BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Rick Jeanneret’s iconic voice recorded an oral history of the Buffalo Sabres for generations of hockey fans near and far. The broadcaster’s influence extended beyond his 51 years in the booth, memorializing the franchise in every visit with players, coaches and visitors to the city.
Flooded with tributes after Jeanneret’s death this week, the Sabres have yet to determine official remembrance plans for the franchise legend. The spirit of homage to Jeanneret, however, is embedded in the team culture fostered by general manager Kevyn Adams and coach Don Granato.
“We are going to celebrate RJ every day,” Adams said Friday via videoconference. “You walk into KeyBank Center, he is part of the fabric of this organization. He is part of the history, the legendary calls, the relationships. Through what we are trying to build here, Donny and I talk about this all the time, something special and someplace where the players truly want to be a Buffalo Sabre and what it means to wear that sweater — RJ is right in the middle of all of that.”
Granato grew up in Chicago, part of a notable hockey family. But a significant part of his ice indoctrination came from listening to Jeanneret narrate Sabres highlights.
“Nobody in the hockey world would not know that voice,” Granato said. “Prior to coming to Buffalo that voice was etched in my hockey memories and mind. Every big goal in the franchise became known in the hockey world and conveyed because of Rick. I knew the voice of Rick and the power of that voice as a hockey fan in Chicago growing up. He makes you proud to be a Sabre.”
Jeanneret commentated on many fights, and a few hockey highlights, during Rob Ray’s 17-year playing career with the Sabres. After retiring in 2004, Ray got to work alongside Jeanneret on the broadcast crew for another 18 seasons.
“RJ pretty much taught me everything,” Ray said. “When I first started, there wasn’t much direction. It was just him. And he was sometimes hard on you, too. I took an awful lot of beers to the buses at night trying to get back on his good side. He took the time, man. He understood the game, and he understood all about the business. He wanted it to be right. And whoever was working with him, he wanted them to be right.”
Ray remembered that as a player, “you couldn’t wait to get off the ice to rewind the tape to see how RJ described it. Guys wanted to do something special because they knew he would’ve taken it to the next level and made it something greater.”
Adamsplayed for six different NHL teams during his career from 1996 to 2008, but he was raised on Jeanneret’s vocal stylings.
“I truly feel like the luckiest person in the world being able to get up every day and do the job I do, to have the opportunity to lead this organization,” Adams said. “A lot of why I feel that way is growing up in Buffalo, being in the barns stick-handling, shooting, pretending I was Gilbert Perreault. And announcing the game in my head was RJ.
“He had such an impact on my passion for the game, passion for the Buffalo Sabres organization. My mom would come up and say it’s time to go to bed. And I would say, how am I supposed to go to sleep, RJ is calling the game. That had such an impact on my life and my journey in hockey, and what I loved.”
The youngest team in the NHL in 2022 celebrated Jeanneret on the night his banner was raised to the rafters in Buffalo, then again a few weeks later on the occasion of his final broadcaster for the Sabres.
“That entire night was something that I think all of us that were in the building that night will never forget,” said Granato, who felt compelled to sport suspenders in Jeanneret’s honor on the banner night. “When you’re in coaching you are thinking how to get this team to identify with the history of this organization. I never had to worry about that, because he conveyed the history of the Buffalo Sabres to the hockey world.”
Jeanneret’s legacy lives on in archived recordings, furthering Sabres legends for the coming generation of fans and players.
“As we get into training camp, part of the conversations that Donny and I will have with the guys is that it’s bigger than you,” Adams concluded. “There are people who have paved the way in this organization in many different roles, from someone like RJ, to players, coaches, equipment managers, trainers. We all want to leave it better than we found it. And that’s what RJ did.
“He left this world better than he found it.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.