Former Sabres great, Rick Martin, dies at 59

The Associated Press
Sunday, March 13, 2011; 8:49 PM

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Two weeks after being reunited on the ice in Buffalo, the Sabres' famed French Connection lost a member when Rick Martin died Sunday.

The 59-year-old was pronounced dead at a suburban Buffalo hospital at around 1 p.m., about a half hour after the car he was driving crossed the center line on the road, rolled along the shoulder and struck a utility pole before coming to rest against a tree, New York State Police Capt. Steven Nigrelli said.

Nigrelli said witnesses spotted Martin driving with his head slumped and eyes closed before the crash, which occurred in the Buffalo suburb of Clarence. Nigrelli said it appeared Martin had "an undetermined medical emergency" before the accident.

Two passers-by and eventually a state trooper performed CPR on Martin, who remained unresponsive when removed from the vehicle. Martin's German shepherd dog was also in the vehicle and stood by, Nigrelli said.

An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.

Martin's death came as a shock to the Sabres, who were preparing for an afternoon game against the Ottawa Senators.

"We lost a heck of a guy today," Sabres coach and Martin's former teammate Lindy Ruff said. "It's tough when you lose anybody, and we lost a real good person today. It's a tough one to take."

Prior to the game, the Sabres honored Martin with a tribute on the center ice video scoreboard.

"It was great sadness and a heavy heart that we lost a member of the Sabre family today," longtime team broadcaster Rick Jeanneret said, as pictures of Martin were shown. "Rick Martin was a person of joy. You'll be missed `Rico,' but you will be remembered."

Fans gave Martin a standing ovation before the arena fell into a hush during a moment of silence.

Martin was selected fifth overall by the Sabres in the 1971 draft, and immediately made an impact on the team the following season when he scored what was then an NHL rookie record 44 goals. From LaSalle, Quebec, Richard (Rick) Lionel Martin played left wing on a line centered by Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert. They were eventually dubbed The French Connection.

The trio is still revered in Buffalo, and at HSBC Arena, where their three banners hang together in a row from the facility's ceiling.

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