Rick Jeanneret appreciated the attempts to honor him through the years, but the Buffalo Sabres’ legendary announcer told everyone they’d have to wait. He had no desire to enter any halls of fame while he was still working in the broadcast booth.
That policy changed last year. He and Michael Gilbert, the Sabres’ vice president of public and community relations, had a talk about Jeanneret’s close relationship with his mother, Kay. The 92-year-old is unquestionably the announcer’s biggest fan. He realized how much it would mean to her to see her son honored, and he knew how much it would mean to him to have her be part of the festivities.
So after watching Jeanneret get inducted into the Sabres’ Hall of Fame, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame during the last year, Kay will accompany her son to Toronto on Monday for the biggest honor yet – a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“She’s pumped,” Jeanneret said Friday in First Niagara Center. “I just talked to her a little while ago, and she’s ready to roll.
“I was going to wait for my career to be over before I allowed my name to be nominated for any of the halls. Once I sat down and talked to [Gilbert] and we talked about my mother, I thought that maybe we should do this while she’s still around and she can appreciate it, even though I knew and had a pretty good idea that once I accepted one there would be others. I’m running out of them now anyways.”
Indeed, the honors have poured in for the NHL’s longest-tenured broadcaster. The Sabres named him to their hall last November. In September, he became a member of the Buffalo broadcasters’ hall. The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inducted him last month.
On Monday, Jeanneret will receive the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, awarded annually by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association. The honorees are recognized with a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It seems like just about every month something has been going on, and this is really the ultimate one,” Jeanneret said.
A 15-person caravan will join the native of St. Catharines, Ont., on his ride to hockey’s shrine. Jeanneret will become the second Sabres announcer to earn a spot inside the Hall. He’ll join former partner and late Sabres play-by-play man Ted Darling, who won the Foster Hewitt in 1994.
Jeanneret joined Darling in the radio booth in 1971, the Sabres’ second season, and worked as an analyst until Darling moved to television. Jeanneret took over play-by-play and turned into a mainstay on radio and television for parts of five decades, though he says Darling is the only person who should carry the “Voice of the Sabres” moniker.
“He just let me do my thing and he did his,” Jeanneret said. “Good lord, there’s a big difference between Ted Darling’s play-by-play and mine, that’s for sure. Jeez, mine’s way off the wall. I know that.”
The excitable Jeanneret has become arguably the most popular and recognizable person in the Sabres’ organization. Fans continually approach him and re-live calls such as “Top shelf where mama hides the cookies,” “La-la-la-la-Lafontaine” and “May day, May day.”
“My association with the fans and Western New York has been incredible over the years, and it just continues to build every year,” Jeanneret said. “It’s something that I’m very proud of and I treasure.”
After working 57 of the Sabres’ 82 games last season, Jeanneret was set to call the full slate this year. Because of the lockout, he’s called none. He’s no longer sure if he’ll ever work an 82-game schedule again.
No matter how many times he steps into a booth from now on, it will always be as a Hockey Hall of Fame honoree.
“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time now,” Jeanneret said. “The nicest thing I think about it is my whole family is going to be there.”