It’s a bit big for a mausoleum, but for Wayne Primeau it’s where the dream was buried.
Primeau returns to the HSBC Arena tonight, a 33-year-old veteran on his seventh NHL team.
He is a survivor, a proud Leaf who has long made his living on determination and spade work: penalty killing, checking, involving himself on every shift.
But if you believe that a good career is the setting on the ring and a Stanley Cup the diamond, then Buffalo, New York is the scene of Primeau’s biggest disappointment.
“By far, that was the toughest loss,” Primeau said. “That was the closest I came to a Stanley Cup.”
Game 6, of the Stanley Cup finals, Dallas Stars against the Buffalo Sabres. In the third overtime, Brett Hull scored with his foot in the crease to end a season in which similar goals were routinely called back. In Buffalo, they use a local shorthand for disaster. Wide Right speaks to Scott Norwood’s miss in the 1991 Super Bowl. No Goal is Hull’s marker.
Today there are two players still active from that Sabres team. Dwayne Roloson was just passing through town when he played for the Sabres. He still tends goal but his employer, the New York Islanders, harbor no thoughts of an immediate Stanley Cup.
Neither do Primeau’s Maple Leafs.
How rare is a Stanley Cup? Only two players from that team, the great Dominik Hasek and forward Mirsolav Satan owns a Stanley Cup ring. All the others, Alexei Zhitnik, Dixon Ward, Mike Peca, Stu Barns, all of them have seen their chances expire.
Barring a trade to a contender for either Roloson or Primeau, everyone else will have to do without.
The Sabres were a remarkable collection, a team heavy on grinders who only needed a goal or two with Hasek, in his absolute prime, confounding opposition shooters.
“The Sabres drafted me” Primeau said. “I was 27-years-old and it was probably the greatest year I ever had. We didn’t really have any stars except for Hasek and he was fantastic. Every team that played us knew we were going to work out tail off.”
Primeau remembers all of it, even the sudden, jagged end.
“It was three months of a grueling schedule. The games were played at the highest possible level. And then, all of a sudden, it comes to an abrupt end on the losing side.”
He cannot change the end, of course. That chance died 11 years ago. But the controversy of the goal does nothing but keep it alive.
“If that goal had happened in any other year it would have been a great goal,” he said. “It’s just that a lot of goals just like that were called back.”
“It’s just too bad,” he said. “There was such a strong feeling in the room that we were going to pull through.”