“[Beliveau] let me win it,” Smith said with a laugh.
At 35, Smith was lured out of retirement to serve as the Sabres’ first captain in 1970.
Some 50 years later, the 84-year-old Smith was back in Buffalo on Saturday night. Amid chants of “Let’s go Buffalo!” Smith dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff and to kick off the Sabres’ golden anniversary season before their home opener against the New Jersey Devils.
“Ah, that was neat,” Smith said, reflecting back to the one-plus season he spent in Buffalo before retiring. “You don’t think as much about it then as you do now, how important it was.”
Smith, who eventually went on to coach the Sabres, was among 15 former team captains on hand for the team’s home opener. The group included Gilbert Perreault, Mike Foligno, Michael Peca and Brian Gionta.
The Sabres distributed commemorative T-shirts to each fan, and celebrated their past with a lengthy video montage featuring numerous on- and off-ice highlights broadcast on the video scoreboard.
The former captains walked the red carpet in front of fans outside the arena before the game, and were each then introduced on the ice during a pregame ceremony.
They wore the Sabres’ specially designed 50th anniversary jerseys featuring a gold-emblazoned buffalo and two crossed swords on the chest.
Perreault joked about how tight-fitting his No. 11 jersey was by saying it’s been a while since he was at his playing weight.
Perreault, who still holds most every offensive franchise record, including 512 goals and 1,326 goals, said it was a privilege to spend his entire 16-plus season career with one team.
He recalled Buffalo’s first home game, a 3-0 loss to Montreal, as being special because he was from Quebec and played his junior hockey in Montreal.
“I thought I was going to play against my idol, Jean Beliveau that night,” Perreault said. “But I didn’t have a chance to play one shift against him.”
The Sabres and Vancouver Canucks were part of the NHL’s second wave of expansion, entering the league together in 1970.
Buffalo won the spin of a wheel to earn the right to draft Perreault with the No. 1 pick ahead of Vancouver, and went on to reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1975. The Sabres, coached by Smith, lost in six games to Philadelphia.
The 50th anniversary comes at a time the Sabres are in the midst of their toughest stretch in team history. Their eight-year playoff drought is a franchise worst and ranks as the NHL’s longest active streak. And Buffalo has not won a playoff series since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2007.
Under new coach Ralph Krueger, the Sabres are coming off a season-opening 3-1 victory at Pittsburgh.
“They had a good start with a win, so I’m hoping it’s going to be a great year,” Perreault said.