Laughter mixed with a few tears as 3,000 family members, friends, former teammates and fans of Richard Martin gathered at HSBC Arena on Thursday to celebrate the life of No. 7.
|Gilbert Perreault (left) and Rene Robert speak at the a public memorial service for Rick Martin (Photo: Bill Wippert) |
The entire Buffalo Sabres team was also in attendance, and as WGRZ sportscaster Ed Kilgore, who hosted the public memorial service, said when addressing the current Sabres players, it’s not only what Martin did as a player, but what he did in his life after his playing career that made him so special. Martin first captured the hearts of Buffalonians as a member of the famed French Connection, one of the greatest lines in the history of hockey, and remained a fixture in the community when his playing days were over.
Martin’s French Connection linemates, Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert, each shared memories of “Rico,” as did Martin’s son, Corey, his brother, Robert, former teammate Danny Gare, Sabres broadcaster Rick Jeanneret and friends Ian McPherson and Frank Broderick.
Each person who spoke at the service made reference to Martin’s tremendous sense of humor and his love for pulling pranks on people. They spoke of his love for his wife, Mikey, and their children. They talked about his passion for the game of golf, his Sunday routine which included playing with his dog and visiting friends, and his desire to score goals out on the ice. Robert even left a cigar and a can of Budweiser on the podium in honor of his friend.
There was also a tribute video where more of his friends shared memories, and used words like ‘passion,’ ‘dedicated,’ ‘prankster’ and ‘true friendship’ when describing Martin.
|Rick Martin (Photo: Bill Wippert) |
It was evident that Martin had touched many lives, and not only because he was a great hockey player, but because of the type of person he was.
“He was a good friend, he was certainly a lot of fun, and he’ll never be replaced,” said Robert. “Rico was a person who always said, ‘if you can’t have fun, it’s not worth living’… Rico treated people the way he wanted to be treated, and that’s why he was remembered today for the person that he was off the ice.”
Much of Martin’s legacy as a player is tied to the success he shared with Perreault and Robert when they made up the French Connection. Following the service, Robert talked about the three players coming together.
“For Joe (Crozier) to be able to put the French Connection together… I had never played wing before, I was always playing center. To be able to play wing with Gilbert and Rico, and especially Gilbert, who was so hard to play with that you needed to really anticipate what he was going to do and even if you did, you never knew which way he was going to go. But like I said, when there’s a destiny somewhere, it was meant that the three of us were going to play together,” said Robert.
“There was a lot of criss-crossing, with Rene, Rick and I, and we knew where we were on the ice. And Rick had that great timing to come late and he had that great shot so all the goalies were terrified of him. He had the eye of the tiger for scoring goals,” Perreault said. “Great teammate. We got along very well and we had a lot of fun together on the ice and off the ice. He was just a character, a lot of fun to be with… We lost a great man and Buffalo lost a great man.”
Gare told a story about the final game of the 1975-76 season, when Martin entered the game with 49 goals and Gare entered with 47 goals on the season. With each player on the verge of a 50-goal season, Gare notched a hat trick to reach the milestone while Martin was kept off the board and just missed out on his third consecutive 50-goal campaign. However, Martin assisted on each of Gare’s three goals, and although he didn’t get to 50 himself, was still just as happy for Gare.
Less than three weeks before Martin’s passing, the French Connection took the ice together for what would be the last time when Martin, Perreault and Robert skated out from the Zamboni tunnel to surprise and welcome Terry Pegula before his first game as owner of the team on Feb. 23 in what was surely an unforgettable moment for Sabres fans.
“That’s something I will remember the most, the last time we were on the ice together,” said Perreault. “When we were in the back room before we went on the ice, he was just like a kid, telling all the jokes, and made it a lot of fun in that room again.”
Robert thought it was a higher power that brought the three Sabre legends together on the ice one final time.
“There was something written in the books, somewhere above, to bring us back here,” he said. “To get us back together, it was good.”