The Sabres have a long history of practical jokes – from drafting a made -up Japanese player to this gem of an April Fool’s broadcast.
OK, coffee is having its impact. The Sabres have been a somewhat cheeky franchise from their inception. As the saying goes, hockey is a game and games are supposed to be fun. Thankfully the Sabres have had some employees with some great senses of humor
I don’t claim this is a complete list of practical jokes, just one that’s been around since the old history site. But it’s a good many of them, most involved Paul Wieland or John Gurtler.
Perhaps the most famous practical joke in Sabres’ history happened in the 1974 draft. This joke was the masterpiece of the Sabres all time practical joker Paul Weiland, who worked in the Sabres’ public relations department for a couple of decades until the 90’s. In ’74 teams would call in their picks to Clarence Campbell, the NHL’s president at the time. Drafts were very long, and after the tenth round Wieland thought it would be funny to force Campbell to spell a long, foreign name. Wieland drove past a Japanese restaurant called Tsujimoto’s nearly every day. Wieland got in touch with the International Institute and was provided the Japanese name for Saber – Taro. Thus with the 183rd pick in the 1974 draft the Buffalo Sabres drafted Taro Tsujimoto. Wieland didn’t tell the Knox Brothers he made Taro up merely because he was bored; he essentially burned a draft pick for a joke. So Wieland held his tongue. Taro made it to the training camp roster was provided a stall and equipment. In the St. Catherines hotel the team stayed in for training camp, coach Floyd Smith and Wieland had Taro paged by the hotel. The Knoxes saw a man enter the lobby who looked Japanese to them. They introduced themselves but finally clued into the joke when Wieland, Smith and others filled the lobby with laughter. I wonder if anyone would have the courage to try that joke in modern times? We may take our sports too seriously now.
In 1976, the USS Little Rock was decommissioned. This is the same ship that sits today in Buffalo’s Naval Museum. In ’76 the Sabres issued a press release that stated the Sabres were purchasing the Little Rock for the official team yacht. CBS spoke with Punch Imlach about the purchase. Punch stated the paperwork wasn’t final and the Sabres were still considering other vessels for the team yacht. Imlach issued no denial; the Sabres duped the media in this instance
In 1987 the Sabres issued a press release about the creation of Sabre Meadows, a 43,000 unit housing development the team would build behind Sabreland in Wheatfield, NY. WBEN called the Sabres about the release only to be asked by then assistant public relations director Budd Bailey (and in my opinion the greatest historian on the team) if 43,000 didn’t seem like a lot of units? And did WBEN take note of the date? The release was issued on April first.
Wieland was the force behind the Sliderex hoax. The Sabres informed the league they were replacing the Aud’s ice with Sliderex, a revolutionary plastic surface. The team listed the Prime Minister of Canada as the inventor of Sliderex and issued the release in March with a “hold for April 1” on it. However, the media once again proved… let’s say, gullible. Sliderex was announced on the Buffalo 11 p.m. news and it was even reported the only flaw in Sliderex was that a lit cigarette could burn a hole in it.
Wieland also came out with lifetime leases to one square foot of Aud ice, an interview held in German with Dieter Weber about German players, complete with subtitles, and interviewed Whalers’ Greg Malone – whom Wieland called the NHL’s leading hooker, complete with hooking demonstrations (think Slapshot and not in the gutter!).
John Gurtler, perhaps most famously known for GOOOOOOOOOOOOAL and making people’s brains hurt after he took over for Ted Darling as the Sabres’ play by play man on television broadcasts was another practical joker. In 1988 Gurtler made up a character named Wink Dickerson, the “Ted Knight” of sports broadcasting. Dickerson was on the broadcast to showcase the Sabres Shopping Service which offered such things as Puppa Scoopa, Sabres Cologne to make you smell like a hockey player, and Benoit Hogueee sandwiches. Gurtler even had Wieland and Bailey call in to pretend to be customers purchasing products.
In 1989 the Sabres offered an interactive game. Fans could call in and vote for such things as the starting goaltending for the game, if then coach Ted Sator should change his lines more often, or if Christian Ruuttu should answer questions in English or Finnish. Mike Robitaille mentioned “the results” during the game and results scrolled on the TV as well. Robitaille even commented that interactive hockey would be the death of hockey as it was a coach’s job to figure these things out. At intermission Gurtler was shown going to the coach’s office to tell him the results. Sator and Barry Smith were shown playing table hockey. Fans wanted Ruuttu to answer in Finnish so Robitaille reminded Darling that he had spent ten days in Finland after he was traded to Vancouver because he was so depressed. So Robitaille handled the Finnish portion of the Ruuttu interview.
In 1990 the Sabres’ broadcast, linked above, featured “actors” playing the roles of the broadcast team. The Youtube clip speaks for itself.