This year’s Hockey Fights Cancer Night in Buffalo was certainly one to remember.
As part of the event, two Hall of Famers who have been battling cancer were involved in an emotionally charged ceremonial faceoff prior to the Buffalo Sabres game Friday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
First, former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly walked out onto the ice at First Niagara Center from the Sabres bench and was met with loud cheers and a standing ovation. Then legendary Sabres play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret emerged from the tunnel. And it got even louder.
It marked Jeanneret’s first public appearance since the team released a statement in July saying he had been diagnosed with throat cancer. He’s been undergoing treatment ever since.
In an interview with Brian Duff on the pregame show, Jeanneret said he had a PET scan on Tuesday and the next night, received some very good news.
“Wednesday, we got a call at home saying, ‘You’re all clear.’ That means at the moment, I’m cancer free,” Jeanneret said.
“…It is a tough road, but I’m here to be able to successfully tell you, anybody suffering from the same disease or one of the same ilk, it can be beaten. And you can make it, come back and you’ll be smiling just like I am today.”
He thanked his wife, whom he affectionately calls Cupcake, the rest of his family and the medical staff that has been taking care of him during his time. He said he’s been cooped up in his house while undergoing treatment, so it was apparent how special it was for him to be out and about and to especially be able to attend a Sabres game.
Kelly and Jeanneret met with the players in the dressing room before they took the ice. Kelly said he was wowed at how big 6-foot-8 defenseman Tyler Myers is on skates and planned a prank that didn’t come to fruition.
“One thing I was going to do and I didn’t get to do it is, I wanted to pull my teeth our because I’m missing my whole upper jaw and say, ‘You know what guys? Hockey players aren’t the only guys that are missing teeth! Me too!’” Kelly said with a hearty laugh during a first-intermission interview on the broadcast. “I forgot!”
For the players – especially those who have been with the organization for several years – seeing the two Buffalo sports icons meant a lot.
“That was extremely emotional and inspirational for a lot of guys in here, especially myself,” Sabres forward Drew Stafford told Sabres.com after the game. “I’ve been around quite a while. Some of these new guys in here might not understand the significance of that.
“Seeing those two and what they’ve gone through – the journey that they’ve been on. It’s extremely inspirational and I’m very, very happy for them that they were able to show up and give their support.”
Kelly has battled cancer in his jaw since June 2013 and in September, declared he was cancer free. He was happy to announce that he found out on Wednesday that that the results of an MRI showed that he is still cancer free.
“People wonder why I’m still here and it’s because of the fans, the people, the people that prayed, the people that sent me emails and well wishes and the cards,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t do this alone.”
A DISAPPOINTING RESULT ON THE ICE
As for the game itself, the Sabres dropped a 3-2 decision to Edmonton.
Matt Moulson scored of his first of the year for Buffalo and Drew Stafford scored 6:34 into the third period to take a 2-1 lead.
Moulson has six points (2+4) in six career games against the Oilers. Stafford now has 10 points (8+2) in seven games against the Oilers and has scored in six of those seven games.
However, the Oilers came back with third-period goals from Mark Arcobello and Boyd Gordon, who netted the game winner with 4:15 remaining.
“I don’t think we were nearly intense enough in our own zone. They got a lot of second and third opportunities,” Moulson said.
One player that really couldn’t be faulted for the result was goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who made 49 saves in the loss. He was two saves shy of his career high, which came last season in a 51-save performance on March 13 at Carolina.
“We got outworked and they wanted to win more than us,” Neuvirth said. “Good for them, but we’ve got to wake up. This can’t be happening, especially on home ice.”
The Sabres take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday at 7 p.m. to wrap up their four-game homestand. It will be Military Appreciation Night at the arena.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan hopes the team will be able to bounce back from a disappointing game against Edmonton.
“When you don’t want to compete and you don’t fight for the puck, that’s what’s going to happen,” he said. “We went through this same song a number of times and the worst thing about it is we had a 2-1 lead. And we made the biggest mistakes to give them the two goals to go ahead.”