About the only thing that's been in Western New York longer than Lindy Ruff
is Niagara Falls.
So it was a bit of a strange sight for the Buffalo Sabres
players to look toward their team's bench the last week and not see Ruff, who has been coaching the team since 1997.
"Definitely was different," right wing Drew Stafford
told NHL.com. "He was still around, but to not have him on bench, even during practice a couple times, he wasn't on the ice because he couldn't go on the ice. It was a little different having that feeling."
Ruff ended up with three broken ribs in a collision with defenseman Jordan Leopold
in a practice Feb. 6. Leopold lost his footing during a puck-retrieval drill and slid into Ruff, who was looking the other way. The force of the blow took Ruff's legs out from under him, and the coach, who turns 52 on Friday, hit the ice hard.
"He got it pretty bad but he could have gotten it a lot worse," Sabres captain Jason Pominville
told NHL.com. Pominville is one of 15 Sabres whose only NHL coach has been Ruff. "If he hits his head (on the ice) at the speed those guys were going when they hit him, he could have had some pretty big damage to his head. … As he was falling he tucked his head so it didn't hit the ice."
The injuries kept Ruff off the bench for three games, with assistant coaches James Patrick
, Kevyn Adams
and Teppo Numminen
running the bench in Ruff's absence.
The Sabres won two of the three games before Ruff returned Wednesday against the New Jersey Devils
"It's good to have him back on the bench, back to normal," said Stafford. "The rest of the coaching staff did a great job on the bench in his absence. They did a great job, made it comfortable for us, made it easy for us. At the same time, to have Lindy back, it's nice."
Pominville, now in his eighth season playing for Ruff, said little changed in the coach's absence.
"Maybe the first meeting," he said. "You're so used to having Lindy control the meeting. Hearing somebody else was a little different.
"The only difference was the voice, a different voice speaking in the room. The message was the same. They (Ruff and the assistant coaches) were constantly in communication with each other. The message was absolutely the same, just someone else delivering it to us."
Ruff is back to being able to deliver the message himself, but he said he's far from 100 percent. His injuries prevent him from raising his voice to yell out instructions, he's wearing a flak jacket on the bench and he's not yet able to get on the ice for practice yet.
"I don't feel good enough yet, but it feels better," he said. He added that flying Wednesday from Buffalo to Philadelphia was uncomfortable.
"I traveled OK," said Ruff. "I don't think it was ideal, but I traveled OK."
His players are happy he's able to be with them in any shape or form.
"The (assistant coaches) did a good job, but at the same time, Lindy's our guy," said Pominville. "He's the voice that needs to be heard, he's the leader of this whole boat. … He's the one that gets us going and finds different ways. Just his presence is nice."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK