If you are a Buffalo Sabres fan and you have any years on you at all, you’re familiar with the famous French Connection line. It was the name given to perhaps the most famous forward line in the history of the Sabres and perhaps one of the best-known lines in NHL history.
The line consisted of three players: Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, and Rene Robert. In this post, I’ll share seven cool things about that famous line.
Cool Thing #1: The French Connection Line Began in 1972
The French Connection era for the Sabres began in 1972. That’s just over 50 years ago, the same year that Atari released “Pong,” the first commercially successful video game. The line played together on the Sabres from 1972 to 1979.
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During their time together, the French Connection helped the Sabres make the playoffs five times and reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1975.
Cool Thing #2: The Line Consisted of Perreault, Robert & Martin
The French Connection line was made up of Perreault, Robert, and Martin. All three players were from Quebec, and the line was named the French Connection because all three shared a French-Canadian heritage and language. As a result, they had the ability to connect with one another on the ice.
Cool Thing #3: All Three Players Were First-Round Draft Picks
Perreault, Robert, and Martin were all first-round draft picks of the Sabres. Perreault was the first overall pick in the 1970 NHL Entry Draft. The following year, they selected Martin fifth overall.
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Robert took a more circuitous route. On June 8, 1971, he was claimed in the intra-league draft by the Sabres from the Toronto Maple Leafs. That very day, he was claimed in that same draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Sabres. He remained the property of the Penguins until March 5, 1972, when he was traded from the Penguins to the Sabres for none other than Eddie Shack.
Cool Thing #4: The French Connection Put Hockey on the Map in Western New York
The Sabres began playing in the NHL in 1970. The team was one of two expansion franchises added to the NHL that year, along with the Vancouver Canucks. Since the French Connection line came very early in Sabres history, their on-ice success helped build a passionate fanbase across Western New York.
As a result, the French Connection line had a huge impact on the growth of hockey not only in Buffalo but throughout the entire area. In those days, television was not like it is today. Cable was relatively new and offered only a few channels. During the early 1970s, many homes relied on an antenna to receive over-the-air broadcasts from local TV stations.
Where I grew up, fans in the Western New York area had a choice of three Buffalo television stations. Channel 2 was NBC; Channel 4 was CBS; and Channel 7 was ABC. The Sabres were broadcast on Channel 2 (NBC). Those fans would have listened to Sabres Hall of Fame announcer Ted Darling.
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Darling called the team’s first game on Oct. 10, 1970, and remained the play-by-play announcer for the Sabres until 1991. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a broadcaster in 1994. The Sabres gave him a huge honor by retiring his microphone on Oct. 16, 1995.
Cool Thing #5: The French Connection Could Score
The French Connection could score; and, could they ever! They were dominant on the scoresheet. Over their combined careers, the trio scored an impressive 1,116 goals and 2,663 points. They were consistently among the top scorers in the league.
For example, in the 1974-75 season alone, they combined for an incredible 131 goals. Robert led the way with 40 goals and 60 assists (for exactly 100 points). Perreault followed with 39 goals and 57 assists (for 96 points). And Martin led the trio with 52 goals, but he “only” added 43 assists (for 95 points).
Cool Thing #6: The French Connection Helped Change the Way Lines Played
The French Connection line was known for its speed, skill, and ability to score goals. They were one of the most exciting and dynamic lines in NHL history.
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Perreault was the playmaker, known for his exceptional stickhandling and vision. Martin was the goal scorer, known for his powerful shot and quick release. Robert was the power forward, known for his physical play and ability to score goals from in close.
Together, the French Connection line was a dominant force in the NHL during the 1970s. Their dynamic style helped change the way the NHL played.
Cool Thing #7: The French Connection Helped the Sabres Reach the Stanley Cup Final
Although the Sabres and the Canucks are the oldest active NHL franchises to have never won the Stanley Cup, the Sabres have twice advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. The first time was in 1975 when the French Connection helped lead the team to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance.
There the Sabres met the Philadelphia Flyers, who were known at the time as the “Broad Street Bullies.” That was the season the Flyers won their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship. Although a loss, that season will be memorable in Sabres history.
All three members of the French Connection line were inducted into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame, and Perreault and Robert were also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Together their achievements have been recognized as some of the greatest in NHL history.
The threesome established a solid legacy in NHL history. As a line, the French Connection is constantly cited as one of the greatest in NHL history. They will be remembered by Sabres fans like me, one for their impressive scoring, two for the excitement and joy they brought to the ice, and three for opening up Western New York and the Buffalo area to NHL hockey.
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Although I was just starting my PhD in 1972 when the French Connection became a dominant line, they offered my father and I much enjoyment as we watched our 18-inch black and white television. Only occasionally did we have to hit it on its side to stop the rolling or move the antenna on top to clear the snowy picture.
Those were the days.