In a profound twist of fate, Rick Jeanneret, who had dedicated an impressive 51 years to his role as the resonant voice of the Buffalo Sabres, has passed away at the age of 81. A recipient of the esteemed 2012 Foster Hewitt Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame, his departure has cast a somber shadow over the realm of sports.
Remembering Rick Jeanneret, the Resonant Voice of the Sabres
Following an arduous two-year struggle with multi-organ failure, Jeanneret found solace in the embrace of his family as he embarked on his final journey. A statement from his kin, relayed by the Sabres, reverberated with deep emotion, expressing the enduring love that surrounds his memory.
An inescapable truth emerges: those who have experienced his melodious calls during Sabres games will forever hold Rick Jeanneret in their hearts. His voice, a bridge between passion and action, will forever echo in the corridors of their memories.
From the dawning of the Sabres’ second season in 1971–72, Rick Jeanneret, or RJ, as he became affectionately known, wove his narrative into the fabric of the team’s broadcasts. His presence remained steadfast until the close of the 2021–22 season, an epoch that cemented his standing as the NHL’s longest-serving play-by-play announcer.
Terry Pegula, steward of the Sabres, conveyed the profundity of Jeanneret’s impact, labeling him as “truly a very special and very loved man, to and by all, who knew him and listened to him, his magic, and his command.” The privilege of knowing and hearing Jeanneret left an indelible mark on Pegula’s heart.
Pegula’s affection for the Sabres and their iconic French Connection era was nurtured by Jeanneret’s unique narrative. Listening to games on the radio while residing in Pittsburgh, he found himself drawn to the team’s storied legacy. This affinity culminated in Pegula’s acquisition of the franchise alongside his wife in February 2011.
“Rick Jeanneret wasn’t merely the voice of the Sabres during my formative years in Buffalo; he was the resonating voice of our city itself,” reflected Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams. “He ignited the flame of my hockey passion.”
Adams offered a heartfelt tribute to Rick Jeanneret, acknowledging his unwavering wit and unparalleled humor that touched the lives of many fortunate enough to cross his path.
Though retired from his official role, Rick Jeanneret remained a devoted observer, journeying from his abode in the neighboring town of Niagara Falls, Ontario, to witness the Sabres’ endeavors during the previous season.
Jeanneret’s reputation was firmly entrenched in his trademark phrases, such as “Top shelf, where mama hides the cookies,” uttered in celebration of a Sabres player deftly depositing a shot into the net’s upper reaches. His lexicon included other iconic expressions that infused games with a unique resonance.
Among his most indelible exclamations was “May Day! May Day!” resonating through the airwaves after Brad May clinched a 6-5 overtime triumph in the first round of the 1993 playoffs, solidifying a four-game sweep of Boston. This victory ushered in Buffalo’s first postseason series conquest in a decade.
His repertoire extended to such gems as “La-la-la-la-Fontaine!” serenading each goal scored by the esteemed former Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine during the 1990s. The resounding question “Now do you believe?” became an emblem of hope and triumph during the Sabres’ march to the Eastern Conference final in 2006.
In 2012, Rick Jeanneret ascended to the pinnacle of broadcasting recognition as a recipient of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, the NHL’s ultimate honor in the realm of commentary.
During his valedictory season, the Sabres paid homage to Jeanneret’s enduring legacy by unfurling a banner in his honor within the arena’s rafters. He joined the elite ranks of individuals celebrated by the team, distinguishing himself as the third non-player among the illustrious group of 11.
In a poignant display, amid a sold-out crowd chanting “RJ! RJ! RJ!” Jeanneret grappled to contain his emotions. “A decade ago, as I stood here upon my induction into the Sabres Hall of Fame, I declared that this was the sole path I ever wished to tread,” he shared during a stirring 15-minute ceremony. “Every word I spoke that night was imbued with sincerity. And now, those sentiments resound with an even deeper truth.”
Jeanneret’s roots were deeply entrenched in the Niagara region, having been nurtured in the nearby city of St. Catharines, Ont. On October 10, 1971, he marked his debut on the airwaves, heralding his journey as a Sabres broadcaster. His transition to television broadcasts transpired in 1995, etching his legacy into the annals of the franchise.
Health adversities spurred Rick Jeanneret to recalibrate his travel commitments. A diagnosis of throat cancer in 2014 led to a brief absence during the 2014–15 season as he underwent treatment. In 2016, the installation of a pacemaker addressed concerns arising from a languid pulse.
In the wake of his passing, Jeanneret’s legacy endures through his cherished wife Sandra, his devoted children Mark, Chris, and Shelly, and a multitude of adoring grandchildren. Presently, there are no definitive plans for a formal farewell.
In the realm where words and emotions coalesce, Rick Jeanneret’s legacy shines as an enduring testament to the power of the human voice. His resonance lingers in the hearts of all who had the privilege of hearing his distinctive cadence. Through the highs and lows of the game, Jeanneret’s voice remains an eternal beacon, guiding the way for generations to come.