Rick Martin, Buffalo Sabres Great, Will Be Missed
The news of Richard Martin’s death did not impact the hockey community like it would if it were one of the well-known legends of hockey like Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau or Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky.
Rick Martin still had an impact.
Martin had the advantage and equal disadvantage of playing for the expansion Buffalo Sabres rather than being drafted by an established team like the Montreal Canadians—the team he grew up watching.
He did benefit by being able to play in the NHL and make an immediate impact. He was at a disadvantage because he did not get a chance to win the Stanley Cup and reinforce his superstar talent for those who select Hall of Fame inductees.
Few nowadays remember that “Rico,” as he was nicknamed, grew up in Quebec and played for Thetford Mines and the Montreal Junior Canadians, where he starred with future Buffalo line-mate Gilbert Perreault and NHL alumni Marc Tardif, Rejean Houle, Andre DuPont, Jocelyn Guevremont, Ian Turnbull and Rick Kehoe.
The Junior Canadians had a stockpile of young, French Canadian talent and, playing in the Montreal Forum, they actually outdrew the NHL's Montreal Canadians.
Martin and his future line-mate, Perreault, were young stars and extremely popular in Quebec.
Still, fewer knew that Martin, and Hall of Famers Perreault, Marcel Dionne and Guy Lafleur, relished playing against each other as children in the Quebec peewee tournament each year.
Make no mistake—Rick Martin was a rare hockey talent who could play in today’s NHL and probably score more goals than he did in his prime as a Buffalo Sabres' top draft choice.
As hard as it is to believe, he could score with Stamkos, Ovechkin and Crosby if he played today.
That claim could not be made of every star NHL performer from a different time.
For those who have never seen Martin play—you really missed a treat.
His slap shot rivaled the hardest and most lethal in the game.
His wrist shot was so accurate, he would regularly challenge players to a game of "hit the post," and he could do it eight out of 10 times, consistently. Martin could also skate and was capable of carrying the puck and playing roughly when necessary.
He made a perfect line-mate for Perreault and Robert and helped create the legendary French Connection—one of the best forward lines in NHL history.
The thing that made Rick Martin unique, though, was his temperament.
He was highly competitive and, although it was hardly ever mentioned, he was nearly unstoppable from the blue line in.
Rick Martin was addicted to the high of scoring goals and never came down from it.
They said the same thing about another French Canadian sniper, Maurice Richard, who was described as having eyes like burning coals when he was skating in from the blue line.
A great guy off the ice, Martin was capable of holding grudges on it, and woe to his foes if he did. His sense of humor and wisecracks often needled the other team to distraction and sometimes caused longstanding grudges with opposing players.
His scorching blasts often put a period on what he was trying to get across and won the Sabres many contests.
Martin never forgave forward Ryan Walter and goalie Mike Palmateer for upending him on a breakaway and causing a knee injury that shortened his sparkling career. If not injured, Martin by all estimates would have scored at least 500 goals in his career.
Martin also made a few coaches more than a little angry. His wisecracks and practical jokes—like cutting the hockey sticks of fellow players so they would break at just the right (or wrong) time—caused some heated locker room diatribes from head coaches.
Martin was not very fond of Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman for trading him to the LA Kings.
I personally had the opportunity to meet Rick Martin several years ago in Florida, where he was taking part in a hockey legends game against the retired New York Islanders Stanley Cup team.
Martin was down to earth and spent a lot of time answering questions and pontificating on the game he loved.
On the Buffalo Sabres not winning the Stanley Cup Martin said, “We were only one or two players away. We needed another defenseman and a playoff goalie.”
When I asked him who his favorite player was, he said, without hesitation, ”Bobby Hull.”
He also said his biggest thrill was meeting the Golden Jet at an All-Star game and being invited to sit with him and talk about the do's and dont's of the NHL.
Rick Martin was a superb host and a guy who decided to put down roots near Buffalo, where he and his wife worked together on Globalquest, a computer business that they ran together.
Like his childhood idol Hull, Martin always took time to shake hands and take pictures with adoring fans well after his playing days were over.
There is no doubt that Martin will be greatly missed by his family and those who admired him for his work on and off the ice.
God bless you, Rick. There will not be another like you. You touched the hearts of hockey fans everywhere and we will not forget you.
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