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It's in the cards- the Taro cards! - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
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It's in the cards- the Taro cards!

Didn't watch a lick of the Murkin Football this weekend. Care less than two shits once the Bills are out of it, as they always are by Christmas.

After an abbreviated workday today- two meetings, one with a client who doesn't need my services and two others in need of me finishing them for them- I left home with the Sabres game on the radio.  Somehow the NHL has decided that MLK Day matinees are a historically appropriate Thing- because what honors a non-violent icon for African-American civil rights more than getting to watch a bunch of mostly Canadian white guys getting into fights with each other?

Oh well- it was a nice diversion- especially since the Sabres won, and quite handily at that- over the Dallas team coached by their own former player and longtime mentor Lindy Ruff.  I am not going to review the game or the season here- suffice it, we still gots a lot of work to do on that rebuild- but the day did bring a reference to the most famous Buffalo Sabres draft choice who never lived.

Yes, never.

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Fake athletes, or even whole teams, are occasionally invented by journalists or other wags.  I had a friend in high school who would call in fake scores to the late-night sports desk at the local paper just to see if he could get the team name into the agate-type lists in the early edition. (One I remember, perhaps apochryphally, was "Oklahoma Sooners 37, Tennessee Laters 14.")  When he got to college, he faked an entire sport for the college weekly: ice tennis.  Literally cutting and pasting photos from the tennis and hockey teams, Dennis described the rules, reported the team's recent results and, of course, announced open tryouts at the school gym. Crazy people with racquets and skates allegedly showed up.  (And of course, since the Internet is basically run by an infinite number of monkeys who will create everything eventually, this "sport" actually began existing in 1998, 20-odd years after he made it up.  Just think of the missing royalties.)

Injecting actual personalities makes these fakes more convincing- and of course more fun.  Perhaps the most famous of these, or at least closest to my own heart at the time, came in Sports Illustrated's April 1, 1985 issue.  Legendary writer and impostor George Plimpton created a phenomenal new pitcher for the Mets named Sidd Finch. It later became the basis for a novel by Plimpton, and long after yet another fabulous 30-for-30 from ESPN.  Given a Tibetan background and an option for becoming a professional French horn player instead of joining the Mets (an easy call- go with the orchestra;), George and the magazine convinced thousands of Mets fans that their years of suffering would soon be over. Which they were a year later, but thanks to the likes of the real Sid Fernandez and not the manufactured Sidd Finch.

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And this has to do with hockey, what?  Because the Sabres may have been the only professional team to not only inspire one of these fakeries but to have created it themselves.  For this one, we need to go back even earlier to the Bad Old Days of the hockey league wars of the mid 1970s.

A rival league had taken off (eh?). The World Hockey Association was offering contracts to both current NHL stars- Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull jumped, as did many others- and up-and-comers like Wayne Gretzky, whose first major league hockey experience was with the short-lived WHA franchise in Indianapolis.  The New York Islanders exist solely because of this rivalry- NHL officials wanted to keep the new league out of the newly-built Nassau Coliseum, and plopped a second franchise in the metro NYC area just to tie up the building.  Eventually, four WHA teams, three from Canada, would be subsumed into the NHL, but in 1974 the war between the leagues was still at full fire.  Among other things, the NHL tried to limit its rival's knowledge of what new players were being drafted by the league's teams- presumably to make it harder for the WHA to poach them.  So instead of the NHL Draft being the multi-day, multi-media show it now is, the draft was conducted in near-secrecy over the phone with the 18 general managers rotating in and out of a dumbass conference call.

Back then, there were over 20 rounds to the draft- there are now only seven- and there were far fewer players than now taken outside Canada and (to a much smaller extent then) the US.  With only 18 teams and a short supply of talent, GMs often had little hope of ever developing any of the players drafted beyond the first few rounds. By round 11, as I look over the choices, I do not recognise a single name who went on to success in the league; rather, only one ever cracked an NHL lineup, and for all of eight games:



(The "Flin Flon  Bombers" is a great name for a junior team, though.)

Not all teams had picks in the eleventh round- but why is number 183 missing altogether?  Because he didn't exist- and darn it, he became a Buffalo Sabre, yeah yeah yeah. The source of this sucker "Punch" was the team's first-ever coach and general manager:

Courtesy of George ‘Punch’ Imlach, the first player selected from the Japanese Ice Hockey League lives on as one of the most peculiar storylines to ever emerge from the NHL draft:

Up until 1980, the event was a closed affair for the general public with only General Managers and League officials allowed to be present. Teams would either meet at designated hotels, or the NHL would conduct the draft via conference call – as was the case in 1974.

At that time, with only 18 franchises in the League, the draft was permitted to extend beyond nine rounds (it was eventually reduced to seven rounds in 2005) if teams continued to select players.

As the 11th round rolled on, Imlach had had enough.

Bored, and exhausted with the tedium of looking at players that had a slim chance of ever making the roster, he decided to pull one of the more creative pranks in Sabres history.

Sending a secretary to find some common Japanese names, Imlach soon came up with the imaginary Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas - literally translating to the Tokyo Sabres (Katana is a type of Japanese samurai sword).

When NHL President Clarence Campbell asked Imlach for his selection, he was met with laughter from around the League. International scouting wasn’t as prevalent as it is in the NHL now, and drafting a player from Japan wasn’t exactly a common practice.

But Imlach carefully spelled the name of his invented centerman, which was printed in every record book and media guide in the League.

Legend (at least Wikipedia legend) says a Sabres underling got the last name off a store sign on the road to Olean where he traveled to scout St. Bonaventure college games- and that the store's Japanese owner tipped him to what a plausible first name would be.

When the league found out, they were not amused. Taro was scrubbed from all of the league's official draft records- but not the annals of the Sabres.  He appears to this day in media guides and is the stuff of legend in the cheap seats- where "We Want Taro!" remains a cry of hope or derision (depending on the score) even over 42 years later.

I wonder how he would have been at ice tennis.

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