Buffalo Sabres, Bills broadcasters set foot on Canisius campus

By John Hollinger

Sports Reporter

It has been one year since Canisius started broadcasting its athletic games on ESPN3 and along with it, the birth of the sports broadcasting journalism major. Since then, both have continued to progress. One of the contributing factor has been the amount of notable guest speakers within the sports broadcasting industry. One of whom is particularly known as “a living legend.”

As soon as one hears the iconic calls of:

“Top shelf, where momma hides the cookies!” or “fa la la la la la LaFontaine,” it is almost second nature to any or Buffalonian to know who it came from, none other than the Buffalo Sabres and Hockey Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer, Rick Jeanneret.

Jeanneret has been instilled in Buffalo as one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time, announcing for the Buffalo Sabres for 45 years and continues calling games to this day. Students got the opportunity to meet Jeanneret and gain insight about his experience in the sports broadcasting industry when he set foot on the Canisius College campus in late September.

“I grew up a Sabres fan, and listened to Rick Jeanneret call the games. He was part of my childhood. It was an incredible opportunity to meet him. I had to go meet him,” said Mike Panzarella, who is a sophomore finance major.

While Jeanneret gave advice to students, he also admitted that although he has had to overcome obstacles, there has been one thing that has not changed over the years: his love for the calling the game.

“I went through a pretty tough stretch a couple years ago, with throat cancer,” said Jeanneret. “I wasn’t sure if I was gonna live or not.”

As a result, Jeanneret had to miss some of the 2014-15 NHL season and sought treatment. Coincidently, he got treatment from the same doctor as the Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly. Despite this, Jeanneret said that cancer wasn’t going to stop him from doing what he loved.

“When I was finally cleared… I couldn’t wait to get back in that [broadcasting] chair.”

And Jeanneret did indeed bounce back to the one thing he loves, which is announcing hockey, for the one city he loves, Buffalo. Then, all of the sudden, another health complication occurred this past summer.

“Long story short, I went down and I got a pacemaker as a result,” said Jeanneret.

Despite these life-changing incidents, the 74-year old Jeanneret admits that he still wants to continue Sabres’ broadcasts.

“I might have looked the grim reaper in the eye a couple of times now but, it’s not gonna stop me from doing what I love.”

“Now this may be my last year, I don’t know, I have no idea,” said Jeanneret “[But] I’ll quit on my own terms, not because of some bloody [stupid] disease.”

These were very strong and moving words said by the 74-year-old that day. John Gurtler, the man who arranged for Jeanneret to come in visit the class on Sept. 28 described Jeanneret as “brutally honest and straightforward that day” in regards to advice about the business, his future, and passion for the game.  

Along with Jeanneret, other notable sports broadcasters came to Canisius in the past month. Jeanneret’s colleague, Brian Duff, who is the studio host for the Buffalo Sabres, shared his experience to students in the Play-By-Play Announcements course taught by professor Gurtler.

Gurtler, who is in his first year teaching the newly added course, has a long history as a sportscaster, most notably when he took over for the famous Ted Darling as the television play-by-play announcer for the Sabres from 1992-95. Currently he is the play-by-play announcer of the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League (NLL). Along with Jeanneret and Duff, Gurtler also invited John Murphy, who is the official voice of the Buffalo Bills Radio Network and the host of WGR Sports Radio’s John Murphy Show.

Professor Gurtler’s experience in sports broadcasting has given him opportunity to network and build relationships, which he says is essential in the sports broadcasting business.

And it is because of his developed relationships with famous sportscasters such as Jeanneret, Duff, and Murphy as to how they all set foot on the Canisius College campus to talk with students.

“We are fortunate to have such good people in the sports community willing to dedicate time towards sharing their story in class on how they got their start, and tell first-hand of ‘what it takes’ to be a broadcaster and play-by-play talent,” said Gurtler

Gurtler, who is in his first year at Canisius of teaching the new Play-By-Play Announcements course admits that Canisius’ improvements in sports broadcasting is what attracted him. This was made possible from Canisius’ original expansion moves when it made its broadcasting deal with ESPN3.

“What caught my eye over a year ago was the commitment Canisius made in the expansion of production facilities specifically for sports, and the delivery platform through the agreement with ESPN3,” said Gurtler.

“The dedication towards broadcast coverage of the Canisius athletic program is most impressive, allowing the student with real-time opportunity and understanding of the sports production requirements.”

Another person who says has seen improvement in the broadcasts within the last year is Assistant Director of Digital Media, Garrett Layton.

If you’ve walked past the ESPN media/control room in Science Hall and have seen a bald headed-man working in there, it was probably, Garrett Layton. Layton is responsible for making sure everything is set up for game day, from technical wise to graphics, to making sure we are staffed for workers and broadcasters.

“The program is evolving and moving in the right direction,” said Layton. “The experience that the students are getting running ESPN3 broadcasts is something that I wish I could have had the opportunity to do in college,” said Layton.

Last year, students in the sports broadcasting program received opportunities to work the production of the games. Whether they were shooting one of several cameras, adjusting audio, doing replay, or graphics in the control room on game days, students got the experience.

This year, students in the new Play-By-Play Announcement course get opportunity to help call the games, whether that be as a play-by-play announcer, color commentator, or sideline reporter.

Gurtler says that this is great experience for even those who are just starting their broadcasting experience for the first time. Even Jeanneret admitted that his first play-by-play game that he called back in 1963 was not his best.

“I don’t even remember the game itself, I’m sure I was awful, God awful,” said Jeanneret “But I had a chance and wanted to do it.”

That is exactly what Gurtler hopes to see in the young aspiring broadcasters at Canisius, to take a stab at it and give it a chance. Students have the opportunity to do it and it is about getting out there, calling the game, and getting that experience which Gurtler calls “wood-shedding.”

And who knows, maybe one day one of the students in the sports broadcast journalism program will continue to do call games as a career.

One year in from its ESPN3 deal and Canisius has already started to build a reputation in the sports broadcasting program. With Jeanneret advocating the program and giving advice to students and aspiring future broadcasters, maybe in the future we will see a Sabres or Bills broadcaster who came through the Canisius’ program.

It may not be “Top shelf, where momma hides the cookies!” when the puck is slotted in the top corner but it will be that own broadcaster’s ‘broadcasting signature.’  A broadcasting signature developed through the Canisius College Sports Broadcasting program.

Who knows. But what is known is that the sports broadcasting program and ESPN3 broadcasts at Canisius are evolving and will continue to do so for years to come.



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