His role as a part-time play-by-play announcer for the team has expanded significantly this season. On the nights that he is not calling the action on the ice, he continues to serve as the host for pre- and post-game shows on MSG Network’s Sabres’ broadcasts. His position as host of the telecast is one he has held since the 2005-2006 season.
Sylvester’s career with the Sabres actually began behind the scenes rather than behind the microphone.
“I’m in my seventh season with the team,” recalled Sylvester. “I started with the Sabres in April of 2005 during the lockout. Before that lockout season there was some informal discussion about becoming a television host. I was in between work and was hired. I had a lot of connections with college sports. They had a need to help with college sports at the arena. I was originally hired as the Director of Amateur Athletics to work with the NCAA and the local colleges. The understanding was that once the lockout was over I would also become the television host.”
Sylvester moves back and forth from host to game announcer, filling in for legendary Sabres’ voice Rick Jeanneret when he is on vacation.
“I enjoy both roles immensely, but it is difficult especially going from calling play-by-play back to hosting,” explained Sylvester. “They are two completely different jobs and roles.”
“When I’m hosting, the lead up to the game is intense and it goes by quick, because of all the prep you put into that half-hour pregame show. Then the game starts and there’s time to catch your breath.”
“Whereas with play-by-play, I can’t wait for the game to begin. It’s intense for those two and a half hours with a little breather during the intermissions. That’s how the roles differ.”
“I appreciate and I’m thrilled with the opportunity to fill in for Rick and call the play-by-play. I’ve done it in increments over the past four years, since he’s started taking his vacations. This year is the most I’ve done with a twenty-three game schedule.”
With his play-by-play role expanding, Kevin is now calling consecutive games rather than just scattered individual contests throughout the season. The repetition of being the game announcer for periods of time has changed his perspective.
“I think it’s changed my focus a bit on the game itself rather than the way I see each game when I’m hosting,” said Sylvester. “I feel a greater responsibility to the fans, there is pressure here, you’re filling in for Rick Jeanneret.”
“It’s a very difficult job to do and the challenge is to get things right and convey it in an accurate, articulate and entertaining way.”
“I really enjoy those stints where you can get into it and go game-to-game, continued Sylvester. “It’s nice to get into the rhythm of going from night to night.”
“I enjoy working with Danny Gare and Brian Duff. I think we’ve got a nice chemistry going. I think the fact that twenty-two of our twenty-three games are on the road has helped. I think the two long road trips, the one in January to the Midwest and the one to the west coast have let us get to know each other better.”
“Brian and I have a lot of similar experiences in broadcasting, coming up through radio and finding our way to television.”
“I’ve known Danny over the years from being Danny Gare the hockey player and working with organization. I got to know him better when he filled in for Mike Robitaille after Mike’s accident a few years ago.”
Danny is a great guy, he’s very generous to work with and very encouraging. He’s done it through the years and he’s a great resource for me.”
Having more nights as a play-by-play man this season has helped Sylvester develop in the role and increase his confidence.
“Like any player would tell you, they are better when they play with confidence and the only way you get confidence is through positive experience. I feel that I’m building that confidence by having positive experience.”
When I announced my first game in Phoenix four years ago and had to interview Wayne Gretzky before the game, I had my nerves going through enough there. I can definitely tell you I’m more confident today than I certainly was back then.”
The support of team management has helped Sylvester make the most of the opportunity.
“There were several guys that previous ownership tried out and had fill in for Rick,” reflected Sylvester. “I’m just thrilled that Larry Quinn and Dan DiPofi showed some faith in me and believed in me; and the same with current ownership. They listened and put my tape up against everyone else’s and said we’re going to give this guy a shot, we like him. I gained confidence from that too.”
In assuming the role Sylvester has the difficult task of pinch hitting for one of the most beloved broadcasters in Buffalo. As time has gone on, he has been able to move beyond that aspect of the assignment and just be himself.
“I think I went through that in the previous seasons when I filled in,” said Sylvester. “I realize that not everybody is going to like my call, particularly when compared to Rick. But I think most people are respectful of it.”
“I don’t pay attention to it because I’m a positive person and I like to stick with the positive things in life. If someone doesn’t like the way I call a game, I can’t change that for that person. That’s their choice.”
“There are probably people who don’t like how I host a show, I’m OK with that, I get that. It’s like going to a movie. Not everybody is going to like the movie they went to see, that is what it is.”
“I think the greater challenge for me is to be accurate, be entertaining and continue to build and improve in my call. That’s what my goal has been.”
Many fans watching and listening have a strong connection to the work and the sound of Rick Jeanneret; but for Sylvester, it remains about doing the best job that he can.
“I’m here to call the Buffalo Sabres game,” said Sylvester. “I’m here to announce the hockey game the best way I know how. I inject some of my personality into it. I’m doing that more now than perhaps at the beginning of the season.”
“I’ve looked to establish a base and then build from there. If I look at it as I’m filling in for Rick, I would feel like I had to be like him. I don’t look at it that way nor should I try to be like him.”
Like many people in Buffalo, Sylvester is a fan of Rick Jeanneret.
“Everybody likes Rick including me,” confirmed Sylvester. “He’s one of a kind, he’s a gem and we’re lucky to have him and I hope he continues on for as long as he wants to and is able to.”
Some wonder why Sylvester would put himself in the position of substituting for Jeanneret, but clearly he enjoys calling a National Hockey League Game.
“There are plenty of people who have asked ‘Why would you want to do that’? The comment is always, you never want to be the guy who replaces a legend.”
“My response is, A: I’m not replacing him, no one can replace him. B: someone has to do it, and C: who knows I might just be good. I look at a guy like John Murphy and what he’s been
able to do on Buffalo Bills radio stepping in for Van (Miller) when he retired and Murph does a great job. There are plenty of people, who certainly can’t do it, but Rick is one of a kind and most people recognize that, understand and appreciate that.”
While Sylvester is a broadcaster for the Buffalo Sabres, he also calls the game as someone who appreciates well played hockey.
“I’m not there to be a cheerleader, but I’m also the Buffalo Sabres announcer for those games,” said Sylvester. “Is the ice going to tilt in Buffalo’s favor? Sure.”
“I think any broadcaster in the league will tell you that, except for the guys who are doing the national stuff, like Doc (Mike) Emrick and Dave Strader; their job is to split it down the middle.”
“But when you work for a team, the goal calls for your team are going to have a little bit more umph to them than the ones for the other team. That being said, if the opposing team makes a great play, I think as a hockey fan, as an observer, I need to convey that it was an exciting or amazing play.”
Jeanneret is known for catchphrases that Sabres’ fans have grown to love. Sylvester sees these phrases as uniquely Rick’s.
“Rick has this unbelievable ability to pick the right words when a goal is scored,” explained Sylvester. “For example, the top shelf call. I can’t do top shelf where mama hides the cookies, that’s his thing and fans expect that. I need to be different, so I don’t want to emulate his calls. That’s not fair to him, not fair to me and it’s not fair to the fans. I’m there to be me, in my style and I’ll start to inject more of that in goal calls as we go along and hopefully go along here for years to come.”
Looking to the future, Sylvester would love to be the full time voice of the Sabres at some point down the road, but doesn’t feel any sense of urgency in that regard.
“I wouldn’t be doing it now, if I didn’t want to do it on a full time basis. I want to be a full time play by play guy, I want to be in Buffalo, but I’m in no hurry for Rick to retire.”
“I’m a Rick Jeanneret fan and I hope the fact that he’s taking his time off this season and as he has in the past; that it reenergizes him and keeps him fresh and allows him to continue. It’s his decision for when he wants to retire and his alone. He’s still great and I see him doing it for years. He deserves to make the call when the Sabres win the Stanley Cup and hopefully that happens here soon.”
For now, Sylvester is looking at his responsibilities for the remainder of this season alone and not concerning himself with next season or beyond.
“Nothing has been promised to me or discussed beyond this season and that’s OK,” concluded Sylvester.
“Whether it happens or not, I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity than I’ve been given this year.”
“If they want me to continue that’s fantastic. If they don’t, I can’t say they didn’t give me a shot.”