After his first practice at Memorial Auditorium in 1974, Danny Gare made a trip up to the arena's orange upper deck. He was taken by two things: the steepness of the Aud's top tier - an aspect of the building that has since become a part of Buffalo lore - and the fact that he had never played in a rink quite so large.
As he looked down from atop the arena, a thought entered his mind. "What would it be like if I scored a goal here?"
Three weeks later, 18 seconds into the first shift of NHL career, Gare had an answer.
"I scored in 18 seconds, which is a modern-day record for rookies," Gare said. "I remember going through Bobby Orr's legs and he broke his stick on the crossbar. Craig Ramsay grabbed the puck for me and gave it to me and I said to myself, 'Maybe I belong here.'"
Twenty-one years before Sam Reinhart or Jack Eichel were even born, Gare and Peter McNab became the last pair of rookies to score 20 or more goals in a season for the Buffalo Sabres. Eichel and Reinhart haven’t reached that mark yet – both sit at 17 – but with 24 games to go, it's certainly in their sights.
Gare's goal 18 seconds into his first game – matching, coincidentally, the No. 18 on his back that has since been retired by the Sabres – helped settle his nerves and set the tempo for a 62-point rookie season (31+31).
But before the puck had dropped that night, he couldn't help but be anxious. On the bench was Don Cherry, making his debut as an NHL coach for the Boston Bruins. Lining up next to him was Ramsay and Don Luce; across from him stood players like Orr and Phil Esposito.
"I wanted to ask those guys for their autographs," he said. "That's how respectful you were, your very first game in the National Hockey League. It's surreal is what it was."
McNab was two years and six days older than Gare, and he had already been given a taste of the NHL during a 22-game stint the year prior. He played mostly alongside Rick Dudley and Brian Spencer, a line of grinders, and scored 22 goals and 21 assists.
Gare had never met McNab when the two were paired as roommates ahead of their rookie season. Gare's first memory was walking into their room at training camp in St. Catharines, Ont., and being greeted by Sunshine, McNab's Chocolate Labrador.
"Peter was just a happy, go-lucky guy," Gare said. "Everybody looked to see how many goals Richard Martin had, or Gilbert [Perreault]. Peter and I were just kind of young kids trying to contribute."
That recipe worked out well. Six Sabres, including Gare, scored 30 or more goals and nine Sabres, including McNab, scored 20 or more. Buffalo finished with 118 points, won the Adams Division and ultimately went on to their first Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers.
On the way there, they beat the Chicago Blackhawks in five games and then beat a Montreal Canadiens team that would go on to win the next four Stanley Cups in six. The Sabres started their series against the Canadiens with an overtime win in Game 1, and Gare scored the game-winner.
They lost to the Broad Street Bullies in six games in the final, a disappointing end to an otherwise unforgettable season.
"In my career, it was probably the most exciting year I had," Gare said. "I wish we could've won the Cup; then it'd be the season of dreams if you want to call it that. But it was close to that. It was a season that I'll never forget as long as I live because as a youngster, as a young 20 year old, everything seemed to be happening and falling into place."
Gare never did reach another Stanley Cup Final with the Sabres; the organization wouldn't return until their matchup with the Dallas Stars at the end of the 1998-99 season. But he's watched and spoken with the two rookies upon which the Sabres' future is now built, and he sees a bright one.
"They're different types of players, but you need different types of players to get to the level like we did back in the 70's," he said. "You need people like a Perreault – Eichel reminds me a lot of him – and Reinhart is a guy that's intelligent and a good passer and understands the game really well. I'm very impressed with both of them."