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RJ, Eichel and Moving On

June 18, 2021, 6:51 AM ET [1187 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Think of your favorite Sabres moment and there is a good chance that the man providing the emotional spine of the moment is Rick Jeanneret. Lost in the shuffle of another lost year is the potential uncertainty surrounding the future of the long-time Sabres play-by-play man who has been an absolute icon in the Buffalo sports scene for nearly 40 years. Through thick and thin, the man affectionately known as “RJ” has provided the auditory accompaniment to some of the most iconic moments in the history of the Buffalo Sabres.

After the Sabres season ended, Jeanneret had an interview with Alan Pergament of the Buffalo News during which he said that his future calling Sabres games is uncertain.

“There are no timelines” to decide on his status for next year, Jeanneret said.

If you’re anything like me, you can close your eyes and see Jason Pominville dart around Daniel Alfredsson and tuck the puck past the late Ray Emery as Jeanneret exclaimed “Now do you believe? Now do you believe? These guys are good. Scary good!” I can hear the goal horn and I perfectly remember the inflection in RJ’s voice when that moment happened. The moment itself is inextricably tied to the call of RJ. It’s all one blur of the play, celebration and Jeanneret’s voice. At the risk of being overly sentimental, as a 16-year-old watching that call, that was probably the peak of my Buffalo sports fandom.

Don’t get me wrong: the Bills breaking the drought was fantastic and their recent playoff success has been wonderful, but my first true sports love is hockey and the Buffalo Sabres. RJ provided the soundtrack for so many of those wonderful memories.

I can see the smirk on Ray Emery’s face as Martin Biron (foolishly) went looking for a fight with the more skilled pugilist before Andrew Peters came to his teammate’s defense.
“And over comes Peters to grab Emery and this is really going to get ugly now!”

Moments like this are as much of the fabric of Western New York as Sahlen’s hotdogs or “wide right.” In a lot of ways, RJ occupies a position as a grandfather figure to Buffalonians of a certain age. Growing up, I learned so many colorful turns of phrase from RJ.

“Top shelf where momma hides the cookies!” probably tops the list.

There is also no doubt that RJ has declined from his peak in recent years which can’t be glossed over for the sake of a better narrative. RJ’s decline has mirrored the Sabres decline which leads us to the sad fact that there probably won’t be a moment when RJ calls the final moments of a Sabres Stanley Cup victory. Frankly, he’s old and his best calls are almost assuredly behind him.

He mispronounces names. He misidentifies players. It’s a sad fact that RJ simply isn’t what he used to be.

It may be time to move on.

When I was thinking up a topic for today’s article, my initial intention was to do a top-5 list of Jack Eichel moments in advance of what seems like his inevitable departure from the Buffalo Sabres. The number-one moment in my mind was Eichel’s overtime winner against the Carolina Hurricanes when Evander Kane fed Jack Eichel for a breakaway goal with 2 second left in overtime.

Then it dawned on me: that moment wasn’t great just because of Jack Eichel.

It was also the call by RJ – who was joined in the booth by Rob Ray – that truly made it a transcendent Sabres moment. Sure, the goal was spectacular, but it was the pure, unfiltered exuberance of Rick Jeanneret that truly seals the deal. Here it is:

In other words: it’s not just Eichel. Eichel is a piece of the puzzle, but he does not encompass the entirety of the Sabres. In thinking about all of this, it reminded me that players come and go, and winning and losing is a temporary feeling but the iconic moments stick with you. The franchise is bigger than Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart or Rasmus Ristolainen and the franchise will live on well past their time in a Sabres uniform – or their time in the league for that matter.

The air of negativity surrounding the Sabres has become so thick that even the best memories seem to serve only as far-away reminders of a long-gone past. Those memories do exist for us to tap into though, and they can remind us that fandom is supposed to be fun and not a depressing affair.

This isn’t a call for fans to live in some far away nostalgic past. It’s simply a reminder that good times are actually possible and have actually existed. Good times will happen again. Someone new will come to the broadcast booth and provide iconic calls for players not yet drafted (or not yet born for that matter). Also lost in the constant, depressing losses of the past decade is the notion that this franchise – embodied by the passion of RJ – is so much more than any one of the players who have or will wear the crossed swords. It’s also bigger than the larger-than-life figure of Rick Jeanneret.

Sometimes you have to move on to discover new, brighter possibilities.

It’s important to remember that despite the lengths the team went to in order to acquire the services Jack Eichel, his presence does not make or break the existence of the organization. There are countless other long-gone players who will live along side the brightest stars from this dark era. In the grand scheme of things, Eichel will be only a small part of a 50+ year history. The sour attitude of current players tends to zap away fans’ enthusiasm.
It can’t be that way. It’s untenable. The players need to provide the fans with positive energy and vice versa.

There will be better times ahead (largely because it’s almost literally impossible to be any worse than the 2021 Ralph Krueger Sabres) although it may not be with Jeanneret or Eichel for much longer. The uncertain future of a monolithic figure in Sabres history like RJ is a testament to the fact that the current mood is temporary and it too shall pass. Someone else will come and make new memories in place of RJ. Someone else will come and make new memories in place of Jack Eichel.

Time moves on.
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