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Buffalo’s French Connection… Immortalized Forever

Filed under: Puck Stop

Tonight at the First Niagara Center, over 1500 fans, hockey people, team representatives and an array of Sabres greats assembled on a chilly night to officially unveil the new Alumni Plaza, the centerpiece of which is a specially commissioned statue of the French Connection, the famed line of Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert which put the hockey franchise on the map during their first decade of existence in the 1970’s.

Those who made it to the event were not disappointed, Master of Ceremonies Rick Jeanneret was onstage with team owner Terry Pegula, Perreault, Robert and Richard Martin’s 26 year old son Cory, who represented his dad. A video board on the plaza played off a highlight reel of goal and highlights and special memorable moments taking us back to the great years of this line, capping off, of course, with Rene Robert’s memorable overtime goal against Philadelphia’s Bernie Parent, scored in the fog in Game 3 of the 1975 Stanley Cup finals.

Cory Martin’s presence, reminiscing about his now gone father Richard, provided the most poignant moment of the evening, but it was Gilbert Perreault’s quips and stories which entertained the crowd and brought the house down. “I was very lucky to play with Rene and Rick. We had some tremendous years together. We were one of the best lines in hockey for all those years.” Perreault then tried to remember and list all the names of his teammates during those glory years, but predictably, came up short. When Perreault paused, Robert chimed in from the side with some help. “Just a minute, Rene,” Perreault shot back. “You had your chance!”

Speaking to the media after the presentation, Perreault admitted that he is in awe of this honor, one that is bestowed on the best of the best in just a few peer venues across the spectrum of the four major sports.

Gilbert Perreault talks to the press

“Sure it’s a great honor. There’s a lot of people from Victoriaville here. There a lot of people I didn’t expect who are here. There will be a lot of tourists coming here from Quebec to see the French Connection and this statue and that is something I can be proud of, that we are so well known across all of Canada.”

Perreault played in Buffalo during the same time that greats in other sports, The Buffalo Bills’ O.J. Simpson and the NBA Buffalo Braves Bob McAdoo were also in their primes.”But we were the best!”, Perreault boasted. Continuing, he said, “O.J. was very popular. McAdoo was a superb basketball player. We did the best we could do for our sport and they did what they did best for their sport.” Interestingly, he admitted that he never crossed paths with either of the two men.

Both Perreault and Robert predicted great things in the Buffalo Sabres’ future, while side stepping questions about the current NHL labor dispute. “Terry (Pegula) is doing great things with this teams. Great things are going to happen here and they will happen sooner rather than later. Robert was far bolder, “It’s just a matter of time before the Sabres bring the silver (the Stanley Cup) to this town”, a prognostication which elected huge cheers.

At the end of the presentation, fans stuck around to take pictures, to reminisce and connect with their heroes, a private party for invited guests revved up inside the pavilion. A gala evening to, at least for one day, to forget the bitterness and sadness of current realities…that come tomorrow, the First Niagara Center will be dark, on a night when 18,690 full throated fans should have been on hand to raise the curtain on the 43rd season of Buffalo Sabres hockey.