How the Sabres got their name

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Throughout 50+ years of Buffalo Sabres hockey, many have wondered and questioned how the team got its name.

In 1969, owners Seymour Knox III and Northrup Knox wanted the team’s logo and name to be unique. “Bison” was a common choice for Buffalo sports teams, but Knox wanted something different. Because of that, the organization held a name-the-team contest, where fans could submit suggestions for the team’s name.

There were several different options including the Buffalo “Mugwumps”, “Buzzing Bees”, and “Flying Zeppelins”.

Sabres owner Seymour H. Knox III drops the ceremonial first puck to kick off the first ever NHL game at Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium, October 15, 1970.
Sabres owner Seymour H. Knox III drops the ceremonial first puck to kick off the first-ever NHL game at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium, October 15, 1970.

The winning choice came from Harry Cole, a Toronto filmmaker, and the Sabres have kept the name ever since. Knox III stated that a Sabre was a weapon carried by a leader and could be used effectively on both offense and defense.

The dictionary definition of a Sabre is “a stout single-edged cavalry sword, having a curved blade.”

Many have wondered why “Sabres” is spelled the way it is. With Buffalo being an American team, why isn’t it spelled “Sabers”, just as the other New York teams are spelled with -er endings (Islanders, Rangers)?

Buffalo is right on the border with southern Ontario and a quick trip over the peace bridge takes just a few minutes to get from Canada to the First Niagara Center. In fact, Sabres play-by-play man, Rick Jeanneret, resides in Canada and makes the commute to call the Buffalo games.

Since the team was established, Buffalo’s fanbase has had a large portion of Canadian fans. There were enough that made the trip down to the arena that the Sabres became the first NHL franchise to perform both the U.S. and Canadian anthems before every home game, and they still do it to this day, regardless of opponent.

With a large number of Canadian fans, Knox III decided to spell it as “Sabres.”

After the team had chosen its name and selected the jersey designs, they’d eventually need a mascot.

For a few years, the team used Sammy Sabre, who was literally a sword (a Sabre) that somehow had ice skates on and floating hands to hold the stick.

Sammy Sabre even had its’ own fan club and you could get a certificate to show that you were in it:

Sabretooth has made entrances onto the ice by coming down from the rafters, using a rope line.
Sabretooth used to make entrances onto the ice by coming down from the rafters, using a rope line.

But the organization wanted something a little different and what better than a Saber-toothed tiger?

The Sabres PR Director at the time, Paul Wieland, and employee Budd Bailey came up with the idea of Sabretooth. They saw how well it was going with Buster Bison for their AAA baseball team, and wanted to mimic that success with the hockey team.

Sabretooth was born on January 1st, 1988.

He has been cheering on the Sabres ever since, and even was considered the Buffalo Bandits mascot for a few years in the 1990s.

“Sabretooth is one of the most mysterious mascots in pro sports. No one really knows where this bad cat came from, but rumor has it, he was discovered under the ice at The Aud during the 1988-89 season.

While he may be hated by his NHL suit rivals, he is well-loved by the Buffalo fans. He is a very popular mascot because he is always ready to give a hug, sign an autograph, or take a picture with the Sabre faithful.” –

After five decades of hockey, many fans are still awaiting a championship for Buffalo when the spelling of “Sabres” would really matter – when it is engraved on the Stanley Cup.


Kevin Freiheit
I founded Buffalo Hockey Central in 2008 and have poured hours and hours into this site. Luckily, we have a great team of writers and designers who have helped keep this up and running despite a ton of out-of-pocket costs. We do this because we enjoy it, and we're desperate to see the Sabres win the Cup someday, but they have to make the playoffs first.
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