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Rico the Draw Even When Absent

9:39 PM, Mar 24, 2011   |    comments
WGRZ's Sports Director, Ed Kilgore served as emcee of the memorial
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By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore

Lindy Ruff made it a point to have his entire team sitting front and center for the Rick Martin Memorial service at HSBC Arena, and it was for a reason that isn't directly related to how they play hockey.

Lindy, who played with Rico and even hired him as a goal-scoring coach at one time, wanted his players to see that what they do AFTER their playing days may be even more important than what they do on the ice  that makes them celebrities.  Rick Martin's #7 jersey hangs high in the HSBC Arena rafters because he was one of the Sabres' best players in franchise history and a key member of the famous French Connection.

But over 3,000 people turned out before noon on a weekday to pay tribute to a player that hasn't played in about 30 years, and in my view that says a lot more about how Martin lived his life AFTER his playing career ended.  Martin, a native of Quebec, made the Buffalo area his home after retiring from the game, and he made a difference in the many lives he touched here.

Yes, he raised a lot of money for charities, mostly playing in many golf tournaments over the summers, and he seldom if ever said no to other requests, such as visiting sick kids in hospitals or speaking to various groups.

But that isn't all there is to it.

Rick, or Rico as his many friends knew him, made people around him feel better.  It was never about HIM, as it is with many elite athletes.   Rico wanted you to laugh, so he'd come up with one of literally hundreds of jokes in his collection, and while he could at times be insensitive or a bit off-color, it was always done in good humor.  Rick almost had a pass, because, well, he was Rick Martin the likeable guy who - oh yeh - used to play hockey for the Sabres.

Rico was the kind of person that pulls everybody together, based on their friendship with him.  We could use more people out there like that.

He didn't just play hockey.  Pat LaFontaine told me after the memorial he felt Martin deserved to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame even though his career was cut to just over 9 years due to a serious knee injury.  Over 9 years in Buffalo, Martin AVERAGED nearly 42 goals per season, scoring 52 twice and 49 another time.

He played in 7 all-star games, and had all the tools great players have;  speed, a hard shot, and the will to do whatever it takes to get the puck in the net.

But it was his  awesome sense of humor and good nature people here remember.  Rico was a prankster extraordinaire. Placing $20 bills on the floor in airports with a light thread attached to the bill at one end and to Rico's hand at the other.  As the "victim" tried to pick up his or her new-found treasure, the bill would start moving across the floor, and a good laugh almost always resulted, even for the one who'd been had.

We were in an airport once waiting for our luggage on the moving belt, and suddenly here comes Rico flat on his back coming right through the small opening in the wall riding the belt.  'Round and round he went as the laughter continued. 

As sad at times as the memorial service was, it was interesting to me that it also brought together many friends who, for many different reasons, hadn't seen each other in a long time.  Part of that is because new owner Terry Pegula has been reaching out to former Sabres players, encouraging or in some cases even footing the bill for them to re-visit Buffalo.  

Pegula wants the Sabres to be a "family", and has made that clear to the current group.  They were there for Rico's service front and center, and although most of them were too young to see Rico play, the outpouring of emotion and caring let them realize part of the family is gone, and that just brings all of us closer together.

Rest in peace Rico!                      

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