BUFFALO -- The interim label has been removed from the coaching title of Ron Rolston.
Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier announced Tuesday morning that Rolston has been named the 16th coach in the club's history. Rolston took over behind the Sabres bench on an interim basis Feb. 20 when the team fired longtime coach Lindy Ruff after a 6-10-1 start to the season.
Rolston, who has a reputation as being a teacher with the ability to develop young talent, said he is looking forward to the opportunity. He previously was coach of Buffalo's American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester.
"For me coming in as an interim coach, it's allowed me the opportunity to get familiar with the organization, the players. The capabilities and the potential here are very exciting for myself and certainly will take great pride and work extremely hard for the organization to get to where we need to go and where we all want to go," Rolston said.
Rolston went 15-11-5 in his 31-game run as interim coach, but the Sabres failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They finished in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind the eighth-place New York Islanders, with a roster filled with young players, many of whom started the season with Rolston in the AHL.
Regier opted not to conduct a coaching search. He said when Rolston was promoted in February they intended to interview other candidates, but that mindset changed as the season progressed.
"Seeing Ron's interaction with the team -- both as a teacher and a motivator -- as we moved through the season, for me personally, it became more and more evident that he was a very good fit not only for the present, but for the future," Regier said.
Though the team is in a state of rebuilding, Rolston said he feels the roster in place is capable of making the playoffs. However, as Regier has stated in recent weeks, the ultimate goal of the Sabres' front office is not to simply make the playoffs, but compete for multiple Stanley Cups. That makes putting a timeline on how quickly a turnaround can come difficult.
"You're looking at a team next year that's a playoff-caliber team," Rolston said. "We want to be a playoff team, but at the end of the day we want to be a playoff team that can make long runs and do what we want to do here and that's to win a Stanley Cup."
During the season, Rolston often cited the challenges he faced with a condensed schedule. He said having an offseason, a full training camp and an 82-game schedule next season with lots of practice time will be a big positive when it comes to having more opportunities to work with individual players.
"Sometimes we had like six games in nine nights and you're just more worried about energy levels than about anything else," Rolston said. "But I think that provides us as an organization and the coaching staff an opportunity to be better prepared to continue on the path so guys will understand what we want even more so than they did this year."
Rolston said he hopes to have his coaching staff finalized in about a week. Assistant coaches James Patrick, Kevyn Adams, Teppo Numminen and Jim Corsi were retained throughout the season and worked with Rolston after Ruff was fired.
Education is a priority of the organization, and Regier said that was one of the main reasons he hired Rolston to coach Rochester in 2011. He said culturally, the sport of hockey could do a lot more in terms of teaching and in terms of players learning.
"[Rolston] had grown young kids into very complete [players] quickly and fully. It's something we need to move to professional hockey and we're going to continue to advance it," Regier said.
In two seasons as coach of the Rochester Americans, Rolston compiled a 63-44-17 regular-season record. He agreed to a multiyear contract with the Sabres that Regier said kicked in when he took over as interim coach. Rolston also had the option to go back to Rochester.
Before joining the Amerks in 2011, Rolston spent seven seasons as coach with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, where he became the first coach in American hockey history to lead the U.S. Under-18 team to three gold medals (2005, 2009, 2011) at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championship.
Now, he's the full-time coach of an NHL team.
"The transition was quick, but when you put yourself in situations and again, this doesn't come overnight," Rolston said. "It's a process where it's been 23 years coaching and it's a profession. It's a passion."