Monday’s game in Buffalo kicks off an important stretch for the Dallas Stars, who play eight of their next ten games on the road. The road hasn’t been friendly to the Stars, who have lost four of five away from home this season. And getting his team’s road play on track is the focus of Stars coach Lindy Ruff.
“We’ve got to become a better road team,” Ruff said.
But there’s another angle to Monday night’s game in Buffalo between the Stars and Sabres. Ruff will be returning to Buffalo for the first time as the head coach of the Dallas Stars. Ruff was head coach in Buffalo for 15 seasons, winning 571 games and leading the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999. There were eight playoff appearances and four trips to the Eastern Conference Final. He’s the winningest coach in Buffalo franchise history. He played ten seasons in Buffalo as well. He’s a big part of franchise history.
“I’ve thought about it. I’ve had friends already get ahold of me. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it,” said Ruff, who was fired by Buffalo early last season and hired by the Stars in June. “But the number one thing on my mind is our road record. We are really focusing in on that on this road trip. It’s not like I’ve been gone a long time. It’s not like I’m walking in and have been missing for two or three years.”
Still, he’s going back to a place he spent a quarter of a century when you add up his time as a player and a coach. That’s almost half his life. There a lot of memories, not just on the ice but off the ice as well.
“It’s going to be great to walk into the building and say hello to old faces. It really is,” Ruff said. “I have a lot of good friends there. I have a lot of good memories, a lot of great hockey there. It will be a good day. I want to see our team play really well. It will be a good day.”
And his current players want to make sure it turns out to be the best day possible for Ruff and Stars assistant coach James Patrick, who will also be experiencing a homecoming. Patrick was Ruff’s assistant in Buffalo for seven seasons and he patrolled the Buffalo blue line for six seasons as a player.
“He and James were a big part of that organization for a lot of years,” said Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas. “They are well-respected over there. They did a lot of good things and they deserve that. We’ve got to be ready and we owe them that.”
“Those guys were there for a long time,” said Stars center Vernon Fiddler. “As a player you go back to the team that you come from and you’re a little ramped up and obviously you’re excited. They are part of the Dallas organization, but it is always special to go back where you’ve been a long time. I know Lindy and Jeep (Patrick) have a lot of connections there. We have to be ready to go and hopefully get them two points.”
Stars to face off vs. Steve Ott for first time
Monday’s game against the Sabres will also mark the first time that the Stars will face off against former teammate Steve Ott.
Ott, who spent 11 seasons in Dallas, was traded to Buffalo along with Adam Pardy in July 2012 for center Derek Roy. The Stars and Sabres did not play last season, so on Monday the Stars will get their first look at Ott in an opposing uniform.
“I talked to him this morning. Obviously he is excited to play against us, too. It will be fun,” Stars defenseman Trevor Daley said after Sunday’s practice in Frisco. “A couple of us will probably get dinner with him tonight. He’ll feed us and then we’ll try to put him through the end boards tomorrow night.”
Ott is one of the game’s best agitators. Several of the long-time Stars know his MO, so they’ll be well-prepared.
“I don’t think he has changed over the years. It will be the same,” said Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas. “We just have to be ready, we can’t get caught up in his chirping and all that stuff. We have to stay disciplined and stay out of the box.”
Daley said it should be interesting watching Ott and the Stars’ current agitator – Antoine Roussel – plying their trades Monday night.
“I think he and Roussel will have fun yelling at each other all game. We’ll let those two guys talk it up,” said Daley. “We all know Otter, we’ve played with him a long time and we know what to expect.”
Quotable: Lindy Ruff on the Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres are dead last in the NHL with a 2-10-1 record this season, but Stars coach Lindy Ruff isn’t taking his former team lightly. Here’s what Ruff had to say about the Sabres as the Stars prepare to face them Monday night in Buffalo:
“They’re so different. They’re really young. They have several teenagers in the lineup the last time I saw, a couple up front and a couple on the backend. They’ve had tough times in the first period, but their play the last couple games has improved. They won a game in Florida and they were leading late last night. I think they had a 2-1 lead with six minutes left. Their goaltending has been fabulous. I call this kind of a trap game, where we are going to have to be on top of our game and not take anything for granted.”
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 DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.