In 1994, the Buffalo Sabres selected Wayne Primeau, a 6-foot-4 left-shot center from Owen Sound of the OHL, with the 17th overall pick. He would appear in 225 regular season games with Buffalo, and 42 more in the playoffs.
Primeau was recently back in town to play for the BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York team at the Buffalo Sabres Corporate Challenge.
What do you remember about what you were like as that kid who got drafted and was eager to get to the NHL, and what your preparation was like?
Obviously, it's changed. Social media is crazy. I mean, kids can read up on themselves now, read the good and the bad that they hear about themselves. But when I played, you just went about your business and did what you had to do on the ice and let everything else kind of take care of itself.
In terms of working out, nowadays there's so much for kids on and off the ice to do to better themselves, and a lot younger. But there's just so many different apparatuses that they can use off the ice to work on their stickhandling or their shooting, mechanics, obviously video-taping their technique and stride, and the list goes on.
How did you end up with No. 76?
I wore 76 just really the one year [one game in 1994-95, two games in '95-96, and 45 games in '96-97]. It was because Charlie Huddy wore 22. I wore 22 in junior, and obviously Charlie Huddy had played so many games and won so many Stanley Cups I wasn't going to come in and take that from him. So, after my first year, he left, and I was able to get 22 again.
But that's my birth year and that's why I wore 76 for that one year.
Andrew Peters is the only other Sabre to wear 76.
Oh yeah, we've talked about that. The two 76 greats that have worn that jersey. Yeah right!
"Live Fearless" is a motto at BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. Wayne had a great example of one such teammate - Dominik Hasek - who did just that back in the day.
Most goalies, they hate when they get hit in the head in practice. They despise it, right? They always hate when you shoot high, and sometimes that happens, right? But he would say line up in a horseshoe. And guys would line up in a horseshoe. And he goes, "Shoot high." So guys are shooting high, hitting him in the chest and stuff.
And he stops and says to us, "No, no. Shoot at my head."
So guys are rifling clappers off his head and he doesn't care. But that was him. He was our All-Star, he was our backbone to our team and our success and we were very lucky to have him.
When you think back to the run in 1999, what do you think of?
Honestly, in my 14 years playing, it was my most enjoyable. Just from how the team came together.
And I really believe that when teams win championships, they need things to fall into place - whether it's injuries, or the right guy scoring at the right time, third and fourth-line scoring. We had a hard-working team, there's no doubt.
We had a good leader in Michael Peca and most of all, again, I think it's important that your best player be your goaltender and that's what we had [in Hasek] and I think he was in the minds of some teams. Especially when we played Ottawa in that first round.
In the first game, they might have outshot us by a large margin [the shots were 41-15 Ottawa] but Dom played great and we ended up winning that game [2-1]. And after that, it was free sailing. Just a great run. Lots of fun.
What do you feel your role was and do you feel like you lived up to exactly your role on that team?
It was funny, we had Michael Peca, who was one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He was a Selke winner and nominee. I think that, especially in the Finals, I think that Lindy relied heavily on my line [with Erik Rasmussen and Stu Barnes], although it changed from game to game sometimes.
But to play against the likes of [Mike] Modano and [Brett] Hull and [Jere] Lehtinen, I took pride in that. For development and everything else, it was great for myself.
When I first came to the organization, I was actually in Rochester and was able to get the opportunity to play in the Calder Cup Finals and that was an experience. We ended up winning and I actually tell this story all the time - that John Tortorella was our coach and I had just come up. Basically, I finished the last eight games of the season with Rochester and then 17 of the 19 playoff games.
I remember being out in the last minute-and-a-half of Game 7 and I remember I kept looking over at the bench at Torts like, "Are you sure you want me out here?" type of thing. And in the end, he actually took me off because I think he could see it - this 19-20-year old kid coming in. And obviously I hadn't been there all year, but I understood.
For me, it was great because he had that confidence in me and that's where development came in. And I think that was the great thing about our team. We had the likes of a Curtis Brown that was coming in at the same time, Vaclav Varada, Erik Rasmussen came in the year after.
But we had veteran guys like Rob Ray and Darryl Shannon and Jason Woolley and Alexei Zhitnik. Honestly, it was just a great group of guys. It was unfortunate the way it finished. It's amazing how it's two-and-a-half months of hard-work and to finish and end that way, it was definitely difficult and heartbreaking and still stings to this day, but what a run it was.
Do you remember scoring in Game 1 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final?
I do! It was in front of the net and I think a rebound came out and I turned and I back-handed it over top of [Ed] Belfour and did a little dance there. It's one thing that I do have on my brother [Keith, who was drafted third-overall by Detroit in 1990], I guess, is that I was able to score in the Stanley Cup Finals. He got there once too with Detroit and he didn't score when he was there.
In these very hallways [ice level at KeyBank Center], do you remember what the aftermath was like after Hull scored the goal in Game 6 and the controversy that followed?
So, it was in the overtime, and I actually remember through that game that I lost my edge a couple times and I remember going and sitting in the corridor getting my skates sharpened and media was just waiting to jump on the ice.
It actually kind of bothered me because I'm like, "They want it to end, they want to jump on the ice, they want the celebration to begin." And unfortunately, any other year that goal would have been a perfect goal, I mean it really was. Go to the net, crash, and send it home. But the thing is, that year there were so many goals called back that were even worse than that!
It's unfortunate, but the floodgates opened and once they opened, media was on [the ice]. It would have been an embarrassment for the league if they over-ruled it. And then obviously we became the guinea pigs and they changed the ruling and the next year that ruling went by.
Can you believe that you have the primary assist on the last goal Buffalo has ever scored in the Stanley Cup Final as we stand here nearly 20 years later?
I know. I still look and check the box scores for the Sabres because it's where my career started. They were the ones that drafted me and gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL and what all kids dream of and I'm very thankful for that. And like I've said, lots of memories.
I might not have left a huge mark on my playing days here in Buffalo, but I know that I thoroughly enjoyed it and I wish nothing but the best for this organization.