by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — After more than 15 seasons, Lindy Ruff is no longer the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
The community staple, who led the team to four conference finals and one Stanley Cup final appearance, was relieved of his duties in an "extremely difficult" decision Wednesday afternoon before the players left for a game tonight in Toronto.
The situation left General Manager Darcy Regier emotional at the podium. While Ruff was leading practice Wednesday morning, Regier said he was meeting with team owner Terry Pegula, President Ted Black and special advisor Ken Sawyer about the future of the franchise.
"It's a tough day," Regier said. "Ultimately it was my decision. I made the decision. But these things aren't made in a vacuum."
Regier reflected fondly on Ruff's hiring, back in July 1997. He said after the interview with Ruff, who was serving as an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers at the time, he spoke with hockey legend Scotty Bowman. He asked Bowman what he thought of Ruff, to which he received a glowing response.
"He said to me, 'Darcy, he's like (Hall of Fame coach) Al Arbour ... with a sense of humor,'" Regier said. "I think Scotty was right."
Regier thanked his first, and only, coaching hire for his service, not only to the team but also the Western New York community.
"I would like to thank Lindy as a player, a great coach and an outstanding citizen of this community," Regier said. "He understood it, he was extremely professional."
Ron Rolston, who had been serving as head coach of the team's minor league squad in Rochester, will finish out the year as Sabres interim head coach.
The change came quick, following Ruff leading practice and speaking with area high school hockey players earlier in the morning.
Ruff entered this season, shortened to 48 games following the latest work stoppage league-wide, with a different attitude. He was more patient with players, at least vocally. He learned from some of the comments players made last year following locker clean out day after missing the playoffs.
Former center Derek Roy was critical of Ruff and his approach to handling the players in the room. Roy was later traded to the Dallas Stars and Ruff came to work attempting to change the persona he'd created in the past.
Wednesday's change didn't happen because the experiment failed, and Regier said Ruff trying to reinvent himself was a risk he needed to take. Ultimately, it didn't pay off, though, as the team compiled a 6-10-1 record through its first 17 games.
It's eerily similar to what's happened in both of the previous two seasons and Regier said there needed to be a change.
"You have no choice," Regier said. "Either you have to change the people or the people have to change. It doesn't matter what we do, it's about growth. If you don't embrace it, don't try to find ways to become better, and with that, unfortunately in this case, I think it created a risk that didn't pay off.
"He didn't lose the team in any way in respect to communication. There were huge strides in that area. Unfortunately, it didn't translate to the ice. And for whatever reason, we couldn't get any traction, especially defensively. He felt at times ... it was hard to get a grip on."INSIDE • Fans react to Ruff's firing Wednesday afternoon. SPORTS, 1B • Will the move pay immediate dividends on the ice? SPORTS, 1B