The greatest Buffalo Sabre of all is back in the fold. Gilbert
Perreault may not inspire the same awe in the role of Sabres
community liaison as he did in his 17 years as a sensationally
creative center, but at least he and the team are back together.
"So many fans around here grew up idolizing Bert," says one of
those idolizers, Buffalo president Larry Quinn. "He's the guy
who defines this franchise. We missed him."
Perreault, who was the first draft pick in Sabres history, won
the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 1971. By the time
he adorned SI's cover he was drawing comparisons to Montreal
Canadiens star Jean Beliveau for his skating grace. A master of
deception, Perreault would hip-fake and shoulder-shrug his way
to 512 goals and 814 assists before retiring during the 1986-87
Though Perreault wanted to stay with the Buffalo organization
and though his absence was lamented by Sabres fans and media,
the team never offered him a job to his liking. He stayed home
in Victoriaville, Que., with his wife, Carmen, and their sons,
Marc Andre, now 20, and Sean, now 12. He coached junior hockey,
invested in real estate and shunned some Sabres alumni games.
Years passed. In October 1996, a few days before his number 11
was raised to the rafters of Buffalo's Marine Midland Arena,
Perreault said resignedly of his relationship with the Sabres,
"It's done. Let's face it."
The about-face came less than a month later, when Quinn took
over as president and began making overtures to Perreault. In
February 1997, shortly after the death of the Sabres' beloved
radio-TV announcer, Ted Darling, Perreault came to Buffalo to
attend a festive tribute to his friend. In an arena full of fans
and former Sabres, Perreault, reticent during his playing days,
skated onto the ice, took a microphone and began crooning Elvis
tunes. Emotions ran high. The crowd roared. "People loved him,"
They still do. Last summer Quinn hired Perreault, a Hall of
Famer, to make 25 appearances a year for the Sabres. He hosts
charity dinners, conducts youth hockey clinics and suits up for
alumni games. The 47-year-old Perreault has become a fan
favorite again. "I like being involved with the public, with
Buffalo," he says. "It feels good."
Perreault stays in shape by playing 30 games a year with the
Hockey Legends, a barnstorming group of former NHLers, and on
Sunday he helped the Sabres alumni beat members of the 1980 U.S.
Olympic team 8-4. The gifted center showed that he can still
skate circles around men his age. And he did it in Buffalo,
where he belongs.