By Stu Hackel
The passing of Rick Martin, the great Sabres player and member of that team's famed French Connection Line in the 1970s, was something of a shock to his former teammates as well as hockey fans, regardless of their rooting interests. Martin died when he suffered a heart attack while driving in the Buffalo area on Sunday. At the conclusion of the Sabres' victory over Ottawa just hours after he died, the players saluted Martin by pointing to his number 7 banner that hangs in the HSBC Arena.
Martin had helped Sabres fans greet the team's new owner when he and former linemates Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert skated out to welcome Terry Pegula at center ice prior to the Sabres' first game under Pegula's ownership (seen in the video above). A memorial service for Martin will take place on Thursday, March 24, 11:00 am at HSBC Arena.
Born in Verdun, Quebec, in 1951, the son of a Scottish father and French mother, Rick Martin was a dynamic goal scorer for the Sabres. His outstanding individual efforts and fierce desire to put the puck in the net endeared him to Sabres fans and made him a dangerous foe around the NHL. His chemistry with Perreault and Robert made their line, named after the film The French Connection, one of the most lethal of the era.
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 he scored 52 goals in back-to-back seasons -- 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.
There is not much video of Martin on YouTube but what there is is revealing about him and the game of 40 years ago. Here's a well known goal Martin scored in the 1976 SuperSeries against the Wings of the Soviet club at the Buffalo Aud...
...and it shows Martin's hard accurate wrist shot and quick release. That was Martin's second goal of the game. His first shows his determination...
...and his little dance after scoring.
Here's a 10 minutes chunk of the Canadiens-Sabres playoff Game 2 from the semi-final series that the Sabres eventually won in six games, which advanced them to the Stanley Cup Final against the Flyers...
...and in addition to watching Martin in action, it also gives a great flavor of the game in the mid-70s and a chance to hear probably the best TV broadcasting team of all time, Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin.
The Sabres website published some recollections of the happy-go-lucky Martin by his teammates and The Buffalo News had a number of stories on Martin, including the main news story, a column by Jerry Sullivan, a photo gallery and a fan reaction story, all worth reading.
Joe Pelletier, whose blogs help keep the game's history alive for a new generation of fans, wrote this bio of Rico a few years ago.
Buffalo TV channel WIBV aired this report on Martin's death...
...and also posted the raw footage of the Sabres media briefing on YouTube, showing the emotional reaction of the Sabres family.
Terry Pegula said yesterday that he had plans for the French Connection to help rekindle the team's connection with its fans. "I guess we'll just have an empty chair around," he told reporters.