God Bless Rick Martin of the French Connection

one third of the French connection passed away today. Rick Martin was one of the greatest players in the Buffalo Sabres franchise history.

I pray that God will bless his soul because God has blessed all Sabres fans by letting him play hockey for the Buffalo Sabres.

Just a short time ago Martin welcomed the new owner of the Sabres Terry Pegula on the ice with the other members of the French connection Rene Robert (14) and Gilbert Perreault (11) before an NHL hockey game against the Atlanta Thrashers.

I said to myself I bet you those guys  have at least one more shift in them. Boy would I pay for that.

When the French connection was out on the ice it was like they were on a power play.  I certainly would love to see them play one more time. But that’s not how life works.

At the Sabres game tonight against Ottawa every Sabres player wore a helmet sticker featuring Martin’s name, his uniform No. 7, and a fleur-de-lis. The coaching staff wore the sticker on their lapels.

French connectionEver since I was a little kid I have read the Buffalo sports pages every day.

It was great when they had the Buffalo Courier Express and the Buffalo Evening News because then you could read two sports pages.

And I would read how they described almost every goal because back then all the games weren’t on television, you had to listen to a lot of the games on the radio.

I remember a Buffalo sports writer describing one of his goals by saying that “Rick Martin only needed enough room for the size of the puck to fit to get a goal.”

I remember reading about us drafting Rick Martin to be be a linemate with Gilbert Perreault. I remember the Buffalo sports reporter writing that finally they have someone who had the speed to keep up with Gilbert and the shot that can score a goal when he gets the pass. And boy did he ever.

I remember his trademark move where he would put the puck around one side of the defender and skate around the other side and then pick up the puck and come in on goal.

I remember his shot as being one of the hardest in the NHL and I wonder what his shot would have been like with the sticks of today. It would have been a rocket.

Legendary GM Punch Imlach once called Richard Martin “the greatest natural goal scorer I’ve seen.” Martin’s slapshot was terrifying and struck fear in goalies everywhere.

I was at a game against the St. Louis Blues where the Sabres pulled the goalie at the end of the game and scored a goal. The referees disallowed the goal. The fans completely littered the ice where you couldn’t see ice.

And when the St. Louis Blues left the ice they were completely doused in beer. That was the last game at the Memorial Auditorium where the opposing team left the rink without being covered by the canvas tunnel.

But the puck was sitting close to the goal crease after Buffalo scored the goal and Rick Martin in total disgust took a slap shot at the empty net all the way on the other side of the rink and he shot it over the top of the net hard into the glass.  I’m telling you he could shoot the puck.

He was grace and elegance on the ice and a perfect compliment to his linemates Gilbert Perreault and René Robert. Such a line chemistry that only comes around once in a lifetime.

I met Rick Martin a few times either getting his autograph or seeing him at Chef’s restaurant having lunch. He would always have a smile on his face and a wisecrack about anything that you would say to him.

I remember shaking his hand and it was strong and rough just like a hockey player but he had a great smile on his face even though he didn’t even know you.

Here’s a first-hand story about what Rick Martin was like. My friend John Tricoli saw him one day sitting by himself in a restaurant and went over to talk to him. They talked hockey for about 45 minutes and at the end of their conversation, John asked Rick Martin if he would sign a napkin for his buddy Vin. Rick told him I’ll do one better give me your address and I’ll mail you a photograph with an autograph.

And although this photograph did not scan very well because it’s in the frame and I couldn’t take it out to scan it, you can see the autograph and the writing that he wrote,

” To Vinnie good luck Rick Martin.”

Come on,  are you kidding me…what a great guy. How many sports heroes would do that?

Good luck to you Rick Martin! And God speed.