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Alumni Spotlight: Bill Hajt

Sabres Hall of Fame defenseman looks back on his career and on what has made his son, assistant coach Chris Hajt, successful

by Brian Duff @duffersabres /

Bill Hajt's first full season with the Sabres was 1974-75. The club went to the Stanley Cup Final that year, losing in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers. With Hajt as a fixture on the blue line, the Sabres made the playoffs in 11 straight seasons (through 1984-85), establishing a club record that still stands today.

Hajt was inducted into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame in 2000.

What are you most proud of from your career with the Buffalo Sabres?

That's kind of a tough question. I would say probably playing on a team that was successful for a long period of time. We never won the Cup but we were always one of the favorites, one of the top teams. We had a bunch of young kids that kind of grew up together and with a lot of talent. 

So it was just a lot of fun. It just made you proud of consistent we were, how good we were at a very young age and we stayed that way for at least ten years of my career.

Hajt played 854 NHL games, all in Buffalo blue and gold. He remains fifth on the team's all-time games played list.

Do you have a favorite memory?

Well, there's lots. Probably the two Russian games that we played and dominated. That was big. It was like World War III, I remember that. And of course, going to the Finals. That was a bit of a downer in the end, but we were so young and so talented, it was a fun time.

In 1975-76 the first Super Series pitted two teams from Moscow, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) playing eight exhibition games against NHL teams. On January 4, 1976 the Sabres crushed the Soviet Wings 12-6 at the Memorial Auditorium. It was the Wings' only loss in their four games.

In 1979-80, the Super Series again brought two Moscow-based teams to North America, this time for a nine-game exhibition series. On January 3, 1980, the Sabres again cruised to a lopsided 6-1 win over the Soviet Red Army.

Why did you choose to remain here in Buffalo when it was all said and done?

Actually, it was a pretty easy decision. I played my whole career here, and I've got four kids and they grew up here. I was able to find another good job here locally and I still work at it. Just everything - the pieces all fit into place and we love it here. 

It's a small-town atmosphere, everybody's friendly. The kids love it here, schools were good, it's a safe place to live. All the positive things, it's close to Canada where we can get some of our Canadian news from our families and stuff like that. It was an easy decision. I love Buffalo.

Hajt was drafted 33rd overall by the Sabres in the 1971 NHL Entry Draft. Twenty-five years later, his son Chris (also a defenseman) was drafted 32nd overall by the Edmonton Oilers.

Chris appeared in six NHL games with Edmonton (1) and Washington (5), and nearly 600 games in six pro leagues around the world.

How did your career and your experiences help shape your son Chris' game?

Certainly he saw a lot of what went on in my career. He was pretty young, but he certainly got a good taste of it. And growing up, I schooled him a lot. He loved the game. He was a student of the game even at a very young age, he was a good player. 

He had good coaching along the way, not necessarily me. I didn't coach him behind the bench, I coached him when I could when we were off the ice. But he just seemed to have the skill, he had the talent, he had the want to be a good player and a student of the game and because of it, he was able to play some years pro. He didn't quite make it to the NHL for any length of time, but he certainly knew the game and played smart and I think it reflects in his coaching.

Chris joined the Guelph Storm (OHL) as an assistant coach in 2008 and spent six years in that organization. After three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings' AHL affiliate, he joined the Sabres in 2017-18 under head coach Phil Housley.

What's Chris' best asset in his current role as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres?

I think it's important - every coach or coaches that I had - that you express to your players a sense of honesty, a sense of integrity. You give them integrity, you expect it back. There's a trust level that what you're telling these players, they've got to understand that this is the way it needs to be done and this is going to help you win the games and we're all in it together as they are. 

And I think watching Chris coach all the way through his career here the last few years, he is a man of tremendous integrity and he treats the players fairly and treats them like men. They're all pulling on the rope together. I think he has their trust and it means a lot.

What impresses you most about the way the NHL game is played today?

The speed for sure. We had some fast players, but nowadays they're all fast. The game has changed in that some of the physicality is gone. They're calling the game - the penalties that need to be called. In the old days you could get away with a lot more. But nowadays they're calling more. 

The European influence has made a difference. It's more wide open, it's faster and more about skill. You know, I'd still like to see the tough, physical games. Some of our best games I remember playing were against Montreal. Both very talented teams, fast and hit hard. Like it was hard, physical games. I love those type of games.

Despite embracing the physical elements of the game, Hajt's discipline allowed him to amass just 433 penalty minutes in his 854 NHL games. His greatest statistical notes may well be his first two NHL seasons when he posted plus/minus ratings of plus-46 and plus-41. His career rating of plus-320 is second only to Craig Ramsay's plus-324 in franchise history.

What's one thing you would change about today's game if you could?

Whoa, there's a few! I'm still old school. I like the center line being forceable. It's not. Maybe it makes the game more wide open, but you get a lot more icings and stuff like that. A lot more stoppages in play because the forechecking is gone out of the game. So you don't get the pressure that you would like to see.  

Other than that, I think the referees, I'd like to see them call the penalties the way they are in the rule book. That isn't necessarily happening right now. But again, they're trying to speed up the game, trying to give the fans the excitement, the goals, and the goals are up which is good because we need fans in the stands and the popularity of the game to grow. We all want that.

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