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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Punch Imlach (Photo: Buffalo Sabres)
You may not have heard of him… Then again, who has?

He was drafted in 1974, 183rd overall, by the Buffalo Sabres, but never made it to the NHL.

Then again, he never had a chance.

Because it wasn’t his talent that prevented Taro Tsujimoto from breaking into the League – it was simply the fact that he never existed.

Courtesy of George ‘Punch’ Imlach, the first player selected from the Japanese Ice Hockey League lives on as one of the most peculiar storylines to ever emerge from the NHL draft:

Up until 1980, the event was a closed affair for the general public with only General Managers and League officials allowed to be present. Teams would either meet at designated hotels, or the NHL would conduct the draft via conference call – as was the case in 1974.

At that time, with only 18 franchises in the League, the draft was permitted to extend beyond nine rounds (it was eventually reduced to seven rounds in 2005) if teams continued to select players.

As the 11th round rolled on, Imlach had had enough.

Bored, and exhausted with the tedium of looking at players that had a slim chance of ever making the roster, he decided to pull one of the more creative pranks in Sabres history.

Sending a secretary to find some common Japanese names, Imlach soon came up with the imaginary Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas - literally translating to the Tokyo Sabres (Katana is a type of Japanese samurai sword).

When NHL President Clarence Campbell asked Imlach for his selection, he was met with laughter from around the League. International scouting wasn’t as prevalent as it is in the NHL now, and drafting a player from Japan wasn’t exactly a common practice.

But Imlach carefully spelled the name of his invented centerman, which was printed in every record book and media guide in the League.

Reporters in the following weeks grilled the Sabres GM about the arrival of Tsujimoto to Buffalo. Imlach would simply respond by saying the prospect would come soon.

Of course, he never did and Punch finally confessed to the gag prior to the start of training camp. But to this day there are some publications that list the 183rd overall selection from Tokyo.

And the myth lives on.
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