Sabres’ Tribute to legendary play-by-play voice Rick Jeanneret wonderfully done

On Friday night at KeyBank Center before a sellout home crowd of 19,070 strong, the Buffalo Sabres celebrated the Hall Of Fame career of broadcasting legend Rick Jeanneret.

The voice of the Sabres for over half a century, Jeanneret had his special night before a great atmosphere that included many former Sabres alumni. Appropriately titled RJ Night, the organization retired his microphone to the rafters with a much deserved banner next to the retired Sabres’ jerseys.

If you’ve seen a Buffalo Sabres game throughout the years, then you know the voice of Rick Jeanneret well. I was introduced to him by close friend Brian in 1996 when we had one of our hockey nights with our friends John, Tim and Harry.

Whether it was in Sayreville or South River, New Jersey, it was always a treat to tune in and watch a Sabres game on Empire Sports Network. I didn’t know who Jeanneret was. Having only known Sam Rosen and Doc Emrick, whose voice is missed by hockey fans, getting to know Rick was quite an adventure. He called the games with a passion unmatched.

The epic calls had an enthusiasm and energy that have made Buffalo Sabres’ games entertaining for years. It is similar for Rosen, who still is the voice of the Rangers. With the longtime play-by-play broadcasters of our teams, you can feel it in how they call the plays. The love they have. Whether it was Doc Emrick with the Devils and then nationally, or Gary Thorne, that enthusiasm is what makes them special.

That’s Jeanneret. He has always been able to raise the level to get viewers genuinely excited about what they’re seeing. It’s hard to believe he’s been doing the only job he ever wanted for 51 years in Buffalo. At the only place he ever wanted to be. Something the very classy and respectful legend was sure to tell the fans on Friday night.

“I have only three words,” he told all the fans who’ve listened, watched and supported him over the years. “I Love You!”

The feeling is mutual. It is exactly how I feel too even as a Ranger fan. He has made an art out of calling hockey games. He’s also kept things light like Emrick and Rosen, who now pokes fun at himself after mistakes on names. To last so long in this business, you need personality. That’s what makes them great.

I think what separates RJ is that he’s done it for so long with the same team. Since almost its inception in 1970, he’s been a special part of the franchise. Having started on radio in 1971-72, he’s been the constant voice for Sabre fans. For a quarter of a century, he was the radio voice. In ’95-96, he became front and center on television. By the following season, Rick was both the radio and TV play-by-play man of the Sabres.

One of the unique characteristics I noticed early in viewing games with our South River Fantasy Hockey League brethren, was how fun Jeanneret made those games. When there was a play made, you could feel it through the eyes and mouth of RJ. Whether it was a goal, big save, huge hit or fight/brawl, the passion was always there. You felt the energy and electricity come through the TV set.

When talking to Brian, who’s as huge a Sabres fan as I know, he still loves the epic calls of some of those memorable hockey fights. Nobody could call one better than Rick. Shields and Snow remains legendary. That would be a goalie fight between Steve Shields and Garth Snow during an intense playoff game between the Sabres and Flyers. Former Sabre goalie Marty Biron says his favorite moment was his last game in Buffalo when he fought the late Ray Emery in a heated battle with the Senators.

Former Sabre defenseman Brian Campbell raved during a special highlight video package about making a couple of Top 10 lists as called by RJ. Of course, having watched Campbell cleanly lay out Flyer R.J. Umberger, we know which moment he’s referring to. I can still remember Jeanneret beam, “BRIIIIAAAAN CAMPPPPPBELL!!!!!” It was insane. Of course, you felt for Umberger, who suffered a concussion on the huge open ice hit.

There have been many memorable goal calls by RJ. “May Day,” and “These Guys Are Good, Scary Good!”, are two of my favorites. Both coming in the postseason. The first is Brad May scoring the series clinching goal in overtime on a great pass from Pat LaFontaine from the seat of his pants on Mother’s Day to eliminate the Bruins in 1993.

The second being in the second round of the 2006 Playoffs when Jason Pominville scored a shorthanded goal to oust the Senators. The astonishing thing is when they went down a man, I told Brian I felt a shorthanded goal coming. Somehow, it happened right afterwards. Pominville went around both Daniel Alfredsson and Wade Redden to win the series that sent the ’05-06 Sabres to the Conference Finals.

How I wish that had turned out differently for every Buffalo fan. I can’t think of a single fan base who deserves to see a championship more than Brian and the loyal and extremely passionate fans who root for both the Sabres and Bills. It could be soon for the Bills, who are led by Josh Allen.

The Sabres are finally on the right track. They play hard for coach Don Granato and won that emotional game over the Predators 4-3 to honor Rick Jeanneret. It created this special moment below.

If you didn’t get choked up seeing the whole team celebrate their victory with a special team photo with RJ on the ice, I don’t know what to say. I’m glad they won. It was his night. Seeing how much he means to those players including future captain Alex Tuch, tells you everything. Kyle Okposo presented him with a stick following the win in the locker room (seen above).

I also highly recommend the video tribute packages MSG put together. One included some of his memorable calls. The other featured former players and broadcasters praising RJ’s dedication. His wife Sandra said it best. He turns into a 30-year old. It’s home for him. Well put.

There is one thing I wish could’ve happened for our forever friend. Not just a Stanley Cup and Super Bowl victory. But for Brian to have met the man, myth and legend. He is a wonderful person. I had the privilege of meeting him once while working a Devils home game against the Sabres in February 2001.

Fittingly, it snowed and the Buffalo team bus arrived late. I remember being in the press room to make photocopies for the production truck. There was Rick Jeanneret standing there waiting for copies. I introduced myself and told him about Brian and how big a fan he was. Of course, also mentioned how I became one too of his work. He said thank you and shook my hand.

That’s RJ for the city of Buffalo. A man of the people. I know he’s had a very limited schedule in his final year due to a myriad of health issues that have unfortunately been there for a while. And yet you wouldn’t know it. Once he spoke and his smile told us everything.

You could also see how humbled he was over being honored. This isn’t a man who likes to be front and center. A sharp contrast to his legendary calls that are forever part of Buffalo Sabres folklore. Rick is genuine and real. A truly authentic person.

I’m glad he had his moment. He sure deserves it. There are three more games of RJ left after today. I’ll be sure to catch a couple including the final act.

Congratulations to Rick Jeanneret on an amazing career! Forever one of the best voices to call a hockey game.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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