Rene Robert, a member of the Buffalo Sabres’ famed “French Connection Line,” died Tuesday at a Florida hospital less than a week after suffering a heart attack. He was 72.
The Sabres confirmed Robert’s death in a statement released by the team. Robert had been on life support since being hospitalized in Port Charlotte, Florida, in the middle of last week.
“Rene was a tremendous player, teammate and person and truly loved this organization,” the Sabres said. “His accomplishments on the ice as a member of the French Connection speak for themselves, but his impact in the community continued long past his playing career.”
Acquired by the Sabres in a trade that sent Eddie Shack to Pittsburgh in 1972, Robert went on to round out one of the most productive lines in NHL history. Robert played right wing alongside left wing Rick Martin and Hockey Hall of Fame center Gilbert Perreault on a line that earned its nickname because all three players were from Quebec.
Robert was from Trois-Rivieres, about a 90-minute drive east of Montreal.
Sabres owner Terry Pegula grew up in Pennsylvania, but became a Buffalo fan because of the “French Connection Line.” Upon purchasing the Sabres in February 2011, Pegula became emotional during his inaugural news conference at the sight of Perreault, Robert and Martin among those in attendance.
The trio then joined Pegula on the ice before his first game as owner in what marked one of the last times the linemates were together. Martin died a month later.
“Kim and I were saddened to hear the devastating news,” Pegula said, mentioning his wife, in a statement released by the team.
“During our time with the team, Rene has been one of the most active alumni and we’ve grown to know him well over the past 10 years,” Pegula said. “He was a friend to us and to the entire organization and will be missed dearly.”
The Sabres have memorialized the line by erecting a statue of the three players that stands in a plaza outside their arena. Their numbers also have been retired, and their names hang together from the rafters in the arena.
Robert scored a career-high 40 goals twice during his seven-plus seasons in Buffalo. He was traded to the then-Colorado Rockies in 1979 and closed his career with Toronto in 1981-82.
In 524 games with Buffalo, Robert had 222 goals and 552 points. Overall, he finished with 284 goals and 702 points in 744 NHL games.
He also was known for his playoff production, collecting 22 goals and 39 points in 47 postseason games with the Sabres. Four of his goals were game-winners, including three in overtime.
Robert’s most memorable goal, scored 18:29 into overtime, sealed Buffalo’s 5-4 win over Philadelphia in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final in 1975.
It finished what became known as “The Fog Game,” with a heavy mist shrouding the ice because of poor air-conditioning at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. The Flyers went on to win the series in six games.
Robert maintained a home in Buffalo after he retired and eventually had his driveway built out of pieces of the auditorium after it was demolished in 2009.
He was an avid golfer, and remained active in numerous charitable functions in Buffalo.
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John Wawrow, The Associated Press