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Northeast: Move to Buffalo puts Neale closer to home

by James Murphy /

Broadcaster Harry Neale will be doing color for the Buffalo Sabres for the next three  seasons along side Rick Jeanneret.
Harry Neale won’t be traveling over the Peace Bridge between Buffalo and Toronto as often as he used to. After working the last 21 seasons as a color commentator for the Toronto Maple Leafs and CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, the venerable hockey broadcaster will now be working closer to his East Amherst, N.Y., home as the new color commentator of the Buffalo Sabres.

Neale, who replaces the retired Jim Lorentz in the Buffalo booth, also will still do up to 13 games on HNIC with his longtime partner, Bob Cole. But he is looking forward to his new gig with Sabres play-by-play voice Rick Jeanneret -- and not having to make that long trek home.

“I’m looking forward to this and it will be nice to be able to go right home after a home game,” Neale told

Neale, who turned 70 last March, signed a three-year deal with the Sabres and still feels he has a lot to offer to a hockey broadcast and the TV audience. He will work approximately 70 games for the Sabres.

“I was on a one-year deal with Hockey Night and knew my role was getting smaller there, but didn’t want to stop just yet,” Neale said. “This will cut down my travel and some hours, but I at least know I’ll be doing what I love for the next three seasons – and the wear and tear from the travel will be a bit easier.”


In his 33 years in pro hockey as a coach, general manager and broadcaster, Neale always has done his best to call them as he sees them. But in recent years, specifically since the inception of the current CBA and salary cap, he admits he has found himself changing his approach to preparing for and calling an NHL game. Neale, who coached with the Red Wings and also was coach and GM of the Vancouver Canucks, sympathizes for today’s general managers.

“I certainly have a great sympathy for general managers today and with what the salary cap has done,” Neale said. “You have players switching teams so often, and to maintain a successful team or core group is very difficult under the cap restrictions. If you decide to throw a big contract at one or two players, you better be damn sure they’re the right players for your team.”

While Neale says coaches have it easier than he did in terms of preparation, he does think the roster turnover presents tough challenges for a bench boss.

“When I coached we obviously didn’t have as many scouts, video technology and even as many coaches addressing different areas of the game, so in that sense there’s not nearly as much mystery,” Neale said. “But it has to be hard to build chemistry with the turnover in rosters.”

As a result of all that turnover, Neale and many broadcasters have changed their approach to calling a game.

“When I first started, you had players the most part sticking with their teams – and with fewer teams, it was easier to keep up with who’s who,” he said. “Now you definitely have to prepare more and really read up on your game notes and such. You need to read up as much as you can because if the producer has the camera pan down on a certain player, you better be able to talk about him.”

Neale’s appreciation of what coaches, general managers and players face has also caused him to bite his tongue at certain points during a broadcast.

“You never know what’s going on in a certain dressing room or what a player may be going through physically that he’s not letting on to the media, so you have to hold back in certain instances,” he said. “It can be a risky business if you start calling guys out and you don’t know the full story behind him.”

Some of Neale’s greatest memories in the booth have come during the Stanley Cup Final and he hopes to call his 21st NHL title series for his new employer, but knows it will be tough for the Sabres to get back to the Final for the first time since 1999.

In addition to his Sabres' duties, Harry Neale will work up to 13 HNIC telecasts.

“There are some very good teams at the top of the Eastern Conference right now,” he said. “You’ve got Ottawa, Buffalo, and the Rangers have improved, and if they can gel, they can challenge for the Cup as well. Also, if Pittsburgh plays the way they did the last 40 games last year, they could walk away.”

Regardless of who raises the Cup, Neale, will always have an appreciation for the two finalists.

“I just think it’s amazing that after so many games, these players can put on such an amazing show and play at that level,” he said. “I think as a former coach and knowing what it takes to get there, I admire the winners and feel so sorry for the losers. I guess that’s why those are my favorite memories of the job.”

Until June, Neale is looking forward to another season behind the microphone and also calling a Sabres-Leafs game from the Buffalo booth.

“Should be interesting, for sure,” he said. “That will be a bonus with the rivalry those two teams have.”

Round one of this season’s Leafs-Sabres battle begins Monday, when the Leafs play at Buffalo.

Around the Northeast -- Best wishes and good health to Toronto forward Jason Blake and his family after the announcement that Blake has Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, an uncommon type of cancer of the blood cells. CML is considered chronic leukemia because it usually progresses more slowly than acute leukemia, sometimes over the course of years. Blake has been notified by doctors that it is treatable with the proper medication and that he can continue to play and live his life normally. “Jason will be able to continue to play fully with the team and will be monitored closely by both the team's physician and his CML specialist,” team doctor Noah Forman told the media. The news was shocking to the first-year Leaf and also hit home hard because it was not the first time Blake and his family have had to deal with cancer. In March 2001, Blake's wife, Sara, then eight months pregnant with their first child, was told by doctors that she had thyroid cancer. Blake who had been dealt to the Islanders only weeks earlier, left the team to be with her, and Lauren Blake was born March 20 after Sara underwent an emergency Caesarean section. Sara had a portion of her thyroid removed without complications shortly afterwards, and the lump that was removed was determined not to be cancerous. “When you find out that you have something it's definitely shattering to your whole family and so on,” Blake told the media after practice. “Overall I feel good. I'm still here and my goal this whole season hasn't changed. Obviously you take a step back and you kind of re-evaluate everything but for the most part I feel good.” … Blake’s teammate and Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin assisted on the Leafs’ first goal Tuesday night against Carolina to tie Darryl Sittler’s team record of 916 points. He needs one goal to surpass Sittler as the franchise’s all-time leading goal-scorer – both had 389. … Toronto’s archrivals, the Montreal Canadiens announced Tuesday that highly touted rookie goaltender Carey Price would get his first start in Pittsburgh Wednesday night and rookie forward Kyle Chipchura would play in his first game. “It’s really cool,” Price told the media after he was told he would get the nod. “I’ve been looking forward to this my whole life and it should be fun.”

Black and Blue -- Bruins center Marc Savard is listed as day-to-day with a “core” injury and was not expected to play in Anaheim Wednesday night. … In Buffalo, the Sabres are still without defenseman Teppo Numminen, who is recovering from heart surgery, but were expecting forward Ales Kotalik to return to action Thursday night against the Thrashers. …The Ottawa Senators remained without goaltender Ray Emery as he recovers from summer wrist surgery and forward Dean McAmmond who suffered a concussion in the preseason. …Toronto defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) and forward Kyle Wellwood (sports hernia) are out indefinitely.

The Week Ahead -- The Bruins continue their season-opening five-game road trip in Anaheim Wednesday night. The Ducks will be playing their home opener and raising their Stanley Cup banner. Boston then makes the short trek to the Staples Center to face the Kings Friday night. Saturday, the Bruins will head to Northern California, to face old friend Joe Thornton and the Sharks. …The Sabres will spend the next week at home with three consecutive home games. Buffalo will welcome the Thrashers to the HSBC Center Thursday, the Capitals Saturday and renew their rivalry with the Leafs Monday. …The Canadiens are at in Pittsburgh Wednesday before playing their home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday. They will also host the Panthers Monday. …The Senators are in Atlanta Wednesday. They return to Ottawa to host Carolina Thursday, then visit the New York Rangers Saturday night. … Toronto will play its next two games at the ACC, against the Islanders Thursday and the Penguins Saturday, before heading to Buffalo Monday night.

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