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Sudden Impact
From Ray to Z, 'pure' first goals in Sabre history

Steve Bernier is the latest Sabre to score a goal in his Buffalo debut.

WAYBACK WHEN (LGS) — In his first game as a Buffalo Sabre, Steve Bernier not only entered an eclectic list of players who scored in their very first game in a Buffalo sweater, he did so with style by scoring two goals on his first two shots in the opening period of Wednesday night's 8-4 victory over the Nashville Predators.

The list includes iconic superstars Gilbert Perreault and Pat LaFontaine. Red-hot Russians Alexander Mogilny and Maxim Afinogenov. Guys who could score, like Dale Hawerchuk. Who could fight, like Rob Ray. And do both, like Danny Gare.

Most of those “pure” first goals took place in October but some, like Bernier's, came after a trade; so now seems like a good time to revisit them. The following is an incomplete list. We know we’ve missed some — 16 such goals were scored from 1990 to 2000 alone — so please email us if you have one to add to our collection.

Here we go. Don’t blink.

Gilbert Perreault scored the first of his 512 career regular-season goals on October 10, 1970, in the franchise's first game, capitalizing on a power-play chance in the third period. It was the game-winner as the Sabres prevailed 2-1 over the Penguins at the Igloo in Pittsburgh. (The first goal in franchise history, by the way, belongs to Jim Watson. And, amazingly, Perreault was not in the starting lineup.)

In the opener at the Aud four years later, Danny Gare was another highly regarded rookie when he took the ice alongside Don Luce and Craig Ramsay for the opening faceoff of the 1974-75 season. Just 18 seconds into the game against the Boston Bruins, Gare cashed the rebound of Craig Ramsay's shot, and a great checking line and a great career were launched at the same instant.

A dozen years later, also at the Aud, Doug Smith bested Gare’s mark by five seconds, beating the Rangers’ Glen Hanlon 13 seconds off the opening faceoff of the game. The day before, on January 30, 1986, Smith and Brian Engblom had been traded from Los Angeles to Buffalo for Larry Playfair, Sean McKenna and Ken Baumgartner. Jet lag, schmet lag.

Over the summer of 1989, the Sabres managed to extract Alexander Mogilny from the Communist World. Like Gare, it took Alex not even a minute — 20 seconds actually — to make his mark on the Free World. In the home-opener at the Aud, Mogilny raced to the front of the Quebec net and tapped Dave Snuggerud's pass inside the left post.

A few weeks later, Rob Ray's professional career got off to a Lemieux-like start in Pittsburgh. He scored on his first shot on goal and later added an assist for the first — and practically last — multi-point game of his career. “It was all downhill from there,” Ray recently joked.

One more highly anticipated debut occurred at the Aud one year later. The Sabres had made another daring summer gambit that offseason, sending Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a first-round draft choice to the Winnipeg Jets for sniper Dale Hawerchuk and a first-round pick that turned into Brad May, who, you guessed it, scored in his first game as a Sabre a season later. On opening night against the Canadiens in 1990, Hawerchuk beat Patrick Roy with a floating shot from the left wing.

The very next year, Hawerchuk this time was in a giving mood when he assisted on Pat LaFontaine's first goal as a Sabre in Patty's very first game, on October 27, 1991 at the Aud. On a Sabres' power play, Hawerchuk fed the puck across the front of the net for a slam-dunk goal by LaFontaine. Two days earlier, the Sabres had sent Pierre Turgeon, Uwe Krupp, Benoit Hogue and Randy McLlwain to the Islanders for LaFontaine, Randy Wood and Randy Hillier.

Alexei Zhitnik made his first shot as a Sabre count on February 15, 1995 at the Aud. The day before, Zhitnik had been traded from Los Angeles. Must have been something about that move from LaLa Land to the City of No Illusions!

In November 1999 at Marine Midland Arena, with the Sabres suffering their Stanley Cup finals hangover, Maxim Afinogenov gave the team a lift. The 5'11, 176-pound winger, who had 6'4, 225-pound Bruin Joe Thornton trailing him all the way like a Piper Cub would trail a Russian MIG, curled out of the corner, cut into the left circle and whipped a 20-foot backhand shot between the pads of goaltender Rob Tallas.

The next fall, 22-year-old J.P. Dumont one-timed a skittering puck at the right faceoff dot and roofed it over Jocelyn Thibault's shoulder in the season-opener against Chicago at home. Dumont, of course, was acquired in Darcy Regier’s heist of his counterpart in Chicago.

Jochen Hecht also counted in the home-opener, this time in 2002, as he beat the Islanders’ Chris Osgood on an assist from Tim Connolly. Hecht was traded to Buffalo over the summer from Edmonton.

Additional Notes

♦ Other first-timers include Dave Andreychuk in 1982; Curtis Brown, who scored in the regular-season finale at the Aud in 1995 against New Jersey; and Denis Hamel, who made his first shot on his first shift count in 2000, also against the Devils.

♦ It doesn't really count, but rookie Pierre Turgeon’s first preseason goal, on his first professional shift in 1987, was historic for another reason: he triggered the Aud’s new air horn for the first time.

♦ While many players impress their new team in the first game after a trade, Stu Barnes was the antithesis of this approach. He didn’t score in 17 regular-season games after being acquired in the March 1999 trade that sent Matt Barnaby to Pittsburgh (think Stu for Stupid). Barnes made up for it in the playoffs, though, scoring seven times on the team’s run to the Stanley Cup finals.

Miro Satan was hotter than the... well, you know... when he arrived in a trade from Edmonton in 1997. He didn’t score in his first game, but he did the next day. He tallied eight times in the team’s last 12 regular-season games before tanking it in the playoffs.

♦ In February 1998 Geoff Sanderson did score in his first game as a Sabre, in fact on the first shot of his first shift. But it came three weeks after he was acquired in a trade with Vancouver. First Sanderson missed two games because of a shoulder injury he arrived with, then came the lengthy Olympic break that year. Sanderson scored in the first game after the hiatus.

By Mark Zampogna, LGS Featured Columnist
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