Two years ago, western New York, the Buffalo Sabres franchise, and all true Sabres fans lost a great legend of the game. Rick Martin died on March 13, 2011, in Clarence, NY, from a heart attack while driving.
Rick Martin was special, from the day he was drafted, by the Buffalo Sabres, 5th overall in 1971. Martin made an immediate impact on the Sabres franchise, scoring 74 points in his first season in 73 games. Only once in his illustrious career, did Martin fail to eclipse 30 or more goals, outside of the 1980-81 season, when he sustained what would eventually become a career-ending injury.
Martin struck immediate chemistry with linemates Gilbert Perreault, and Rene Robert. This line caused havoc in the NHL for years, and was affectionately called the French Connection. With being so young, only stories could illustrate how magical Martin was with the puck. Defensemen would not know where to begin to even try and stop Martin when they saw him approaching their blue line. Martin could let one rip at the top of the circle with such ferocity it would actually look like it went through the goalie, yet he had the set of hands of a true goal scorer. Steven Stamkos could be seen as a modern-day equivalent of Rick Martin.
Martin played parts of 11 seasons in Buffalo, and one in Los Angeles, where he was only able to play three games before announcing his retirement. Martin scored 384 goals, and added 317 assists for a career total of 701 points in 685 games.
The year Martin passed was a very important year for the Buffalo Sabres franchise. Less then a month before ‘Rico’s’ death, the Sabres were bought by long time fan and businessman Terry Pegula. From the minute Pegula was introduced to the media, his affection for Martin and the French Connection was seen, and heard. Pegula had vowed to keep those three icons of Buffalo sports history involved in the franchise from there on out.
“It’s too bad,” French Connection linemate Rene Robert said. “Pegula had just put us together. He told us that night, ‘Now you’re going to be here until you die.’ I tell you, I’m speechless. When you play that long with two guys, they’re family. At least there was time to bring us all back together one more time.” – From article by Buffalo News Columnist, John Vogel 3-14-11.
I did not know Rick Martin personally, but from the stories I have heard and read over the last 2 years, he was one of a kind. He was involved in the community heavily after his retirement. Martin relocated to Western New York after that, and was frequently see about the area at autograph signings and charity events. Sabres alumni, and roster players at the time of the tragedy all would speak about Rick Martin as a “joker”, or the “life of the party”.
I once was able to speak with Rick’s son Corey over the phone by chance, due to a job I had at the time. I could do nothing but compliment him on his fathers contributions to Buffalo, the Sabres and fans. He was humbled, and greatful for the support that the community had shown his family after the loss.
That evening on March 14, 2011, the Sabres had a home game against the Ottawa Senators. I remember not wanting to miss this game for anything, as I knew that the Sabres would show ultimate class and do something memorable for Martin Family, and Sabre Nation. Rick Jeanneret was on screen, and gave a moving speech for his dear friend Rico. As the camera panned back and forth on the stands, nearly not a dry eye in First Niagara Center could be seen.
The Sabres put on an offensive show that night, scoring six goals in a 6-4 win. Pulling for ‘7’ while sitting on my couch, is all I could think about. The highlight of the night, was Nathan Gerbe scoring Buffalo’s 6th goal, in what people were calling a “Martin like” goal.
After the final horn, the Sabres players went to center ice, and pointed to the retired #7 hanging in the rafters as a sign of respect.
In the end, we lost a legend that night. Rick Martin was arguably one of the best goal scorers in Sabres history, and for what accomplishments Martin had over such a short career, one could argue that he belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.