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Ruff Continues To Be A Class Act
February 22, 2013 - Matt Spielman
Two days after being fired by the Buffalo Sabres, Lindy Ruff came back to the First Niagara Center to thank them.
He thanked Terry Pegula, the owner who signed his checks, but who also placed the hard-to-realize expectations of a Stanley Cup in his first three years of his ownership.
"I think we have the best ownership in the league," said Ruff. "A great big thanks to Terry and Kim. What they've done for our team and our city. My biggest disappointment is not getting it done for them. We'll get it right here. You've got to trust them because he is a competitor. He's a fabulous guy to be around and it'll get done right."
He thanked Darcy Regier, the man with whom he shared the front office for 16 years, but less than 24 hours earlier had delivered the news that he was fired.
"I know through 16 years, probably 99 percent of the GMs in the league would've whacked the coach at a certain time," said Ruff. "He's a great hockey man and we went through a lot together."
He thanked his players, from Richard Smehlik and Alexei Zhitnik who helped him reach the pinnacle of his coaching career at the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, to Daniel Briere and Chris Drury who carried the 2006 and 2007 teams to the Eastern Conference Finals during some of the most entertaining hockey the city has ever seen, to Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek who are the leaders on the current team, of which he was in charge until Wednesday.
"The reason a coach has success is because he has players who play for him," said Ruff. "From Day 1, wondering if a young coach could get through it, if the group could believe in how we wanted to play. We came very close to capturing what we wanted to capture."
Ruff didn't feel like the team let him down and he said they gave him all they had. He was pleased with the communication early on this season and looking back thinks the team gave away three games — for which he blamed himself — that had they won would have put them in a good position at 9-7 instead of the 6-10 record it had when he was fired.
"That falls with me," said Ruff. "We weren't good enough to get through a couple of those games. Some of that was system related, some of that was mistake related."
Following the Winnipeg loss Tuesday, a dejected Ruff saw the writing on the wall.
"After Winnipeg, I answered those questions honestly," said Ruff. "I was embarassed. To take that step back against Winnipeg was like a kick in the gut for me."
Listening to Ruff on Friday, it is hard to picture him coaching anywhere else, but it still sounded like he will jump at the chance. The 30-year Buffalo Sabre still referred to the team and its players as "we" and "us" and didn't sound like a guy who had an axe to grind with any of the people in charge of the organization, but he is definitely a man that wants to continue coaching hockey.
"I miss it already," said Ruff.
He thanked the fans of Western New York and says he owes the fans for making Buffalo a special place to coach.
"Most important is our fans," said Ruff. "The people who have made this place real special for myself and my family."
Living in Western New York for nearly all of his adult life, Ruff and his family have also made it through some emotional times in the area including in 2006 when Ruff's daughter was diagnosed with a mass on her brain.
"The fans are No. 1 and they really came to the forefront with my daughter's medical condition," Ruff said Friday. "They got us through a really tough time in our lives."
A hockey guy through and through, Ruff said he watched hockey Wednesday night and tried to watch the Sabres game Thursday night but only made it through one period.
"I found it incredibly strange and had to turn it off," said Ruff. "I wanted to watch, but I couldn't."
For now, Ruff finds himself with a lot of time on his hands, but that probably won't be the case when the next head coaching gig opens up in the NHL.
"I've been driving around from Tim Hortons to Tim Hortons rolling up the rim right now," said Ruff.
It will be hard for the Sabres' next head coach to hang around 16 years like Ruff, who did not second guess anything during that happened during his tenure.
"I don't feel like I have anything to be ashamed of or any regrets."
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Lindy Ruff was fired on Wednesday, after the team's latest slow start to the season and amid growing criticism from the team's fan base. AP photo