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Friendship on hold as Lindy, Hitch meet again in playoffs

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff and St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock have become friends over the years, but that friendship is on hold for the next couple of weeks as the Stars and Blues get ready to square off in round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I’m going to try to make it as tough on him as he is going to try to make it on me,” said Ruff.

“I don't look at the opposite coach,” said Hitchcock. “You get to this situation, it's business.”

And when it comes to the business of coaching, both Ruff and Hitchcock are among the best. Hitchcock ranks fourth all-time among NHL coaches in wins at 757. Ruff ranks fifth at 702. Hitchcock is 11th in playoff wins (80), and Ruff is tied for 13th (63).

Ruff and Hitchcock have locked horns twice in the NHL playoffs. The first meeting was in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final. Hitchcock’s Dallas Stars defeated Ruff’s Buffalo Sabres in six games to take the Stanley Cup. They met again in the 2006 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Ruff’s Sabres knocked off Hitchcock’s Philadelphia Flyers in six games. Game 2 of that series stands out. After an 8-2 Buffalo win in which Philadelphia took 17 penalties for a total of 61 minutes, Ruff said the Flyers played like “idiots.” Hitchcock took exception, and as he wrapped up his postgame press conference, he hurled an expletive directed towards Ruff.

Earlier this week, Hitchcock was asked if he had anything to say to Ruff before the Stars-Blues series started.

“No, I said enough in two Olympics, that's enough, too much,” Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock and Ruff were on Team Canada’s coaching staff at the 2010 (Vancouver) and 2014 (Sochi) Olympics. They were roommates, and that’s where the friendship blossomed.

“We were in the same room but this far apart for two weeks, like a dorm room,” Ruff said. “It was like being in a bathroom. She was tight.”

And that meant a lot of time to talk and debate.

“There were philosophical arguments,” Ruff said. “I learned a lot, learned actually at the end to like him.”

Hitchcock pointed out that he and Ruff share some common ground. They were born and raised about 50 miles apart in Alberta, Hitchcock from Edmonton and Ruff from the village of Warburg.

"We had a rough start with the Stanley Cup Final there and smoothed it over,” Hitchcock said. “We became good friends through two Olympic games. Being roommates with a guy for two and a half weeks, you get to know a lot about a guy."

There are differences as well, especially in the styles their teams play. But both have stayed in the coaching game as long as they have because of their ability to adapt.

“For me, Lindy's always been more of a risk-taker. His teams in Buffalo, they played with a high level of risk. They were really almost hybrid teams,” Hitchcock said. “And then obviously you learn over time to coach through balance. That's why he's had success in Dallas. He's got the team playing through significant balance.”

“We both understand each other’s coaching style and what I believe in and what he believes in, and we’ve shared a lot of those thoughts through a couple Olympics,” Ruff said. “I think sometimes you take the players you have on your team and you tailor make your team to that. His team is a little different than our team, and our team has gone a little different direction since year one here. I think we’re a more complete team, and I think the reason we’re in round two is because we’ve been able to make some adjustments and become a better team away from the puck. And typically, his team is a real strong team away from the puck. You got to give him a lot of credit for that because it’s a tough team to play against.”

But all the praise for the other guy and the friendship takes a back seat to the job at hand as the series gets underway Friday night at American Airlines Center.

“I like where our team is at, I like where our team has got to, and I’m sure he’s sitting in the same place,” Ruff said. “It’s not about him or I, it’s about how the teams are going to play. We’ve been through enough wars that for me my focus is all about how our guys are going to play, and I’ve got to make sure our guys are ready to play.”

*Stars center Jason Spezza did not practice Thursday. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Spezza was given practice off for a family matter. Ruff indicated Spezza would be ready to play Friday’s series opener against St. Louis.

*Ruff said he did not want to take a guess when center Tyler Seguin might start skating again.

“I really can’t,” Ruff said. “I don’t even have a guesstimate on it. I don’t even think it’d be fair if I guessed and if I’m off, everybody else will be wondering why did he guess that.”

Seguin hasn’t played since Game 2 of the Minnesota series when he suffered a lower body injury related to his previous Achilles injury, which kept him out the final ten games of the regular season and Game 1 against Minnesota.

*Center Cody Eakin, who missed Tuesday’s practice for a maintenance day, was back on the ice for Thursday’s practice.

Here’s how the Stars lined up in Thursday’s practice:

Jamie Benn
Cody EakinPatrick Sharp

Valeri NichushkinMattias JanmarkPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaAles Hemsky

Travis MoenVernon FiddlerColton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaStephen Johns

Kris RussellJason Demers

Patrik Nemeth/Jamie OleksiakJordie Benn

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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