BUFFALO — James Patrick’s been close friends with Sabres coach Lindy Ruff since they played together more than 20 years ago. The assistant coach appreciates Ruff’s quick wit and ability to elicit laughter. He also admires the toughness Ruff showcased on the ice.
So when defenseman Jordan Leopold plowed into Ruff during practice Monday, knocking him down in a bizarre and scary collision in which the coach broke three ribs, Patrick wasn’t sure what had happened.
“He’s as tough as any player I’ve played with,” said Patrick, who will coach the Sabres tonight at the First Niagara Center if Ruff doesn’t feel well enough. “To see him on the ice, I thought he was kidding for the first five, seven seconds.
“And then when he wasn’t getting up, I was like, ‘Holy smokes, that’s got to be painful’ because he’s as tough as there is.”
As he was crumbled on the ice in pain, Ruff joked he wanted his players shown a clip of him “to lighten the mood,” Patrick said.
Ruff only slept four hours and was still hurting Tuesday morning, so he stayed home and let Patrick and the other assistants run practice inside the FNC.
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier joked Ruff’s “listed as day-to-day.” If Patrick temporarily takes over, Teppo Numminen will come down from the press box and coach from the bench.
The coaches planned to visit Ruff later in the afternoon and prepare for the Boston Bruins. Ruff also held a conference call with his staff in the morning.
“It’s killing him (being away) because he’s the pulse and the heartbeat of the team,” Patrick said. “He’s our leader. I mean, he’s in a lot of pain. But he feels sick that he can’t be here.”