BUFFALO -- The game Monday night at First Niagara Center between the Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars features the return of former Sabres player and coach Lindy Ruff to Buffalo.
Ruff was a part of the Sabres organization for more than 24 seasons, including nearly 10 as a player. He was hired as Sabres coach in the summer of 1997 and his run behind the bench lasted more than 15 years before he was fired on Feb. 20, 2013.
"Just strange," Ruff said about returning. "Coming in and going to the other side. First guy you see is James the security guy. I got a big hug from James. It was nice. It is just an incredibly strange feeling."
Monday night marks his first time back in Buffalo since being fired. The mark he left on the Sabres players he coached is one that has resonated. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder was drafted by the Sabres in 1997 and played the first eight years of his career for Ruff.
Monday's game at First Niagara Center between the Sabres and Stars features the return of former Sabres player and coach Lindy Ruff to Buffalo. (Photo: Getty Images)
"He's a good, honest person. Really straightforward," Tallinder said. "I had a good relationship with him. He was always straightforward and that's what you want as a player too, to have a coach just saying what he thinks and what you need to improve on. I always thought he was good to me."
"I definitely had a lot of experience with him," Sabres forward Drew Stafford said. "He was there when I came in and up until last year. He's a coach that runs on a lot of emotion. He knows how to read players and read the game. He's a heck of a coach and I'm sure things are going well for him over there."
This won't be Ruff's first time in Buffalo as an opposing coach. He was an assistant with the Florida Panthers when they played there in March 1997. Only a few months later he was hired by the Sabres and coached them for 1,165 games and 571 wins, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1999 and the 2007 Presidents' Trophy.
Ruff's emotion is something many players talked about, and it's a part of him he's learning to adjust with the Stars.
"He's starting to have fun every day," Stars defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "He's very serious about what he does. He's very professional but he's starting to have fun, and that carries down to the team."
Ruff's new team wants to make sure his homecoming is a good one.
"He was obviously a coach here for so long so we want to get a big win for him," Stars captain Jamie Benn said.
As for the current Sabres team, Ruff realizes their situation is a different one.
"I understand. I understand it, and I really do," Ruff said. "It's tough to see where the team is at in the standings, but I watch how these players play and how some of the young players play and I think there's a lot of promise there. I know that it is really tough, but I understand where they're at."
Is he still rooting for the Sabres?
"Not tonight I can't," Ruff said to a chorus of laughter. "I can root in between games and they're in the East. I root for the city, and I root for the team, and I want to see them do well."