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Rolston getting test, but Sabres could look elsewhere

by Dan Rosen

Ron Rolston will get at least 31 games to prove he should be the next full-time coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Several other potential candidates will be watching.

Rolston, 46, got the call-up from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League (Buffalo's top minor-league affiliate) Wednesday to become the interim replacement for longtime Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. He'll have his hands full with a team that is at least seven points behind every other team in the Northeast Division and sitting in 13th place in the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres are coming off a dismal 2-1 home loss to the Winnipeg Jets, one that general manager Darcy Regier called "the tipping point" in the decision to fire Ruff.

Rolston is leaving a team in Rochester that is seventh in the AHL's Western Conference with a 27-18-3 record. He guided the Americans to a playoff berth following a 36-26-14 season as a rookie coach in the AHL last season.

Prior to arriving in Rochester, Rolston spent seven seasons coaching the United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. That came after he spent the better part of 14 years as an assistant coach at the NCAA level at Lake Superior State, Clarkson, Harvard and Boston College.

"I saw his team play in Hamilton the other afternoon and his teams play with structure, discipline -- they have work ethic," Regier said. "He has a good hockey club down there right now and he has them playing good hockey. So, I think you'll see some of those traits."

But Rolston doesn't have any security beyond this season. Regier made it clear he is in Buffalo only as an interim coach. The GM said Rolston has an opportunity to win the full-time job, but it'll be an ongoing evaluation for the rest of this season.

So while Rolston gets himself ready to coach his first NHL game Thursday night in Toronto, let's take a look at some of the other coaches who could be keeping a keen eye on his progress in Buffalo, perhaps wondering if they could be next in line to take over as the Sabres first full-time coach not named Ruff since 1997.

After all, Rolston is a candidate to be Ruff's full-time replacement, but he's not the only one. Here are six more to consider:

Jon Cooper

Cooper, 45, reportedly was under consideration for some NHL jobs this summer after he led the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup last spring. He is in his third season behind the bench of the Tampa Bay Lightning's top minor-league affiliate. This season it is the Syracuse Crunch.

The move to Syracuse hasn't changed Cooper or his team. They are first in the AHL's Eastern Conference with a 30-14-6 record entering their game Wednesday against the Toronto Marlies.

Cooper led the Admirals to 55 wins and 113 points in the regular season in 2011-12 to be named the AHL's Coach of the Year. In his two-plus seasons behind the bench in the AHL, Cooper's teams are 124-58-24.

Cooper won a championship in the United States Hockey League with the Green Bay Gamblers in 2010.

Dallas Eakins

The almost 46-year-old fourth-year coach of the Toronto Marlies is arguably the hottest name among potential candidates for NHL coaching jobs.

Eakins led the Marlies to the 2012 Calder Cup Finals, where they were swept by Cooper's Admirals in four games. His graduation rate has improved this season with ex-Marlies Nazem Kadri, Korbinian Holzer, Matt Frattin, Leo Komarov, Mark Fraser, James Reimer and Ben Scrivens occupying important roles with the resurgent Toronto Maple Leafs.

Eakins arguably could be an NHL coach right now, but his contract stipulates he remain with the Maple Leafs' organization at least through the end of the 2012-13 season.

The Marlies are 26-17-5 entering play Wednesday night after going 44-24-8 last season.

Eakins was formerly the Maple Leafs' director for player development and an assistant coach from 2004-06.

Mike Sullivan

Sullivan, who turns 45 in a week, is an assistant to John Tortorella with the New York Rangers. He's the only assistant on the bench with Tortorella and primarily manages the defense.

He was considered a possible candidate for some of the openings in the NHL last season but never landed anywhere.

Considered a taskmaster and tough but also a teacher, Sullivan coached the Boston Bruins for two seasons from 2003-06 and compiled a 70-56-38 record. He led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2004 but was fired after they struggled in the first season following the 2004-05 lockout.

Sullivan has coached the AHL's Providence Bruins and was an assistant with Tortorella for the Tampa Bay Lightning before joining him in New York in 2009.

Mike Haviland

Haviland won the Stanley Cup in 2010 as an assistant on Joel Quenneville's staff with the Chicago Blackhawks. His firing after last season came as somewhat of a surprise in Chicago, but it was a decision ultimately made by Quenneville, who said there was "some dysfunction to our coaching staff and we need a change."

Haviland, 45, who was once considered a candidate to be the coach of the Winnipeg Jets, landed as the associate coach of the Norfolk Admirals. He coached the Admirals from 2005-07 and was named the AHL Coach of the Year in 2007 after guiding them to a 50-22-8 record. They lost in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

He won two championships in his four seasons as a coach in the ECHL.

Craig Ramsay

If Rolston falters, Ramsay, 61, an assistant coach for the Florida Panthers, could join the discussion because of his longevity in the League and his ties to the Sabres.

Simply put, the guy is a Sabre. He spent his entire 14-year playing career in Buffalo and compiled 672 points in 1,070 games. Ramsay was the interim coach of the Sabres for 19 games in 1986-87 and worked in the organization until 1992, when he left to become an assistant with the Panthers.

As the interim coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, Ramsay led the club to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000. He was fired after a slow start the following season.

Ramsay also was coach of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-11, but he was not retained when the franchise relocated to Winnipeg.

In addition to his assistant coaching duties with the Panthers, Ramsay has been an assistant coach for the Ottawa Senators, Flyers, Lightning and Bruins.

Patrick Roy

The Sabres would certainly shake things up if they contacted Roy, the Hall of Fame goaltender who has been coaching the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL since 2005 -- and has made the playoffs every season he's been behind the bench. Roy won the Memorial Cup in 2006 as a rookie coach.

Sabres top prospect Mikhail Grigorenko, who had a goal and two assists in 14 games under Ruff, played for Roy in the QMHJL.

Roy is 341-157-36 as Remparts coach, including a 34-19-4 record this season. He's 47 years old.

In addition to Grigorenko, San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and former Nashville Predators forward Alexander Radulov are two of Roy's top graduates to the NHL in his time with the Remparts.


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