Lindy Ruff wasn't sure he was ready to say goodbye, but he was certain he wanted to say thank you. The former Sabres coach did just that today.
Ruff, fired Wednesday in his 16th year as head coach in Buffalo, appeared in First Niagara Center for a farewell address to Sabreland. He thanked team founders Seymour and Northrup Knox for bringing him to Buffalo as a player, and he thanked the team's other owners -- John Rigas, Tom Golisano, Larry Quinn, Dan DiPofi and Terry Pegula -- for keeping him around.
Steve Ott and Patrick Kaleta now share their frustration with Ron Rolston. (Getty Images)
By Mike Harrington
TORONTO -- You saw some different nuances in the morning skate and pregame warmups, some drills run a lot less than they used to be and a couple others more emphasized.
As for the game? Meh. No offense. Another bad second period. Penalties. A terrible power play. A penalty killing unit that gave up two power-play goals -- to a Toronto team that was 2 for 35 at home all year.
Ron Rolston might never forget the day he became an NHL coach or his first walk out of the tunnel on to the bench but he may as well forget most of the Sabres' 3-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. It's their third straight, dropping them to 6-11-1 -- 14th in the East and 28th overall.
In the case of your favorite $65 million underachievers, a coach can only do so much.
"It's up to the players," said goaltender Ryan Miller. "We're moving forward. I think Ron is a good coach. He's got a nice style about him. I like the way he thinks the game. He laid out a few things for us but the NHL game for every team is not that different. You have to do certain things the right way or you are going to run yourself up."
Uh-huh. Click the files below to go around the locker room (and apologies for the Rolston audio as that whine in the the locker room seemed to be coming from the shower pipes).
TORONTO -- Click below to watch the pregame meetings with the media for Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston and Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, who spoke on Lindy Ruff's firing beginning at about the three-minute mark.
TORONTO -- The biggest unknown for tonight's game between Buffalo and Toronto is how the Sabres will respond to the firing of coach Lindy Ruff.
Will they be fired up and eager to show they can play?
Will they be too stunned to perform?
Will they just keep shuffling along as they've been doing and play like a 27th-place club?
The Maple Leafs are banking on the first option.
"Especially with a new coach coming in, they're going to be fired up and want to show him what they've got," forward Nazem Kadri said today in Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs have their own motivation: to make the playoffs. They haven't reached the postseason since 2004, but they are in position now. They are tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference with 20 points from a 10-7 record. They are 5-2 in the last seven games.
Now they just have to hold off the Sabres.
"We know they're going to come hard," center Tyler Bozak said. "There's a lot of season left."
TORONTO -- Amid all the Lindy chatter, there's a game here tonight too.
The Sabres are 6-10-1 and have lost two straight to fall into 13th place in the East and at least seven points behind everyone in the Northeast Division. The Leafs are 10-7-0 and coming off Tuesday's 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay.
The only change in the Buffalo lineup tonight will be the debut of newcomer Kevin Porter, called up from Rochester to replace the waived Cody McCormick. He has 183 games of NHL experience with Colorado and was the Amerks' captain and leading scorer. The Sabres signed him to a two-year deal last July.
"The goal is to play in the NHL, so to get called up is a huge thrill," Porter said. "I’m really excited to play. ... It’s been first class right from the day I signed. I had a good opportunity down there, and it gave me an opportunity here. I’m pretty excited about that."
McCormick cleared waivers today and will report to the Amerks in time to play in their special game tomorrow night in Montreal's Bell Centre against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Mikhail Grigorenko will again sit as a healthy scratch. Interim coach Ron Rolston said Andrej Sekera (charley horse) is getting closer and Jordan Leopold is out with an upper-body injury.
Everyone here thought Leopold might be part of a trade soon -- and he still may be -- but I also remembered late in practice yesterday that Leopold took a shot off the left hand and was shaking it quite a bit, so there could be an injury too. Leopold did not skate today.
Leafs tough guy Colton Orr is out with a lower-body injury and will be replaced by David Steckel. Ryan Miller will be in goal against Ben Scrivens. Miller, remember, has great career numbers against Toronto: 28-14-1, 2.44 and .922. But his last game against them was a rare off night in the 4-3 overtime loss Jan. 29 in Buffalo.
TORONTO -- Today is the first day since July 20, 1997 that Lindy Ruff is not the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Jeez. Think of everything that has gone on in the hockey world since then, or just simply in life.
For 12 players and three of the four assistant coaches on the roster, Ruff is the only head coach they've ever played for or worked under in the NHL. So it's pretty surreal that they're getting ready for tonight's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs without him.
The players and coaches were on the bus in Amherst yesterday to come to Toronto and some said it was odd Ruff wasn't there yet. When he showed up, he hopped on board and said he had some news. Several thought he was announcing a trade. Instead, he said he was fired and thanked them. And then he hopped off.
"That's when we totally realized changes were on the way," captain Jason Pominville said here today. "We all said, "We gotta go out there and see him.' It was pretty emotional for everyone."
Ron Rolston draws drills along the boards as the Sabres gathered for their first practice under the new coach today.
By John Vogl
TORONTO -- Ron Rolston has been coach of the Sabres for less than 24 hours, but he's seen the team play and watched video. He knows the early struggles can't solely be pinned on fired coach Lindy Ruff.
"From what I saw, it was more of just a lot of shortcuts, a lot of shortcuts, a lot of rest in shifts, the things that you just have to eliminate if you’re going to be a good hockey team," Rolston said in Air Canada Centre today after running his first on-ice session as Buffalo's bench boss. "Most importantly, it’s just getting back to that. It’s getting back to work and getting back to eliminating shortcuts from your game because there’s not a whole lot of time."
TORONTO -- Ron Rolston is on the ice with the Air Canada Centre to begin his interim reign as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. The entire roster is with him (as are assistants James Patrick, Kevyn Adams, Teppo Numminen and Jim Corsi) except for the injured Ville Leino and veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold.
Leopold, a healthy scratch in Tuesday's loss to Winnipeg that turned into Lindy Ruff's final game as coach, is watching the workout in street clothes from the stands. There is no word if he is injured, or awaiting a trade or stint on waivers. No word on Cody McCormick's waiver situation; Kevin Porter is not on the ice, as he can't officially join the team until noon.
(UPDATES: McCormick has cleared waivers and been loaned to Rochester. Porter will play tonight. Leopold is out with an upper-body injury)
The Sabres have already announced that Rolston will do a conference-style meeting with reporters after their workout in the Leafs' media room, rather than the traditional by-the-wall-in-the-hall the visitors normally do here.
The ACC is teeming with media this morning. Obviously, Toronto is a huge market anyway but big names from outlets such as CBC and ESPN.com are also in the house to chronicle the Rolston debut.
Lindy Ruff spent 26 years with the Buffalo Sabres as a coach and player. The run came to an end Wednesday. The Buffalo News has it covered:
*Ruff came to First Niagara Center for practice, meeting some of his players and looking at video before heading to a news conference to honor high schoolers who will take the ice downtown next week. It was like any other day in Sabreland.
Ruff then worked his struggling team hard on the ice, a 90-minute practice that was one of the longest of the season. He met the media for 4 minutes, cutting off questions a little earlier than on most days this season. Then he headed out to his home in Clarence.
*When it actually happened, Bucky Gleason writes, my first thought wasn't about the Sabres finally making a bold move that they owed their fan base. I wasn't thinking about who would replace him. Strangely enough, it was about how much I owed Lindy Ruff, knowing that I could never repay him.
*Regier arrived 20 minutes late to announce that he had fired Lindy Ruff as his head coach, Jerry Sullivan writes. It was fitting, because like so many of the general manager’s moves, this one was long overdue.
*Ruff dreamed of holding the Stanley Cup in his adopted town of Buffalo. He pictured himself skating around Memorial Auditorium with the chalice over his head. He envisioned himself clutching the Cup on the bench in First Niagara Center.
Ryan Miller was on the team bus, ready to depart for Toronto this afternoon when Lindy Ruff came aboard and told the Sabres players he'd been fired as coach.
"We’re not playing great hockey, and there’s a lot of pressure on the organization I can imagine right now," Miller said during a phone call with The Buffalo News. "Ownership or management need to do something. It’s unfortunate. I feel like it’s a situation we put the coach in. We weren’t executing. If we were executing but still losing, I think that’s one thing. But we’re not playing the game the right way.
Here is Terry Pegula's statement on the firing of LIndy Ruff, just released by the Sabres' PR department:
"The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach but also as a person. His long tenure with the Sabres has ended. His qualities have made this decision very difficult. I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always."
In a stunning end to the 16-year reign of the NHL's longest-tenured head coach, general manger Darcy Regier announced via the team's Twitter account that Ruff has been relieved of his duties shortly after 3 p.m. today.
There is no immediate word on a replacement for Ruff.
UPDATE: Regier is slated to meet the media at 5 p.m.
The Sabres' next game is Thursday night in Toronto. They return home to host the New York Islanders on Saturday night.
The Sabres are 6-10-1 and mired in 13th place in the Eastern Conference. They are last in the Northeast Division and 27th overall in the NHL. Ruff's final game was Tuesday's dreary 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, a loss that saw First Niagara Center fans loudly boo the team for long stretches.
John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, is in his sixth season covering the Buffalo Sabres. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.