There’s a story of a young Danny Gare dreaming about playing in the NHL when his father Ernie Sr., for decades a fixture in Kootenay sport circles at Notre Dame University, gave his son a wake-up call that motivated him all the way to the top.

Taking out a map of Canada, Ernie laid out the cold, hard facts to his son.

“There’s a kid in every town in this country that wants to do the same thing you want to do. So what we’re going to do is every time you work out, every time you get a step closer to that dream, we’re going to put a pin on one of these towns. On Trail, on Castlegar, on Red Deer, on Brampton and so on until you get there.”

By the time Gare played his first NHL game in a Buffalo Sabres uniform in 1974, that map of Canada was littered with more pins that any person would care to count. But to Gare each was a reminder of how hard he’d had to work to get to this point and how hard he had to work to stay.

Drafted 29th overall by the Sabres, Gare was an undersized winger trying to stick in the NHL when size and goonery popularized by the Big Bad Bruins and Broad Street Bullies were in vogue. He may have been small by NHL standards, but he wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves and play a hitting, gritty game.

And he certainly knew how to make an entrance. Forty seconds into his first exhibition game with the Sabres, he fought reigning NHL heavyweight champion Dave ‘The Hammer’ Shultz to a draw.

Eighteen seconds into his first regular season game he scored his first NHL goal against Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins. He would light the lamp thirty more times that season and garner serious Calder Trophy considerations. In that first season, he was also played a key role in the Sabres run to the 1974-75 Stanley Cup final.

By 1977, as Sabres team captain, Gare’s heart and leadership served as one of the focal points of one of the NHL’s most exciting teams along with Gilbert Perrault and the famed French Connection. He would remain the team’s captain until 1981 when traded to Detroit. In his four seasons with the Red Wings, he served as the team captain twice who a young Steve Yzerman patterned himself after. A short stint with Edmonton in 1986-87 rounded out an NHL career limited by back problems before retiring with career totals of 354 goals and 685 points in 827 NHL games.

His best season came in 1979-80 scoring 56 goals—tied for the NHL lead—and adding 33 assists for 89 points, earning Gare a Second Team All-Star selection. Long-time Sabres linemate Craig Ramsey called this season and his earlier 50-goal year in 1975-76 one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of the NHL. This might sound like ridiculous exaggeration at first glance, but first consider why. These 50-goal seasons weren’t scored by a player enjoying massive minutes with high-scoring linemates, they were scored by an under-sized right-winger playing with grinding checkers whose primary job was to keep the opposition’s top players off the score sheet. This they did and still Gare was able to fill the other net.

His play often warranted selection to prestigious teams. Twice he represented Buffalo in NHL All-Star games. Internationally, he was chosen to represent Canada twice in the 1976 and 1981 Canada Cups.

Following his retirement, Gare stayed involved in the game as a Tampa Bay assistant and as a broadcaster, first for Buffalo and later Columbus.

In 2005, the Sabres retired his number eighteen jersey, raising it to the HSBC Arena rafters alongside other club greats: Perrault, Robert, Martin, Horton, Lafontaine.

Forever after, players from many of the same towns and beyond that appeared on that pin-cushioned map of Canada will look up to the rafters in Buffalo and see Danny Gare’s jersey. His is the story of the classic underdog—the small kid from small-town Nelson, BC who made good.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.