Rookie Goaltender Don Edwards calls himself a six-by-four—the dimensions of the goal mouth. His Buffalo Sabre teammates call him Penguin—sorry, Mr. Cey, there are two of you now—because when he shuffles into position for Buffalo, one set of toes points northeast, toward Syracuse, while the other points in a northwesterly direction, toward Erie, Pa. They also call him Donnie Dark, for, uh, darker reasons. His captain, Danny Gare, all 5'9" of him, calls Edwards "the little guy." And everyone in Buffalo calls him the Answer.
The question, of course, has been the Buffalo Sabres' goaltending, and it has been asked since the team was organized in 1970. Forgettables Gary Bromley, Joe Daley, Rocky Farr and Al Smith are among the nine goalies who have minded the nets during Buffalo's eight years in the NHL. Roger Crozier and Gerry Desjardins, the two legitimate major league goalies the Sabres have had (Desjardins is still with the team but has played in only three games this season), had histories of injuries and inconsistency and, as a result, the position was never entirely settled. Now it is. The 22-year-old Edwards is likely to be Buffalo's goalie for a long, long time.
Since being called up from the Sabres' Hershey farm club two-thirds of the way through last season, Edwards has played in 85 of Buffalo's 91 games, and has posted a remarkable 2.59 goals-against average. During that time he has played more minutes and won more games than any goalie in the NHL. Edwards thrives on the work. "Right now I just can't get enough hockey," he says. Edwards was recently observed watching a Toronto-Minnesota game on television while listening to a Chicago-Boston game on radio. "It's how I learn," he explains. "You watch. You listen. You keep a mental book on players. I'm the best learner in the world."
Before each game Edwards chants a phrase he found in the autobiography of Soviet Goalie Vladislav Tretiak: "I must play well; I must not betray my teammates." Behind it all is a positive attitude that Edwards could put in a book called I'm O.K., I'm a Six-by-Four. "I feel we've got to win every game 1-0," he says. " Gerry Cheevers [ Boston's injured goaltender] has a great saying: 'You get me two goals and you've won the game." I'm the same way but I say, 'You get me one.' Then it's Stonesville. When I'm in there, I'm a six-by-four. I'm a board. It's all mental. You just get the old board out and stand it up. Like a golfer standing over a 10-foot putt. He wills the damn thing in the hole. I will the puck out."
Edwards, who has curled in enough 10-footers through willpower that his golf handicap is three, has been a six-by-four in some very big games for the Sabres this season. He has the reputation of being a "point hound," playing best when the two points for a win or one for a tie are on the line. "Of our 37 wins, he's probably won 15 or 16 all by himself," says Defenseman Jocelyn Guevremont. Philadelphia and Montreal have been among the victims of his five shutouts. Stonesville. Against the four best teams in the National Hockey League—Montreal, the New York Islanders. Philadelphia and Boston—Edwards has a phenomenal 2.00 goals-against average, and the Sabres have won 10 of the 15 games. That bodes well for Buffalo's hopes in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
" Edwards is the reason we're challenging for the second-best record in the league," says George (Punch) Imlach, the only general manager in the Sabres' history. "The team's not going that well. Edwards is."
All season Buffalo has been in a battle with Boston for the Adams Division lead and with the Islanders. Flyers and Bruins for the right to play second fiddle to Montreal's Stradivarius, despite off-seasons from some of the Sabres' big scorers. Says Imlach, "We've got people who've had less than good years, like [Rene] Robert and [Richard] Martin. These are supposed to be superstars, eh? Running around with 20 goals? [Andre] Savard's got 15. So that slack is being taken up by Edwards."
Much credit for Buffalo's 37-13-14 record goes to another rookie, Coach Marcel Pronovost, who has the Sabres thinking as a unit. He has used his bilingual talents to get his message across to the French Connection line of Robert, Martin and Gilbert Perreault, whose firepower (563 goals in their five previous years together) was offset by their deficiencies on defense. Says Defenseman Jim Schoenfeld, "When we lost the puck, the forwards used to say, 'Let the defensemen get it back.' Now we have all five players going on defense. Marcel has us thinking alike."
Pronovost, a slow, brooding man who says nothing lightly, compares Edwards to some of the great ones of his day. "He reminds me a lot of Glenn Hall, with his butterfly style," Pronovost says. "But like [Johnny] Bower, he'll give you a hole, then take it away, and he has quick hands, like [Terry] Sawchuk."
Remarkably, Edwards, whose Uncle Roy played goal for Detroit and Pittsburgh a few years back, did not goaltend in organized hockey until he was 13. "My father wouldn't let me in the goal until I proved I could skate," he says. "He didn't disapprove, he just knew the value of skating to a goalie."