Writing about my love and understanding about Hockey began with the Press Box, the Owners, and then the first GM/HC, now I will write about the players, and of course the very first player I want to write about is Gilbert Perreault.
To me Gilbert “Bert” Perreault truly is the face of the Buffalo Sabres and he has since day one through all of Buffalo’s timeline and great players been the one player to represent the Buffalo Sabres.
There are younger Hockey fans that see this player as ancient history, not the face, I have heard and read about LaFontaine or Hasek, and now with Captain Jack the waters are muddied.
As a teenager in the 1970s I witnessed Mr. Perreault in his prime, one of the most breathtaking danglers of a generation. Gilbert could just take over possession of the puck behind his own goal line and literally skate through every player through the length of the ice to get a shot on net or a deft pass to another scorer on the team.
In 1970 Gilbert Perreault was drafted first overall in the amateur draft for one of the two newest NHL franchises, the Buffalo Sabres. For the next 17 seasons, number “11” would be on the ice for the Buffalo Sabres.
In his Rookie season Mr. Perreault would score an amazing 38 goals for 72 points and be awarded the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year and was considered and voted on for the Hart Trophy that season as well.
The Sabres as a team experienced the “sophomore jinx” but Mr. Perreault did not, he increased his point total by two over his Rookie of the Year performance, on the strength of 48 assists.
In between his second and third season Mr. Perreault had the honor of playing for Canada in the Canada – USSR series, later referred to as the “Summit Series”. In only two games of play Mr. Perreault scored an unassisted spectacular end to end goal and had an assist.
In his third NHL season Mr. Perreault was even better with 60 assists and his point production went up over a dozen points, The French Connection was flying, he is awarded the Lady Byng trophy, comes fifth in voting for the Hart trophy, and the Sabres make the playoffs.
Against a first place Montreal team Mr. Perreault gets 10 points in six games in his and the Sabres very first NHL Stanley Cup playoff series.
During his fourth NHL season Mr. Perreault breaks his leg and he plays only 55 games but gets 51 points and the Sabres do not qualify for the playoffs.
Then the Sabres magical fifth season saw number “11” lead the Sabres to the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Buffalo Sabres earned the right to skip the preliminary round and in the 1974-75 Stanley Cup Quarter Finals Buffalo ousted the Blackhawks in five games. Mr. Perreault led the team with eight points against a Chicago team led by none other than Stan Mikita, Dennis Hull, and Tony Esposito.
As good as the Sabres and Mr. Perreault played against an aging Blackhawks squad no one was able to predict what was about to happen next during the 1974-75 Stanley Cup Semi-Finals against the Mighty Montreal Canadiens.
The series opened in Buffalo and Mr. Perreault scored and had two assists during the victory in game one, and then in the all important game five with the series tied at two, Mr. Perreault does it again. Number “11” scores in the first period and then gets the lone assist for the GWG in OT to be able to take the 3-2 lead into Montreal where the Sabres finish off the Canadiens in game six to advance to the 1974-75 Stanley Cup Finals.
During the 1975-76 NHL season, Mr. Perreault once again is pitted against the Soviets as the Buffalo Sabres become the first NHL team to defeat one of the USSR’s supposedly superior Hockey teams. In a raucous 12-6 old fashion butt kicking Mr. Perreault scored and had two assists in a contest that seemed surreal with the Sabres seemingly scoring all game long.
The 31st NHL All Star game was held January 24th 1978 in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium in what can only be described as Hollywood perfect. In a game where the Wales Conference outshot the Campbell Conference 40-12 in regulation the contest ended tied at two. The NHL had its first ever Sudden Death Over-Time All Star game in history.
The hometown crowd of well over 16,000 witnessed the Buffalo Sabres Richard Martin tie the game with less than two minutes remaining to send the contest to over-time. Then Mr. Perreault with just five seconds shy of four minutes into OT scores and wins the All Star game sending the already giddy crowd into pure jubilation.
As the stats and his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame bear out, Gilbert Perreault was an exceptional player who led very good and competitive Buffalo Sabres teams throughout the Seventies and into the early Eighties.
One of the few players to play for only one NHL team, one man, one team, one city, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the one and only Gilbert Perreault.