By Mike Harrington
Bright and early this morning, the Sabres answered a significant question in the minds of their fans that's been lingering around First Niagara Center for a few years: When is legendary play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret hanging up his microphone?
We now know the answer. Jeanneret has signed a new three-year contract that calls for him to reduce his schedule through the 2015-16 season before retiring to become an ambassador for the team.
The club has also announced a succession plan for Jeanneret that includes the hiring of veteran Toronto sportscaster Dan Dunleavy (left) to be his heir apparent in the play-by-play role. Dunleavy will come on board this year and will work the games Jeanneret does not travel to, eventually becoming the team's full-time voice for the 2016-17 season.
(Go to this post for some video clips of Dunleavy's work)
“This decision was obviously very difficult for me to make,” Jeanneret said in a statement released by the team “It has become a yearly deliberation, deciding if the coming year would be my last or what season I would finally step away. I initially thought doing a full year of games this coming season and then retiring was the way to go.
"After discussing it with my family and with the Sabres, we all thought signing this new deal was the right choice. I get to continue to do what I love while slowly reducing my workload and eventually turning the reins over to Dan, who I greatly respect and believe Sabres fans will grow to love.”
Jeanneret was named the winner of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for excellence in broadcasting last November and will begin his 42nd season with the Sabres in October. If the plan holds, he will retire in 2016 after spending 44 seasons calling Sabres games.
Dunleavy comes to the Sabres from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ broadcasting team and is best known for his nine years of radio calls for the IIHF World Junior Championships. He has spent 19 years at SportsNet Radio and The Fan 590 in Toronto. He called Olympic hockey in Vancouver in 2010 and also had called OHL and AHL games for Rogers Sportsnet.
Outside of hockey, he has been the radio voice of the National Lacrosse League's Toronto Rock and the radio and TV voice of Toronto FC in Major League Soccer.
Dunleavy did one game in place of Jeanneret on a January 2010 road trip in Anaheim and earned good reviews. He will serve as on-air talent for Sabres pre- and post-game broadcasts and will have a substantial presence on Sabres.com.
"I am excited and honored to join the Sabres organization and its tremendous broadcasting team,” Dunleavy said. “I’m excited because it’s well known that Buffalo is a hockey-crazy city that adores its hockey team. It makes being a broadcaster so much more thrilling when you know that the fans are on the edge of their seats while watching their team.
"And I’m honored that I get an opportunity to work with and learn from one of the best play-by-play announcers hockey has ever seen in Rick. He is the pinnacle of our profession and I’m humbled that I will be following in his legendary footsteps.”
The Sabres also announced that Rob Ray will return to his role as game analyst and Brian Duff will be back to pre and postgame coverage as well as intermissions
"We are very lucky to have such a deep and talented pool of broadcasters in the Sabres organization,” said Sabres President Ted Black. “RJ is a hall-of-fame talent and we are thrilled that he will be with us for three more years as he winds down his prolific career. We are also excited to bring on Dan, who is a proven play-by-play talent that we know will be a capable successor to RJ. Having an up-and-comer like Dan and a broadcasting legend like RJ behind the microphone will be a great one-two punch for our Sabres broadcasts in the coming years.”