By FRANK DAPOLITO
For Buffalo Sabres fans, it is the dawn of a new era for their hockey team. On February 20, head coach Lindy Ruff was let go from the team after spending 16 seasons with the Sabres after another disappointing start to their season.
For many hockey fans, this move came as a shock to them. Ruff acquired the head coaching job of the Sabres in 1997, brought the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999, only to fall short to the Dallas Stars. He lasted through two lockouts, the expansion of the NHL to a 32 team league, and relocation of multiple teams around the league.
Fans of the Sabres are especially shocked considering how long Ruff had spent with the Sabres. Many of which thought it would take insurmountable odds to remove Ruff from behind the bench. In the shortened season, the Sabres started 6-10-1 under Ruff so far.
“I never thought I’d see the day that Lindy Ruff got fired. When someone spends that long with a team, does that much work for them, you become complacent with them being there and can’t picture the team without them,” said Ramapo student and Buffalo Sabres fan, Andrew Ebel.
Ruff was the second longest tenured coach among American professional sports, only serving less time than San Antonio Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich. Ruff was the longest tenured NHL coach up until his firing, which that title now belongs to Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators.
For the players, it comes as just as much of a shock as it does to the fans. Sabres captain Jason Pominville adressed the media saying “he’s done a lot of great things for the city and the organization, it was just a tough way to say goodbye,” in an interview with NHL.com.
The Sabres have gone through a lot of changes over the past few seasons. Owner Terry Pegula purchased the Sabres in 2011, and swore that the franchises ultimate goal from thereon out was to win a Stanley Cup. Pegula promised that Ruff would not be automatically let go, singing him to a contract extension back then. However, two years later, and the threat of missing the playoffs yet again looming over the team, Pegula had no choice but to pull the trigger.
Players know more than anyone that the coach is the main source of motivation for the team. When someone spends as much time with an organization like Ruff did, players want to give it their all because he has dedicated so much time to helping the team win.
“When I played hockey back in high school, I had the same coach every year I played. He was a great guy, and a good motivator, and it made me want to go out and win for him,” said Ramapo student and former hockey player Kyle Sinclair.