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LEVER'S HIRING AS ASSOCIATE COACH COMPLETES SABRES' STAFF

The Buffalo Sabres' coaching staff won't have a totally new look in the upcoming season.

Don Lever, who had been an assistant under Ted Nolan last season, will be back as an associate coach under new head coach Lindy Ruff during the 1997-98 season.

The Sabres announced the hiring on Tuesday. Lever will join assistant Mike Ramsey on Ruff's first coaching staff.

Lever had been promised a job with the Sabres' organization. He thought he'd wind up returning to Rochester to coach the AHL affiliate there, but he changed his mind during the past few days.

"It was a decision that was left to me," Lever said. "I met with (Sabres' general manager) Darcy (Regier) on Thursday and I also talked a little bit with Lindy. At that time I thought I should head in a different direction and go to Rochester. But Lindy was very persuasive. He told me how important I could be to the team behind the bench and in the dressing room, and he phoned me several times over the weekend. He finally convinced me.

"Besides, when I think about our hockey team, I kind of start to get excited. The players didn't get enough credit for what they accomplished last season. When you look at the depth chart, I thought the best move for my future was to stay with this team."

Lever has spent the last 12 seasons with the Sabres' organization, and has been an assistant coach in Buffalo for eight of them. Lever is the only member of last season's coaching staff to return. That group helped the Sabres win the Northeast Division title.

He has been a finalist for the team's head coaching job twice in the past two years, but lost out both times. The timing of the situation was a factor in his staying with the Sabres.

"You didn't expect things to end up the way they did," Lever said. "I didn't think I'd be in the running for a head coaching job here. I had to sit back and wait. Now, it's practically August. You have to make up your mind in a hurry. I had to make a decision that would help me be a head coach some day. I've been the coach of the year in the AHL before. I convinced myself that this way the way to go."

The biggest change for Lever's status from last season to this one is that he'll be back behind the bench during games this fall. Lever usually was in the press box last season.

"You miss that," he said about coaching behind the bench. "At times, you feel a lack of being involved. There's no hands-on feeling. I drowned myself in technical stuff, but you miss the part of being behind the bench. There's more of a competitive feeling down there."

The three Sabre coaches played together in the 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons in Buffalo. Lever also was a head coach of the Rochester Americans (AHL) in 1991-92 when Ruff was an assistant.

"That had a lot to do with it (the decision)," Lever said. "I rode a lot of miles on the bikes with him to get in shape. He doesn't give up when he wants something. I also know Rammer's dedication to the game. The working environment is very important, and I think we have a very sound crew."

With Lever's situation cleared up, the Sabres' next move will be to appoint a head coach for the Amerks. Rick Vaive, an ex-Sabre who coached in South Carolina of the East Coast Hockey League last season, figures to be in contention for that post. Buffalo has assigned some of its players to South Carolina during the past few years.

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