“I get introduced as ‘Rick Martin, the old hockey player.’ Then someone says, ‘Who?’ ‘You know…from the French Connection.’ Then everyone knows who I am.”-Rick Martin, “Then Perreault Said to Rico…”
I never watched Rick Martin play. I met him one and he seemed really nice, but to say I knew him or enjoyed watching him would be a lie.
I have seen highlights. I’ve heard people I know, love, trust and respect tell stories about The French Connection and the early days of the Buffalo Sabres. I’ve read a lot on those early days and I’m always eager to know more. Beyond the statistics, Rick Martin was a special player, and from virtually all accounts, a special person.
Being a fan of a different generation of the team, the Rick Martin tribute didn’t move me quite like it moved older fans. I can’t properly eulogize him or even attempt to interpret any special meaning from his untimely passing. That’s not to say I didn’t get chills during his tribute montage and Rick Jeanneret’s introduction. I did. So I can only imagine what it was like for those who knew Martin and for those who can honestly say they were his friends and fans.
The tribute was touching and the standing ovation was organic and real. The moment of silence carried weight as the spotlight stamped a circle around Martin’s number. Then, as the lights dimmed once again, one fan screamed, “Let’s go Sabres!” and normalcy resumed. Claps, cheers and the usual introductions.
However, it wasn’t quite normalcy. It was a very different night in the arena despite the memorial. Last night was the first real party Terry Pegula threw in his new house. And it showed.
As soon as you had your ticket scanned by an usher, you were greeted by Ted Black or one of the Daughters Pegula as they handed you a gamenight program. A personal touch to an otherwise routine act of distributing a free souvenir.
The new ownership really took the game presentation crew to task. Among the in-game changes: new video opens and montages, axing the blooper reel and “Noooooooooooooooow let’s play some hooocckeyyyyyyyyyyy!” (now if only the same can be done to the flag pass), the implementation of the two-minute warning bell during intermissions and the return of Jeanneret’s call on the first replay of each Sabres’ goal.
It helps that the team is doing well, but the crowd was really into the game. Sporadic, unsolicited “Let’s go Buffalo” chants gave a late-season game against the worst team in the conference a playoff atmosphere. Bottom line, it was a fun game to be at.
After the game, the Sabres congratulated goalie Jhonas Enroth and before they skated off into the hallway to the locker room, they stopped at center ice, turned to face Martin’s banner in the rafters and raised their sticks in his honor.
Even if you’re a younger fan who doesn’t know the history yet, you had to feel good walking out of HSBC Arena last night.