The Sabres Observer
by @DaveDavisHockey on 03/14/11 at 11:25 AM ET
Three weeks ago, Rick Martin skated on the ice for a memorable pregame ceremony with former French Connection linemates Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert, and new owner Terry Pegula. It was the final stage of a full evolution for Martin, dating back to his bitter departure from the Sabres in 1981, due in large part because Scotty Bowman apparently didn’t think that severe cartilage damage in the knee, caused by a collision with Washington Capitals goalie Mike Palmateer, was a good enough reason not to play.
When Martin passed away yesterday at the young age of 59, it’s not going overboard to say that many of us Sabres fans over 40 lost a piece of our childhood. It’s good to know that at least he was on good terms with the organization at the end of his life.
Martin had been involved with the Sabres Alumni Association over the years, and he did have a brief stint with the Sabres as a skills coach in 2003-04, but in a way it felt like Pegula Day on 2-22-11 was when he, along with other Sabres icons who formed the fabric of the franchise’s history, figuratively came home again.
I’m old enough to remember the last three or four years of Martin’s career. Let me tell you, heading down to the Aud as a little kid and seeing #7, flying down the wing on that beautiful white ice and ripping that shot with such velocity and quick release, was quite an introduction for me to NHL hockey.
And he had Perreault and Rene Robert on his line to boot. You just had to see the French Connection in person to believe it. I’ve watched Gare, Mogilny, Lafontaine, all of them over the past 35 years. When you hear ex-teammates and media people say that Martin was the greatest Sabres sniper ever, they aren’t exaggerating in the slightest.
He was no slouch on his skates either. In his first Sabres training camp in 1971, legendary coach Punch Imlach immediately put Martin on the speedy Perreault’s line - because, as Imlach put it, he was the only one on the team that could keep up with him. The rest was history.
His importance to the local hockey community can’t be measured. His loss had enough impact that coach Lindy Ruff was involved in an emotional press conference yesterday where he spoke of his friend and former teammate - 45 minutes before his team took the ice for a game of major importance in the standings.
“We lost a heck of a guy,” said Ruff. “He was a great person. I think anybody that crossed his path would say the same. It’s a tough one to take.”
Thanks to Pegula, Buffalo fans will be hearing the original Sabre Dance with more regularity. For a lot of older fans, the meaning of that song is simply the vivid image of the French Connection, all three of them, flying around the ice and lifting fans out of their seats. Hearing that song will always feel different for me now. It’s like there’s a permanent crack in the foundation.
I feel sorry for fans too young to have seen Martin play in person. I feel sorry for myself for never having been able, unlike a few friends of mine who have been to some Alumni events, to meet in person someone who by all accounts was a great and fun-loving human being.
But as much as anything else, I’m saddened by the thought that if and when Pegula’s Stanley Cup promise comes to fruition for Buffalo, the man known affectionately as “Rico” by close friends and anonymous diehard Sabres fans alike won’t be here to witness it.
Ruff’s words ring true not just for the people who were close to Martin, but also for those of us who as kids in the 1970’s became Sabres fans for life after watching him. It’s a tough one to take.
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About The Sabres Observer
Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003. He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene. Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]