Jason Pominville considers himself lucky. The popular former Sabres captain arrived in Buffalo in his early 20s hoping he would hear legendary play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret call his name for scoring a goal.
Well, before his rookie season ended in 2005-06, he scored the scintillating overtime goal that propelled the Sabres to a playoff upset against the Ottawa Senators. Just months into his career, he was a part of one of Jeanneret’s signature calls.
“I was fortunate having arguably one of his greatest calls, right?” Pominville told the Times Herald.
After Pominville burned past future Hall of Famer Daniel Alfredsson and cut to the net to score short-handed May 16, 2006, Jeanneret, who died Thursday of multi-organ failure at 81, delivered two of his classic lines.
“Oh, now do you believe, now do you believe?” he said from the broadcast booth in Ottawa. “These guys are good, scary good!”
Jeanneret’s words captured the significance of the moment, amplifying one of the biggest goals in franchise history. Little was expected from the Sabres as the NHL emerged from a lockout, yet Pominville’s goal had secured them a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.
“The goal was obviously like a big goal, but I think the call made it as popular as what the goal was,” Pominville said. “The Sabres were at kind of a peak of how popular the team was and was very, very popular. I think the game being on the road, a lot of people were watching the game on TV. I’m pretty sure you can ask anyone that was watching the game they remember where they were at that time and where they were watching the game because of RJ and because of the call.
“I mean, the goal was a big goal, but the way that he was able to describe it and announce it and celebrate it is even better.”
After Pominville learned of Jeanneret’s death, he found himself watching all sorts of highlights from the broadcaster’s storied 51-year career.
“The goals are nice and the way that he called them are nice, but not only the goals, the saves, the brawl,” he said.
Former Sabres goalie Martin Biron made many of those saves and had a starring role in the memorable brawl against the Senators on Feb. 22, 2007 in Buffalo, fighting Ray Emery, his counterpart.
“You either make a big save or you have a pretty big moment in your career and he immortalized it because of his voice, because of his pitch, because of character, because of his emotion and intensity and passion,” Biron said.
Jeanneret celebrated Biron’s diving stop to prevent the Flyers’ Andy Delmore from scoring into an open net Feb. 12, 2000 in Philadelphia by saying, “Oh, Biron, an incredible save! He robbed him! Call a cop, he robbed Delmore blind! Call a cop, I don’t believe it.”
“It’s a save, but he made it special, right?” Biron said. “I mean, that’s the thing. That’s why he was the best because … it wasn’t, ‘Lucky save by Marty.’ Like, RJ celebrated the save, right? So his words really mattered and he always had the right words.”
To Biron, Jeanneret walked a difficult line. He cared about players and the team – “RJ was a really solid homer,” he said – but never overdid it.
Biron illustrated his point by using his fight with Emery as an example. Emery pummeled Biron, knocking him down with about six quick punches.
Jeanneret simply said, “Emery fires a punch, down on the ice they go.”
“If you’re not watching the game, you’re like, ‘That’s a pretty good fight,’” said Biron, who worked games as an analyst with Jeanneret for five seasons. “Now, if you flip over to the Ottawa broadcast, you’re like, ‘Well, Marty’s getting absolutely killed,’ which is a little bit more the appropriate one. But RJ had a way to make sure that we were seen in our best.”
Pominville said listening to that brawl still gives him goosebumps. Then he rattled off some of Jeanneret’s other famous calls, including one he used each time Pominville scored, the “Population of Pominville.”
Even some opposing broadcasters would borrow that line.
“When we would go on the road, they would do it once in a while when I’d score, say, ‘The population goes up by one,’” Pominville said. “So he was able to make something out of not much and a lot of people ran with it. He did a tremendous job … and that’s why he’s the best.”
Biron last saw Jeanneret on July 16, when they participated in a charity autograph event. He said “he was his chippy self he always is,” interacting with fans and taking pictures during “a special day.”
“People lit up every time they saw RJ, they lit up,” he said. “And it wasn’t just a certain generation of people that listened to RJ. But it was the younger generation, too, that had YouTube and TikTok, and what not, Instagram to be able to see RJ’s famous calls. They got to experience RJ’s last call. And all of those really connected a lot of generations.”