Rick Jeanneret, who was the voice of the Buffalo Sabres from 1971 to 2022, has passed away Thursday evening “after a two year battle with multi-organ failures,” per a statement from his family. He was 81.
Jeanneret, or RJ as he was known by the people around the city of Buffalo and Western New York, was the longest-tenured play-by-play announcer with a single NHL team, having started calling the team’s games in their second season in franchise history, where he held that role until his retirement in the 2021-22 season.
He was a member of the Sabres Hall of Fame, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and the Hockey Hall of Fame. He also was the recipient of the Foster Hewitt Award in 2012.
“Rick was indeed a very special and very loved man, to and by all, who knew him and listened to him, his magic, and his command,” said Sabres and Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula. “How glad I am to have known him. How lucky were we all to have been around him and to have listened to him. Rick Jeanneret’s mark on Sabres history extends far beyond the broadcast booth and we will miss him dearly. I extend my deepest condolences to Sandra, Rick’s family, friends, and all that were loved by him.”
Jeanneret and His Legacy with the Sabres
Jeanneret was one of the best regional play-by-play announcers in NHL history, having covered the Sabres on either radio or television. Some of his signature calls, such as “These guys are good, scary good!” or “Top shelf, where Mama hides the cookies!” have been immortalized as some of the greatest calls of his NHL career.
Perhaps his most famous call was his “May Day!” call after Brad May scored the overtime series-clinching goal in a 6-5 victory in Game 4 of the 1993 Adams Division Semifinals in a shocking sweep of the Boston Bruins, who were led by Cam Neely, Ray Bourque, and Adam Oates.
Some other memorable calls included “La-la-la-la-LaFontaine!” whenever former Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine scored in the 1990s, “You want to be a hero? Tyler Ennis is a hero!” when Ennis scored the overtime winner in Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Philadelphia Flyers, and “Now do you believe?” when the Sabres advanced to the 2006 Eastern Conference Final after taking down the top-seeded Ottawa Senators in overtime of Game 5.
He was honored in his final year of calling games with the team with a banner-raising ceremony on April 1st, 2022. After the Sabres defeated the Nashville Predators 4-3, forwards Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin escorted “RJ” to the ice to be part of their postgame celebration and the players welcomed him to the locker room, presenting him with the team sword, awarded to the Sabres’ player of the game in their home games.
His final game, a 3-2 “oooooooooovertime” victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on April 29th, 2022, was another big celebration for Sabres Faithful, with Casey Mittelstadt scoring the game-winner to cap off Jeanneret’s 51-year tenure behind the mic. And once again, he came on the ice to the roars of the crowd at KeyBank Center.
Jeanneret Will Forever Be Remembered in Buffalo and Western New York
Jeanneret was born in nearby St. Catharines, Ontario, and lived the majority of his adult life in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Earlier in his career, he was a radio disc jockey, before he transitioned over to a hockey broadcaster when he was calling games for the Junior A Niagara Falls Flyers. Interestingly, he continued working as a DJ on CJRN in Niagara Falls into the early 90s before focusing solely on the Sabres.
While he ceded his title of the “Voice of the Sabres” to his predecessor, Ted Darling, who called the Sabres’ games on television from 1970 to 1991, Jeanneret’s exciting style of how he calls games have been amongst the best of the best of play-by-play announcers. In the last game at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in 1996, he wished that Darling would be next to him at the booth. Darling, at that time, was battling Pick’s Disease, where he unfortunately lost the battle eight months later at age 61.
“Growing up in Buffalo, Rick Jeanneret was not just the voice of the Sabres; he was the voice for our city. He helped foster my love of hockey, along with so many others,” said Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams. “Beyond the booth, Rick was an incredible man that was loved by all. Hit wit and humor was unmatched and we are all lucky to have known him. I am heartbroken by his passing and send my condolences to his wife, Sandra, and all of his family and friends. May he rest in peace.”
Jeanneret is survived by his wife, Sandra, who he referred to as “Cupcake,” his sons Mark and Chris, stepdaughter Shelly, and his beloved grandchildren.
Our condolences go out to the Jeanneret family and those closest to him.