Legendary Buffalo Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret will be calling the first period of tonight's game against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. Jeanneret has been battling throat cancer all summer and has said that he is now "cancer free."
Back in July when he announced he had stage III cancer--where the cancer is within the general region where it first began--Jeanrette said he'd be back. 'I would like to stress I have every intention of coming back,' he told Alan Pergament of the Buffalo news back in July. 'I have probably three months ahead of me that aren’t going to be fun. I know they aren’t going to be.'
After three months of radiation and chemo therapy, doctors declared him cancer free and Jeanneret is now easing his way back into the broadcast booth. "The time seems right to slowly begin transitioning back to work,” Jeanneret said in a statement released yesterday. “My doctors have told me I’m cancer free and I’m feeling well enough to get back in the booth, even if it’s only on a limited basis for the time being."
It's a jolt of positivity for the Sabres as they are in the throes of a four-game losing streak and a 3-13-2 record to start the season. The man himself can't go on the ice and play the game, but he can at least provide a little incentive.
“One of the best, if not the best thing about being a Sabre is hearing your name called by Rick Jeanneret,” Buffalo native Patrick Kaleta said Friday. “I still get chills listening to some of stuff on YouTube.”
Jeanneret's iconic calls are woven into the fabric of the Buffalo hockey existence and as the players hit the First Niagara Center Ice tonight, there's some extra motivation to have Jeanneret call his first post-cancer goal.
“It’s pretty special," said Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. "Not only for R.J., but to see what he’s gone through, he fought out of it and was a fighter throughout the whole experience. It’s a pretty special moment for the whole organization.
"To be the guy to get the first goal with him would be pretty cool.”
Perhaps for Myers, just getting that first goal of the season would be cool regardless of who's announcing. Myers along with Sabres captain Brian Gionta remain goalless this season through 18 games and there are a host of others with only one goal on the season.
Two of them, Chris Stewart and Cody Hodgson are testing head coach Ted Nolan's patience. Both have managed only one goal and two points each while dipping down into the double-digit minus category and one of them will probably be up in the pressbox as the injured Marcus Foligno is slated to return tonight.
Stewart and Hodgson are both former 20-goal scorers and started the season in the top-nine, but inconsistent/poor play has Nolan wondering where to put them. While not calling either of them out directly, Nolan said yesterday, "The guys who are in a position they are shouldn't be in that position. They should be one of our top-nine, but in order for them to get there they have to perform a little bit better."
Nolan dialed back the ice-time for both of those players, each of them playing a season low in Minnesota, in an effort to get their attention. When asked if the message got through, he wasn't so sure. "The response was not what I expected," said the coach. "I expected a little bit more frustration, a little bit more anger. But it's like we're OK with it.
"We can't be OK with it. You got to want it. That's the biggest thing."
|Cancer survivors Jim Kelly (l) and Rick Jeanneret shake hands|
with Tyler Myers and Nikita Zadorov before dropping
the ceremonial first puck for Hockey Fights Cancer
November 7, 2014 (photo: yahoo)
Nolan pointed to a group of players, though, that are "in a good place" right now despite the teams record. He said defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen "is playing real well" and his d-partner Nikita Zadorov is "coming on like gang-busters," while center Zemgus Girgensons, he said, "[has] arguably been one of our best players for a long time."
It's been commonplace for Nolan to mention those three over the course of the past few games as players who are getting it done. "We keep building on that," continued Nolan. "Matty Moulson seems to be coming along and Tyler Ennis has five of our  goals.
"There's chunks and pieces that are coming. We just got to get more chunks and pieces added on to it."
Despite Myers and Kaleta thinking that the return of Jeanneret to the booth will provide inspiration, Nolan has his reservations. When local legends and fellow cancer survivors Jeanneret and Jim Kelly dropped the puck last Friday for Hockey Fights Cancer, Nolan thought at the time that it would be a huge inspiration to the team. "I thought for sure," he said. "There's no bigger inspiration than when Jim Kelly walks into your room with Rick Jeanneret. You can't get two bigger sports figures for the Buffalo area. I thought for sure we'd come out flyin'."
The Sabres put on a lackluster performance vs. the Edmonton Oilers surrendering two goals in the third period to drop the game 3-2. Having Jeanneret and Kelly would have personally inspired him, said Nolan, "but, different strokes for different folks" was about all he could come up with concerning his team's uninspired performance.
Perhaps things will be a bit different tonight with the rival Maple Leafs and thousands of their fans invading the First Niagara Center. Perhaps it will be just another case of talking the talk but not walking the walk.
But for this team to progress, individuals will need to tap into their internal "want," according to Nolan. Regardless of rivalries, external motivations, or the threat of sitting in the pressbox, he said that motivation should simply come from "just having pride in what you do for your occupation."
Much thanks to the Buffalo News' Alan Pergament and the Olean Times' Bill Hoppe