Any discussion about the Buffalo Sabres and their history has to involve the French Connection. The trio of Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert defined the the franchise's first decade of existence.
That's why coach Lindy Ruff wants this edition of the team present today when the town says goodbye to Martin.
The Sabres are holding a public memorial service for Martin at 11 a.m. in HSBC Arena. The left winger on Buffalo's most famous sports line died March 13 at age 59 of sudden cardiac arrest brought on by cardiovascular disease. The Sabres moved today's practice to 9 a.m. at Northtown Center in Amherst so the players could be at the arena by the time the service starts.
"When you talk about the Sabres, you instantly talk about the French Connection," Ruff said Wednesday. "We lost a valuable piece, and I think [today] will be a great day just to recognize how important he was for this team, for this franchise, for this city. Maybe at the end he might've been a better person than he was a hockey player."
The service, expected to last an hour, will include at least five speakers and a video featuring Martin. Doors will open at 10 a.m., with free parking available in the Sabres' lots. The event will be streamed live at BuffaloNews.com.
The Sabres held an optional practice Wednesday following Tuesday's 2-0 victory in Montreal. Injured players Steve Montador, Jochen Hecht and Patrick Lalime participated. Montador, who has missed two games with a lower-body injury, is expected to play Friday when the Sabres host Florida.
Hecht (upper body) will have his first full-contact practice today, so he is doubtful for Friday. Lalime (knee) skated for the first time.
Ruff said right wing Patrick Kaleta, who has missed eight games with a bruised knee, still isn't doing well.
The Sabres are holding a contest to select their "Seventh Man - Fan of the Year," the person who symbolizes the dedication, passion and loyalty to the Blue and Gold. Fans are asked to submit a 30-second video clip to Sabres.com by April 4 describing their qualifications.
A panel led by owner Terry Pegula and his family, along with team President Ted Black, will choose the winner based on how the nominees incorporate their passion for the Sabres into their everyday life and on the creativity of the video with regards to the use of team colors, logos and music.
The Sabres will team with National Fuel and the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper to clean up the Ohio Street boat launch from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. April 16. Following the cleanup, there will be a volunteer picnic from noon to 2 p.m. at American Legion Niagara Frontier Post 1041 (533 Amherst St.) and a Boom Days Party at Dug's Dive beginning at 6 p.m. with fireworks at about 9 p.m.