May 20, 2017

Stanley Cup Heroes: Batman Jim Lorentz

Waterloo, Ontario's Jim Lorentz was an NHLer for a full decade. He played with several teams but he is best known for his days when he skated for the Buffalo Sabres. He played the majority of his NHL career in the city, and enjoyed his finest seasons there. And of course he continues to live in the community and works on Buffalo Sabre broadcasts now many years after hanging up the blades.

Lorentz's career started in 1964 when he played the first of three years of junior hockey with the Niagara Falls Flyers of the Ontario Hockey Association before beginning his pro hockey career with the Oklahoma City Blazers of Central Hockey League in 1967-68. It wouldn't be long before Lorentz would make the NHL, as he tore up the CHL. He was named rookie of the year in his first season, and in his second and final season in the minor leagues he was an all star who led the league in scoring and was named as the most valuable player.

Lorentz's playing rights belonged to the Boston Bruins. The Bruins of the later 1960s and early 1970s were a powerhouse in the NHL, led by Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. As a result Lorentz didn't get to play a whole lot. He was shuffled around from center ice and to the wing, but was always a minor player.

Jim never minded though, as he was in the NHL and on the league's best team. In fact in his rookie season Jim was able to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.

“It’s very special." said Jim. "I know players will say this but I don’t think you really realize what you’ve done until after you’ve retired. You don’t really realize the impact of it."

Because the Bruins couldn't find a full time position for the young scoring star Jim was dealt to St. Louis after the 69-70 season, in exchange for the Blues first pick in the 1970 Amateur Draft (the pick was used to select Ron Plumb).

Jim played the 1970-71 campaign with St. Louis before splitting the 1971-72 season between the Blues, the New York Rangers and the Sabres. It was in Buffalo that he found a permanent home.

Over his six-plus seasons in Buffalo, Jim racked up 134 goals, 197 assists and 331 points in 487 games. Jim also enjoyed his best seasons in a Sabre uniform, recording a career-high 27 goals in 1972-73 and a personal-best 70 points in 1974-75, the same year he helped Buffalo reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

Jim helped a young expansion franchise in Buffalo become a league powerhouse in a very short time period. Jim has many memories of his playing days with the Sabres. One of the most exciting was the first time the team made the playoffs..

“I think the first year that we made the playoffs was very exciting. We ended up playing the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. No one gave us a prayer to win that series but we took them to six games. And one of the great moments in my career was in that sixth game in the Auditorium when the fans starting chanting in unison, ‘Thank you Sabres.’ It was a great feeling."

But of course the greatest memory was the Stanley Cup finals appearance of 1975. Jim played an important role in the Sabres improbable run, scoring 6 goals and 10 points in 16 playoff games.

That I think was one of the … next to going to the Finals in ’75, would rank right up there with the memorable moments. And of course just playing with some of the players that I did. There were great players. Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert. Jim Schoenfeld, Roger Crozier. We had a bunch of real character guys that liked to have a lot of fun and who were great players.”

He is also well remembered for a zany act that will go down in the rich folklore of Stanley Cup history..

Lorentz used his stick to slay a bat, of all things, that was annoying players and fans. Nobody was sure whether the bat had found its way into the arena or was brought into the building by a mischievous fan.

"It was dive-bombing the crowd, and a couple of times it came near the ice and I remember Parent taking a couple of swings at it with his goal stick and missing," Lorentz said.

Fans continually reacted to the bat when it swooped down toward them, and it was a clear distraction. When Lorentz was standing still getting ready for a face-off and spotted it zooming toward him, he reached up and killed it with a slash of his stick. The crowd and the players were happy until they realized they had another problem.

"No one wanted to pick it up," said Lorentz, who instantly was dubbed as Batman. "Finally, (Philadelphia's) Rick MacLeish picked it up and buried it in the penalty box."

Not everyone was pleased by Jim's actions though. He actually received several letters from animal rights activists.

Jim continued to play until 1978 when he retired from NHL duty. He retired with 659 games, 161 goals, 238 assists and 399 points under his belt, and a ton of stories. He turned to a brief stint of junior coaching before becoming the popular colour commentator for the Sabres radio and later television broadcasts.

1 comment:

sd said...

I wonder if that bat might had cursed/jinxed the Sabres?