“It went in. I’ll take it,” he said. “Something was going in my favor tonight. I’ll take it.”
“Then it was a good fan, that’s the way I look at it,” Ruff joked when told Stafford admitted he didn’t get good wood on the shot. “I’ve seen guys that don’t fan and don’t score. It’s great of him to fess up that he might have fanned a little bit, but I thought it was a hell of a shot.”
Later, Stafford added another, one in which he fired the puck on net, then followed up and cashed in on his own rebound. It’s the kind of play Ruff’s been waiting patiently for Stafford to make, but hasn’t seen enough of in recent efforts. Had he driven hard to the net like that the past few weeks, Stafford wouldn’t have watched from the press box in St. Louis.
“Benching a player’s never easy. But at the same time, it’s all about what you come back with. It’s the response after being benched,” Ruff said. “He was our best player tonight, which is good.”
The response was exactly what Ruff had hoped for. Stafford said he wasn’t about to feel sorry for himself, and that the bounces just went his way on Tuesday. He insisted it was just fate that gave him two goals on the next start after a healthy scratch.
But you sense that Ruff, a master at getting young players to grasp his lessons, had more of a hand in it than fate.
“He said he was really motivated. You’ve got to stay motivated without being benched. That’s a hard lesson. But his answer was a quality response in a situation like that,” Ruff said.
“I think that’s the type of player he can be. We just need that every night.”
Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.