By Bill Hoppe
For all the hollering Rick Jeanneret does during each Sabres broadcast, the legendary play-by-play man is really a quiet person. The excitement stays in the booth. He neither seeks nor likes attention outside of it.
For years, he turned down offers to enter the Sabres Hall of Fame. But this year he finally accepted the team’s invitation. Why?
Jeanneret wanted his 91-year-old mother, Kay, to enjoy the honor with him.
“I had a lot of encouragement from my mom,” Jeanneret said Tuesday prior to his induction with Dale Hawerchuk before the Sabres’ 6-5 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets. “It just seemed to be the right time. She’s here tonight. I’ll tell you, you couldn’t have kept her away tonight.”
As her son received a moving ovation from the capacity crowd of 18,690 fans inside the First Niagara Center, a smiling Mrs. Jeanneret watched above from a suite with family members. Each of them sported a No. 40 Jeanneret Sabres jersey — the number of years he’s called games — with “PP” on the front for “play-by-play.”
When Kay Jeanneret met Sabres owner Terry Pegula and president Ted Black before the game, it put her in “seventh heaven,” her son said.
“She’s absolutely having the time of her life up there, and I’m glad that I made the decision to do it now,” Jeanneret said.
Tuesday likely won’t be Jeanneret’s last Hall of Fame honor. Given his iconic status in Buffalo and around the NHL — turn on the TV in Canada and you might just hear his signature “May Day” call from 1993 or another classic — he should someday be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
“I’ve been asked whether the NHL Hall of Fame might come along in the future,” Jeanneret said. “I don’t know whether or not (it’ll happen). This is No. 1. The Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame will always be No. 1.”
Hawerchuk, who was enshrined in Toronto in 2001, wore No. 10 during nine prolific seasons in Winnipeg and another five here. His Jets and Sabres jerseys are still a popular choice with fans.
He chose to be inducted Tuesday because the Sabres faced the Jets, who traded him to Buffalo in 1990 for defenseman Phil Housley (the new incarnation of the Jets moved from Atlanta this year).
“I think everybody in Canada and around the National Hockey League are excited to see the Winnipeg Jets back,” Hawerchuk said. “This is a special night. I stand out there and they’re the two teams I spent the most time with. Those two are definitely closest to my heart.”
So is Jeanneret.
“If I hear that voice, I try to find a TV because I know it’s going to be a hell of a highlight,” Hawerchuk said.
With seasons of 89, 98, 96 and 86 points, Hawerchuk’s quietly one of the top scorers in Sabres history. His 80 assists in 1992-93 ranks second all-time.
Still, Hawerchuk was overshadowed. Pat LaFontaine had 95 assists and 148 points that season. Alexander Mogilny scored 76 goals.
“We had a lot of guys who could score goals here,” Hawerchuk said. “I felt my niche was always what I can bring to the table that’s going to be best for this hockey team. When Mogilny and LaFontaine want the puck, you get it to them. That was going to best for the Buffalo Sabres.”
The high-flying 1992-93 team was possibly Hawerchuk’s best chance at the Stanley Cup. The Sabres stunned Boston with a four-game sweep. Jeanneret’s Brad May call in overtime ended the memorable series.
Then they fell to Montreal during the Adams Division final, dropping all four games by a goal. LaFontaine and Mogilny never finished the series.
“The buzz in the Aud just never seemed to end,” Hawerchuk said. “When a power play came about, the buzz went to another level. We had guys that really wanted to score goals, that loved the game and had passion for the game. It was unfortunate we didn’t stay healthy.”
Today, Hawerchuk’s in his second season coaching the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts.
“As a player you practice hard and prepare and then you go rest and get ready for the game,” Hawerchuk said. “When you’re resting, coaches are usually looking at game film and trying to put together that little tweak to put the team over the top. It seems I’m doing that all day long, and my wife can attest to that.”