BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — For 51 years, Rick Jeanneret has been the voice of the Buffalo Sabres, but now, the iconic play-by-play announcer is getting ready to say goodbye.
"Well, let's put it this way," Jeanneret said to 7 Sports director Matt Bové, "it's been a hell of a run, and it's been awesome."
A Hall of Fame career
It's been a scary good career for the St. Catherines native, who started out in Buffalo calling Bisons games in 1969. A few years later, he picked up the phone and it was the Sabres on the other line.
"They called me and asked me if I was interested in coming over and talking to them about a job," Jeanneret said. "I said, 'yeah, okay, yes,' and I couldn't wait to get in my car."
The rest is history, and he's made plenty of history in the process. Jeanneret is the longest tenured play-by-play announcer with a single team in hockey.
In 2011 he was inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame. A few months later, Jeanneret received the highest honor in his field when he was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, an honor he called "a bit surreal" during his enshrinement ceremony.
Looking back on that night, Jeanneret said, "I think the nicest thing about that time was my mom was still around then, so she saw me go into the Hall of Fame."
His Hall of Fame resumé includes dozens of calls fans can recite word for word. From the Aud to the Arena, from "La la la la LaFontaine" to "now do you believe," these moments have become a Sabres soundtrack.
Looking back on his iconic call of Jason Pominville's goal on May 14, 2006. It was Game 5 of the playoffs series against the Ottawa Senators. Almost 16 years later, Sabres fans are more likely to remember the call ("Now do you believe? These guys are good, scary good!") than the goal itself. Pominville recognizes the affect the call had on his goal.
"Still to this day, there are still people, when I'm in Buffalo that come up to me and they're able to tell me where they were at the time of that goal— where they were watching the game, and what they were doing, which is pretty surreal. And it goes to show you how the goal was good and all that, but the call made it even better than the goal probably was," Pominville told Matt Bové.
Former Sabres forward Brad May has his name forever tied to what could be Jeanneret's most remembered call of all time.
On April 23, 1993, Jeanneret needed just two words: "May Day."
"It's one of the greatest moments of my life and certainly my professional life," May said, "but as an individual moment, it's my favorite. It's the best."
"I remember first of all, the first question I was asked after we were off the air and everything and it was, 'how did you know how many May Day's to call,'" Jeanneret said. "And I said, 'I just kept going until I thought of something else to say, that was exactly the reason I kept going, I don't even know how many I said, I have no idea,' but it worked, whatever it was, it worked."
A beloved teammate
Jeanneret has had several partners in the booth and at ice-level over his years with the Sabres, from Ted Darling to Jim Lorentz to Rob Ray.
"What Rick Jeanneret has done," broadcaster Dan Dunleavy said, "is make sure that every single moment that's a good one for the Sabres, he punches the lights out of it and people remember it."
Broadcast partner Martin Biron has experienced both working with Jeanneret in the booth and having his plays as a Sabres goalie called by Jeanneret. He added, "we'll be in 2222 and people will say, 'man, this guy Rick Jeanneret called the games a certain way in Buffalo,' and I think it's just going to be timeless."
Former Sabre Rob Ray shares the same distinction as Biron, working alongside Jeanneret after his playing career ended. Ray said, "he just loves the people and he wants to be around the people, and he just wants to put a smile on everybody's face."
Cherished by fans
The voice of the Sabres received support from hockey fans around the world in 2014, when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. His adopted hometown of Buffalo stepped up to help Jeanneret fight his toughest challenge.
"It was, boy, I had a lot of people in my corner, I'll tell you that," Jeanneret said. "A lot of people in my corner."
"I'll tell you what, I had stage three, I didn't know a whole lot about cancer, but I knew there were only four stages, so, you know, it was something to remember and be very thankful for. And to the good folks at ECMC and Cancer Care of Harlem Road, I thank them for what they did."
Through the highs and lows, Western New York and Rick Jeanneret have been a match made in hockey heaven. Starting on Friday night, his name will fly high in the rafters at KeyBank Center. Bové asked what the honor meant to him, seeing his name alongside some of the greatest players in Sabres history.
"Well first of all, these guys made a lot more money than I did," Jeanneret joked, before adding, "no, it means a ton. It means 51 years have been richly rewarded."
As Jeanneret prepares to hang up his headset for the final time at the end of the month, he has one message for fans in Western New York and southern Ontario.
"The fans are my life, as far as I'm concerned. They've treated me so well since game one. I don't even feel like this was a job, I think this was just a calling that turned into something incredible."