Sabers ready to hit the ground running for new coach Ruff

Budapest, Hungary — A new coach brought renewed enthusiasm to the Buffalo Sabers when Lindy Ruff was hired on April 22.

Forward Dylan Cozens is excited to play for the 64-year-old after meeting briefly with him on several occasions since his hiring.

“He’s a very determined coach, very hungry, very smart,” Cozens said Thursday from Budapest as he prepared for the 2024 IIHF World Championship in Prague, Czechia. “He obviously means a lot to the city of Buffalo. He really wants it and so do we. I can’t wait to see how he does as a coach. It’s going to be fun.”

Ruff replaced Don Granato and coached the Sabers for 15 seasons from 1997-98 to 2012-13. He holds team records for regular season games (1,165), regular season wins (571), Stanley Cup playoff games (101), and playoff wins (57). He was fired by the New Jersey Devils on March 4, one season after leading them to a franchise-record 112 points and the second round of the Eastern Conference, a five-game loss to the Hurricanes. Caroline.

The Sabers will open next season against the Devils in the NHL Global Series 2024 Czechia presented by Fastenal at the O2 Arena in Prague on October 4-5.

“Everyone is excited,” Sabers defenseman Bowen Byram said. “We have another opportunity and we have to make the most of it. Lindy is coming and I’m sure there will be some adjustments to our game. We’re all very excited. Obviously the goal is to be in the playoffs, so it’s going to be a fun year.”

Granato, assistant coach Jason Christie and video coordinator Matt Smith were fired April 16 after Buffalo finished sixth in the Atlantic Division (39-37-6) and missed the playoffs for a record 13th straight season in the NHL. They were one point out of the East’s second wild card in 2022-23 despite going 7-2-1 to end the season.

“It’s been a very difficult and disappointing year,” Cozens said. “Being so close the year before, we set the bar pretty high for ourselves and set high expectations for everyone. We may have let the pressure get to us a little, but we didn’t have it all. just didn’t play as players the way we wanted to and we let a lot of people down.

“A lot of guys are really hungry to come next year and show what we can do and how good we can be, because we know we have a lot more than we gave this year.”

The Sabers haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2010-11, losing in seven games to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. This was their fourth playoff appearance in six seasons.

“Obviously it hasn’t been good enough this year,” Buffalo defenseman Owen Power said. “We have to hold ourselves to a high standard. Going into next year, there have been changes and we have to continue to hold ourselves accountable and have high expectations.”

Ruff will be the Sabers’ sixth coach since he was replaced by Ron Rolston on February 20, 2013. He has a record of 864-679-153 with 78 ties in 1,774 games in 23 NHL seasons with the Sabres, the Dallas Stars and Devils, fifth in NHL history for wins and games coached and second behind Paul Maurice of the Florida Panthers (869) among active coaches in wins.

The 2006 Jack Adams Award winner, voted NHL coach of the year, was runner-up to Alain Vigneault of the Vancouver Canucks the following season. Ruff guided the Sabers to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, a six-game loss to the Stars, and was an assistant with the Panthers under Doug MacLean when they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 final.

“Excited,” Power said. “Before I came here, I met him in Buffalo. He seemed like a good guy and someone who’s going to help the team a lot. I think the whole group is excited and ready to go.”