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Greenberg: Remembering Paul Wieland, Legendary Buffalo Sabres Prankster

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Paul Wieland, the original PR prankster of the Buffalo Sabres, passed away last year at age 84.

With the Sabres visiting the Panthers tonight, I am reminded that it was a year ago that I learned of the passing of my pal — and everyone connected with hockey — Paul Wieland, the original public relations director of the Buffalo Sabres.

Buffalo and Vancouver joined the NHL in 1970 for those old enough to remember. 

A spin of a roulette-like wheel determined who would get the first of the premier draft picks that year.

Buffalo won and selected Gilbert Perreault. Vancouver went second and picked some fellow named Dale Tallon.

Buffalo was a great hockey city before the arrival of the NHL. 

It was the home of the AHL Buffalo Bisons from 1940 until the Sabres came along in 1970.

The Sabres played at Memorial Auditorium, a classic hockey arena that served as their home through the 1995-96 season.

After the Sabres’ inaugural season, 1970-71, in a remarkable engineering feat, the roof of the ‘Aud’ was raised to allow for the construction of an additional level, which added over 5,000 seats for hockey.

All of which brings us back to Wieland, who had to report on the doings of the Sabres to the media. 

Since their on-ice performance was exciting but unpredictable in their early years, Wieland found many distractions. 

He was the master of the bogus press release.

According to quanthockey.com, in 1970 the NHL was 96.6 percent stocked with Canadian players.

In one of his early releases, the Sabres boldly announced they would tour Central America as guests of the Honduras Ice Hockey Federation. Exhibitions were scheduled with national teams from Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. 

The press release stated, “Since the climate did not allow for ice, chemists had come up with a surface made of banana oil.”

His next famous caper came during the 1974 Draft (done by telephone) when he persuaded GM Punch Imlach to draft Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas in the 11th round. 

Tsujimoto was listed in the opening day program, assigned a locker and given No. 13 — before the Sabres confirmed he did not exist.

Buffalo sabres

Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas was selected in the 11th round of the 1974 NHL Draft — although he had a number and a locker, he did not exist.

On April Fool’s Day 1978, Wieland orchestrated a press release announcing that the Sabres had purchased the USS Little Rock from the Navy for use as a year-round training and recreational facility. 

Imlach ‘said’ he planned to use the Little Rock for a vacation and training cruise for the team, stating, “The company that’s at sea together builds closer ties.”

One of the most elaborate schemes was announced April 1, 1979. 

The Sabres unveiled plans for a $31 million amusement park on 22 acres near the Aud. 

“The Wonderful World of Hockey” featured rides, entertainment, and recreation centered around the world’s fastest sport. 

The UniPuck, at Faceoff Circle, was the center of the park. 

Each NHL team had a pavilion, but the highlight was an attraction called the Penalty Box.

The press announcement stated, “After entering, a patron will walk down a long corridor where he or she will be cuffed, high sticked, and tripped by automated humanoid hockey figures, and end up in a large, padded replica of a hockey rink penalty box where the patron can rest for two, five or ten minutes before re-entering the park.”

“The prank which gave us the most trouble,” Wieland recalled, “was the ‘Sliderex’ release.” That was on April 1, 1977.

A Sabres’ news item stated their intention to install “a polymer substance surface called Sliderex in Memorial Auditorium in time for the next season’s play.” 

A Nova Scotia farmer allegedly developed this ‘miracle product’ after seven years of research behind his barn.

One problem with Sliderex was that if a lighted cigarette struck it, it quickly burned and emitted a toxic gas. 

However, its inventor says, “Since there is no smoking allowed in many National Hockey League arenas anyway, this should only be a minor problem.”

When the Sliderex bulletin was released, the media took the bait and quickly spread the word of the innovation. 

The NHL offices were taken by surprise and, not wishing to acknowledge ignorance of this development, issued a statement that the NHL was always in the forefront of technological advancement.

One prank that almost got Wieland and the Sabres in a heap of trouble was a proclamation – on fake White House stationery over a facsimile of Ronald Reagan’s signature – declaring the Buffalo Sabres “America’s Hockey Team.”

A phony Time Magazine cover with the same information accompanied it.

Paul Wieland was in the Sabres’ organization from 1970 to 1995. 

He passed away a year ago at age 84.

ON DECK

BUFFALO SABRES @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • Streaming ONLY: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Season Series (Panthers Lead 1-0) — At Buffalo: Panthers 4, Sabres 0 (Feb. 15). At Florida: Tuesday; April 13.
  • Last Season: Florida won 3-1
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Florida leads 55-45-8, 4 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday vs. Montreal, 7 p.m.

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