Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

April 11, 2007

TIM SCHMITT: Players change, and so does Lindy

COMMENTARY

BUFFALO — Michal Grosek is long gone. Dixon Ward’s a distant memory. Even Dominik Hasek has been in other colors for what seem likes forever.

But through it all, Lindy Ruff has stood tall behind the Buffalo bench, keeping watch during a decade that’s seen the franchise’s highest highs and deepest depths.

Ruff is not the same guy he was in 1997 when he took over for Ted Nolan, the coach who’s sure to get the larger share of ink as the Sabres and Islanders go skate-to-skate in the opening round. Likewise, he wasn’t the same guy then that he was when he played for the Sabres, racking up 1,126 penalty minutes.

He’s since found a way to bite his tongue — Bryan Murray episode excluded — when times get tumultuous. Once a guy willing to toss his gloves and dive into a pile, Ruff is now the calming influence in charge of a predominantly young team.

But even that’s taken time. And patience.

“My first few years were some pretty excitable years and now it’s trying to remain calm,” Ruff said Wednesday, with his team squarely the Eastern Conference favorite. “Remain calm through the good, remain calm through the bad times in games. But to be totally prepared for anything that can happen.”

Nolan is still the feel-good story of this series; a once-blackballed coach who imposed his hard-working style to will an underachieving team into the postseason. Nolan will be asked about Buffalo, his exit from the Sabres, and probably even his relationship with Ruff.

“Let bygones be bygones,” Nolan said. “Buffalo will always have a special place in my heart. But now we have to try to beat their hockey team.”

But while Nolan is the same guy he was when in Buffalo, Ruff has transformed through the years, adapting from a defensive style that once built a fortress around Hasek, to a guns-a-blazin’ approach that saw Buffalo lead the league in offense. Where Ruff once coached primarily on emotion, he’s learned to accentuate the important lessons while keeping the mood light.

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