Western New York Heritage

The French Connection and the Buffalo Sabres’ First Playoff Appearance

Buffalo’s “French Connection” in action against the St. Louis Blues, ca 1976.

Bill Wippert photograph

A year after obtaining center Gilbert Perreault in their inaugural NHL draft in 1970, the Buffalo Sabres drafted left winger Rick Martin, a teammate of Perreault’s from junior hockey. Perreault’s playmaking set up Martin’s powerful slap shot and pinpoint wrist shot. Commonly known as “Rico,” Martin scored more than 40 goals in five of his ten full seasons in Buffalo, topping 50 goals twice.

In 1972, Rene Robert came to Buffalo from Pittsburgh, having been acquired in exchange for fan favorite Eddie Shack. Robert quickly made his mark, adding blazing speed at right wing to Gilbert Perreault’s dazzling playmaking and Rick Martin’s blistering shooting.

(Left) Rick Martin game-worn All-Star jersey, ca. 1976. (Right) Rene Robert game-worn jersey, ca. 1977-78.

Joseph Gambacorta Collection, Steve Mangione photograph

Together, these three high-scoring forwards formed one of the most formidable lines in NHL history. Dubbed “The French Connection” in reference to their collective French-Canadian heritage, they vaulted the expansion franchise into NHL prominence almost immediately. Perreault, Martin and Robert first played together as a line on October 8, 1972. The trio, along with newly acquired Sabres Tim Horton and Jim Schoenfeld, would lead the franchise to its first postseason appearance. Robert scored the first playoff overtime goal in Sabres history during the 1973 Stanley Cup playoffs, ending Game 5 of Buffalo’s first-round series against Montreal.

Program and ticket stub from the French Connection’s first game together, October 8, 1972.

Joseph Gambacorta Collection, Steve Mangione photograph

During the 1974-75 season, Martin scored 52 goals, helping the Sabres tie for the league’s best regular-season record and propelling the team to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to Philadelphia.  That season, Robert became the first Buffalo player to reach 100 points in a season, with his 40 goals and 60 assists helping the team tie for the league’s top record. He registered another iconic goal in the Stanley Cup Finals, beating Philadelphia goalie Bernie Parent in overtime to end Game 3.

A devastating knee injury early in the 1980-81 season ended Martin’s Buffalo career. He played four games with Los Angeles before retiring in 1982. Martin returned to live and work in Western New York until his death at age 59 in 2011. After scoring more than 20 goals eight straight times, including four seasons with more than 30 goals and two with 40, Robert was traded to Colorado following the 1978-79 season.

Rick Martin game-used hockey stick, ca. 1971-72.

Joseph Gambacorta Collection, Steve Mangione photograph

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