Day, since there's only one of them every four years.

   It wasn't noted at the time, but the Sabres played their first-ever February 29 game on this date. What's more, they came back from a poor performance the night before in Kansas City to win.

   The Sabres had an odd first period. They were outshot by the Kings, 13-4, but led by a 3-0 count after 20 minutes. Fred Stanfield had two goals and Danny Gare added one.

   Play was much more even after that. Jim Lorentz and Craig Ramsay finished out the Buffalo scoring in a 5-1 win. Al Smith stopped 32 of 33 shots.

   Including that game, the Sabres only lost three of their last 17 games as they headed into the playoffs. It looked as if Buffalo was primed for a good postseason run. Instead, the Sabres lost to the New York Islanders.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: A game to remember

    February 28, 1971 -- Steve Atkinson did plenty of bouncing around during his NHL career. It's fair to say he did his best work right here in Buffalo. And he did his best work in Buffalo on this date.

   Atkinson scored the only hat trick of his career in a Sabres' win over Minnesota.

   Atkinson was a classic case of someone who got a chance to play through expansion. He was picked up on waivers by the Sabres from the Blues, and saw regular duty here.

   Atkinson scored 20 goals in the 1970-71 season, the most in his NHL career. He stayed through 1973-74, and then was picked up by Washington in the expansion draft.

   Real hockey fans will remember that Atkinson played in Buffalo during the 1975-76 season as a member of the Buffalo Norsemen of the North American Hockey League.

   By the way, Guy Trottier - a great player with the hockey Bisons in the late 1960's -- had 36 goals in 56 games in his last season as a pro when he played with Atkinson for the Norsemen in that season.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: An all-time great

   February 27, 2006 -- One of the greatest players in Buffalo's long baseball history finally received recognition on this day. "Overdue" doesn't begin to cover it.

   Frank Grant was finally elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He was one of 17 people from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues selected in a special election.

   Grant was called the last great African American player in pro baseball before the color line was put into place. He was a standout performer with the Buffalo Bisons in an integrated International League from 1886 to 1888.

   A reporter in the Sporting Life newspaper put it this way: "With all due credit to the ability of Hardie Richardson and Jim O'Rourke, I think I can say that Grant is the best all-round player Buffalo ever had," he wrote.

   Grant could hit for average, ran the bases well and offered surprising power despite a 5-foot-7 frame carrying 155 pounds. In other words, think of a 19th century Joe Morgan.

   By the end of the 1880s, blacks were no longer welcome in organized ball. Grant had to play for all-black teams in the minor leagues. He died in 1937 at the age of 71 and couldn't afford a tombstone in a Clifton, N.J., cemetery. However, the Negro Leagues Grave Marker project took care of that problem last year.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: One nice night

    February 26, 1987 -- Wilf Paiement was only a member of the Buffalo Sabres for a season, and he played on a team that didn't have many good moments. This night, at least, was a good one for the winger and his team.

   Paiement scored his only hat trick as a Sabre as Buffalo defeated St. Louis, 4-3.

   His first goal came in the first period with the assists going to Adam Creighton and Clark Gillies. Then Paiement struck for a go-ahead goal early in the third period. When St. Louis answered only 10 seconds later, Paiement struck with 14:49 to play to give the Sabres the win. It was his 20th goal of the season.

   Paiement had been acquired from the Rangers in the waiver draft. He scored 356 goals in his NHL career. starting in Kansas City in the 1974-75 season. Paiement hit 20 goals 12 differnet times, including 11 in a row to start his career.

   As for the Sabres, the win came in the midst of a rare hot streak for the team. After a horrible start that cost Scotty Bowman his job, the Sabres made a bit of a playoff run in the second half of the season. This was their sixth win in seven games. But, the team couldn't maintain that pace and finished last overall.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Spoiling the party

    February 25, 1961 -- It was all so perfect. St. Bonaventure had won its previous 99 home games in a row, and the Bonnies were ready to celebrate hitting the century mark. Even a Sports Illustrated reporter made his way to the Olean Armory for the party, joining the 2,200 in attendance.

   However, Niagara turned out to be a party-pooper.

   The Purple Eagles enjoyed beating their Little Three rival by a score of 87-77.

   It was only the second loss of the season for the Bonnies, who had been ranked in the top five of the national rankings for most of the season. They were coached by Eddie Donovan and led by All-American Tom Stith, Fred Crawford and Whitey Martin.

   Niagara came into the game at 14-4, so the Eagles were obviously no pushover. Al Butler was the team's biggest star. Niagara coach Taps Gallagher was carried off the court by his happy players after the game, and he said it was the best win in a long career.

   Gallagher stayed 31 seasons at Niagara, and he had 26 winning seasons featuring seven trips to the National Invitation Tournament.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Risen Star headlines Louisiana Derby preview day

By Gene Kershner

It’s been a busy Mardi Gras week in New Orleans and it also just happens to be a big racing weekend at the Fair Grounds, with a number of big stakes races, headlined by the Grade 2 $300,000 Risen Star Stakes. The big prep race for the Fair Grounds’ meet signature race, the Louisiana Derby, will be raced at 1 1/16-miles around the bayou oval.

A field of 11 sophomores will look to add coveted graded stakes earnings to their ledger in an attempt to attain a gate in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Super trainer Todd Pletcher sends impressive allowance winner and likely post time favorite El Padrino to look for his first graded victory. He won going away against a very good Take Charge Indy at Gulfstream last month and has the talented Javier Castellano in the irons.

Let’s take a look at the field for the Risen Star (Morning Line odds, trainer and jockey in parentheses):

1 – Mr. Bowling (4-1, Jones, Albarado): The Lecomte winner in January has over $115K of graded earnings and sits just outside the bubble, but can make a big impact with a win on Saturday. He is part of a coupled entry with Mark Valeski for trainer Larry Jones, who is winning at a 27 percent clip at the Fair Grounds meeting. He’s undefeated at the distance in two tries and should be in the mix in the stretch. He and two other horses will carry the highweight of 120 pounds.

1A – Mark Valeski (4-1, Jones, Napravnik): The second half of Jones’ coupled entry who is stretching out for the first time after competing in three straight sprint races. Meet leading rider Rosie Napravnik gets the call on this promising colt. His sire, Proud Citizen finished second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness after winning the Lexington.

2 – Adena’s Chance (30-1, Dorochenko, Eramia): He has never won in six tries at Fair Grounds and looks to be overmatched in here while stretching out from his last sprint race.

2B – Hero of Order (30-1, Dorochenko, Graham): The speed in the race that will most likely go to the front like his daddy, Sharp Humor liked to do. Lots working against him against his competitors and unless he steals it on the front end, shouldn’t be a factor other than setting the pace.

3 – Afford (8-1, Geier, S Bridgmohan): Street Sense colt won a $50K allowance here at the Fair Grounds earlier in the month. Sports a solid work going into that race, but has not been on the work tab since. Horse for the course could catch a piece of the exotics.

4 – Optimizer (6-1, Lukas, Marquez): This colt had a promising start with solid races at Saratoga last summer and at Keeneland in the fall. His last three efforts have been subpar and with just over $78K in graded earnings, needs to add to that total for a chance to be in play in Louisville in May. Ships in from the Lukas based barn in Oaklawn where he has two excellent workouts since his sixth place finish in the Smarty Jones.

5 – Z Dager (5-1, Asmussen, Sellers): Finished second for Zayat Stables behind Mr. Bowling by a head in the Lecomte. He has won in the slop, two back for Steve Asmussen, who is always dangerous in a graded stake. 

6 – Ted’s Folly (20-1, Brown, Zimmerman): Had a six-race win skein busted in the Lecomte, where he finished a disappointing ninth. The Remington Park shipper gets a new rider and a second trip over the track for owner Steve Martin.

7 – El Padrino (2-1, Pletcher, Castellano): Stellar connections, but comes off his top effort, which is always dangerous to count on a repeat. Faced graded company in the Remsen in November at Aqueduct finishing third. He carded a solid work on Feb. 13 and ships in from Gulfstream looking for a big effort. Will certainly take a ton of money at the windows, the question is will he burn that money?

8 – Shared Property (6-1, Amoss, Goncalves): The Scat Daddy colt has been working lights out and finished only a 1/2-length behind the top two finishers in the Lecomte. Conditioner Amoss has been on fire at the Fair Grounds, winning at a 25 percent rate.

9 – Tizanexpense (10-1, Maker, Mena): Steps up into graded company for the first time. Have a lot of positives in his pedigree and reviewing his work tab. Needs to run race of his life to win this one, but not out of the question.

Post Time outlook:  1 – Mark Valeski; 2 – Shared Property; 3 – El Padrino; and 4 – Mr. Bowling

Good luck this weekend and let’s go cash some tickets! 

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at and tweets @EquiSpace.


This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Beef in the middle

   February 24, 1995 -- The Buffalo Bills needed some bulk in the middle of their defense. Ted Washington certainly fit that job description.

   Therefore, Washington was a natural to come to the Bills as a free agent.

   "They need somebody here to get the job done, and I think I'm the guy," the Bills' newest defensive lineman said. "I'm going to try to help them get back to the Super Bowl and this time finish .... the job. In other words, win."

   Washington sighned a three-year contract worth $3.3 million. Washington joined Jim Jeffcoat
as new additions on the Bills' defensive line.

   "(General manager) John Butler and (team owner) Ralph Wilson were very aggressive in their efforts to sign Jim Jeffcoat and Ted Washington," Bills coach Marv Levy said. "I think we made some very positive steps in the right direction. We know that everything that happens during free agency isn't exactly the way you would have wanted it. But in the case of these two players, it was exactly the way we would have wanted it."

   The 6-foot-4, 295-pound Washington spent three years with San Francisco and a fourth with Denver. After six line-blugging years with the Bills, Washington played seven more seasons with four different teams before retiring.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Making progress

I know, I know. We're about due for the schedule for the Buffalo News runner of the year series.

I'm in the process of tracking down the dates for the events so that I can put out the schedule. That means I still have to hear from everyone involved, which takes time.

But, I am planning on not changing any of the races that were on last year's schedule ... unless they won't be held in 2012. So it will look a lot like 2011, if you like to plan ahead. Yes, that means we start with the Shamrock a week from Saturday.

In the meantime, there are a couple of races coming up this weekend. This is courtesy of

* Polar Bear 5K, 1691 Lockport Olcott Road in Olcott, 11 a.m. Sunday, 434-8887. I heard the Polar Bear has been in training during this mild winter and will be tough to beat.

* Canisius Chilly Challenge, 5k, 1180 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, 12 noon Saturday, 882-0466 x262. It's amazing how that last hill at the end always gets to me, even though I know it's coming.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: The Boogie Man

   February 23, 1996 -- Wins were a little difficult to come by for the Buffalo Sabres in this particularly season. This one over the Philadelphia Flyers was welcome, naturally. But it also provided a memorable moment for one of the Sabres' players.

   Bob Boughner had been a minor leaguer throughout his career for years after he was drafted by Detroit in 1989. When Sabres' coach Ted Nolan thought the team could use another defenseman on this roster, he remembered that Boughner had been a reliable player for him back in junior hockey.

   Therefore, Buffalo was happy to acquire Boughner on February 1, 1996, for a draft choice. Not only was he reliable in his own end, but he added toughness to a team that already had a lot of that quality.

   Boughner got his first NHL point on this date. He had an assist on a goal by Scott Pearson that turned a 6-2 Sabres lead to a 7-2 Sabres' lead. That was the final score.

   It was the only point by Boughner that season. But he spent the next two seasons in Buffalo and proved he belonged in the NHL. Boughner stayed in the league until 2006.

--- Budd Bailey

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.