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Coaching called Numminen back into the game

by Risto Pakarinen
HELSINKI -- It's often said that star players never make good coaches, that it's the mediocre players who still have something to prove that make the best bench bosses.

However, there are exceptions -- very successful players, like the Buffalo Sabres' new assistant coach Teppo Numminen, who have no problem switching one role to the other.

When he skates around, talking to the players in practice, he looks like the right man in the right place, a man doing what he loves.

"I'm here to help the players and be somebody for them to talk to, and maybe get them a cup of coffee every once in a while," he said jokingly, downplaying his role.

After he retired in 2009, Numminen took some time off from the game, and then joined the Team Finland coaching staff before the Vancouver Olympics, doing some North American scouting of Finnish players. That was fun, but he wanted to get closer to a team again.

"He's going to be the guy upstairs on the headset. In the past we've had various people fill that role and now we're going to have a full-time assistant do it. His role is going to be helping out on the player-development side with the younger defensemen." -- Lindy Ruff

"I've been thinking about coaching for the last two years, and when I worked with Team Finland, I realized that it was really fun to be a part of a team, and that I still had the passion for the game, so I started to see what possible opportunities there might be for me," he told

On the opening day of Sabres training camp, it was announced that Numminen had returned to the club with which he played the last four seasons of his career, this time as an assistant coach, joining James Patrick and Kevyn Adams as members of coach Lindy Ruff's staff.

"He's going to be the guy upstairs on the headset," Ruff said. "In the past we've had various people fill that role and now we're going to have a full-time assistant do it. His role is going to be helping out on the player-development side with the younger defensemen."

Ruff also noted that Numminen would bring a little bit of a European flair to the Sabres.

Numminen is no stranger to coaching. His father, Kalevi, was Team Finland's coach for almost a decade in the 1970s and early 1980s. In fact, except for a four-year gap between 1982 and 1985, the name Numminen has been a part of top-level Finnish hockey since 1957, when Kalevi made his debut in the top Finnish division.


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It's only been three weeks, but Numminen said he's already learned a lot, and that he enjoys his new job.

"I still have a lot to learn, too. We have a great head coach, and assistant coaches, and having known them a long time, it has been easy to join the staff," he said. "It's challenging, and having once beaten the same path as our young defensemen, I'm really looking forward to helping them on their careers."

Numminen will be wearing the headset for the first time in an NHL regular-season game Friday (1 p.m. ET, TSN2), when the Sabres take on the Anaheim Ducks. The European leg of training camp has helped the Sabres come together as a team, but now it's time to get to work.

"First game is always important and the players are a little nervous about the start of the season," Numminen said. "It doesn't matter whether we'll play away, at home, or in Helsinki -- the routines and the preparation are the same."

Numminen said he can sense that the players have started to focus on the regular-season opener.

"It's time to get to work now. There's a little positive nervousness in the air," he said. "While we haven't played as well as we'd like to, our game has improved all the time. We'd like to see that each game is a little better than the one before."
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