Former Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff knows the worst of times the club experienced this season forced team management to sever ties with Ruff, who spent half his life as pat of the organization.
But in addressing the Buffalo media for the final time Friday, he chose to recall just the best of times.
Ruff – of whom his former employer thought enough to let address the media at the First Niagara Center – was nothing but positive in his farewell address. The longest-tenured coach in Sabres history was fired Wednesday and replaced by Ron Rolston on an interim basis.
"I've had a lot of great memories," he said. "I have memories of this building shaking when we beat Philadelphia, and we beat them bad."
Fans had been shaking with frustration much of the past few seasons, wanting to see more from what they believed was a playoff-caliber team. They couldn't live up to the expectations, though, barely qualifying in 2011 before missing the playoff last season and limping to a 6-10-1 start this season.
Ruff said he felt something was coming after Tuesday's dismal 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, which saw the team more lifeless than even during much of the rest of this season. He was quick to defend his now-former players, though:
"They didn't let me down. They did what I asked. They gave me all they had … I was embarrassed, I did see apprehension. I saw us going in the right direction against Boston, against Pittsburgh, and to take that step back against Winnipeg was like a kick in the gut for me. You guys saw it. I felt it."
So it was little surprise when Ruff saw General Manager Darcy Regier at the door of Ruff's Clarence home Wednesday afternoon with the bad news. But, again, Ruff didn't blame Regier, who had ardently defended the coach as recently as three weeks ago and who was emotionally distraught at his press conference Wednesday to explain the move to the media.
Ruff said he told Regier, " 'I know. Don’t say you’re sorry. You’ve been my biggest backer all these years.' … I’m indebted as a head coach because I know through 16 years, there’s probably 99 percent of the GMs in the league would’ve whacked the coach at a certain time. We went through some tough stretches where he believed in me and said, 'You can get these guys through it.' He’s a good friend. He’s a great hockey man. We went through a lot together, and I’m indebted to him for trusting me in a lot of tough situations."
It was at Ruff's insistence, the former coach said, that he address the team on its bus before driving to Toronto to deliver the news.
Ruff said he misses the game already and intends to coach again at some point. For now, though, he's letting the smoke settle from the firing and, he joked, "driving around from Tim Horton's to Tim Horton's, rolling up the rims." He also tried to watch Thursday's 3-1 Sabres loss to Toronto, but he said the moment was too intense, so he had to change the channel after the first period.
Having been a part of more than half the Sabres' regular season games as a player or coach, Ruff has seen every up and down the club's been a part of. And he knows fans live and die by what the team does.
"I owe you," he said to the fans. "You made this a special place to coach. I don't think I have anything to be ashamed of or any regrets. Western New York is my home."
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