BUFFALO, N.Y. – The French Connection is together again in Buffalo.
Forty years after Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert and Rick Martin first skated together on a forward line, the Sabres unveiled a statue honouring the trio in a ceremony Friday night outside First Niagara Center.
The bronze statue, designed and constructed by sculptor Jerry McKenna, is based on a photograph taken by Ron Moscati during an April 1975 playoff victory over the Montreal Canadiens. The statue anchors the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Plaza.
The three French-Canadian players earned the famous nickname after the 1971 film of the same name. In 2,396 games with the Sabres from 1972-79, Perreault, Robert and Martin combined for 1,116 goals and 2,573 points.
The statue was unveiled following a brief video. A cheer of “Rick Martin Rules!” came from the crowd, noting the late winger. The honorees wore a pin bearing “Rico 7” in honour of Martin, who died March 13, 2011.
“It’s incredible,” said Cory Martin, the 26-year-old son of Rick Martin. “I’m still looking at it. You can see I can’t take my off it. I never got to see him play. I wasn’t born when he was playing.”
Perreault and Robert also mentioned their late teammate.
“Our mission here was to put a great show on the ice for the Buffalo fans,” said Perreault, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990. “The French Connection was something very special. We had some great years together. It’s a great honour. It’s a very special night. We sure miss Rico, but it’s part of life.”
Said Robert: “It’s difficult. Every time there is something that involves Gilbert and I and we talk about the French Connection, he’s missed. He was the one who brought this weather because this morning it didn’t look too good.”
Along with the statue, the plaza features five brick columns that are covered in plaques bearing the names of all 401 Sabres alumni. Each column represents a decade of Sabres history and they all support a pedestrian walkway, which features a pictorial display of players throughout the franchise’s history.