By Kevin Oklobzija, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
Former Sabre and Rochester Americans Hall of Fame defenseman Richie Dunn, whose smile and laughter eased the tension and pressures felt by hockey teams at crunch time, has died. He was 59.
"You can't forget his smile," said fellow defenseman Jim Hofford, who played five seasons with Mr. Dunn in Rochester. "He was always giggling. He was just always smiling. And he was a great teammate."
Mr. Dunn was born in Boston and made his home in suburban Buffalo since his playing days with the Sabres. He skated parts of five seasons with the Amerks and parts or all of nine seasons with the NHL's Buffalo Sabres during his 13-year professional career.
He died at home on Tuesday. The cause of death was not immediately known.
"He was a good husband (to wife Cathy), a good father; he was what a lot of people strive to be," said Ric Seiling, who broke into broke hockey with Mr. Dunn as Sabres rookies in 1977-78.
Midway through his career, teammates called Mr. Dunn "Izzy," a nickname he even wrote on his sticks for identification in the rack. Paul Gardner, the Amerks captain in 1985-86, applied the nickname after Mr. Dunn was sent to Rochester by the Sabres.
"I walked in the room," Mr. Dunn said back in January, "and he looked at me and said, 'Is he Done?,' and a nickname was born."
Mr. Dunn played 327 of his 483 NHL regular-season games with the Sabres, and also played on defense for the Calgary Flames and Hartford Whalers.
He was voted winner of the Eddie Shore Plaque as the AHL's best defenseman and first-team All-Star while playing for the Binghamton Whalers in 1984-85.
He won a Calder Cup with the Amerks in 1986-87, when he was named a first-team American Hockey League All-Star. He was a second-team All-Star the following season.
Mr. Dunn always knew how to keep the mood light, when it was appropriate. Like when Amerks coach John Van Boxmeer went on a post-game tantrum by breaking all of Mr. Dunn's sticks. Van Boxmeer had never liked that his veteran defenseman used a stick pattern that included a narrow blade. He didn't believe Mr. Dunn could adequately control the puck.
When a puck bounced over his stick blade at the opposing blue line and cost the Amerks a goal off the ensuing rush, Van Boxmeer made his point quite clear after the game by shattering every stick.
"We used to get fined if we broke our sticks," Hofford said. "So Boxie started busting all of Richie's sticks, and Richie just stood there counting. That's $50, $That's $100 ...
"Actually Boxie was great about it; he paid the fine."
Mr. Dunn produced 40 goals, 120 assists and 160 points in 276 regular-season games with the Amerks, and had 4-13-17 in 34 playoff games.
"He loved hockey and he loved Rochester, that's why he kept playing," said former Amerks winger Jim Jackson, Mr. Dunn's teammate with the Flames and also for all five seasons in Rochester.
Mr. Dunn would commute from his home in Buffalo to Rochester, and Jackson provided a place for him to stay following weekday games and on weekends when the team usually played three games in three days.
Jackson also cooked their pre-game meal. "He loved my chicken, rice and peas," Jackson said.
Even if it's the only thing Jackson ever cooked before games.
"It's amazing he put up with it all those years," Jackson said. "But they had to eat what I cooked."
That's why, in a quick player biography in the program insert during the 1987 playoffs, Dunn's response to "Favorite food" was "J.J.'s fried chicken."
Mr. Dunn golfed in the Amerks Alumni event on Aug. 23 at Ridgemont Country Club. He was active in Sabres alumni functions as well.
"He was one of the good ones," Seiling said, "and he was also the best 3-point shooter on the alumni basketball team."
Which makes sense, considering that on the ice he could quarterback a power play from the point.