Despite being on the job for 46 years, Rick Jeanneret surprised people last week when he strolled through the press boxes in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
“I opened a few eyes out west,” the Sabres announcer said Saturday with his instantly recognizable laugh. “‘What are you doing here?!’”
Jeanneret saw the same astonished expression this summer when he encountered a Buffalo native in Pittsburgh. She had a better reason for being surprised. She was the head nurse in the emergency room when Jeanneret was wheeled into the hospital.
As a fan, she was delighted to see one of Buffalo’s most familiar faces and hear his voice. As a nurse, she was worried when Jeanneret’s pulse registered just 33 beats per minute.
“It wasn’t working very well, the old ticker,” Jeanneret said. “They sent me by air ambulance back to Canada to Hamilton, and I had a pacemaker installed. Since then, it’s fine. I don’t even think about it. It’s not even an issue.
“You don’t have to worry for 10 years. That’s when the battery runs out, but I might run out before the battery does.”
Clearly, the 74-year-old’s sense humor is in top shape. As a matter of fact, everything is working well. That’s why Jeanneret, who beat throat cancer two years ago, is working 42 games this season.
“I probably feel better than I have in a long time,” he said. “I’m happy that I’m able to say things like that. The pacemaker thing was a shock. The cancer thing wasn’t as much of a shock because I knew there was something the matter, but it was obviously a lot tougher thing to go through than the pacemaker was.
“But it’s in all in the rearview mirror now, I think.”
With a clean bill of health, Jeanneret is looking forward to calling the 2016-17 season – one he believes will end with playoff games.
“I’m anticipating it very much,” he said. “They were a lot more entertaining last year. I was disappointed last year they didn’t make the playoffs. This year, I would be dumbstruck if they don’t make the playoffs. I’m positive they’re going to be there in the end.”
If the Sabres make it, Jeanneret will be in the broadcast booth. Once scheduled to retire last spring, he has no plans to disappear from the rink. It helps that he can create his own schedule. He and the Sabres settled on 42 of the 82 games this season, including 10 on the road.
“Now that the schedule is cut down, I don’t really have any complaints whatsoever,” Jeanneret said. “The fact that they basically let me pick my own games, man, that’s pretty nice. It really is. There aren’t too many folks that are afforded opportunities like that.
“That’s the only reason I’m working. At 74, I never thought I’d be working this long. Now I feel well enough that I don’t know what the hell else I’d do. Really, I just get underfoot around here. My wife is scared to death I’m going to retire. She says I’m a big enough pain in the summer when there aren’t any games.”
Jeanneret has been working a reduced schedule since 2011, generally keeping his road trips short or to warm-weather climates. He decided to open with the six-day swing through western Canada this year.
“I chose that one because there was no back-to-back games and also because it was in October and not January or February,” he said. “We didn’t have 7 feet of snow to deal with in Edmonton. It was good. It really was.”
Jeanneret will also visit Winnipeg and Minnesota next week. He’ll take one trip to Toronto and call a New Year’s Eve game in Boston. His last trip of the season is through Montreal, Nashville and Dallas. He’ll fly from Dallas to Florida on Jan. 27 for an extended vacation that won’t see him return to Buffalo until March 1.
“I’m enjoying the whole thing,” Jeanneret said. “With the Pegula ownership, it’s been incredible if just for no other reason than to sit back and see what are they going to do next?”
Jeanneret gets to be part of it after taking care of his health scare during the summer. He was celebrating his July 23 birthday weekend in Pittsburgh with a large contingent of family members, including his two sons, son-in-law and grandkids. They had a suite at a Pirates baseball game that Friday night, and Jeanneret didn’t feel well.
“Everybody’s having a good time, so I just kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to put a damper on the party,” Jeanneret said. “I went back to the hotel after and went straight to bed. In the morning I didn’t feel any better. I called my wife and she said, ‘You’d better get your blood pressure checked.’ I went to a Walgreen’s pharmacy and they checked it for me. He said, ‘I want to call the paramedics.’
“So they did and they came. The girl said, ‘Would you like to go to the hospital?’ I said, ‘No, but I have a feeling you’re not going to let me make that decision are you?’ She said, ‘No, I’m not. We’re going right now.’”
The Buffalo-born nurse at UPMC Mercy helped get Jeanneret back to Canada, and the pacemaker solved the problem. Sabres fans can see and hear for themselves when they tune in to the games.
“I feel excellent,” Jeanneret said. “I don’t have anything bad to say. I wish I did. No, really, I feel good.”