Saturday

Rick Martin

Legendary GM Punch Imlach once called Richard Martin "the greatest natural goal scorer I've seen". Martin's slapshot was terrifying and struck fear in goalies everywhere.

His coach in Buffalo, Joe Crozier, once said: "Bobby Hull may shoot harder than Rick, but Rick gets his shot away quicker and he's always on target with it."

Former NHL player and coach Vic Stasiuk was also a big Rick Martin fan: "He's got a hair-trigger on his shot. It's uncanny how quick he shoots that puck. It just touches his stick and it's flying at the net. Few are really quick and none are quicker."

Rogatien Vachon, the veteran goalie added: " You make any mistake and he takes it. You let him see the slightest opening and he'll thread something through it." Another, Lyle Carter said: " Martin hit me with a shot and I thought it had gone through my skin and stuck in my ribs. He's got a hard, heavy shot and I felt it for a month. It can carry your glove right off your hand."

Richard Martin was born in Verdun,Que on July 26,1951. His grandparents were Swiss-French and Swiss-German. His mother was French, but his father was born in Scotland and was a proud Scotsman. When Rick first came to prominence around Montreal, they gave his name a French pronunciation, "Ree-SHAR Mar-TAHN," but he refused it, considering it pretentious, insisting on plain Rick Martin. But make no mistake, Rick was always proud of his half-French heritage. He went to French speaking schools and speaks it and English equally well.

Rick started playing hockey at the age of eight. "I knew I could make the majors some day when I was 13 and I was playing in both bantam and midget leagues at the same time and I was the top scorer in both. I was shooting, shooting, shooting every day. But I liked other sports, too. I was just as good at golf and might have played that professionally. I really wanted to be an engineer. I never thought about playing pro until I was 18. I went to Sir George William University (later renamed Concordia University) in Montreal a year, but dropped out after my freshman year. The financial opportunities in pro hockey were too god for me to pass up."

Rick played his junior hockey for Thetford Mines and the Montreal Jr. Canadiens. In his last season with the Jr. Canadiens in 1970-71 Rick scored a league leading 71 goals in only 60 games, breaking the old QMJHL record held by Brian Cullen (68). The year before Rick had played on the same line as Gilbert Perreault, showing great chemistry and perking interest in Buffalo early. They were quick to grab Martin 5th overall in the 1971 entry draft.

When Rick entered his first NHL training camp in September 1971 he was immediately teamed up with his old junior linemate Perreault.

"The only reason Punch (Imlach) teamed me with Gil is because Punch said I was the only one on the team at the time that could skate with him." Rick said. Rick scored an NHL record 44 goals as a rookie, breaking Perreault's old record from the year before.

The next season Rene Robert lined up beside the duo and the famed "French Connection" line was born. They went on to terrorize opponents for almost a decade.

"We were a nice blend. Gil was the guy who could set you up with the goals. Rene was a real good checker, who wasn't afraid to go into the corner to dig out the puck. And I guess I was the guy who was supposed to put the puck into the net. I was to be the big gun."

Rick certainly was the big gun of the Sabres, and the entire NHL for that matter. His scoring resumé is impressive: 44, 37, 52, 52, 49, 36, 28, 32 and 45 goals in consecutive season. All in all Rick scored 384 goals in 685 games which makes him one of the most productive goal scorers per game in NHL history. He was also a four time NHL All-Star on the left wing.

Don't mistake Martin as a one trick pony. His two way game was always overshadowed and over criticized.

"I worked on the defensive part of my game for quite some time. I thought by the time Punch left the team (78-79) I was playing good two-way hockey for the team. But my critics didn't see it that way. I guess that I was never supposed to be in the mold of a two-way hockey player according to them," Martin recalled.

Martin and his Buffalo Sabres never won the Stanley Cup, but Martin did get the chance to win the 1976 Canada Cup.

"My chance had finally come to play. I finally realized how much pressure there was playing for your country. Being part of a winning team is something I'll always remember," Rick said.

Unfortunately Rick had to retire when he was only 30. Had he been injury free then it's safe to say that he would have reached the 500 goal plateau.

On November 8, 1980 Rick injured his right knee in a collision with Washington Capitals' goalie Mike Palmateer. Rick's knee never was the same after that and he only played sparingly from then until March 10, 1981, when he was traded to Los Angeles. In LA he only played four games before retiring in December 1981.

In June 1982, Rick sued the Buffalo Sabres, contending that he received improper medical treatment for an injured knee that forced him to an early retirement. There were seven separate suits, including one against Scotty Bowman.

"My beef was never with the Knoxes (the Sabres owners). It was with Scotty, " Rick said.

Hockey fans who remembered "Rico" can't argue the fact that he was one of hockey's deadliest snipers of all time.

Special Thanks to Pat Houda

5 comments:

Jeff O 7:23 AM  

Rick Martin is my all-time favorite Sabres player. I know his career was cut short but he should be in the Hall of Fame

Anonymous,  8:34 AM  

I agree wholeheartedly with the previous comment.The Sabres were my favourite team in the mid-seventies. Rick was my favourite Sabre, and yes he should be in the hall of fame,along with Gil Perrault and Rene Robert.My father is related to Rick's uncle.

Anonymous,  12:14 PM  

I worked for Rick when he owned a bar/Restaurant in Niagara Falls. He was a great guy in addition to being a great hockey player. My thoughts go out to his family.

Anonymous,  5:03 PM  

My condolences to the family, may God be with you during this difficult time.

Anonymous,  7:04 PM  

shame on you Scotty for not acknowleding this great man.

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