OPINION: Mittelstadt sends RJ off in style with overtime goal

After Friday's overtime winner, Rick Jeanneret signed off for the final time
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Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – It was only fitting that on the night of “RJ’s Final Call,” the game went to overtime. It gave the legend one last chance to give a signature call, and it came 2:07 in when Casey Mittelstadt batted home a Dylan Cozens rebound.

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Rick Jeanneret then screamed, “They scoooore! Casey! Casey at the bat! Casey Mittelstadt hammers it home, and Buffalo wins it in ooooovertime!”

That goal put the wrap on a 51-year career for Jeanneret, and the almost 17,000 people in the building didn’t want him to leave.

He gave a speech from his seat in the booth, got up, went downstairs for one last bow on the ice, and out the back door he went.

When I first started full-time at WGR, I was in the booth for two months with Jeanneret and Larry Playfair. Boy, did I get an education on how to be a professional.

My parents taught me to keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open and you might learn something. That, unfortunately, is something that’s been lost in our "know it all" society.

I watched how he handled a game, how he prepared for a broadcast. How he handled himself around players. I learned that we are not there to become friends with the players. You respect them and try to earn their respect, and you’ll have an excellent professional relationship. If you walk into an establishment and a coach or a player is there, you leave. Our work with them is at the arena and nowhere else.

RJ taught me the game itself. You don’t learn the game if you don’t watch the game, and a lot of it.

I’ve heard it so many times from reporters who blow into town and say they want to be the hockey expert at their station or paper, and then you hardly ever see them. Oh, they might show up for maybe half the games and a third of the practices, but you don’t earn respect that way. You never know what the coaches are trying to get across to their players.

RJ taught me all those things without saying a word to me. I picked it up by keeping my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open.

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Sometimes Rick would seem gruff, but he would give you the shirt off his back if he trusted you. There were many nights where I would buy one round of drinks and RJ made sure I never pulled my wallet out again. He was a generous man on the road, and was always willing to share in those ways.

I don’t think there was a player that I ran across that didn’t respect RJ. When Rick’s banner went into the rafters, Rob Ray said none of the people that were up there deserved it more than Rick Jeanneret. He was so right.

By the time the season ended and RJ left out the back door for the last time, there weren’t too many dry eyes in the house.

***Photo: Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres)

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
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