"What 400 victories mean to me is that I've been able to be around a lot of good players and a lot of good teams. We've been blessed to be able to put winning teams together almost every year and, really, I don’t put a big significance on it. It's a milestone in one sense but, really, it's just great to win another hockey game which, to me, is the most important factor." -- Lindy Ruff
Lindy Ruff has had the pleasure of being on both sides of the fence. As a player, he fondly recalls the day he tackled Islanders goalie Billy Smith during the 1980 Stanley Cup Playoffs and that moment in 1989 when he converted the only penalty shot of his 12-year NHL career.
As coach of the Buffalo Sabres, he guided the club to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 24 years in 1998-99 and has also become the all-time winningest coach in Sabres' history. The 48-year-old Warburg, Alta., native also reached a pretty significant milestone Wednesday in his old stomping grounds, Madison Square Garden, where the Sabres beat the previously unbeaten New York Rangers, 3-1, improving to 3-0-0.
The win gave Ruff his 400th career victory. He now ranks fifth in career wins among active NHL coaches - Mike Keenan is tops with 627 - and has the most wins of any coach in the League with their current team. Nashville's Barry Trotz is second with 326.
"What 400 victories mean to me is that I've been able to be around a lot of good players and a lot of good teams," Ruff told NHL.com. "We've been blessed to be able to put winning teams together almost every year and, really, I don’t put a big significance on it. It's a milestone in one sense but, really, it's just great to win another hockey game which, to me, is the most important factor."
"I wasn't even aware that Lindy needed one more win, because he never even brought it up or talked about it; I guess that's something he wouldn't do though and shows the character and class that he has," said Sabres forward Jason Pominville. "He's an honest guy who has worked for every bit of his success. He's been here for a while and between Lindy and (General Manager) Darcy (Regier), they have a long tenure together. I'm glad we were able to celebrate 400 victories with him."
Goalie Ryan Miller knows what Ruff has gone through during his coaching career, so he was grateful to see the NHL's longest-tenured coach attain the mark.
"It's a great statement that's he's reached 400 victories and all have come in Buffalo," Miller said. "He's been great with us and I think it's something he certainly deserves. He's stuck with us through some tough times in Buffalo but he's had some great moments here as well. I think that's how you identify a great coach; no matter how high or low the situation, he always has your back. He's respected by the fans, the community and his players and I think we're in a situation where we hope to keep building. So, 400 victories is a nice achievement to start off the season and now we can keep building for something even bigger."
Ruff, chosen in the second round (No. 32) of the 1979 Entry Draft, played 10 seasons for the Sabres and two with the Rangers. He gained a reputation as a tough, hard-working player on the ice, as evidenced in 1980 as a member of the Sabres when he ended up tackling Islanders goalie Billy Smith during a playoff match. After being struck in face by the stick-wielding goalie, Ruff got up and skated back to the goalie to confront him.
"It was vintage Billy," Ruff said. "That was the type of guy he was. He'd give you a shot and, back then, he had that four-inch butt-end. He got me just below the eye with it and, after thinking about it, I just snapped.
"We ended up working together for 4 years in Florida and joked about it," Ruff said, speaking of their time together as assistant coach and goalie coach with the Panthers. "He said I deserved what I got, but that was Billy. He was a hell of a competitor, but looking back on it now, I was a young kid at the time who probably needed a few anger-management classes. But I wasn't going to take his crap."
Ruff is often reminded by Rangers' fans of his penalty shot taken Nov. 26, 1989, at Madison Square Garden. The first and only penalty shot of his career was scored on Quebec Nordiques goalie Mario Brunetta.
"Going back to the Garden always brings back memories," Ruff said. "I have to laugh because we came to a game here not too long ago and some guy yelled to me, 'Hey Lindy, remember your penalty shot?' I talked with the gentleman and told him that I would never forget it, especially since I only scored three times with the Rangers that season."
As the coach in Buffalo, Ruff has directed the Sabres to winning records in all but 4 of his 10 seasons, taking the team to the Eastern Conference Finals 4 times and the Stanley Cup Final in only his second season.
"The Stanley Cup run was the most memorable for me so far," Ruff said. "Every playoff series is a great memory because, as a coach, you embrace and feel the pressure, you feel the excitement. Any time our team clinched a playoff series, it was truly special."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.