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Remembering Buffalo Sabres legend Rene Robert

"French Connection" member passed away Tuesday at the age of 72.

by Brian Duff and Jourdon LaBarber @BuffaloSabres / Sabres.com

Buffalo Sabres legend Rene Robert died Tuesday at the age of 72, his family announced.

"It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of adored Sabres alumnus Rene Robert," the team said in a statement. "The entire Sabres organization and Western New York community are praying for the Robert family and cherishing the memories he created in Buffalo."

"Kim and I were saddened to hear the devastating news of Rene Robert's passing," Sabres owner Terry Pegula said. "When we first took over as owners, the members of The French Connection were three of the first people to welcome us to the organization. During our time with the team, Rene has been one of the most active alumni and we've grown to know him well over the past 10 years. He was a friend to us and to the entire organization and will be missed dearly. Our thoughts and prayers are with Rene's family during this difficult time."

Video: Remembering Sabres legend Rene Robert

Robert was acquired by Sabres general manager Punch Imlach in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 4, 1972, adding the final piece of what would become the iconic "French Connection" line alongside Gilbert Perreault and Rick Martin that wowed spectators in Buffalo during the 1970s. 

Perreault was the star with his penchant for end-to-end rushes, Martin the unrelenting goal scorer. But Robert was the piece that made the trio tick, a do-it-all winger who made his linemates better.

"He was a fiery little guy and he was a very strong individual and he wanted to perform every game," said former teammate Fred Stanfield. "I've got a lot of respect for Gilbert and Rene Robert and Rico. Rene was kind of a leader on that line."

"He had fire in his eyes," added Sabres Hall of Fame forward Don Luce. "Every time he stepped onto the ice, you knew he was going to try to score because he was driven, he brought a lot of energy to that line. They clicked. They knew how to play with each other."

Video: Sabres Hall of Fame Profile: Rene Robert
 
Robert led the Sabres with 40 goals during his first full season in blue and gold. Two years later, he became the first in franchise history to post 100 points in a season. 

Robert would spend parts of eight seasons in Buffalo, amassing 222 goals and 320 assists in 524 regular season games. The 552 points were eighth best in the NHL during that time. But it was his contributions in the postseason that were perhaps most noteworthy. 

Robert scored the first overtime goal in team history in Game 5 of Buffalo's first-round series against the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens on April 10, 1973. The series ended with a Canadiens victory in Game 6, but it was the reaction of the Memorial Auditorium crowd following the loss - a deafening chant of "Thank you, Sabres!" - that would remain as Robert's fondest on-ice memory. 

Robert added two more overtime goals during the Sabres' playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1975. He clinched a win for Buffalo in Game 5 of their first-round series with the Canadiens, a crucial victory that gave the Sabres a 3-2 edge in the series.

"When you look back over the history of this team, if you had to go into a game in overtime and say it's predicated on, 'Whoever scores the first goal, that's it, game's over, you win the Stanley Cup. Buffalo, who do you want on the ice?' Well, I can think of many players," former Sabres defenseman and longtime broadcaster Mike Robitaille said. 

"I would really have to give a lot of thought to putting Rene Robert on the ice. The bigger the game, the bigger the goal. He had a penchant for that. It wasn't luck. He was good." 

It was Robert who ended one of the most unique games in NHL history on May 20, 1975 - Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, forever known as "The Fog Game." An 82-degree day in Buffalo created a thick layer of fog along the ice surface inside the The Aud, decreasing visibility and forcing frequent stoppages throughout the contest. The two teams traded goals through regulation, forcing overtime in a must-win game for a Sabres team already trailing 2-0 in the series.

With 1:31 remaining in the overtime period, Robert sped down the right side of the ice and took a shot that emerged from the fog and beat Flyers goalie Bernie Parent down low, forcing the goaltender to stumble down to the ice. 

Video: 1975: Sabres defeat Flyers in "fog game" in Cup Final

"It was an angle that was almost impossible to score from," Robert said years later. "I could try that thousands of times over and I would probably never [score]. It just happened it was meant to be that the puck went into the right place, but it was pure luck. Yeah, I wanted to shoot on the net, that I agree with. But I never knew I was going to score from there. I mean, you could try that your whole career and never score. It was just meant to be."

His teammates disagree. 

"It was a good shot," Luce said "Back then, the goalies were stand-up goalies, so he beat him on the short side. I don't know if the fog made a difference because it was such a good shot."

Robert scored 22 playoff goals and 39 playoff points with the Sabres, which rank fourth and fifth respectively in franchise history.

Robert was inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame with his French Connection linemates in 1989. His No. 14 was retired by the Sabres on Nov. 15, 1995 and hangs in the rafters alongside Perreault's No. 11 and Martin's No. 7. He was immortalized with a statue in Alumni Plaza - depicting the image of Robert, Perreault, and Martin flying down the ice on a rush - in 2012. 

He remained a proud ambassador for the team after his retirement, a fixture at organizational events who was always eager to chat with the fans he loved. 

"It's probably the greatest thing in my life aside from having my kids," he said in 2019. "This city is so good to the athletes that play here."

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