Editor’s Be aware: An earlier model of this story acknowledged all members of the Sabres entrance workplace at the time are deceased. Former coach Floyd Smith continues to be alive. We remorse the error.

Josh Tsujimoto normally wears a No. 74 Sabres jersey sporting his final identify if he attends a Buffalo dwelling sport at KeyBank Middle.

It was a present from his father, Paul, a few years in the past and meant to function a tangible memento of a household legend that spans 5 many years. However there are nights when Josh isn’t the just one carrying a No. 74 sweater at a Sabres sport. Once in a while, you’ll see the odd Tsujimoto jersey sprinkled amongst the crowd in Buffalo.

“You go to a Sabres game and you’re bound to see a couple of Taro jerseys,” says John Boutet, chairman of the Higher Buffalo Sports activities Corridor of Fame. “Some people have the correct number, which is 13. He was given 13. Some people have 74 because that’s the year it was.”

The jersey is a cult traditional as a result of the legend of Taro Tsujimoto isn’t simply a household story shared by the father and son.

As a substitute, it’s an inside joke that has been stored alive by Sabres followers for 50 years.

“Some people recognize it,” Josh says when requested about his jersey. “A lot of out-of-town people will come to a game and they don’t know the backstory. So I’ll tell them, ‘He’s not real. But he’s got a Wikipedia page.’”

Taro Tsujimoto was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the eleventh spherical of the 1974 draft.

The staff’s official media information nonetheless lists Tsujimoto alongside the different draft picks from 1974. He’s famous as the 183rd general choice in the draft, a centerman taken from the Tokyo Katanas.

However the NHL’s official information and report guide doesn’t acknowledge Tsujimoto. His identify has been stricken from historic draft information for a quite simple motive: Taro Tsujimoto by no means existed.


The 1974 NHL draft was in contrast to some other in league historical past.

The NHL was in the midst of attempting to fend off the rival World Hockey Affiliation, which had already poached a number of of their notable stars. NHL officers had been cautious that WHA groups would use the outcomes of their draft to attempt to lure gamers to their league. So the NHL hatched a distinctive plan: They might maintain the 1974 draft fully veiled in secrecy.

Over a three-day window — beginning on Might 28, 1974 — groups would choose gamers through a non-public phone name, with the 18 common managers phoning in to NHL president Clarence Campbell at the league headquarters in Montreal to report their choose.

Every staff had no clue what different golf equipment had been doing, forcing Campbell to re-read the alternatives every time a staff was drafting a player. The first day alone took eight hours, and the draft was scheduled to go as many rounds as common managers selected to draft.

The course of grew to become so meticulous and tedious that a number of groups began skipping picks altogether.

The Kansas Metropolis Scouts — regardless of being a model new enlargement staff — opted to skip their eighth-round choice.

The California Golden Seals punted on their ninth-round choose.


Josh Tsujimoto wears his No. 74 Tsujimoto jersey every time he attends Sabres dwelling video games at KeyBank Middle. (Photograph courtesy of Josh Tsujimoto)

Each Vancouver and Detroit handed on selecting a player in the tenth spherical.

However the Buffalo Sabres didn’t need to simply skip their choose in the eleventh spherical. As a substitute, they needed to ship a message to league officers that the draft course of was needlessly drawn out and exhausting.

The Sabres had 4 individuals dealing with the draft: Normal supervisor Punch Imlach, coach Floyd Smith, scouting director John Andersen and public relations director Paul Wieland. Wieland defined in his 2019 guide, “Taro Lives! Confessions of the Sabres Hoaxer” that he was there to assemble data on the gamers drafted however he additionally had eyes on entering into hockey administration. Imlach needed to assist him get there.

Imlach walked into the Sabres’ draft suite on the second day of the draft already fed up with the course of. As Wieland recalled in his guide, Imlach mentioned, “What the hell can we do to piss off Campbell?”

Andersen instructed drafting a player no person knew about so groups needed to comb by their lists to seek out him. Then Wieland jumped in and mentioned, “We should draft someone who doesn’t even exist … just make up a name from some place that no one would expect. Like Japan for example.”

Imlach considered it and mentioned, “Japanese? What the hell. Why not?”


In the spring of 1974, Paul Tsujimoto was a 21-year-old faculty pupil again in his household dwelling in Elma, N.Y.

He distinctly recollects being known as downstairs from his bed room for dinner one night time when his father relayed the story of a mysterious cellphone name he had acquired earlier in the day.

“He said someone with the Buffalo Sabres called him on the phone and asked him a couple of questions,” says Paul. “They wanted to know a common name for a boy in Japan. And they wanted to know what the Japanese word for a sabre was.”

Paul’s father — Joshua Tsujimoto — answered the questions.

He instructed the caller that Taro was a frequent identify for a boy in Japan. And that the Japanese equal of a sabre was known as a katana.

The thought to cellphone the Tsujimoto family was the brainchild of Wieland. When touring backwards and forwards as a faculty pupil, Wieland would drive by Tsujimoto Backyard and Presents, the household’s common retailer. That’s how he got here up with the fictitious final identify for the draft choose.

Wieland used the solutions from Joshua to assist fill out an elaborate backstory that included pretend stats in a press launch. In response to the Sabres, Tsujimoto had a modest 15 targets and 10 assists for the Tokyo Katanas in his draft 12 months.

The Tsujimotos and the 4 individuals in the Sabres’ draft room had been the solely ones conscious of the gag.

“We had no idea what they were doing until we found out about the draft a couple of days later,” says Paul. “Then we said, ‘Ahhh. That’s why they called.’”

Wieland and Imlach determined to see how far they might take it. When the staff went to coaching camp in St. Catherines, Wieland roped in staff coach Rip Simonick, who constructed a locker stall full with gear and a Tsujimoto jersey with No. 13 on the again.

Danny Gare, the Sabres’ second-round choose in the 1974 draft, remembers being at rookie camp and everybody questioning who Tsujimoto was and when he would possibly present up. The nearer the Sabres obtained to major camp, the extra the intrigue intensified.

“They were making cuts and getting ready for main camp and we hadn’t seen him,” Gare says. “There were a lot of discussion like, ‘Where is this guy?’ There were rumors he had trouble getting his immigration papers and all of that. It was a good prank, man. It was quite a thing.”

Even the homeowners, Seymour and Northrup Knox, weren’t in on the joke. They had been asking Imlach and Wieland every single day at coaching camp if Tsujimoto had arrived. Wieland defined in his guide that Imlach would simply say he “wasn’t sure if the kid would make it this year, but remember we have his rights in case he decides to turn pro in the future.”

“You had to think this guy was real,” Boutet says. “Who would go through that length to play a practical joke? Well, I guess Paul would.”

It most likely helped that the Sabres had a sturdy draft that 12 months. Gare and Lee Fogolin, the staff’s prime two picks, performed greater than 800 NHL video games. Gare as soon as led the NHL in targets. Even Derek Smith, taken one spherical earlier than the Sabres drafted Tsujimoto, ended up taking part in 335 video games and gathering 194 factors.

“I remember later playing on a line with Derek Smith and Tony McKegney,” Gare says. “We had a great line. I scored 56 the one year and we were going out afterward to celebrate the season. Derek Smith said to me, ‘Yeah, Tickets, you’ll be remembered for leading the league in goals. I’ll be remembered for being the draft pick before Taro Tsujimoto.’”

The entire Sabres group ended up turning into fairly fond of Wieland’s pranks. Every April 1, Wieland would give you a pretend story to ship out in a press launch. One 12 months, he typed a complete launch to announce that the Sabres could be switching to plastic ice of their enviornment. A neighborhood tv information reporter fell for the story and ran it on air. He didn’t discuss to Wieland for years after the reality.

Gare nonetheless laughs at that one, as a result of he’s now a companion at Can-Ice, a artificial ice firm in Canada. Wieland was forward of his time with out even realizing it.

“He had a likable spirit about him,” Gare says. “He always had a comedic side talking to him.”

“Paul Wieland was such a character. I got to know him a bit over the years. A completely creative, zany guy who was so colorful,” provides Paul. “And he always had some out-of-the-box ideas.”

Wieland’s pranks had been solely half of his attraction. He was modern on the staff’s broadcast, got here up with the staff’s mascot, Sabretooth, who continues to be round in the present day and is the motive the Sabres sing the Canadian and United States Nationwide anthems earlier than video games. His impression on the franchise was sufficient for Boutet to push for Wieland’s induction into the Higher Buffalo Sports activities Corridor of Fame this fall.

The NHL wasn’t as enamored with Wieland’s jokes. Then-NHL president Clarence Campbell fell for the plastic ice joke when, based on Wieland’s guide, he was quoted by the Canadian Press supporting the Sabres’ try to hold the league on the leading edge of expertise. So it’s no shock Campbell didn’t have a lot of persistence for the Taro Tsujimoto joke as soon as the league caught wind of it. The Tsujimoto choose was finally faraway from the official report and the choose entry is now simply invalid.

However that didn’t cease the legend from residing on in Buffalo. There have been bumper stickers and buying and selling playing cards. Some followers would present as much as The Buffalo Memorial Auditorium with large indicators that mentioned, “Taro says …” with totally different endings for every sport.

“I used to read them all the time because they were clever,” Gare says.

Wieland used to say that his quirky jokes had been a approach to put a small market staff on the map and showcase the metropolis and franchise’s sense of humor. In a larger market like Toronto, New York or Montreal, Boutet doesn’t suppose one thing like the Tsujimoto prank would have taken off in the similar manner.

“Buffalo people are different,” Boutet says. “We get it. We’re OK to laugh at each other. This was the perfect town to do it in.”


Paul Tsujimoto says he first instructed his son Josh — who is called after his grandfather — about the legend of Taro when he was about 8 years previous.

“It was an inside joke with the family for as long as I can remember,” says Josh. “I remember my dad bringing it up when I was little. I didn’t realize how many people knew about this until I got older.”

Paul owns one Taro Tsujimoto rookie card that was gifted to him by a former employer who was capable of observe one down.

Tsujimoto


The legend of Taro Tsujimoto isn’t simply a household story shared by the Tsujimoto household. It’s an inside joke that has been stored alive by Sabres followers for 50 years. (Photograph courtesy of Josh Tsujimoto)

In 2011, the Panini buying and selling card firm determined to print a small run of Taro Tsujimoto rookie playing cards as half of their 2010-11 rookie set. The card lists Tsujimoto’s alleged birthdate — March 15, 1953 — and posts his peak (5 ft 9) and weight (165 kilos).

The again of the card featured a brief biography that leaned into Tsujimoto’s curious backstory:

“In Buffalo, it’s not Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio? It’s Where Have You Been, Taro Tsujimoto? The first Japanese player ever selected in the NHL Draft, the Sabres tabbed the mysterious prospect in the 11th round back in 1974. The Canadiens, who had hoped to steal him later in the draft, were rumored to have worked out a deal for the diminutive center that would have sent Jacques Lemaire to Buffalo. Instead, the Sabres held on to his rights and continue to anticipate his arrival. To this day, whispers of his exploits with the Tokyo Katanas stir up the fans at the HSBC Arena, where the faithful often are heard to chant ‘We Want Taro!’”

Panini acquired the approval of each the NHL and NHL Gamers’ Affiliation to provide that Tsujimoto card. An NHLPA staffer even assisted Panini in monitoring down an era-appropriate picture to make use of on the entrance of the card. However as for the identification of the man posing as Taro Tsujimoto on that buying and selling card, no person appears to know precisely who it’s.

“I have no idea who that guy is on the card,” says Paul with a chortle.

One Tsujimoto card was positioned in each 20 bins of that run, making it an elusive card to acquire. The rarity of that card is the excellent reflection of the thriller round Taro Tsujimoto that has endured for 50 years. And it was all courtesy of the artistic thoughts of Wieland.

“He created a folk hero is what he did,” says Gare. “It’s crazy that it still has legs 50 years later.”

“It’s pretty neat. As time goes on, the younger fans don’t know about it, but the story persists,” provides Josh. “And I like that the story continues on. It’s a fun way to remember my grandpa and Mr. Wieland.”

(Illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic. Photograph: Derek Cain / Getty Photographs)