20240514 Appert

Seth Appert had never met Lindy Ruff prior to last month, but he always admired Ruff from afar.

The trademarks of Ruff-coached teams – the passion and competitiveness that began with Ruff behind the bench and spilled into his players’ identity on the ice – were qualities that Appert wanted out of his own teams.  

“I always try to look at other coaches, whether it’s in the NHL or in other sports, that are more my style, because I think you can learn a lot from that,” Appert said.

Ruff and Appert confirmed they were a stylistic match in conversations since Ruff was hired as coach of the Buffalo Sabres on April 22, a process that culminated with Appert being promoted from head coach of the Rochester Americans to assistant coach for the Sabres on Monday.

Ruff said Monday during an appearance on “Sabres Live” that the decision to promote Appert to his staff was a “no-brainer” after conversations revealed a synergy in how they believe the Sabres can play moving forward. Appert will run the forward group on the bench and coach the power play in what Ruff said will be a collaborative process.

“We talked the same language, which was really important to me,” Ruff said.

Ruff talks completion of coaching staff

Appert said the shared belief system became apparent in their very first conversation when Ruff asked him about the qualities he’s harped on with the organization’s young prospects. Appert’s reply focused on puck battles and angling to force turnovers.

The general point – while Ruff and his staff will flesh out a system over the coming months, the demand to compete will be at the heart of the Sabres’ identity.

“Fast, north, direct, get to the net more,” Appert said. “Those are things that I preach and believe in at a high level. We were speaking the same language in the first conversation.”

Having the opportunity to learn from Ruff was one of four reasons Appert listed for accepting the offer to move on from his position with Rochester, where he led the Amerks to three consecutive playoff berths and amassed 123 wins, fourth-most in franchise history. The others: his belief in general manager Kevyn Adams’ vision, his confidence in owner Terry Pegula’s passion for the team, and the opportunity to stay within the Sabres organization and continue to push it forward.

Appert has already impacted the Sabres through the instrumental role he played in the development of players who started in Rochester – a list that includes forwards JJ Peterka, Jack Quinn, and Mattias Samuelsson. Those three were among the estimated 400 people who Appert said he received texts from following his promotion to Buffalo.

Appert’s relationship with those players was forged through a balance of communication and demand, another trait he holds in common with Ruff.

“I’m so grateful to our players for allowing me to coach how I coach,” Appert said. “I’m incredibly hard on them, I’m very demanding of them, but I do it in my own way.”

Appert’s approach propelled Rochester to one of its most successful stretches in recent history. In addition to the numerous developmental success stories such as Peterka, Quinn, Samuelsson, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, the Amerks’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year was their longest since 2003-04.

Ruff, similarly, has been charged with the task of taking the Sabres to the next level after they fell one point short of the playoffs in 2022-23 and seven points shy this past season. Improvement on the power play, which tied for 28th at 16.6 percent, will be a key to that end.

Ruff said he, Appert, and the rest of his staff have already identified areas where the power play could become more efficient. Appert cited increased shot volume as one potential method on Tuesday. The Sabres attempted 97.42 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-4, which ranked 25th in the league.

“When you have an attack and a shot mentality, you have a chance to get the penalty kill out of structure,” Appert said. “If you just pass along the perimeter, penalty kills get to stay in structure, especially if they’re in a diamond, and they get to be comfortable in their structure.

“When you shoot and have an attack mentality, you get them out of structure with puck movements, shooting, or player movements. And then when you get them out of structure, now skill and creativity can take over. But the first thing you need to do is get them out of structure, and that’s how I believe you do it.”

Appert addresses the media

Appert and Ruff met in person Monday morning and spent hours talking through their vision for the Sabres. Just days prior he was in the thick of a Calder Cup playoff race, which ended for Rochester in a Game 5 loss to Syracuse at Blue Cross Arena on Friday.

Uncertain that it was his final game behind the Rochester bench but aware of the possibility, Appert soaked in his surroundings following that loss, proud of what he, his staff, and his players had built in four years together. He’s eager now to support the same organization in a new role.

“When Kevyn hired me four years ago, this organization was in a tough spot,” Appert said. “We’re not there yet. There’s a lot of work to do. But we’re a lot closer than we were four years ago, and I’m proud of that. This is an opportunity with a lot of guys that I’ve coached along the way to kind of help push us through to Buffalo.”