Rick Martin, who comprised one-third of the famed "French Connection" line for the Buffalo Sabres in the 1970s, died Sunday at age 59.
According to the New York State Police, Martin died in a one-car crash in the Buffalo suburb of Clarence. A report in the Buffalo News said Martin suffered a heart attack while driving.
"We lost a heck of a good guy," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, a former teammate of Martin's, said during a news conference before Sunday's game against the Ottawa Senators. "It's a tough one to take."
A moment was silence was held prior to the opening faceoff at HSBC Arena, where Martin's No. 7 jersey hangs from the rafters.
Martin was one of the Sabres' first draft picks, taken No. 5 in 1971, and scored 44 goals in his first season, a rookie record at the time. He went on to team with Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert on the high-scoring line that helped lead the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1975, only their fifth season of existence.
"It's sad news," Perreault told the Buffalo News. "It's a reminder that you never know in life. I mean, he was 59. That's young, and he always seemed to be in such good shape.
"I hadn't seen him much in the past 20 years, but you don't forget all the years you played together. We were together since my days in junior. I stayed at his house for a year. Oh, Rick was a guy with all the jokes. He was funny and people really enjoyed being in his presence. He was a great golfer, too. That was his passion after hockey."
Martin scored a career-high 52 goals in 1973-74 and matched that again to go with a career-high 95 points the following season. He added 7 goals and 15 points in 17 playoff games as the Sabres fell to the Flyers in the Final.
For his career, Martin totaled 384 goals and 701 points in 685 regular-season games with the Sabres and Kings. He added 24 goals and 53 points in 63 playoff games.
Martin was among the welcoming party last month when Terry Pegula assumed ownership of the Sabres.
"It's like a bad dream," Robert told the Buffalo News from Florida, where he was visiting his daughter. "First my brother, then my left winger. I lose Rico [Martin]. I tell you what. This one is going to be tough for everybody in Buffalo.
"It's too bad. Pegula just put us together. He told us, 'You guys are going to be here now until you die.'"
A statement released by the team read: "The Buffalo Sabres are saddened to announce the passing of Buffalo Sabres Hall of Famer and member of the famed French Connection, Rick Martin. Rick was not only one of the greatest players in franchise history, he was a great friend to the Sabres organization and the entire community. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Sabres organization go out to his wife Mikey and their two sons, Corey and Josh."
Just hours after Martin's passing, the Sabres earned a 6-4 victory against the Ottawa Senators at HSBC Arena. After the game, the team assembled at center ice and pointed their sticks at Martin's No. 7 banner.