Last week Rob Ray turned 43-years-old. Earlier this week, we took a look at the role of Patrick Kaleta on the Sabres, and so we thought it might be interesting to take a look back at one of the premiere agitators and enforcers of Sabres past in a quick hit. What Ray has contributed to the Sabres organization? Ray made his debut for the Sabres in 1989-90 becoming a steady ice time contributor throughout the remainder of his career. Ray was the proverbial tough guy ‘enforcer’ every NHL team needs to guide themselves through an 82 game schedule. He was listed at 6’0” 220 lbs and played much bigger. As his playing career ended in 2004, he came back to the Sabres organization shortly thereafter to contribute to the television broadcast. He certainly wasn’t the best player to ever wear the Sabres sweater, but few alumni are more recognizable and adored by fans. Rob Ray is a synonymous name and face with the Buffalo Sabres.
Rob Ray will always be most remembered for the 3,000+ penalty minutes throughout his career. He never registered double digit goals in an NHL season and never more than 20 points in a NHL season (Career high of 16). The fact remains that Rob Ray was a fixture in the Buffalo Sabres lineup for 14 seasons and averaged over 60 games per season during his reign. It’s the classic fights of Rob Ray versus Tie Domi, Dennis Vial or Jeff Odgers that fans remember. The “Rob Ray Rule” was instituted because of the tactic Ray employed by removing all of his gear so opponents would have nothing to grab onto.
Although the stats pointed out above reflect Ray’s inability to pile up the offensive numbers, he did manage timely contributions to the score sheet. Rob Ray scored his first goal on his very first NHL shot. He scored a crucial game winning goal in Game 4 of the 1999 Eastern Conference finals to give the Sabres a commanding 3-1 advantage over the hated Toronto Maple Leafs. He was on the ice when the Sabres scored the Game 7 Stu Barnes goal against the Penguins.
Rob Ray is one of those rare commodities in sports that fans have every opportunity to cherish. He’s the quintessential role player that ends up being the more beloved and admired player on the team. Ray played in an era when Pat Lafontaine scored 146 points and Dominik Hasek was arguably the best player in the world. Through it all Rob Ray was one of those players that was always on the tips of fan’s tongues.
In 1999 while still playing for the Sabres, Ray won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy which goes to the NHL player who exemplifies leadership on and off the ice. Ray has become a fixture in the Buffalo sports community through his work with the team broadcast and other opportunities, but he’s also made the Buffalo community his home and contributed his time and energy to various Buffalo causes. He’s been part of the March of Dimes, Make-a-wish Foundation, the Roswell Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital.
I think what most fans think, specifically Buffalo fans, is that Ray was never the most talented or skilled player. What he was though, was able to take the skill set he did have and give every ounce of himself to reach the potential of that skill set. That’s really what I think fans want to see from their players today. That’s why fans love watching current Sabre Patrick Kaleta play now. Fans will love and appreciate you almost unconditionally if you lay it on the line. It is the main reason fans have turned on players in the past (see Maxim Afinogenov). This site is supposed to take an analytical view and more in depth view of hockey, and Rob Ray is a player that it is almost impossible to do that with. What Rob Ray brought to the Sabres was completely qualitative and very little quantitative (remember, 3,000+ PIM). All throughout sports you hear the term, “it” factor. Rob Ray had “it” for the Sabres for more than a decade and trying to put it into words or find one or two stats to paint the picture of Ray would do him injustice. Rob Ray was a hockey player in the way fans want to see hockey players; tough, hardworking and dedicated to their teams. Every GM in the league is looking to make sure they have a roster spot filled with a Rob Ray on it.
Brian Bund is an Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills fan currently residing with his family in Syracuse, New York. He is a contributing writer at Hockey Heaven, Buffalo Wins and the author of the The Buffalo Sports Fan blog. You can reach him on Twitter at: @brianbund