As the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals wrap up I wanted to take a look back on a classic radio moment in Buffalo that featured a dream match-up between the 1975 Buffalo Sabres and the 1999 Sabres. Both teams made it as far as the Stanley Cup Finals, both dropped six game series, but in the world of radio make-believe one was declared the ultimate Buffalo Sabres Champion in what was called “The Sabres Showdown”.

I have always been a huge fan of WKBW’s 1968 radio dramatization of “War of the Worlds” by H.G Wells. Creating “The Sabres Showdown” was my way of paying homage to the great work done by WKBW’s production genius and on-air talent Jeff Kaye.

The broadcast took place on April 9th 2001 on WNSA 107.7 FM, which is now WLKK. The play-by-play was masterfully done by the great Rick Jeanneret and color provided by none other than Mr. “Hockey Hotline” Mike Robitaille.
Creating “Sabres Showdown”

Creating “Sabres Showdown”

Sabres Showdown

photo courtesy Steve Cichon

The contest was simulated by first creating both teams on the 2001 EA Sports NHL video game with the appropriate skill set. With the two teams loaded into the game they were then programmed to play each other fifteen times and each game was recorded on video. The most competitive of those contests was then played on a large screen TV in the studios of the Empire Sports Network where Jeanneret and Robitaille watched and did real-time play-by-play and analysis.

The final product was diligently crafted by then WNSA Producer Steve Cichon. Cichon utilized the talents of WNSA broadcasters Howard Simon and Mike Schopp to conduct both real and fictionalized interviews with with players and coaches from both squads as well as intermission interviews with the owners of both teams, the Knox brothers and John Rigas. The game was also played in the original Memorial Auditorium, complete with public address announcements made by the legendary Milt Ellis. Cichon recruited the retired Ellis to come into the WNSA studio to record his public address announcements, some of which included inside jokes among the stations radio staff and they added a tremendous sense of realism to the production.

After the original broadcast on April 9th, late Hockey Hall of Fame writer Jim Kelley and former Sabres star Danny Gare conducted a live call-in post-game show for 90 minutes. Fans flooded the phone lines calling in with their opinions on who would have really won the game and how much they enjoyed the “what if” wonderment of the whole evening.

In my opinion and considering the circumstances, the work done on the broadcast by Rick Jeanneret was some of the finest play-by-play he has ever done. Jeanneret had to watch the video of the contest in real time and react as if he was truly watching a hockey game. What a thrill to hear Ric give the call on Hockey Hall of Fame member Gilbert Perreault skating in and shooting on fellow Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek or his call on the fight between Jim Schoenfeld and Rob Ray.

The game ended in a regulation 2-2 tie and immediately went to a shoot-out between the two teams. Ultimately it was Perreault scoring the winner in the second round of the shoot-out as he beat Hasek, but in truth it was just the most fitting end to a fantasy event that only existed in the imagination of those who worked at WNSA.

Now for the first time the broadcast has been made available on Youtube and posted below. Enjoy “The Sabres Showdown” as much as I have.


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