Rick Jeanneret and Harry Neale will be stay-at-home broadcasters for a good portion of the Sabres' road schedule, including this week's two opening games in Europe. As announced in July, Jeanneret and Neale will call just 18 road games, and 39 of the 41 home games. Jeanneret, in his 40th season with the team, is cutting back on his schedule as a transitional step toward retiring.
Kevin Sylvester and Danny Gare have been paired as the second broadcast team, and are scheduled to do 22 road games and one at home. Sylvester, of course, is host of the team's pregame, postgame and intermission shows. For the 23 games when he slides over to the play-by-play microphone, a new face will be seen doing the hosting duties: Brian Duff from the NHL Network.
Duff, 40, is starting his fifth season with the network, where he appears on the program "On the Fly." He has had various broadcasting roles with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
Hockey and broadcasting were two of Duff's passions while growing up east of Toronto, in Whitby, Ont. His mother was a Sabres fan, so Duff spent plenty of time listening to Jeanneret's voice on the radio. He became a huge fan.
"I would bet that I wouldn't have to look too deep into my archive and I could find some cassette tapes I made of some of Rick's great calls from when I was probably 8 or 10 years old," Duff said.
How did his mom become enamored with the Sabres up there in Maple Leafs country?
"She was a Leafs fan, she tells me, up until their final championship [in 1967]. After that, things started to get a bit lean as they traded off their best assets. With Punch Imlach's connection, she just decided she would follow Punch's new venture in Buffalo, and I think she just instantly became -- like everybody else in this market -- a fan of Gilbert Perreault."
Duff, who earned a broadcasting diploma from Mount Royal College in Calgary, is a familiar face on the Canadian airwaves. In addition to his NHL work, he also was a broadcaster on the National Lacrosse League's Game of the Week last season, which included some Buffalo Bandits games. He hopes to return to that role this winter.
Duff spent a good deal of time around the team during training camp. And he has spent enough time around NHL teams to know that there is a new atmosphere around First Niagara Center this season, a raising of expectations and quickening of pulses under new owner Terry Pegula.
"It goes beyond just the team," Duff said. "I think they're trying to do it right in every aspect of the business. You get the same vibe that the city has about its team, when you are around the employees who are working here around the clock, basically. You get the vibe that things are changing, that things are as good as they've ever been, from a morale and attitude standpoint.
"I'm only basing it on a few weeks and I'm not here full-time, so I might be overstating it a bit, but it certainly seems like they are pushing all the right buttons in every area, to make it all on par with what they are trying to accomplish with the team."
> Short takes
* As in recent seasons, the Sabres broadcast will be simulcast on television and WGR Radio. There are 10 Sabres games scheduled to be televised on Versus, which early in January will be renamed the NBC Sports Network. Up to two games will be carried on NBC.
* Digital cable customers of Time Warner or Verizon FiOS can sample the NHL Center Ice package during an 18-day free preview, from Oct. 6 to 23. Center Ice is an out-of-market subscription package that shows up to 40 live games per week.
* There is still no resolution to the stalemate between Madison Square Garden and the Dish Network, meaning MSG is not available to Dish viewers. DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS are the options for MSG in the Western New York market.