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Five Questions: Ruff talks Buffalo, new challenges

by Dan Rosen / will periodically be doing a series called "Five Questions With ...," a Q&A with some of the key movers and shakers in the game today aimed to gain some insight into their lives and careers.

This edition features Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff:

For the past 14 seasons Lindy Ruff has been steering the Buffalo Sabres down what can only be described as an unpredictable path.

Lindy Ruff, who has led the Sabres for each of the past 14 seasons, feels extremely fortunate to be a part of the tight-knit Buffalo community. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ruff, who was brought in shortly after Buffalo hired general manager Darcy Regier in the summer of 1997, took the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 and won the Presidents' Trophy in 2006-07. Buffalo has made four appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals under Ruff, but none since 2007.

Ruff, 52, has also survived several ownership changes, team payroll fluctuations, key defections via free agency and three playoff-less seasons since 2008.

Today, Ruff is 44 wins shy of 600 and working on a multiyear contract extension he signed after the 2010-11 season. This would be his 25th season in the Sabres organization, including 10 as a player from 1979-89, and despite his appreciation for the community he said he still hasn't been allowed to get too comfortable.

Why is that? Well, you have to read on.

Here are Five Questions With... Lindy Ruff:

You've been with Buffalo for 14 seasons and sometimes people will say when you're in a place for too long you get too comfortable. Do you feel comfortable, or perhaps even too comfortable?

"I think the thing that has kept it from getting too comfortable is the fact that we've had, over this span, ownership changes every two or three years.

"It started off with the Knox group, then we went to the Rigas family and then we had the League for a year. Then we had Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn and now we've got Terry Pegula. That has kept it from turning to the too comfortable.

"We have tried a lot of different things. We've had different groups come in with different ideas on how to run it and build a team. We came out of the last lockout with one of the best teams and a couple of real good kicks at winning it. Now we've got Terry Pegula, who has been awesome. That alone has made it real fresh here."

Along those lines, but this time as it relates to players, considering this is a very fluid business, how have you stayed fresh with the ever-changing player in order to stay in the same position for so long?


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"I've had some great experiences over the last five or six years around some real great people in this business. My first one was the World Championships, coaching alongside Dave Tippett and Barry Trotz, when we lost in the gold-medal game in 2009. Then being involved in a couple of big summits in the summer of 2009 with Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock and Jacques Lemaire. Having those meetings in the summer and then living with Jacques for a couple of weeks in the Olympics, it was just a real treat. I have a lot of respect for what he accomplished as a player and for what he's done as a coach. A lot of great ideas came out of those couple of years. The players came back and were like, 'Wow, we're going to try this and this and operate this way.' It was a great way to freshen up our staff and bring some ideas in. It was an opportunity, sharing how you want to play and every detail of the game with those four coaches in a three-day symposium before the Olympics. That was something that helps keep the atmosphere and the head clear."

And, again, along those lines, we always hear about the players in the Olympics but what was it like for you, an assistant coach for Canada, in Vancouver two years ago?

"With the buildup for being on that staff, for the Olympics to be in our home country and basically being picked to be the favorite -- or at least a big disappointment if we wouldn't have won it -- I don't know if there could have been any better feeling to do it.

"We didn't do it the easy way. We lost to the U.S. We had to take the long way around to get there. We had to beat a good Russian team and then we had to overcome giving up a goal late in the gold-medal game and facing that pitfall, where you're wrestling with your emotions -- seconds away from a gold medal and all of a sudden the game is tied.

"But, the euphoria to win it the way we won it, you couldn't write a better script. It's not something as a coach you want to draw up. At the end you tell everybody, 'That was one hell of an experience, but you wouldn't have wanted to be me for those last five or six days because of the gut-wrenching nature of it, the preparation and the atmosphere wrapped around some of those games.' You could get beat by a hot goalie, by one or two plays -- you feel all those emotions.

"We had some great laughs along the way. We shared good times. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Many hockey fans will never forget Buffalo's run to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final and what happened during the series, with Brett Hull's controversial Cup-clinching goal, but that wasn't your first go-round in the championship round. What are your memories of the run in 1996 when you were an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers?

"I recall that almost as clear as anything -- some of the big moments in some of those series, like beating Boston and some of the goals that were scored.

"As assistant coaches, Duane Sutter and I were also doing the video and we were making the postgame tapes and highlight films, so I still have some of those packed away in boxes here. A couple of years ago I took one out because I was doing a coaching clinic and I laughed at some of the stuff we put together. There were thousands of rats being thrown on the ice when we were playing Pittsburgh. Tom Barrasso is hiding in his net as the ice is getting pelted.

"I played 10 years here. I've been back here now for 15 years. I've basically lived here since 1979 minus three or four years. Really this is my home."
-- Sabres coach Lindy Ruff

"The excitement of winning in Pittsburgh and then the quick turnaround -- getting on a plane to Denver and starting the Cup Final a day and a half later -- just thrilling. I still remember having a [1-0] lead in the first game [against the Avalanche] and thinking, 'Man, we have a shot here.' To lose that game, that was really the turning point. Emotionally we were running on a good high but we were doing it the hard way and maybe we were outclassed in some areas, but we had an incredibly hard-working team.

"I can still picture the goals, the highlights. I talk about the lines we used like [Tom] Fitzgerald, [Bill] Lindsay and Stu Barnes. I can still rattle off the lines we were using. It was one of my favorite moments. To take a team like that, built with players that weren't wanted by other teams so they were put in the expansion draft, and end up in the Stanley Cup Final -- that was a lot fun."

Final question for you and it is all about Buffalo: What is it about the city that you appreciate and perhaps even love, and is it home for you and your family?

"It's just a great community where it's a lot about people helping people and people caring for people. I've lived in a few areas throughout my career where it was tough to even get to know your neighbors and here it is a lot about people doing things for people they don't even know. It's been a great community and we're extremely lucky, knock on wood, to let my kids grow up in one community and not let them shuffle around, which is very common for a lot of NHL coaches.

"It is home.

"I played 10 years here. I've been back here now for 15 years. I've basically lived here since 1979 minus three or four years. Really this is my home."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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