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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Alexander Mogilny

(Born on February 18, 1969) -- When it comes to dramatic entrances to Buffalo, Alexander Mogilny is in a class by himself.

Mogilny was one of the top young players in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, teaming up with Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov on national teams. However, Mogilny grew disenchanted with the Soviet hockey system, and went looking for a way out.

He found it in the spring of 1989, when he defected to the United States. The Sabres had drafted him 89th overall the previous year, and helped him make the cloak-and-dagger move that attracted worldwide publicity.

Mogilny put on uniform number 89 and debuted for the Sabres that fall. He scored a goal in his first game. The right winger overcame a fear of flying and soon became a star. Mogilny scored 76 goals for the Sabres in 1992-93.

The forward stayed through 1995, when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. Mogilny went on to play for the Devils and Maple Leafs. While 1992-93 was a tough act to follow, Mogilny still scored 473 goals in 990 games. It will be interesting to see if that’s enough to get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame some day.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Lindy Ruff

(Born on February 17, 1960) - Second-round draft choices in hockey make an impact only some of the time. It’s fair to say Lindy Ruff more than met that standard.

Ruff was born in Warburg, Alberta, and played junior hockey in the Western Hockey League. The Sabres took Mike Ramsey in the first round of the 1979 Entry Draft and Ruff in the second.

Lindy stayed through the 1988-89 season, becoming a captain along the way. Ruff spent some time as a wing and some time as a defenseman; the versatility probably kept him in the league for some extra time. He had 20 goals in 1985-86.

Ruff was eventually traded to the Rangers, and moved into coaching after retiring as a player. He was put in a difficult situation in 1997 when he was hired to replace Ted Nolan, a fan favorite. The new coach did the best job he could, and found a home here ... again.

Ruff is the longest-tenured coach in the NHL at the moment, and he’s coached more games than any Sabre coach in history. Ruff also wouldn’t mind a return to the Stanley Cup finals, something he did in 1999.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Elbert Dubenion

(Born on February 16, 1933) -- Buffalo sports figures have had plenty of good nicknames over the years. “Golden Wheels” ranks with any of them.

Elbert Dubenion was born in Georgia and played college football at Bluffton, a school in northwest Ohio. The college even has a tribute to Dubenion on its web site.

It took the wide receiver a year to land in professional football. He turned up in the first training camp in Bills’ history in 1960, which was held in East Aurora. Conditions were a little primitive, but Dubenion didn’t mind at all.

He moved into a starting job, and caught 42 passes that first year for 752 yards. That’s an average of about 18 yards per catch, showing his speed. By 1964 he averaged an amazing 27.1 yards per catch, and helped the Bills win an AFL title. Dubenion stayed with the team until 1968.

Then he moved smoothly into scouting, and spotted a wide receiver at a small Pennsylvania college who he thought had potential. Elbert Dubenion turned out to be right about Andre Reed.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Tony McKegney

(Born on February 15, 1958) -- Tony McKegney was something of a pioneer in the world of hockey. There hadn’t been many blacks in the NHL when he arrived, but hopefully his talent made quite a few people color-blind.

McKegney was born in Montreal, but was adopted by a white family in Sarnia, Ont. He became a standout in hockey while playing junior, scoring 135 points in 66 games in 1976-77.

A year later, the left winger was ready to join the pros. He signed with the Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association, but that news generated a great deal of hate mail, etc., in the South. The Bulls released McKegney from his contract, and he joined the Sabres as their second-round draft choice.

McKegney needed less than a season to join Buffalo during the 1978-79 campaign. He stayed through 1983 and was a regular almost all of the time. McKegney scored 37 goals in 1980-81. Then he was dealt to the Nordiques in a massive swap involving Quebec’s Real Cloutier.

McKegney spent less than two years with the Nordiques, and had several more stops around the NHL during the next several seasons. He even scored 40 goals for St. Louis in 1987-88. McKegney still does alumni work for the Sabres and Red Wings.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jim Kelly

(Born on February 14, 1960) -- It took some time for Jim Kelly to find his way to Buffalo. Once he arrived, he found a home.

Kelly grew up in East Brady, Pa., and was a sports standout in high school. He wanted to go to Penn State, but the Nittany Lions would only offer him a scholarship to as a linebacker. Oops. Kelly went to Miami (Fla.) instead, and helped turn the Hurricanes into a national power.

The Bills needed a quarterback at that point in their history and drafted him in the first round. But Kelly signed with Houston of the United States Football League instead. He was a standout there until the USFL folded, and Kelly finally came to Western New York in 1986.

You might have heard about how he did here. Kelly was very good and very tough, a perfect combination for a Buffalo quarterback. He was one of the team’s leaders on and off the field, and he helped the Bills reach four straight Super Bowls.

In 2002, Kelly was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you go to a Bills’ game now, you’ll still see fans wearing a replica of his jersey.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Ruben Brown

(Born on February 13, 1972) --  Ruben Brown needs to work on his timing a little bit. He just missed the Bills’ glory days of the early 1990s. Instead, he had to be satisfied with an outstanding career in pro football.

Brown, a New Jersey native, played his college football at Pittsburgh. He was a dominant player there, piling up three straight Big East honors as an offensive lineman.

That made him a logical pick for the Bills in the 1995 NFL draft at 14th overall of the first round. Brown soon won a job as a regular at left guard. He was good, and he was reliable. Brown spent nine seasons with Buffalo, and was named to eight straight Pro Bowl teams. He also never missed a start until he was sent home before the last game of the 2003 season.

Brown was released by the Bills, and picked up as a free agent by the Chicago Bears. The guard stayed four more years with Chicago. He made the Super Bowl while with the Bears, and turned up on one last Pro Bowl.

Brown returned to Western New York after retirement, where he has done some broadcasting work. He was picked for the Bills’ 50th anniversary team and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Mike Robitaille

(Born on February 12, 1948) -- The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been afraid to use ex-players in a new role as broadcasters over the years. Mike Robitaille is one such example.

Robitaille came up through the New York Rangers’ farm system and actually played for the Buffalo Bisons during the 1970 American Hockey League playoffs. He helped those Bisons win a championship, too. It was on to the Red Wings from there, and then he was traded to the Sabres with Don Luce for goalie Joe Daley.

Robitaille stayed with Buffalo for a little more than three full seasons. He was part of the team that made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1972-73. On the eve of the 1974-75 season, Robitaille was traded with Gerry Meehan to Vancouver for Jocelyn Guevremont.

From there, Robitaille spent two and one-half years on the Canucks’ blue line. However, he suffered a neck injury in a game against Pittsburgh in Feb., 1977. It ended his career. Robitaille won a lawsuit against the Canucks over medical treatment of that injury.

After retirement, he moved into the broadcast booth as an analyst. He has filled a variety of roles in that area with the Sabres over the years, and remains a popular figure around town.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Eddie Shack

(Born on February 11, 1937) -- Eddie Shack had a rather entertaining stay in Buffalo during his hockey career. He even contributed to the Sabres by leaving them.

Shack was born in Sudbury, Ont., and first signed with the New York Rangers. He then moved on to Detroit and Toronto. With the Leafs he achieved fame and popularity as part of some fine teams, including Toronto’s last Stanley Cup winner in 1967.

Then it was on to Boston and Los Angeles before Punch Imlach scooped him up in a trade in the 1970-71 season. He scored 25 goals in 56 games in the Sabres’ first-ever season, and he quickly became a fan favorite here as well.

Shack lost part of his scoring touch in the following season, and the Sabres had a chance to trade him to Pittsburgh. They picked up Rene Robert for him, which ranks as one of the most one-sided trades in Buffalo sports history.

Shack, meanwhile, had one more 25-goal season left in him in Pittsburgh. He finished his career with a few games as a Maple Leaf. Shack later revealed that he was illiterate for most of his life, and has become a strong advocate for literacy programs.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Daryl Johnston

(Born on February 10, 1966) -- Every so often, Daryl Johnston has to come back to Western New York to be honored. Somehow, he probably doesn’t mind the trip.

Johnston has been called the best athlete in the history of Lewiston-Porter High School. He was named Western New York’s football player of the year in 1983.

From there it was on to Syracuse University. He moved into a starting role by the time he was a sophomore in 1986. Johnston was all-Big East in 1988 and All-American in 1989. That helped make him a second round draft choice of the Cowboys.

Johnston was a good fit with some great Dallas teams. He blocked for Emmitt Smith, was a good receiver out of the backfield, and a standout on special teams. Johnston retired after the 1999 season, and made a smooth transition into broadcasting.

Johnston now lives in Dallas. He had his uniform number retired at Lew-Port, and is a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Bill Bergey

(Born on February 9, 1945) -- It couldn’t have taken the voters in the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame long to let Bill Bergey in that shrine. He’s clearly one of the great athletes in the area’s history.

Bergey was born in Gowanda and graduated from Pine Valley High School There he was an outstanding football and basketball player, but it wasn’t enough to get him a full scholarship offer.

Still, he figured out a way to get a partial offer to attend Arkansas State. That worked out well for both sides, since Bergey was voted the greatest football player in the history of that university.

The linebacker played in the Senior Bowl and was drafted in the second round by Cincinnati. He was picked as the defensive rookie of the year in 1969. He also played for the Eagles, and was an All-Pro four different times.

At the age of 33 in 1979, Bergey became the highest paid defensive player in the league with a four-year, $1 million contract. Injuries limited his effectiveness, however, he played his last game in the Super Bowl for the Eagles against Oakland.

--- Budd Bailey

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