By Mike Harrington
It was one year ago tonight that I was on the road with the Sabres in Chicago in the midst of that miserable January road trip that ultimately killed their season. It was a relatively routine affair, with the Sabres in a 2-2 tie in the middle of the second period and playing much better after getting waxed, 5-0, two nights earlier in Detroit.
Then it happened.
Ville Leino made a blind back pass in the Chicago zone trying to feed Drew Stafford, and the Blackhawks' Duncan Keith easily picked it off and fed Marian Hossa for the breakaway goal that turned the momentum in an eventual 6-2 loss. Watch here:
Soon after, NBC's Pierre McGuire did an on-bench interview with Lindy Ruff where Ruff blamed Stafford for messing up the play. Instantly, my phone, email and my Twitter feed began to light up. I saw the interview in the United Center press box but there was no sound over the noise in the building so I didn't know what was said. Fans and friends were wild that Ruff had exonerated Leino.
The Sabres fell apart after the play. McGuire talked about their deer-in-the-headlights look on the bench. It was a ridiculous play by Leino and Ruff never sat him a single shift. It was my feeling that young players like Luke Adam and Marc-Andre Gragnani got benched or even scratched for things as simple as a sneeze while a big-money signee like Leino got off free and clear for a game-changing miscue of epic proportions.
We went to interview Ruff after the game and he again blamed Stafford. I challenged him, pointing out it was a terrible pass, and he finally admitted that but said he hadn't see the play (which I think was garbage because Ruff looks at all kinds of video between periods and sometimes even before he meets with us).
Then I asked why Leino didn't sit when the kids do. I was annoyed at the lack of answers. Ruff was annoyed with me. Too bad. Some people said I was unprofessional. Again, too bad and I strongly disagree. Watch a Yankees or Red Sox press conference once in a while. I kept pressing and Ruff finally waved his hand, let out a "aaaaaaaaa" and walked away. He took a few steps, turned around in the door of the coach's office and let out the classic, "Mike, YOU coach".
I immediately went into the press room and tweeted that quote and it has become part of the lexicon on my Twitter feed. (I also blogged about the situation). There is, sadly, no audio of it. I clicked my tape recorder off as Ruff walked away and only got "Mike". Paul Hamilton of WGR clicked off too. Sabres.com has the link to the video of Ruff's postgamer if you want to watch it but it's fairly benign, slyly edited to cut off early before things turned and Ruff stormed away.
Over time, "Mike, you (fill in the blank)" or "You [fill in the blank], Mike" have become a cottage industry on Twitter. I have retweeted many of the classic ones over the months (wish I kept a list) and many people are trying to be sly enough to earn my RT. Others are, understandably, sick of the shtick.
So as we head to a new season, one year later, today we are officially retiring "Mike, YOU coach." You can tweet me your cracks, but the RTs are over. (Update: First twitter response came within one minute from old friend Brian Moritz, brother of our Amy and long time former Bonnies beat writer at the Olean Times Herald: "You retire your schtick, Mike.")
It was great fun and thanks to Lindy for a great line. We'll just have to see if he comes up with a new classic in some postgame presser this season.
The next night in Winnipeg, Ruff had a smirk on his face as he opened his pregame session. "Are we friendly or still fighting?" he asked me. I told him "we're always friendly but sometimes we disagree" and we moved on.
Still wish I had come to that session wearing a whistle and ready to coach. Once more for old times, listen below.
Lindy Ruff postgame in Chicago, Jan. 18, 2012