The Buffalo Bisons
Buffalo's love affair with hockey and Pepsi
It was not until 1940, after Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium was built, that the City of Buffalo enjoyed long-term professional hockey. Louis M. Jacobs, owner of Jacob's Concessions, acquired the Syracuse AHL franchise and moved them to Buffalo. The Herd soon became the powerhouse of the circuit, winning the Calder Cup Playoff Championship in 1943, 1944 and 1946. The Bisons would also win League Championships in 1963 and 1970. At the start of the 1956-57 campaigns, Reuben Pastor, owner of the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Buffalo, purchased the team and changed the team's logo to the now famous "Buffalo Bottle Cap". The Buffalo Bisons ceased operations as American Hockey League Champions in 1970, making way for the National Hockey league (NHL) expansion Buffalo Sabres.
The Bisons were fortunate to have been affiliated with elite NHL organizations such as the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Black Hawks and New York Rangers. Those clubs funneled young talent just getting their feet wet, and seasoned veterans, one step too slow for the majors, through Buffalo. Many of those players would later become enshrined in The National Hockey League Hall of Fame. Often, the parent club would recall players that showed exceptional promise with the Herd when they needed emergency replacements in their lineup. This created a gaping hole in the Bisons' lineup, which left the team hopelessly adrift and resulted in long losing skids. Only the best coaches and general managers were able to overcome the inevitable recall. None were better for Buffalo than Fred Hunt, Eddie Shore, Fred Shero and Billy Reay. They had an uncanny knack to regroup their troops, or make deals for other players to consistently compete for league supremacy.
Buffalo fans had the privilege to route for such hometown hockey immortals such as Tiny Thompson, Hector "Toe" Blake, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Pierre Pilote, Dickie Moore, Don Marshall, Jacques Plante, Harry Lumley, Denis DeJordy, John McKenzie, Camille Henry, Gilles Villemure, Terry Crisp, and Brad Park. As well as other notable "who's who of minor league hockey stars" such as; Connie Dion, Gordie Bell, Fred Thurier, Roger Leger, Frank Eddolls, Les Douglas, Ab DeMarco, Paul Meger, Grant Warwick, Harry Dick, Gaye Stewart, Ken Wharram, Larry Hillman, Pete Conacher, Dick Gamble, Ron Ingram, Harry Watson, Billy Dea, Larry Wilson, Orlando Kurtenbach, Marcel Paille, Chico and Wayne Maki, Gary Bergman, Roger Crozier, Barry, Brian and Ray Cullen, Ed Van Impe, Doug Robinson, Art Stratton, Caesar Maniago, Len Lunde, Pat Hannigan, Ed Chadwick, Dave Dryden, Gerry Melnyk, Larry Mickey, Barclay Plager, Don Simmons, Guy Trottier, and Mike Robitaille.
Larry Wilson, the Buffalo Bisons all-time record holder for goals, assists, points, seasons and games played, spent 13 seasons playing for the herd. His most successful season in terms of point totals came in 1960-61, when he had 30 goals and 54 assists for 84 points.
On December 27, 1958 during a game with the Hershey Bears, Bisons defenseman Bill Dobbyn's professional career was cut short after just 30 games with the herd, due to an unfortunate accident. He was struck by an upturned stick in the hands of the Bears' Obie O'Brien, who had been spun around by several Bison players during a scramble in the Hershey zone. As O'Brien tried to right himself, his stick caught Dobbyn in the eye. The young Buffalo player dropped to the ice with his hands over his face. Obie O'Brien was visibly shaken after the mishap. "It's the worst accident of my hockey career," stated O'Brien after the game. Later that evening, doctors were forced to remove Dobbyn's eyeball entirely. One of his teammates, Orland Kurtenbach sat at his friend's bedside that night. Bill was one of the top North American hockey prospects and property of the New York Rangers and even featured in their program that year. He probably would have gone on to have a great NHL career. The tragedy inspired Detroit Red Wings General Manager Jack Adams to formulate a precedent-setting contest in which members of his team would play a benefit game against the Buffalo Bisons. All proceeds from the game, after taxes went to Dobbyn. Adams' willingness to help the Buffalo defenseman was quickly matched by the other National Hockey League clubs. As a result, a NHL All-Star game was played on February 1, 1959 in Buffalo. The match was dubbed "The Bill Dobbyn Memorial Hockey Game". There had been National Hockey League charity games in the past, but never one that involved a minor league hockey club. Bill did stage a comeback in 1965 with several teams including the USHL Waterloo Black Hawks. During his run with Waterloo they won four straight championships, and he was an all-star every season and a two-time captain of the team. In 2001, Dobbyn's number "2" was officially retired by that team in recognition of his storied career.
Find out more about the bottlecap logo here.