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Rick Jeanneret's legacy as the voice of the Sabres will continue on following his death at 81

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Though Rick Jeanneret’s booming, youthful voice has gone silent, his memory will remain cherished by generations of fans and NHL players who heard him call Buffalo Sabres games over a 51-year career.

Messages of condolence paying tribute to the broadcaster affectionally nicknamed “RJ” and regarded as the voice of the Sabres began pouring in almost immediately after the team announced he had died on Thursday. He was 81.

The Sabres released a statement from Jeanneret’s family saying he died with his family by his side following a two-year battle with multi-organ failure.

“He will be loved forever,” the statement said.

The magnitude of his legacy and the many people he touched was apparent a day later, with “RIPRJ” trending on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter.

“Sharing my sympathy with the Jeanneret family on Rick’s passing,” wrote former Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, who grew up in Buffalo. “He was one of the biggest reasons I liked the Sabres so much growing up.”

“I’m sad.. I’m crying…RIP RJ,” wrote former Sabres player Matthew Barnaby. “We all love you.”

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Daniel Brière, a former Sabres co-captain, released a statement expressing his sadness.

“The Sabres family, the city of Buffalo and the National Hockey League lost an iconic voice of the game and a true gentlemen,” Brière said. “I will tell you that the calls he produced will live in a special place in my heart forever.”

Jeanneret’s career calling Sabres games began at the start of the 1971-72 season, the franchise’s second in existence, and ended with his retirement following the 2021-22 season. He achieved the NHL’s highest broadcasting honor in 2012 upon earning the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, and his tenure as a play-by-play announcer with one team is the longest in league history.

“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,” Sabres owner Terry Pegula said. “How glad I am to have known him. How lucky were we all to have been around him and to have listened to him.

It was in part through Jeanneret how Pegula became a fan of the Sabres and their famed French Connection line of the 1970s by listening to the team’s games on radio while living in Pittsburgh. Pegula and his wife bought the franchise in February 2011.

“Growing up in Buffalo, Rick Jeanneret was not just the voice of the Sabres, he was the voice of our city. He helped foster my love of hockey,” added Sabres GM Kevyn Adams. "I don’t think there’s a hockey fan in the world that doesn’t know that voice. You can close your eyes and that’s just the voice and that will be with us all forever.”

Jeanneret was known for having various signature calls including “Top shelf, where mama hides the cookies” whenever a Sabres player scored by roofing a shot high into the net.

One of his most memorable calls was “May Day! May Day!” after Brad May scored the decisive goal in a 6-5 overtime win 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 Sabres’ run to the Eastern Conference final in 2006.

The Sabres honored Jeanneret during his final season by raising a banner bearing his name to the arena rafters. He is one of 11 people to have been honored by the team, and third non-player, joining team founders, brothers Seymour and Northrup Knox.

Jeanneret did his best to keep his emotions in check during the ceremony amid a sold-out crowd chanting “RJ! RJ! RJ!”

“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 the ceremony. “I meant every word on that particular night. And boy, do I mean it now.”

Adams said the team is in discussions on how to honor Jeanneret.

“But I can tell you that we’re going to celebrate RJ every day," Adams said. "You walk into KeyBank Center, he’s part of the fabric of this organization.”

Jeanneret grew up in nearby St. Catharines, Ontario, and lived in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

He had several health scares, which led to him reducing his travel schedule.

In 2014, he was diagnosed with throat cancer but missed just a few games during the 2014-15 season after receiving treatment. In 2016, he was fitted with a pacemaker due to a slow pulse.

He is survived by his wife, Sandra, his children, Mark, Chris and Shelly, and numerous grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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