Countless numbers of hockey fans have visited the plaza outside First Niagara Center through the years. They’ve come for tent parties and playoff viewings, occasionally creating a better atmosphere outside the rink than in it.
Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres’ fans will share the plaza with the players.
The Sabres are set to dedicate the courtyard as Alumni Plaza, with the centerpiece being a statue of the French Connection. Linemates Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert and Richard Martin will be immortalized in bronze glory during a 7 p.m. unveiling that is open to the public.
Perreault and Robert will be in attendance, as will family members of the late Martin.
“When you start a hockey career, you don’t expect to have your statue in front of the building,” Perreault said at a preview news conference. “It’s just like the cherry on the sundae.”
The idea of a statue came about during Terry Pegula’s first week of ownership in February 2011. Team President Ted Black assigned the job to John Livsey, the vice president of sales and business development, and Livsey expanded the idea to include every player who ever wore Blue and Gold. The formerly round columns holding up the walkway in the plaza have been turned into square brick pillars, and plaques with the names of more than 400 players have been attached to the bricks.
“I always looked at this plaza area as an area that should be developed, could be developed, should be something special,” Livsey said.
Pegula and his wife, Kim, will help dedicate the area along with at least 30 Sabres alumni. Broadcaster Rick Jeanneret will serve as emcee. Sculptor Jerry McKenna and photographer Ron Moscati, whose picture served as the inspiration for the statue, will also attend.