Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Gilbert Perreault - The Pinnacle
One on One Treasure Chest Pinnacle Legends Video

Artwork by the renowned Leroy Neiman of the French Connection Line (Sabres left to right: Rene Robert, Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin).
(December 2, 2003) -- Gilbert Perreault was the Buffalo Sabres' first ever draft choice, chosen first overall in 1970's NHL Entry Draft. The smooth skating centre retired in November 1986 having played every one of his 1,191 regular season games as a Buffalo Sabre. But Perreault also retired holding every major offensive record for the Buffalo Sabres - most goals (512), most assists (814) and most points (1,326).

Richard Martin was Buffalo's first pick in 1971, fifth overall. He broke Perreault's rookie goal record with a 44-goal campaign in 1971-72 and had consecutive fifty-two goal seasons in 1973-74 and '74-75.

Rene Robert joined the Sabres on March 4, 1972 in a trade that sent Eddie Shack to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Robert's best season was 1974-75 when he became the first Sabre ever to attain 100 points in a season.

Winger Richard Martin (left) and Perreault grace this 1970s Buffalo Sabres program. Martin was an NHL 1st or 2nd team all-star for four consecutive seasons while skating on the French Connection Line.
"When Rene scored six goals in twelve games that season (1970-71), we knew he was the right man to play with us," stated Gilbert Perreault. "We felt comfortable with him."

Perreault and Martin had played together in junior, and joined forces again with the Sabres in 1971-72. "Rico (Rick Martin) was a good goal scorer," states Gilbert. "You gave him the puck and he got the net. He had a great shot. Very quick. He took a shot and he scored. If I took a shot, I didn't put it in the net as often as Rico did." But the line became even more deadly when Sabres' coach Joe Crozier added newly acquired Rene Robert to the line with his two stars. The three gelled immediately and were dubbed, 'The French Connection.' Alas, Perreault's hockey pinnacle was the opportunity to play and blossom within this magical troika.

The trio was as close off the ice as they were on the ice. Perreault explains, "The three of us were good friends. We were friends all the time we played together." The chemistry translated directly into points, and in 1974-75, the three led the Sabres flying into the playoffs. Rene Robert had collected 40 goals and 100 points, Rick Martin 52 goals and 95 points while Gilbert Perreault contributed 39 goals and 96 points. All three finished in the top ten NHL point collectors that season. The Sabres advanced to the finals, and although they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games, it was as close to a Stanley Cup championship as the franchise had been.

Right winger Rene Robert (centre) twice scored 40 goals during his six-plus seasons with the Sabres.
The French Connection line stayed together until the end of the 1978-79 season. In October 1979, Robert was traded to the Colorado Rockies for defenseman John Van Boxmeer. "It was sad to see a guy go when you played with him for many years," said Gilbert. "Rene was a good friend. He and I had good years together."

In 1989, the French Connection was recognized by the franchise when all three were elected to the Buffalo Sabres' Hall of Fame.

"During the seventies, the style of the game was different," admitted Perreault. "Today, there's thirty teams and in the seventies, there were fourteen teams. The talent was there, but today with thirty teams, it's hard to put two lines together like we had. During our time, we had four lines. I think we had nine guys over twenty goals one year." In fact, in 1974-75, ten Sabres reached the twenty-goal plateau -- Rick Martin, Rene Robert, Gilbert Perreault, Don Luce, Rick Dudley, Danny Gare, Craig Ramsay, Jim Lorentz, Peter McNab and Fred Stanfield. "Of course, today, the game is different. You have the few guys who score twenty goals or more, but the style of the game is very tight -- it's not an open game like it used to be in the seventies. But today, that's the way they play the game and it's a close game. That's the way hockey is."

Kevin Shea is Manager, Special Projects and Publishing at the Hockey Hall of Fame.