By Mike Harrington
Ron Rolston was an interim coach last season, handed the difficult task of keeping things together after the February firing of Lindy Ruff. Rolston went 15-11-5 and got the job on a full-time basis in May, and it all led to Wednesday when the team arrived for the 46-year-old's first training camp as an NHL head coach.
It's the first time since 1996 that a head coach other than Lindy Ruff has directed the Sabres at the start of camp, and Rolston said the gig is the culmination of a career dream.
"It's exciting in a sense that it allows you to have some preparation time and do a lot of thinking over the summer in philosophies," Rolston said as the team arrived at First Niagara Center for physicals and skill testing.
How different will a Rolston team look?
"The philosophy of play will be one where we continue to improve on the things we worked on at the end of last year. We've got to get way more difficult to play against," Rolston said. "From there, our puck possession has got to be a lot better. For the most part last year we were a rush hockey team. Limited power play offense, limited offensive zone play. Those are areas that have to get better for us."
Rolston announced that defenseman Teppo Numminen will move from the press box to the bench to work with the defense and power play. New assistant Joe Sacco is also expected to be behind the bench. The team also confirmed the hiring of Buffalo native and former Niagara assistant Jerry Forton, which was reported by John Vogl nearly a month ago.
"I've known Jerry for a long time in the college ranks," Rolston said. "I started in '90 and he was similar in terms of the college game. We spent a lot of time on the road togehter in those circles and I've followed his path from team to team. He's got a lot of character to him, a lot of integrity, tremendous passion for the game, hard work."
In other news from Rolston:
---The head coach said he would ultimately decide on a captain but will rotate it through the preseason. "Getting our new staff in here, we've got a couple new members that need to really get a good feel for the players too," Rolston said. "So we're going to let things play out early in camp and then see how it pans out."
----Rolston said he would have no problem picking a player with one year left on his contract (see Thomas Vanek or Steve Ott) as the captain. Said Rolston: "Anyone that's a part of this team will have the possibility of wearing that and leading us this year."
---Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who suffered an upper-body injury during the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, is day to day and should at least do some on-ice skills testing. All other players are healthy and ready to go, which presumes that Ville Leino is doing fine after hip surgery.
---Tyler Ennis, who opened last year as the team's No. 1 center, will start camp on left wing. As expected, Mikhail Grigorenko will be one of the centers. Zemgus Girgensons, the other 2012 No. 1 draft pick with Grigorneko, will open on the wing.
---Rolston said he has 10 defensemen in camp and figures to keep eight. "There's a lot of competition. That's what we want," he said. "We don't want our young players just expecting they're going to be the next guy in the next hole. ... We want guys to earn things."
See this post for more on the acquisition of Henrik Tallinder. Rolston had plenty of praise for the summer work of Tyler Myers, who will open paired with Christian Ehrhoff.
For the complete session between Rolston and the media today, click the audio file below.