The Buffalo Sabres today announced plans to honor the team’s renowned French Connection, one of hockey’s all-time greatest forward lines, with a statue outside of First Niagara Center. The statue will be the centerpiece of a larger tribute to every Sabres player in the newly renamed ‘Alumni Plaza.’ The cast in bronze statue is in the final stages of production and will be set in the plaza directly outside of the arena. A special unveiling of the statue will take place on Oct. 12 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the game when the French Connection first played as a unit in 1972.
“Celebrating the contributions of every player who ever wore a Sabres sweater Sabres History is an important facet of our organization’s philosophy,” said Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black. “We hope this statue and the dedication of ‘Alumni Plaza’ will serve as a proper tribute not only to the French Connection, but also to the players who have made this franchise what it is today. The project will also afford Sabres fans from around the globe with the opportunity to have their names etched alongside their heroes.”
Inspiration for the statue came from a photograph taken during a playoff game in April 1975 and features all three members of the French Connection. The photograph, which was taken by Ron Moscati, is considered extremely rare because so few pictures exist with all three players in the same shot during play. The photo is also significant in that all three players scored a goal in that game, which secured a playoff win against the Montreal Canadiens.
“When the project was in its conceptual stage, Mr. Pegula made it very clear he wanted the statue to be based on an actual image as opposed to a fictional pose,” said Sabres’ Vice President of Creative Services, Frank Cravotta. “Because so few action photos exist of the three together, we were fortunate to come across one that provided a great visual with which to work.”
The combination of Hall-of-Fame center Gilbert Perreault, left wing Rick Martin and right wing Rene Robert is widely considered to be one of the greatest forward lines in NHL history and remains as the Sabres’ most celebrated offensive unit in team history. The trio, all of whom were French-Canadian, was dubbed ‘The French Connection’ –after the 1971 film of the same name – and played together in the Blue and Gold from 1972-1979. During that span, the Sabres went to the playoffs six times, including the 1974-75 Stanley Cup Finals, and the three were honored with a combined 18 NHL All-Star game appearances. All three are members of the Sabres Hall of Fame and have had their numbers officially retired from use. Perreault, winner of the 1971 Calder Trophy and the 1973 Lady Byng Trophy, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.
To design and construct the statue, the Sabres commissioned American sculptor Jerry McKenna. McKenna, who is based out of Boerne, Texas, is a distinguished sculptor who is well known for his sports statues. He was named the 2003 ‘Sports Sculptor of the Year’ by the All-American Football Foundation in recognition of his 17 portrait busts in the Pro Hall of Fame, his sculpture of legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne at the College Football Hall of Fame and countless others throughout the country. McKenna is a decorated Air Force veteran and received early recognition from his bronze portraits of famous Air Force leaders such as Generals Billy Mitchell, Ira C. Eaker, and Jimmy Doolittle. His work can be found in museums, parks, churches, public buildings, universities, halls of fame, and private collections around the world.
A specially-designed pedestal, being constructed by HHL Architects of Buffalo, will feature an integrated lighting system and an illuminated informational panel and will provide a base for the statue. Construction on the pedestal will begin later this summer.
The statue will be the centerpiece of a planned ‘Alumni Plaza’ that will honor all former members of the team. Last month, workers surrounded with bricks and mortar the six concrete columns that support a pedestrian walkway above the plaza. All 401 Sabres players in team history will be immortalized on plaques that will be placed on the bricks.
Fans will have the opportunity to purchase custom plaques that will also be placed on the remaining bricks. Custom plaques can be purchased online at www.sabres.com/bricks.
For more information on Alumni Plaza and the French Connection statue, visit www.sabres.com/alumniplaza.