The Buffalo Sabres organization suffered a tragic loss on Sunday as Rick Martin, a member of the famed French Connection line, passed away.
A seven-time NHL All-Star and one of the most prolific scorers in franchise history, Martin played left wing on a line with center Gilbert Perreault and right wing Rene Robert to form one of the most famous lines in NHL history. Martin was remembered by members of the organization both before and after the Sabres’ win over Ottawa on Sunday.
|Rick Martin (Photo: Bill Wippert) |
“On behalf of the Sabre family and all his former teammates, friends, as being a guy that I’ve been in the community with now for 30 years, we lost a heck of a guy (Sunday),” said Head Coach Lindy Ruff. “He was a teammate, he was somebody I worked with as part of the coaching staff, somebody I played golf with. He was a great person. I think anybody that crossed his path would say the same. It’s tough when you lose anybody, and we lost a real good person today. It’s a tough one to take.”
Selected by the Sabres in the first round (5th overall) of the 1971 Entry Draft, Martin played for Buffalo from 1971 to 1981 and recorded 695 points on 382 goals and 313 assists in 681 games. He is the all-time franchise leader in hat tricks (21) and scored 52 goals in back-to-back seasons in 1973-74 and 1974-75. Martin’s No. 7 was retired on Nov. 15, 1995 as he and Robert (No. 14) joined Perreault (No. 11) in the rafters.
Aside from his greatness as a player, Martin was remembered on Sunday for the type of person he was off the ice.
“He certainly made a lot of us laugh over the years,” said former Sabre and current broadcaster Mike Robitaille, who was a teammate of Martin’s.
“I’m the new guy here and I can tell you that ‘Rico’ was definitely the happiest member, outwardly, of the French Connection. All three of them had a fire in them that you could even see in talking to them,” said Sabres owner Terry Pegula, a longtime fan of the French Connection.
Larry Playfair was a teammate of Martin’s for four seasons and, as the Sabres’ director of Alumni Relations, has worked with him for even longer.
|Rene Robert, Rick Martin, Terry Pegula and Gilbert Perreault on Feb. 23, 2011 (Photo: Bill Wippert) |
“I worked with Rick maybe a little bit more than the rest of the guys. Folks would often call up and want someone to come play in their golf tournament or speak at their breakfast, and they always wanted Rick or Rene or Gilbert. And ‘Rico,’ if he could do it, would always go. And that’s just how he was. Whatever he could do for the community, he did,” Playfair said.
Robitaille played both with and against Martin, and shared his memories being a teammate and an opponent.
“I played three years with him so I knew him in those early years, and I also got to play against him. I didn’t realize how good a hockey player he was until I played against him, and I found out how much fire he had in him. This thing about scoring goals would just overcome him. From the blue line in, he was almost unstoppable,” Robitaille said.
Sabres Equipment Manager Rip Simonick has been with the team since its inception and shared his memories of Martin.
“Rico was probably one of the best players we ever had, as a person, as a player. He had to be a perfectionist at everything; you’re going to hear that from a lot of people. He was an innovator in hockey. He worked at everything. He worked at his sticks, he worked at his golf game, he worked at his friendships. That’s the way I remember Rick,” said Simonick. “He enjoyed what he did. He loved it. He loved hockey, he loved golf, he loved his family and he loved the people around him.”
|Helmet Decal |
The Sabres players wore a sticker on their helmets during Sunday’s game honoring Martin. Following the game, they paid a touching tribute to Martin, as the entire team gathered at center ice and saluted the No. 7 banner that hangs in the rafters at HSBC Arena.
“I think that was the right thing to do. We had talked about it before the game,” said Jason Pominville
. “If there’s one thing that he would’ve wanted, it’s us to go out there and play hard and get a win and I thought we responded pretty well. At the end, I think it was just the right thing to do.”
Like Martin, Pominville is a native of Quebec and had the chance to get to know him.
“We’ve definitely had the chance to meet him and be around him. Being French, I had plenty of opportunities to speak with him and he just puts a smile on your face every time you see him,” Pominville said. “I was just really devastated by the news and I think everybody was when we came in and found out about it.”
The Sabres organization issued a statement which read in part: "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."
The French Connection had the opportunity to skate together one final time recently. On Feb. 23, prior to the start of the Sabres’ game against the Atlanta Thrashers, Pegula was introduced to the fans before his first game as the team’s owner. To his surprise, Martin, Perreault and Robert skated onto the HSBC Arena ice donning whites Sabres jerseys and greeted Pegula in a special moment for everyone involved.
“I think that was awesome,” said Ruff. “I think there’s some irony there but to see them skate out that night for Mr. Pegula was incredible. Just to see the smile on all three of their faces was even better.”
“We had plans to have the three guys together and work with the Sabres organization, and now we’ve got an empty chair. It’s tough,” Pegula said. “He was always laughing. I never saw him when he wasn’t smiling… He was a good guy.”