I was born in Western New York but didn’t grow up here, so I missed all the great goals scored by Martin and the iconic French Connection. Odds are I would have had only a few memories given that I was born the year after he was drafted. However, I quickly learned of his scoring prowess and the lore of one of the greatest lines in NHL history. I wonder how much greater Martin would have been if medicine had advanced to treat knee injuries the way they do now. Even so, he still holds the top spot in several categories in the Sabres record book, indicating a greatness that has lasted four decades and counting.
|Rene Robert, Rick Martin, Terry Pegula and Gilbert Perreault on Feb. 23, 2011 (Photo: Bill Wippert) |
I am not going to pretend that Rick Martin and I were close. I knew him, liked him, admired him, spoke to him almost every home game, and possess his cell number in my contact list. He was so friendly and welcoming, not just to me, but to everybody. It was as unique in the world of professional sports as Rico’s ability to rip a slap shot by any goaltender. He was a gem. There are plenty of great guys in hockey, but there aren’t many as great as Rick Martin on AND off the ice. Just ask the volunteers at the various charities in our in area. Rick was generous with his time and money. He was at all the charity golf events, partly because he loved golf, but mostly due to his sense of community.
Golf is how I first met Rick, and provides my fondest memory of him. Some of you may watch or listen to my golf shows in Buffalo, so you know I have a passion for the game and can imagine what a round with Rick Martin meant to me nine years ago when it happened. My radio partner and I were invited to play golf and were told the fourth in our group was going to be Lindy Ruff. We each knew Lindy pretty well from his first few years coaching the team as he did a radio show with us. When we arrived that day, we were told Lindy couldn’t make it, so Rick Martin was filling in. Can you imagine? Yeah, it was that cool and we hadn’t even teed off yet.
I was nervous. I had never met Rico, but knew he was a really good golfer. That was actually the first thought that came to mind, not the fact that he was the greatest goal scoring left winger in Sabres history and part of the French Connection. The only thing I can say about the following three and half hours of golf is, it was amazing. Rick’s golf swing was short, powerful and looked effortless. It produced a low rising draw that seemed to hit every fairway and green. In between each shot came a joke or a funny crack about your game. When you hit a good shot, he was the first to acknowledge it. At the end of the day he beat me by two shots. I didn’t mind losing to him; who would? But golf wasn’t the best part of the day. Our host couldn’t stay for a post-round beverage, so my partner and I figured that was it. Martin said, “You guys want to go to Damon’s and get a beer?”
We sat in Damon’s for three hours talking hockey and getting to know Rick Martin. We only had a few beers over that duration, but could have stayed for six hours to fulfill all the complimentary drinks sent Rick’s way. The conversation ranged from golf, to his playing days, our families, the future of the Sabres, the future of Buffalo, etc. At the end, when we were walking to our cars, Rico said to me, “Hey Kevy, you’re a good player. Let’s do it again.” At the time, it meant a lot to me. It means even more now because that’s the first time he called me Kevy. I’m not really fond of it, but it sounded so much better coming from him. I’m going to miss hearing “Hey Kevy” followed by the latest funny joke in his repertoire.
Many of you reading this have a Rick Martin story of your own or know somebody who does. That’s why his death stings even more. Rico was not only one of the greatest sports heroes this city has ever known, he was one of us.