BUFFALO, N.Y. — Rick Jeanneret, the broadcaster responsible for calling the Buffalo Sabres' most iconic moments by the team's biggest stars over the past 51 years, is now joining them in the rafters.
With the first sold-out crowd of the season chanting "RJ! RJ! RJ!'' a banner honoring Jeanneret was raised in the KeyBank Center on Friday night, and hangs immediately next to former start goalie Dominik Hasek. It's the 10th banner to be raised by the Sabres, with Jeanneret becoming the third non-player, joining team founders, brothers Seymour and Northrup Knox.
"I stood down here 10 years ago upon my induction into the Sabres hall of fame, and I remember saying that night, this is the only job I ever wanted. This is the only place I wanted to be,'' Jeanneret said during a 15-minute ceremony held before the Sabres hosted the Nashville Predators. "I meant every word on that particular night. And boy, do I mean it now.''
The 79-year-old, who is retiring after this season, closed his speech by turning his attention to the packed house and his audience at home by referencing Neil Diamond's song "Beautiful Noise.''
"I'll tell you how much I appreciate your beautiful noise,'' he said, referring to the roar of the crowds. "I only have three words: I love you.''
Jeanneret has been a part of the Sabres broadcast on either radio or TV since 1971-72, the franchise's second season. He achieved the NHL's highest broadcasting honor in 2012, upon earning the Hockey Hall of Fame's Foster Hewitt Memorial Award.
Jeanneret was introduced by team owner Terry Pegula, who was living in Pittsburgh but became a Sabres fan while listening to Jeanneret on the radio in the 1970s.
"You are a big part of why I have become a Buffalo Sabres fan, and I will remember that forever,'' said Pegula, who bought the team in 2011.
Added former Sabres forward Derek Plante in a message broadcast on the video board: "When you think of the Sabres, you think of Rick Jeanneret.''
Though he has been called the "Voice of the Sabres,'' Jeanneret defers that title to late Sabres broadcaster Ted Darling, who died in 1996. Jeanneret did the Sabres' play-by-play on radio before succeeding Darling on TV.
He's known for calling some of the franchise's most memorable goals, starting with "May Day! May Day!'' after Brad May scored the decisive goal in a 6-5 overtime to clinch a four-game series sweep of Boston in the first round of the 1993 playoffs. It was also Buffalo's first playoff series win in 10 years.
His other notable calls included "La-la-la-la-Fontaine!'' which followed whenever former Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine scored in the 1990s. And there was his, "Now do you believe?'' call during the 2006 playoffs during the Sabres' run to the Eastern Conference final.
Jeanneret got the night off, naturally, and will finish out the season by calling the Sabres' finale against Chicago on April 29.
In further honoring Jeanneret, the Sabres wore an "RJ'' patch on their jersey in the team's home sellout since a 5-2 win over Toronto on Feb. 16, 2020.
Fans brought signs, one featuring a picture of Jeanneret in the middle of a heart, and others which read, "Thank you RJ, you are a legend,'' and "RJ, you made me a Sabres fan.''
From nearby St. Catharines, Ontario, Jeanneret lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Jeanneret has had his share of health scares. In December 2018, an illness led to him collapsing in the broadcast booth leading to him being taken to the hospital.
In 2014, he was diagnosed with throat cancer but only missed a few games during the 2014-15 season after receiving treatment. In 2016, he was fitted with a pacemaker due to a slow pulse.
A combination of his age and failing health led to Jeanneret cutting back on his schedule over the past six years, and limited to mostly home games.