Pat LaFontaine, Brad May and Rick Jeanneret will forever share a special connection. LaFontaine and May brought excitement to the ice with the Sabres, and Jeanneret amplified the fun through his microphone in the Buffalo press box.
Like the rest of the hockey world, the players were shocked and saddened to hear the news Wednesday that Jeanneret is fighting throat cancer. LaFontaine texted an encouraging message to the ailing announcer, who responded with thanks.
“I feel terrible for him,” LaFontaine told The Buffalo News by phone. “He’s such an icon and a tremendous treasure in Buffalo. To see that happen, I just pray that he’s going to be OK. He’s a special man.”
LaFontaine and Jeanneret helped each other become more recognizable. The announcer’s unforgettable “La-La-La-La-La-LaFontaine” calls became highlight-reel staples. They bring LaFontaine back to special days, similar to listening to legendary baseball announcers Ernie Harwell in Detroit and Harry Caray in Chicago.
“You identified that voice and that personality with a feeling and a team,” LaFontaine said. “You immediately hear that voice and there’s a connection: It’s the Buffalo Sabres, it’s Rick Jeanneret and there’s a feeling that you get.
“It’s like one of your favorite songs. You hear it and it brings you back. His voice just automatically is Buffalo, is the Sabres. He’s truly an icon in that organization and the city of Buffalo.
“In your life, if you can make an impact and a mark in what you do or who you touch, I think his personality and the person he is and the gift that he has, he obviously found his calling, no pun intended. He’s the best. He’s simply the best. I know and have heard a lot of great announcers, but there’s nobody more exciting and more electric and more enjoyable to listen to than Rick Jeanneret.”
Jeanneret’s most recognizable call came in 1993. May’s playoff goal eliminated Boston, and the exuberant announcer punctuated overtime by exclaiming, “May Day! May Day! May Day! May Day! May Day!”
“Every player that’s been here has the utmost respect for Rick Jeanneret and owes a lot of their persona to Rick Jeanneret, the way he calls games,” May, a fellow Sabres broadcaster, said by phone. “People recognize and understand the players through the voice of Rick Jeanneret. For myself, that one moment, that epic time, he memorialized that moment for us, our team. It was a lot of fun.
“Anytime we hear of our friends or colleagues getting sick, it’s tragic. But Rick Jeanneret, such an icon in Buffalo, he’s such a bright light for me and Sabres players and fans and just the organization as a whole.”
LaFontaine, who founded the “Companions in Courage” charity that helps kids and families who are dealing with life-threatening illness, knows Buffalo is going through a tough time when it comes to cancer.
“With him and Jim Kelly now, you guys have got some very prominent, important icons that you pray for,” LaFontaine said. “You just hope Jim’s going to be OK. Obviously, you hope and pray that Rick’s going to be OK. They’re so important to Buffalo.”
LaFontaine, of course, left Buffalo earlier this year in a sudden split with the Sabres shortly after being hired as president of hockey operations. He’s in New York and has resumed his job with the league in development and community affairs.
“Things are really good,” LaFontaine said. “I’m in the city, back with the National Hockey League and kind of picking up where I left off. Everything’s good.”