By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
One time in Montreal on a Saturday afternoon before a Buffalo Sabres’ game, Jim Lorentz and I walked into a drug store to pick up a couple of items. I bought a reporter’s notebook, while Jim – the team’s television analyst – picked up some makeup. While we stood in line, Jim looked at the upcoming purchases and said, “This says a lot about our respective professions.”
Jim had a long association with the Sabres, playing with the team during the 1970s and then becoming a broadcaster with the team for more than a quarter-century. He even wrote articles for the team’s program at one point in his time as an analyst. Jim talked about his days in Buffalo on “Seventies Night” at the KeyBank Center on Saturday.
Buffalo Sports Page: What’s it like to be back home at a Sabres game?
Jim Lorentz: On the way down here, the drive brought back some memories. I was trying to think of which way to go. I thought, I’m going to go the way I used to go for 30 years or something like that. It’s always enjoyable to come back into the building.
BSP: You took a long route to Buffalo early in your hockey career, but when you joined the Sabres you really found a home. Did things just fall into place here?
Lorentz: Yes. I started my career with the Bruins in 1969-70, and was fortunate enough to be on the Stanley Cup team. But I was basically a fourth-line player there. They had so many great players, and it was my rookie season. Then I was traded to St. Louis at the end of that year, and it really didn’t turn out to be a good mix for me. All I wanted to do was prove that I could be a regular player in the NHL. I think I did that to an extent in St. Louis, but was traded to the Rangers in 1971 for three months. They were actually starting a long trip in Buffalo, and Emile Francis, the general manager, called me into the dressing room after the second period. I wasn’t dressed for the game. He said I had been traded to Buffalo. Well, I was overjoyed. I played junior hockey in Niagara Falls (Ont.), and I knew that this was my opportunity. Buffalo was an up-and-coming team, and I’d get a chance to play. And that’s what happened.
BSP: I believe you are still the only player who has been acquired by a general manager who was in the hospital at the time.
Lorentz: Punch Imlach had taken a heart attack. He made the trade from the hospital, so I’m told. John Andersen, the assistant general manager, met me after the game and told me how to handle things. It was a little unusual, but it was a great break for me.
BSP: You must look back fondly on the Seventies. You became a regular, and the team got better and better. After your rookie season, you never played a home game with an unsold seat. The only catch was the lack of a Stanley Cup, I’d guess.
Lorentz: That was the big disappointment, in ’75 – having the chance to win it and not being able to do it. Those were great times. I remember the Auditorium being packed to the rafters. They broke all the fire laws, I think. There were so many people in the building. It was a great place to play. In those days, it was a lot different than today. You’d see the same people there, game after game, with season tickets. I think there was a different connection between the players and the fans than there is today. As a player, I enjoyed that, and I think the fans did too.
BSP: It didn’t take long for the team and the town to have a special relationship. What was it like to be part of that?
Lorentz: The Sabres entered in 1970, and I was traded here in early 1972. Gil Perreault was here and so was Richard Martin. You could tell the team would get better and better. If you talk to the guys I played with, and they’ll talk about the fan connection we had. It was amazing. As the team got better and better, the excitement grew. It seems there was a much great bond between the team and the community compared to what there is now.
BSP: When did broadcasting enter the picture for you, and did you ever think it would become what it became to be?
Lorentz: After I retired in 1978, I was asked to coach. I coached the Buffalo Junior Sabres. Much to my surprise, I found I liked it. The problem was, to pursue it I would have had to start moving around. I wasn’t prepared to do that. In the meantime, Paul Wieland was looking after the TV/Radio here. I said, “If something opens up, keep me in mind.” As it turns out, it did. That’s how I got started. It was a great career for me. I did it for 27 years. Night after night, I was next to Hall of Fame broadcasters in Ted Darling and Rick Jeanneret. It was a great run for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
BSP: Did anyone stand out during your broadcasting career?
Lorentz: I got to watch every game Dominik Hasek played as a Sabre in his career. He was amazing. There were some good teams and not-so-good teams, but that’s sports.
BSP: When did you know it was time to retire from broadcasting?
Lorentz: I knew it. I couldn’t deal with the travel – the airplanes, the hotels. I really reached the end. I have no regrets about that now.
BSP: So what are you doing with your time now?
Lorentz: I do a lot of fishing. I always said when I retire, I hope I’ll be able to do the things that I love outside of hockey. Fortunately, I have been able to do that. I live in Hamburg, but I have a place in New Brunswick. I go fishing for Atlantic salmon there. That’s my life. I watch a lot of games.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)