Rick Jeanneret, ‘voice of the Sabres,’ dies at 81
Rick Jeanneret, the Hockey Hall of Fame’s 2012 Foster Hewitt Award recipient and the voice of the Buffalo Sabres after a 51-year broadcasting career, died on Thursday. He was 81.
According to a statement provided by Jeanneret’s family, he died with his family by his side after a two-year battle with multi-organ failure. “He will be loved forever,” the family said in a statement.
And it’s safe to say he’ll be remembered fondly by those who grew up listening to him call Sabres games.
Since the 1971-72 season, the franchise’s second, until his retirement following the 2021-22 season, Jeanneret — or RJ as he became popularly known — has been a part of Sabres broadcasts on either radio or television. He had the NHL’s longest career as a play-by-play announcer.
“Rick was a very special and very loved man, to and by all who knew him and listened to his magic and command,” Sabres owner Terry Pegula said. “How fortunate I am to have known him. How fortunate we were to have been in his presence and to have listened to him.
By listening to the team’s games on the radio while living in Pittsburgh, Pegula became a fan of the Sabres and their legendary French Connection line in the 1970s, thanks in part to Jeanneret. In February 2011, Pegula and his wife purchased the franchise.
“When I was growing up in Buffalo, Rick Jeanneret was more than just the Sabres’ voice; he was the voice of our city.” “He helped foster my love of hockey,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams noted.
“Rick was an incredible man who was adored by everyone,” Adams continued. “His wit and humour were unrivalled, and we are all fortunate to have known him.”
Despite his retirement, Jeanneret continued to attend Sabres games last season, travelling from his home in neighbouring Niagara Falls,Ontario.
Jeanneret was notorious for saying things like, “Top shelf, where mama hides the cookies,” if a Sabres player scored by roofing a shot high into the net.
One of his most notable cries was “May Day! May Day!” when Brad May scored the game-winning goal in a 6-5 overtime triumph over Boston in the first round of the 1993 playoffs. Buffalo also won its first postseason series in ten years.
His other memorable yells were “La-la-la-la-Fontaine!” when former Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine scored in the 1990s. And there was his “Now do you believe?” call during the Sabres’ run to the Eastern Conference final in 2006.
In 2012, he received the NHL’s highest broadcasting honour, the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame.
During his final season, the Sabres honoured Jeanneret by lifting a banner in his honour to the arena rafters. He is one of 11 people honoured by the squad, and the third non-player to do so, alongside team founders Seymour and Northrup Knox.
During the ceremony, Jeanneret did his best to keep his emotions in check, despite a sold-out crowd yelling “RJ! RJ! RJ!”
“I remember standing here ten years ago, after being inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame, and saying that night, this is the only job I’ve ever wanted.” “This was the only place I wanted to be,” Jeanneret said, during a 15-minute ceremony. “I meant every word on that particular night. And boy, do I mean it now.”
He grew up in nearby St. Catharines, Ont., and spent much of his life in the Niagara region. He called his first Sabres game on the radio on Oct. 10, 1971, and then joined the team’s TV broadcast in 1995.
Jeanneret had repeated health concerns, which caused him to curtail his travel plans.
After being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014, he missed only a few games during the 2014-15 season. Due to a sluggish pulse, he was equipped with a pacemaker in 2016.
His wife, Sandra, his children, Mark, Chris, and Shelly, as well as several grandkids, survive him. There were no funeral arrangements provided.