Slashing into the season: New Era releases Tokyo Katanas hat
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • January 16, 2013 @ 12:16pm
(Update: New Era Cap announced today via Twitter that the 59Fifty Tokyo Katanas hats will be available tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 18), and there will be a very limited amount. Here’s a photo of the front of the cap, too).
As my Buffalo.com co-workers just stated, there’s no better person to craft this story.
New Era announced this morning on Twitter (@NewEraBUF) that the branch of the national hat company—headquartered in Buffalo—will release a Tokyo Katanas cap to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Sabres’ fictional draft choice Taro Tsujimoto, an 11th round selection from far-off Japan.
The myth has trickled down into Sabres’ lore, evolving and becoming embellished along the way—and my family was fortunate enough to play a role in the prank.
Then-GM Punch Imlach became annoyed at the length and procedure of the NHL’s amateur draft—completed through a three-day conference call—especially when many of the players in later rounds were often from foreign nations and unfamiliar to most teams.
In early spring 1974, Imlach’s secretary phoned my grandfather, Joshua Tsujimoto, asking a few simple questions but not revealing his true intent. The Sabres staffer asked permission to use our family’s last name, then queried about popular Japanese first names.
Curious but rather clueless, my grandfather hung up the phone and went about business as usual—he operated a local grocery market, specializing in fresh vegetables, on Seneca Street in Elma. (Of note: I was born 11 years later, so this story has obviously been passed down).
When late May arrived, Imlach announced that the Buffalo Sabres had selected Taro Tsujimoto, a gifted center from the Japanese Hockey League’s Tokyo Katanas. Tsujimoto’s name was printed in league media guides, and it wasn’t until training camp that Imlach admitted the prank—much to the league’s chagrin. There’s currently a gap between No. 182 and No. 184 in the NHL draft annals, an empty space that draws smirks on the faces of Sabres fans to the present day.
To Imlach’s credit, the draft was shortened from 25 rounds to 16 in 1975 and plummeted to 11 by 1980. Currently, the draft lasts only seven rounds. Meet the power of Punch, one of the sport’s most underrated tricksters.
If you see Sabres fans donning Tokyo Katanas caps from New Era this year—or the few die-hard or quirky fans who still sport their Tsujimoto, No. 74 Sabres jerseys (sometimes No. 13, too)—you’ll know the roots of the story, and you can smirk along with the Sabres’ brass.