Doug Ward | NHL.com correspondent
Jan 13, 2007, 12:00 PM EST
Buffalo Sabres winger Danny Gare tried to approach the 79th game of 1975-76 season like any other. But when Gare piled into the car with roommates Derek Smith and Terry Martin for the ride to the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, he took 47 goals with him, and a shot at hockey history was within reach. And nobody was about to let him forget it.
Because there were only two games left in his sophomore season, Gare didn’t give much thought to the prospect of joining the NHL’s elite 50-goal club. Instead, Gare focused his attention on teammate Rick Martin, who needed just one goal to hit the half-century mark.
Everywhere Gare turned, however, there were reminders.
“You never know,” roommates Martin and Smith told Gare on the way to the game that night. “You might get a shot.”
Gare merely scoffed. “Yeah, good luck,” he responded sarcastically.
When Gare arrived at the rink, teammate Fred Stanfield pulled him aside to remind him of the rarefied air he was about to skate in.
“Fred said, ‘You might never get this chance again, so take advantage if you get it,’” Gare recalls.
Still, with Martin sitting on 49 goals, most of the fans at the "The Aud" that night joined Gare in closely monitoring the famed French Connection line that also included Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert.
Gare, meanwhile, was playing on a checking line. The unit began the game by going up against Toronto’s top line of Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, and Tiger Williams.
“I’d known Tiger since junior days,” says Gare, who played at Calgary of the WCHL when Williams was at Swift Current. “Tiger had always been a bit of antagonist, and before the faceoff, he said, ‘You’re not even going to get a sniff tonight.’”
Williams, who racked up 3,966 penalty minutes over the course of his 15-year NHL career, lit a fire under Gare, and helped him to realize the urgency of the moment in a way no teammate could.
“Tiger kind of ticked me off,” Gare says. “I went out and got one in the first period.”
Despite his quick start, Gare had no real reason to believe he’d score two more goals, especially not after being kept off the score sheet in the second period.
“Then,” Gare says, “I went out and got two in the third. I took the puck and went by Tiger Williams, who was on the Leaf bench, and flipped it at him. “I said ‘Hey, Tiger, that’s 50!” Of course, he started barking and complaining.”
No one else in Buffalo complained.
“The old Aud was rocking,” Gare remembers. “I threw my gloves and my stick and I think they all went up in the stands, I was so pumped up. It was electric, just electric. The fans in Buffalo are some of the most rabid and rowdiest fans in the league. They’re loud. And at the Aud, the fans were right on top of you. It was like the old Chicago Stadium or Boston Garden. And the fans there love hockey.”
Gare always had an uncanny knack for scoring. He grew up in Nelson, B.C., where he became obsessed with working on his shot. “I used to shoot 400-500 pucks a day,” he says. “I started doing it when I was 13.”
All the extra shooting became a ritual that Gare continued throughout his 13 seasons in the NHL.
“My dad said that my shot was one of my assets and if I wanted to improve, I needed to do that.”
It worked. At Calgary of the WCHL in 1973-74, Gare had 68 goals in 65 games.
“I had a good wrist shot and scored a lot from the top of the circle,” Gare says. “There were a lot of goals from around the net. If you were quick, you could move in and out of the areas and spaces. I never slapped the puck and I never scored on a backhand because my hook was too big. I would say top of the circles and inside to the net, but try to score and shoot the puck before the defense got to me. Or, I’d use the defense as a screen.”
Gare, who accumulated more than 100 penalty minutes six times, says his physical style was also a factor in his magic touch around the net.
“It was a physical game back then and you had to get room,” Gare says. “You had to fight for your room and that was a big part of my game. I had to get to the net, and in order to do so, I had to battle.”
As an NHL rookie with Buffalo in 1973-74, Gare battled his way to 31 goals as the Sabres advanced to the Stanley Cup Final before bowing to Philadelphia. That series is remembered for the fog that rolled into the Aud in Buffalo during Game 3, and for the bat that the Sabres’ Jim Lorentz swatted out of the air with his stick that same night.
Gare remembers something else.
“Bernie Parent took it to us,” Gare says when asked what he remembers most. Philadelphia won its second straight Stanley Cup, closing out the Sabres in six games. Parent, the Flyers’ goaltender, earned his second consecutive Conn Smythe Trophy. “Our big thing was we never won a game in Philly. If we could have won one there, I think we would have had a great shot and taking the Cup. But, it was a great experience. It was my first year and I never got there again. It’s amazing the twists and turns of the hockey gods.”
Gare remembers his teammates from Buffalo fondly, and credits them for much of his success.
“Richard (Martin) taught me a lot of things,” Gare says. “Among them, when and where to shoot. Gilbert (Perreault) was just great handling the puck and being able to make moves. He was amazing that way. We had some good veteran guys, too, like Freddie Stanfield.”
Over 30 years later, Gare still feels particularly close to his linemates on the Sabres’ checking line.
“I love the fact that Luce and Ramsay were a big part of my 50 goals,” he says. “They were very helpful in my overall game, they were big checkers and they were strong defensively. When we played against a big line, we always tried to play in their zone because we thought we could out-check them, and force them to turn the puck over. Luce and Ramsay did a lot of that to get me the puck.”
Five years later, Gare again hit the 50-goal plateau. His 56 markers in 1979-80 tied him with Toronto’s Blaine Stoughton and Los Angeles’ Charlie Simmer for the league lead.
Over the course of seven-plus seasons with the Sabres, Gare became a bit of an icon in Buffalo. But that didn’t prevent him from being traded to Detroit in 1981 in a blockbuster deal that sent him, Derek Smith, and Jim Schoenfeld to the Wings in exchange for Mike Foligno, Dale McCourt, and Brent Peterson. In Detroit, he preceded Steve Yzerman as the Wings’ captain.
In January, he returned to Detroit for the ceremony to retire Yzerman’s No. 19. A little more than a year earlier, the Sabres lifted Gare’s No. 18 to the rafters at HSBC Pavilion.
“It’s pretty special,” Gare says of the honor. “When I was at Stevie Y’s retirement ceremony, I said, ‘Stevie, wait until you see it up there and you bring your kids back. Your kids can bring their friends, or their kids, and whether it’s a concert or a hockey game, it will always be up there.’”
Gare played in 891 NHL games, scoring 379 goals and adding 352 assists for 731 points during his career. When Gare wrapped up his NHL career with Edmonton in 1986-87, he was taken in by a longtime admirer named Wayne Gretzky.
“Wayne lived in Brantford (Ontario) when I was playing in Buffalo, he was a big Sabre fan,” Gare says. “He said he loved watching me play, and I had played in the Canada Cup with him in ’81 and played in some All-Star Games with him and we befriended one another. So, when I got to Edmonton, he said, ‘Come stay with me.' I stayed with him for about a month and a half until my family came in.”
Edmonton’s dynasty was in full swing, but, unfortunately, Gare’s career was winding down. He played 18 games with the Oil, scoring one goal and picking up four points before a back injury forced him to retire.