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Remembering Tim Horton

The Buffalo Sabres visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, almost exactly 39 years after the teams played what would be Tim Horton's final NHL game. Here, a look back at his career and final night.

Hockey legend/businessman died on this day in 1974

Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tim Horton handles the puck on Feb. 20, 1974 at Maple Leafs Gardens, while teammate Jim Schoenfeld looks on. (Andy Clark/Canadian Press)

The Buffalo Sabres visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, almost exactly 39 years after the teams played what would be Tim Horton's final NHL game.

Horton, 44, died on Feb. 21, 1974 in a single-car accident on the Queen Elizabeth Way near St. Catharines, Ont., just hours after his Sabres lost at Maple Leaf Gardens to his former team, Toronto.

The defenceman, one of the strongest and toughest to ever lace up skates in the NHL, played through jaw and ankle injuries in his final game. Buffalo general manager Punch Imlach, the former architect of the 1960s Leafs, allowed Horton to take his own car and get medication rather than take the team bus back with the rest of the Sabres.

The Pantera sportscar Horton was driving was an enticement from Imlach to come back for one more NHL season. Horton had told legendary local sportswriter Dick Beddoes the previous summer he wasn't going to come back, as he wanted to spend his winters learning how to ski and skidoo.

Horton had met with business partner Ron Joyce in Oakville late at night after the Sabres-Leafs game before crashing at about 4:30 a.m. ET. At the time, the donut chain bearing the hockey player's name had grown to the third largest in Canada after its inception in 1964 in Hamilton.

Horton was survived by his wife and four daughters who ranged in age from 13 to 21.

Here from the CBC Digital Archives, a report from his funeral a week later. His pallbearers were former Maple Leafs teammates Allan Stanley, Bob Baun, Dave Keon, Dick Duff, Billy Harris and George Armstrong:

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Amazingly, the NHL did not cancel Buffalo's home game on Feb. 21 against Atlanta. The Sabres somehow managed a tie under those circumstances, with a newspaper photo taken during the pre-game tribute capturing defensive partner Jim Schoenfeld overcome with tears.

Born in Cochrane, Ont., Horton played at St. Mike's College (despite being a Protestant) and then Pittsburgh of the American Hockey League for three seasons before embarking on his 22-year NHL career.

He played on four Stanley Cup winners and was a first- or second-team all-star six times (three of each). After two decades with Toronto, he was traded to the New York Rangers in 1969-70. Sometimes forgotten, he played very briefly for the Penguins before Imlach beckoned him to Buffalo.

Horton once played 468 straight games for the Leafs in the 1960s, and finished with 1,446 games played overall. Only Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio had suited up for more games at that time, and Horton still ranks 21st all time in the category.

He finished with 115 goals, 403 assists and 1,611 penalty minutes, the latter total third only to Howe and Ted Lindsay on the all-time list.

"I never knew a player so steady," Frank Mahovlich told The Globe and Mail hours after the tragedy. "You always knew what Tim Horton was going to do."

Horton went into the Hockey Hall of Fame posthumously in 1977.

From the CBC Digital Archives, a clip with Horton interviewed by Ward Cornell of Hockey Night in Canada right after the Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup in 1967:

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