By Timothy Chipp
NIAGARA FALLS —
For Gilbert Perreault, the Buffalo Sabres’ most prestigious alumnus and the organization’s first-ever draft pick as a franchise, trips to Buffalo are all about the fans.
The hockey legend, who lives in his native Quebec, Canada, visited the Niagara Holiday Market on Wednesday to sign autographs for the fans who lined up outside the BlueCross BlueShield ice rink to meet him.
“It’s great to see the fans,” Perreault said. “Most of the time, there’s lots of fans who show up. It’s nice to talk to the fans, because they still remember you. They remain faithful even after all these years.”
Fans like Randell Peddicord Sr. and his son, Randell Peddicord Jr., both of Niagara Falls. The pair showed up to the event at 4:15 p.m. to get an autograph and a picture with Perreault, even though the event started at 6 p.m.
But the pair’s early arrival stems from a memory of the hockey star from the father’s childhood.
“When I was 14 or 15, I went to (an appearance) by him,” Randell Peddicord Sr. said. “I waited in line, waited in line and when I was about 10 or so people from the front, he left. So I said ‘We’re not missing this this time.’ ”
Most of the fans gathered at the event had some story about the Sabres star, or the team in general. Mario Colucci, of Lewiston, brought half of an orange seat from the Memorial Auditorium.
“It’s a piece of history,” he said, clutching the seat cushion portion of a seat from the upper bowl of the former home of the Sabres. “Someone I knew actually took this for me, and I want to have it signed.”
He said he’s had the seat cushion mounted on his wall for years. But people he’s met who aren’t from Western New York wouldn’t know what it was, he said. He’s hoping Perreault’s signature helps change it.
Others simply showed up because they wanted to. Joe Harris, of Buffalo, simply wanted to give some autographs as Christmas presents, while his friend, Mike Chismar, of Niagara Falls, just wanted to have something signed by a guy who played on the French Connection line, which Perreault centered between wingers Rene Robert and Richard Martin in the 70s.
The French Connection also brought Connie Brown and her son, Connor Brown, to the signing as well. Connie said the family bought a hockey puck signed by Martin before he passed away in February, with the hopes of Perreault’s signature bringing them one step closer to the entire line.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get Rene Robert at some point,” she said. “But it’s nice to see the generations here. Some of these people weren’t alive when the French Connection played, yet they’re here.”
Key Bank, which recently opened a new branch location at 2407 Pine Ave., sponsored the autograph signing.