Forty years after the French Connection line came together for the first time, the Buffalo Sabres will honor the trio of Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert with a statue outside First Niagara Center.
The unveiling will take place on Oct. 12 and will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the French Connection first playing together in 1972. It will be part of a larger Alumni Plaza, which is in the planning stages and will be set directly outside of the arena.
The combination of Perreault, a Hall of Fame center who played with Martin on his left and Robert on his right, is still the most celebrated offensive unit in Sabres history. The all-French-Canadian line was dubbed "The French Connection" after the 1971 film of the same name. Perreault was the first player drafted by the Sabres when they joined the NHL in 1970. Martin was their top pick a year later, and Robert joined the Sabres in a trade from Pittsburgh in 1972.
The threesome was united at the start of the Sabres' third season in the NHL and led Buffalo to the first playoff berth in franchise history in 1972-73. Two years later, they were the driving force behind Buffalo's first division title and the Sabres' first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final -- they were beaten by Philadelphia in six games.
During their time together, the three were honored with a combined 18 NHL All-Star Game appearances. All three are members of the Sabres Hall of Fame and have had their numbers officially retired. Perreault, winner of the 1971 Calder Trophy and the 1973 Lady Byng Trophy, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.
"History has always been an extremely important facet of our organization's philosophy," Sabres president Ted Black said. "We hope this statue and the surrounding Alumni Plaza will serve as a proper tribute to all the great players who have made this franchise what it is today, while also serving as an inspiration to future Sabres fans and players that will keep us a strong and successful team for years to come."
The inspiration for the statue came from a photograph taken during a playoff game in April 1975 and features all three members of the French Connection. The photograph, taken by Ron Moscati, is considered extremely rare because so few pictures exist with all three players in the same shot. During the game in which the photograph was taken, all three scored a goal to lead the Sabres to a win against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Sabres commissioned American sculptor Jerry McKenna to design and construct the statue. A specially designed pedestal being constructed by HHL Architects of Buffalo will feature an integrated lighting system and an illuminated informational panel, and will provide a base for the statue. Construction on the pedestal will begin later this summer.
The Alumni Plaza will honor all former members of the team. Every player in team history will be immortalized on plaques that will be placed on brick columns throughout the plaza.