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SABRES PLAYERS AWAIT 'FIRST DATE' WITH COACH

The Buffalo Sabres players finally know who their new coach is. Now they'll go about the business of getting to know him.

Lindy Ruff was named to the head coaching post on Monday. He replaces Ted Nolan, whose contract was not renewed. Nolan was in the middle of a split of the roster last season, as many of the players loved playing for him while a few others -- notably goalie Dominik Hasek -- didn't enjoy the experience.

Ruff said he will try to heal the rift by talking to as many of the players as possible before and during training camp. His success in that task may go a long way in determining if the Sabres can defend their Northeast Division title.

"Well, hopefully we all can be professional about it," center Michael Peca said. "I think a lot of people have moved on already after what happened (to Nolan). We wish Ted all the best. It's kind of weird to see the coach of the year not have a job the next year, but I'm sure he'll land on his feet. Now we have a head coach that we'll be playing under, and I think everything will work out fine.

"Training camp is always a big part of the season. This year, it's going to be the most important part of the season. We have to come together and get on the same page right off the bat."

Defenseman Mike Wilson added, "I don't think there will be a problem. It's a business. It's the same as if a player that's a friend gets traded. You can't worry about it. You just keep playing.

"I guess last year we learned pretty quick that you don't have to worry about management or things upstairs. You just go out play hard every day -- go to practice and do your job. Our job is on the ice. The other guys have to worry about the other stuff."

Peca and Wilson met Ruff a few minutes before the new coach was introduced to the media in Marine Midland Arena. When the news conference began, Ruff sounded a great deal like Nolan when he talked about what was needed for the Sabres to win -- hard work and dedication. The players noticed the similarities.

"Teddy demanded 100 or 110 percent every night," Wilson said. "If we got that, we usually won. If we didn't, he let us know it. I think Lindy will be the same way."

"He seemed to have a similar personality (to Nolan's)," Peca said. "They are honest human beings. I got the feeling when I first met Lindy that he was the type of guy that you can sit down and talk to. You want to have a relationship with a coach where he just wants hard work; that makes it easier to work for him. I expect things to be fine."

Wilson was particularly pleased to hear about Ruff's background. Not only did he play some defense while he was a Sabre, but Ruff concentrated on coaching defensemen while working for the Florida Panthers as an assistant.

"He's done a great job in Florida," Wilson said. "They have one of the best young defenses in the league. I hope he'll carry on up here. . . . I don't think any of our coaches last year played defense. It will be nice to have an ex-defenseman's opinion on things."

It also will be nice for the Sabres players to know who both their general manager and coach will be for the 1997-98 season. The two positions have not been filled at the same time since the departure of John Muckler as general manager in early May.

"It's been kind of weird," Wilson said. "Everywhere I go, people ask me questions about what's going on. They know as much as I do. It's nice to finally know who our coach is, and we can totally focus on our jobs."

The Lindy Ruff File - Coaching Career Served last four years with Florida Panthers under Roger Neilson and Doug MacLean and was part of Panthers' run to Stanley Cup Finals in 1996. Was named an assistant with Florida by Neilson as club began NHL play in 1993-94 season.

Was primarily responsible for penalty-killing unit and defense. A strong believer in conditioning, he often conducted the Panthers' hard post-practice skates known as "suicide drills."

Served as player/assistant coach with IHL's San Diego Gulls in 1992-93 and AHL's Rochester Amerks in 1991-92. San Diego team finished 62-12-10, establishing professional hockey record for wins (since tied by the Detroit Red Wings). Rochester head coach was current Sabres assistant Don Lever, while San Diego head coach was ex-Sabre player and coach Rick Dudley.

Returned to Sabres' organization for stint in Rochester largely to gain experience for a coaching career. "I know it's a tough racket but I always wanted to give it a try," he said during 1991 training camp.
PLAYING CAREER
Played 10 seasons with Sabres and final two with the New York Rangers, appearing in 691 NHL games.

Is tied with Phil Housley for 10th on Buffalo's all-time games played list (608) and is fifth on the penalty minutes list (1,126).

Was Sabres' second-round draft pick (32nd overall) in 1979 after junior career with Lethbridge Broncos. Mike Ramsey was Buffalo's first pick and others from that draft who eventually played for the team were Jacques Cloutier, Gilles Hamel and Alan Haworth.

Was 1979-80 winner of Fred T. Hunt Memorial Trophy, awarded to club's outstanding rookie, as Sabres advanced to Stanley Cup semifinals before losing six-game series to New York Islanders.

Played first two years at defense before being converted to left wing for 1981-82 season. Averaged 15 goals per season over the next five years, including career-high 20 in 1985-86. Was dogged by injuries from 1982-1987, never playing more than 60 games in a season.

Was named sixth captain in franchise history in November 1986, following retirement of Gilbert Perreault.

Returned to defense in January 1987, where he stayed for final two seasons.

Resigned as captain on Feb. 13, 1989, three days after being scratched from the lineup by coach Ted Sator minutes before 5-4 loss to Vancouver at Memorial Auditorium that was team's fourth straight defeat.

Traded to Rangers on March 7, 1989, for fifth-round draft pick in 1990 that became current Sabres defenseman Richard Smehlik.

Played 56 games for Rangers the next season but only 14 in his final campaign despite being healthy the entire year.
PERSONAL INFORMATION
Born Feb. 17, 1960 in Warburg, Alberta.

Ruff and wife, Gaye, have four children -- Brett, 7; Eryn, 6; and twins Brian and Madeleine, 2.

Rents cottage in Montana during the offseason.

Enjoys fishing, boating and golfing.
NHL STATISTICS
Season Team GP G A Pts PIM
1979-80Buffalo635141938
1980-81Buffalo6581826121
1981-82Buffalo79163248194
1982-83Buffalo60121729130
1983-84Buffalo58143145101
1984-85Buffalo3913112445
1985-86Buffalo54201232158
1986-87Buffalo506142074
1987-88Buffalo7722325179
1988-89Buffalo636111786
Rangers1305531
1989-90Rangers5636980
1990-91Rangers1401127
BuffaloTotals6081021832851126
RangersTotals8331215138
NHLTotals6911051953001264

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