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Sabres Central

Gilbert Perreault's views of hockey today
By Rick Anderson
February 8, 2000

Gilbert Perreault's views of hockey today Hockey is much different today than it was in the mid-70's. Just ask former Sabres' captain and Hall of Fame member Gil Perreault. Perreault was in town just recently and had plenty to say about the state of hockey today.

"During the 70's, the style of the game was different," Perreault said last week. "Today, there's 30 teams (actually, there are 28 teams now with 2 expansion teams to be added next season) and in the 70's, there were 14 teams. The talent was there (back in the 70's) and today there are 30 teams, so it's hard to put two lines together like we had. During our time, we had four lines. I think we had nine guys over 30 goals. Of course today, the game is different. You have the few guys who score 20 goals or more, but the style of the game is very tight - it's not an open game like it used to be in the 70's. But today, you know, that's the way they play the game, and it's a close game. That's the way hockey is."

Gilbert Perreault was the Buffalo Sabres first ever draft choice in the 1970 NHL Amateur Draft. The Sabres won the first overall draft choice over the other expansion team at the time, the Vancouver Canucks. Punch Imlach, the Sabres first coach and GM took Perreault as his choice and built his franchise around him. He supplied instant dividends for the Sabres when he won the league's Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year in the team's first season, 1970-71. It marked the second consecutive Calder award that was awarded to Buffalo or one of its hockey players. The year before, the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League concluded their final season in that league by winning the Calder Cup (the AHL's league championship).

His teammates called him "Bert." He was fire on ice as he dazzled fans and opponents alike with his blazing speed and scintillating moves. He would take the puck from behind his own net and race up the ice, make a couple of head moves and bare down one-on-one towards the goalie. In more instances than not, "Bert" would put the puck behind the befuddled goalie to cap off another highlight film scoring play.

Gilbert Perreault - the Sabres all-time goal scorer and points leader

Perreault was surrounded by Rick Martin and Rene Robert to form one of the most explosive lines in NHL history. They were nicknamed the "French Connection" and became the terror of the league. The Sabres with the French Connection, went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1975 and came as close as last year's Sabres when they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in 6 games. The most famous game was Game Three against the Flyers in Buffalo on May 20, 1975. Memorial Auditorium was not air conditioned and the temperature reached 90 degrees on a warm May night. This caused an eerie atmosphere as fog settled on the ice. It was so hot and steamy that the Aud approached sauna conditions!. Temperatures at ice level reached 90 degrees. With the humidity, the heat and the presence of over 16,000 screaming fans, it produced the first ever fog game!

The Flyers had won the first two games of the series in Philly and were leading in this one 4-2 before Don Luce closed the gap to 4-3 to end the second period. With the French Connection swarming around the famed Fyer goalie, Bernie Parent, Bill Hajt slammed home a rebound of Martin's shot past Parent to send the game into a sudden death overtime.

The fog settled on the ice for the extra session and the players settled down to what seemed to be a long night. The play had to be stopped seven times during the first overtime because of the players could not see 3 feet in front of them.

Players skated around in a unsuccessful attempt to clear the fog. Auditorium workers had to come out with white bed sheets to try to dispel the low cloud cover. Some of the fog dissipated, so play was resumed, only to be halted again and again because visibility was so poor. The coaches for both teams, Fred Shero of the Flyers, and Floyd Smith of the Sabres instructed their players to shoot the puck anytime they got it because the goalies would have trouble seeing it.

Play resumed with around a minute left to play in the first overtime, Martin got the puck along the boards and passed it to Perreault, who skated into the Flyer zone and then passed it to Rene Robert in the far corner.

"Rene yelled to me - Jill-bear - and I saw him going to the corner," Perreault said. "I was in the middle, about 5 feet over the red line. I passed to the boards in the corner."

Robert got in front of Flyer defenseman Jimmy Watson and he retrieved the pass right before the goal line. "It's almost impossible to score from that angle," Robert related. "But I shot at the net, hoping somebody could get the rebound. It seemed to me he (Bernie Parent) wasn't ready for the shot. It went between his legs."

"I didn't see Perreault's pass," Bernie said afterwards. "I saw Robert's shot too late for me to come out and stop it. I'm surprised the overtime took so long. It was hard to see the puck from the red line. If three men came down and one made a good pass from the red line, you couldn't see the puck. A good shot from the red line could have won it."

Gil remembers that game well, but there were many other highlights to his lustrous career. He is the all-time Sabres' leader in regular season goals (512), assists (814), points (1,326), games played and shots on goal. He owns the team record for most points scored in a game (7) and he had the privilege of scoring the first-ever Sabres power play goal along with recording their first hat trick. During the playoffs, Perreault scored 33 goals, had 70 assists for 103 points. To top all this off, he was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame and has had his number "11" retired with the Sabres (as did the other 2 members of the French Connection). He was named the team captain and wore the C' in pride from 1981-1986. It was in November of 1986 when he decided to hang up his skates for good.

Perreault was from a different era. Back then, there were 14 teams and the talent was more concentrated. With 28 teams today, the NHL has to export at least 1/3 of its players from Europe.

"In hockey today, like last year I think the Sabres finished 8th (they actually finished 7th) and they beat Ottawa, who finished first," said Perreault. "That's the way hockey is today. As long as you make the playoffs, you never know what to expect. You might be in the finals just like last year."

When asked what needs to be done to open up the game of hockey so it becomes more exciting, Gilbert said, "To me, I like the free-wheeling style like during the 70's for sure. But like I said, there are 30 teams now and it's going to take a while for the league to stabilize with all the teams. Of course, if you take the red line out of there and make the ice a little bit wider and longer, or 4 against 4 - that's the way they have to take a look at it."

Today, the Sabres possess a diamond in the rough. He is a rookie from Russia who has blazing speed like Perreault and some of the same moves. Sometimes, when Maxim Afinogenov rushes up the ice, you can almost picture No. 11 on the back of his uniform with the name Perreault above. He has the charisma of a Perreault. It is a shame that Gilbert cannot coach the kid from the former Soviet Union so that he could help smooth out some of Maxim's rough edges. Given the proper coaching, Afinogenov could just become another Gilbert Perreault. But that is the mind just reminiscing and wishing for what once was. There will never be another Gil Perreault.

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