“One of the best, if not the best thing about being a Sabre is hearing your name called by Rick Jeanneret,” Kaleta said Friday inside the First Niagara Center. “I still get chills listening to some of stuff on YouTube.”
So whenever Kaleta needs to “get pumped up,” he listens to the legendary play-by-play man, who will return tonight, call some famous goals.
“I’m just happy and privileged to have my name called by him,” said Kaleta, who used to turn down the television to listen to Jeanneret on the radio.
In an otherwise glum season, Friday was a special day. The Sabres announced Jeanneret, who said last week he’s cancer-free, would call the first period of tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Jeanneret has been sidelined all season battling throat cancer.
“The time seems right to slowly begin transitioning back to work,” Jeanneret said in a statement. “My doctors have told me I’m cancer-free and I’m feeling well enough to get back in the booth, even if it’s only on a limited basis for the time being. The kindness and well-wishes from everyone, especially Sabres fans and the Western New York community, has been overwhelming and I’m truly grateful for the tremendous support during this process.”
Kaleta called Jeanneret a “true role model in what he’s gone through and what he’s battled.”
Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers added: “It’s pretty special, not only for R.J., but to see what he’s gone through, he fought out of it and was a fighter throughout the whole experience. It’s a pretty special moment for the whole organization.”
That first goal will be special, too.
“R.J.’s arguably the best in the league,” Myers said. “To be the guy to get the first goal with him would be pretty cool.”
Kaleta and Myers both kept in contact with Jeanneret over the last several months.
Sabres winger Marcus Foligno (shoulder) will return tonight. He missed five of the last six games.
“I got to be playing my (physical) style of play,” Foligno said. “Didn’t do it last game, and just needed some time to group it together and come back stronger.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan wouldn’t reveal which forward will sit. Nolan said goalie Michal Neuvirth will start. He had no update on defenseman Josh Gorges (lower body). Gorges was being evaluated Friday.
Nolan seemed shocked the Sabres came out so flat against Edmonton last Friday after Jeanneret and Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, who recently announced he’s cancer-free, spoke to the team.
“There’s no bigger inspiration than when Jim Kelly walks in your room with Rick Jeanneret,” he said. “You can’t get two bigger sports figures, especially with the Buffalo area. I thought for sure we’d come out flying, just for that sake. Different strokes for different folks. That would inspire me.”
The Sabres lost 3-2 to the Oilers.