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Rick Jeanneret is a legend in every sense of the word.
When you work in sports media in the City of Buffalo, the list of legends is not a long one, but one with names attached to it that are icons certainly within the region but also beyond it. They’re names that come with respect first and foremost but also the kind of admiration that comes from having a long career and being beloved by everyone. This is what I came to know what Rick Jeanneret was all about.
You know the voice even if you’re not a hockey fan. You love the voice if you are one, and the attachment only grows exponentially stronger if you’re a Sabres fan or even from Buffalo.
Word came down late Thursday that Rick passed away. He was 81 years old. Life in recent years had been difficult for Rick because of health issues. In 2014, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and later had a pacemaker put in to help with his heart. Being in the arena the night he passed out while calling a game was a terrifying ordeal. Not only was Rick someone I knew for many years watching hockey, but he became a colleague and someone who I got to know better as the years went on for me here.
Being the new person in a new situation where most everyone has been around each other for years or decades, finding your way around can be like being the new kid in school. Everyone has established relationships and it can feel like there’s a clique that you’re not part of and you don’t know if you ever will be. That kind of thing didn’t really exist with Rick though.
I’d been in Buffalo about four years or so and rarely traveled for games. The road is where you really get to know those you work alongside from home because, let’s face it, everyone more or less sticks to the people they know when in a strange place. Even if the strange place is beyond familiar, you stick with the people you know.
One of my first road trips while with The Athletic was to Montréal, a city I’d been to a number of times, but not necessarily as a working member of the media and certainly not before as a Sabres beat writer. It came time for dinner at Bell Center ahead of the evening’s game and while I’d been mostly shooting the breeze with Dan Dunleavy earlier in the day, going up for the meal meant things were a little more chaotic and while I was roaming around looking for a place to sit and scarf down a meager dinner, Rick signals to me to come and sit with him and Rob Ray for dinner.
Being an adult means not really putting things into any kind of perspective when you’re in work mode and trying to plan out what you’re doing for that night’s game but it hit me immediately that Rick, the man synonymous with Buffalo Sabres hockey and probably the most beloved figure in the city when it comes to its sports teams, was telling me I should join him for dinner.
There are moments in life when you feel like you’ve “made it” in various regards. That night I felt like I’d made it because of Rick’s gesture. After all, I mostly try not to get in anyone’s way and dinner time is like crunch time for making notes and going over things for the broadcasters. But Rick was as cool as they get, and it meant a lot to me to have that feeling of being “accepted” even though that’s probably overblowing it a bit. It’s not as if Rick didn’t know who I was or anything of the sort, but it’s the guy who’s been doing this for nearly 50 years at the time asking the “new” guy to come join them for dinner.
Rick was always great with the jokes and had anecdotes for ages upon ages to share if you asked him about a person or a player or a coach from any time at all during his career. Rick provided a lot of perspective for me as well that for as important as it is to do the work and do your job well, it was just as important to enjoy what you’re doing and to not take yourself too seriously. Life’s too short to be overburdened with not being able to crack a smile or a joke now and again.
Rick’s an impossible person to forget and his calls will never fail to make me smile because I’ve gotten to know the man behind the many memorable moments in Buffalo and NHL history. In media the dream is to be able to have a career anywhere near as successful as he’s had, but in truth, to have a life that’s touched so many and to come away with it leaving everyone with a smile on their face means so much more.
Sports are simple but sports are life, too. Sports are fun and Rick Jeanneret was as fun as they will ever be behind the microphone. I’ll miss Rick most of all for being the sort of person who made you happy to be at the rink even on those days when it was hard to be there for any number of reasons. That he was able to battle his various ailments so gallantly and to never let his health ultimately tell him when it was time to call it a career. That kind of stubbornness is the kind I admire.
I admire Rick for all he’s been able to do in his life and his career and I’ll miss him more now that he’s gone. I’m just happy I was able to know him while I’ve been here and to enjoy all that he brought to all of us.