The Buffalo Sabres organization held a memorial service today at HSBC Arena for the passing of team legend Rick Martin. The service, over an hour long, was a moving tribute featuring remembrances from many different friends, family, and teammates both in attendance and through video montages.
It was a fitting tribute to the man behind the jersey that while everyone acknowledged his greatness as a goal scorer and his passion for the game of hockey, the ceremony focused almost exclusively on Martin's life off the ice. Every single speaker told story after story about how Martin was the most popular man in the room, and for good reason. Martin was the life of the party wherever he went, and the amount of laughter heard when story after story of Rico's hijinks were passed along was a testament to how much he was loved outside of the Aud.
He was also a constant fixture in the community, never turning down n autograph request, a charity event or a golf tournament. Thousands of people showed up to HSBC Arena this afternoon for the memorial, which should tell you a bit about how much #7 was loved, and will be missed by his fans, by Western New York, and by Buffalo Sabres fans around the world.
The speakers present at today's ceremony included Rick Jeanerette, Danny Gare, Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert, Rick's brother Robert Martin, and his son Corey Martin, among others.
After the break will be a short recap of the service, but if you want to watch the whole thing (and I suggest that you do) check Sabres.com and the local TV websites, which will hopefully replay the ceremony.
Rick Jeanerette talked about what a tenacious goal scorer Martin was, saying that he was putting the puck in the net "Come hell or high water." Martin's 384 career goals in just 685 games can attest to the truth of that statement.
The two surviving members of the French Connection, Rene Robert and Gil Perreault, spoke as well. Robert honored two of Martin's favorite pastimes in his speech by pulling a giant cigar and a can of Budweiser out of his jacket pocket and leaving them on the podium. Perreault told a story of his "scouting report" to GM Punch Imlach on Martin from their playing days on the Montreal Junior Candiens. Both players also shared memories of #7's locker room, hotel, and airport pranks that have become just as fondly remembered as his goals.
Rick's brother Robert Martin spoke next and relayed a moving story about the kind of man his brother was, which I'll relay here because, well, because it's just awesome (in the most literal sense of the word) that any man could have a heart this big. Most people know that Rico would never hesitate to autograph anything for anybody, but he would also make sure to talk to you, find out something about you or your family, and make you feel like a friend. After talking with a father who wanted an autograph for his son with, Rick Martin found out that the child had cancer. After hearing that, Martin not only went to the hospital to meet the child and spend the afternoon with him, but also stayed in the waiting room with his parents while the young fan underwent a successful surgical procedure. If that doesn't tell you why all of Buffalo feels like it lost a family member, I'm not sure anything can.
After a speech by Danny Gare that told some more fun stories of Martin from airports and cruise ships, Rick's son Corey took the stage. He spoke with reverence and pride about his father's love for his family, his friends, and the city of Buffalo. Corey said that from early on in his life, he knew that his father was not his own, but that shared his father with all Sabres fans and citizens of Buffalo. He thanked the fans, the organization, and Mr. Pegula for the support they've shown his family, but finished by saying that he knows his dad is smiling down on all of us from the best seats in the house, cigar in his mouth and Budweiser in his hand, telling jokes about all of us and waiting for the Sabres to finish what he helped to start.
The memorial service ended with a tribute video, and a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace."