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Fergus-born Doug Rombough lived his dream of playing in the NHL

After making a name for himself playing for St. Catherines, Rombough signed with the Buffalo Sabres, then played for New York Islanders
Doug Rombough of Fergus played in the National Hockey League, including a stint with the Buffalo Sabres.

All across Canada, kids lace up their skates, grab a hockey stick and hit the ice, dreaming that one day they’ll be playing in the National Hockey League. One boy for whom that dream came true was Doug Rombough of Fergus.

Rombough wasn’t the first Fergus native to make it to the big league. Defenceman Wilfred Kennedy “Bucko” McDonald (1911-1991), played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers], and goaltender Ed Chadwick (born in 1933) who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins preceded him.

Douglas George Rombough was born in Fergus on July 8, 1950, to Maynard and Charlotte (nee Cawthra) Rombough. He had a sister, Gail; and a brother, Lorne (1948-2019), who played briefly for the Chicago Cougars of the World Hockey Association.

Standing six-foot-three (190 cm) and weighing over 200 lbs (90.7 kg), Romby – as his teammates called him – was a pretty big guy; certainly big enough to pursue a career as a hockey player, although he attended teacher’s college in St. Catharines. In 1968 he earned a place in the lineup of the St. Catharines Black Hawks of the Ontario Hockey Association.

In his first year, playing in 53 games, the Fergus boy scored 12 goals and picked up 13 assists. One of his friends and teammates in St. Catharines was future Hockey Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne.

Two years later, Rombough was traded to the Flint Generals of the now defunct International Hockey League, and scored 22 goals in 65 games, while registering 36 assists.

In 1971 he moved on to the Cincinnati Swords of the American Hockey League. His 22 goals and 26 assists caught the attention of scouts for the Buffalo Sabres, one of the franchises entering the newly expanded NHL.

The inaugural draft year of new teams like the Sabres saw a lot of hockey players toiling away in the minor leagues swept up as those teams tried to put together rosters that would allow them to compete with the well-established Original Six: Toronto, Montreal, Detroit, Chicago, Boston and New York.

Buffalo Sabres’ management believed their team would be competing with Toronto for a fan base, so they drafted Rombough 97th overall. It has been speculated that they hoped having a popular player from the St. Catharines Black Hawks on the team would help bring some fans from that region of
Ontario into the Sabres’ fold.

Rombough had a five-game tryout with the Sabres during which he scored two goals. Then he was sent back down to Cincinnati for the remainder of the 1972-73 season.

In 66 games with the Swords he scored 28 goals and had 43 assists. He helped his team win the AHL championship and the Calder Cup. In 14 playoff games he scored 10 goals and had eight assists. That meant Romby was back playing centre with the Sabres for the 1973-74 season.

Since Buffalo’s televised games could easily be seen in Fergus, folks in Romby’s hometown could watch.

However, Rombough was not what anyone would call a finesse player. He played what hockey broadcasters and sports writers would call “lunchpail hockey”, which meant he had to work hard to get ice-time and to be effective offensively. At that time the Sabres had several up-and-coming young stars,
including Rick Martin, Rene Robert and Gilbert Perrault, who would soon become legendary as the French Connection.

With that high-scoring trio dominating the Sabres’ offence, Rombough couldn’t repeat what he’d done in Cincinnati. In 46 games with the Sabres that year, he scored only six goals and picked up nine assists.

The Sabres’ management and coaching staff thought Rombough had potential, but felt their team had an immediate need for more toughness. They traded Romby in a deal that sent him to the New York Islanders and brought them Brian “Spinner” Spencer.

Rombough played the rest of that season and part of the 1974-75 season with the Islanders, but once again saw limited ice time. Like the Sabres, the Islanders were a new team with a core of dynamic young stars like Denis Potvin, Billy Harris and Bob Nystrom.

Rombough was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Jean-Paul Parise.

In 1976, after playing 59 games with the North Stars, during which he scored eight goals and registered 11 assists, Rombough was sent down to Minnesota’s farm club, the New Haven Nighthawks of the AHL. He spent the rest of his hockey career in the minors, playing for the Nighthawks, and the Dallas Black Hawks and the Fort Worth Texans of the Central Hockey League.

He left professional hockey in 1978.

Rombough moved to St. Catharines where he opened a restaurant-bar called Romby’s, which became a popular place well-known for live music. He also sponsored many kids’ sports teams.

He eventually sold the restaurant and moved to the United States. He was a resident of Plantation, Florida, when he died at his home on June 20, 2015, at age 64.

The kid from Fergus might not have reached the same heights as teammates like Dionne and Perrault, but he had nonetheless lived a Canadian dream and played in the NHL.