In a somewhat surprising move, Buffalo has announced that Rob Ray's #32 will be raised to the rafters before tonight's game against Vegas.
For a player never known for his scoring, skating, passing, or playmaking ability, one would think a jersey retirement honoring their career would be a longshot at best.
For Rob Ray, that thought is now incorrect.
Ahead of tonight's tilt against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Buffalo Sabres will honor Ray by putting his famous (or rather infamous) #32 in the rafters of KeyBank Center.
Ray will now join fellow Sabres legends Tim Horton (#2), Richard Martin (#7), Gilbert Perreault (#11), Rene Robert (#14), Pat LaFontaine (#16), Danny Gare (#18), and Dominik Hasek (#39) among those with their jersey numbers officially retired.
"I honestly don't know what to say," said Ray, who currently works with the Sabres announce team. "To be up there with those guys seems out of place for me, to be honest. But it's a big honor, for sure."
For years, Buffalo fans have debated whether a player like Ray, who amassed over 3,200 penalty minutes over his 16-year career in the NHL, should even be considered for jersey retirement. For Sabres GM Thomas Gidlow, it was a no-brainer.
"Since we've been here, this is something I've been pushing," said Gidlow. "Ray's career goes far beyond what he did on the ice. He's left an indelible mark on this city and franchise, and frankly, I can't imagine a better representative of the team and of the city.
"He was and still is adored by Sabres fans everywhere. Not only did he do his job extremely well, but he was a leader. He was the among the best at what he did during his heyday, and the way he played the game really gave his teammates more room to do their thing."
'Rayzer' as he's affectionately known to Sabres fans was drafted by Buffalo in the fifth round of the 1988 Entry Draft. By early 1990, he was already making a name for himself with 99 PIM's in 27 games. His career year followed, as Ray amassed 350 PIM's along with eight goals and 16 points in 66 games during the 1990-91 campaign.
He was a constant for the next eleven seasons, averaging 71 games (discounting the lockout shortened 1994-95 season) and 230 penalty minutes each year. It was a remarkable run for a player known for his hitting and fighting prowess, especially considering the heavy hitters in the game during the 1990's.
In exactly 900 career NHL games, Ray earned 40 goals, 50 assists, and 3,207 PIM's. While the numbers alone may not inspire heaps of praise from groups outside of Sabres fans and the city of Buffalo, his effect on the game has been lasting - even to this day.
"Not only could he play the game, which wasn't a feature of many 'enforcer' types of the time, but he literally changed the game because of him always getting that sweater off in fights," recalled long-time teammate Brad May. "Instituting the tie-down on sweaters became known as the 'Rob Ray rule' and it is still called that among players today.
"I'm proud of Rob for what he did in his career. He embodied what being a Sabre at that time was all about. He deserves having that number retired and I'm very happy for him."
Reaction from his peers and contemporaries around the league was universal.
"That a boy Rob! Proud to see the Sabres putting that number where it deserves to be. Wish I could be there tonight, but will definitely watch." -- Michael Peca, former Sabres captain, via Twitter
"Rob was a joy to coach and was a better man than a player. Always led by example and never took a night off. Every game was vital to him and it spread to his teammates. Hats off to the Rayzer for this deserved honor." -- Ted Nolan, former Sabres head coach
"About time! Had a few battles with Rob but he was always total class on and off the ice. One more round for old time's sake? Just kidding - congrats Rayzer!" -- Matthew Barnaby, former Sabres teammate and opponent
"An honor and a deserved one. Rob really drove that 'hardest working team in hockey' line and made it real for all of us, day in and day out. Great to see #32 going to the rafters where it belongs." -- Jason Dawe, former Sabres teammate
"Rob was always tough to play against and brought out the best in his teammates any time we faced them. Great to hear he's getting his jersey retired. Well earned." -- Derian Hatcher, former Dallas Star
"He really represented an era of the game that was iconic in a lot of ways. We were in ESPN commercials. He could play the game well too. Always the hardest right hand in the league. Congrats Ray!" -- Tie Domi, former Maple Leaf and multiple-time foe
Honored to be in the building tonight to see Rob Ray get his jersey raised. Was always a Domi guy growing up, but respected Ray for what he brought for as long as he did. #respect -- Ryan Reaves, current Golden Knights forward, via Twitter
The ceremony is expected to start after both Vegas and the Sabres players take the ice. Ray will also receive the ceremonial Golden Sabre sword, which will be presented by Sabres co-owner Kim Pegula. Rick Jeanneret will be the emcee.
"If you'd have told me this was going to happen yesterday, I'd say you were full of you know what," remarked Ray as he struggled to find the words. "Guess I need to come up with a speech and everything. Just a bit shocked right now.
"But humbled too. It's a great honor."