The Buffalo Sabres could be without coach Lindy Ruff in the coming weeks while he and his wife tend to their 11-year-old daughter, Madeleine, who has an unidentified mass on her brain.
Ruff had been mysteriously absent in recent days while attending to "family matters." He skipped a news conference Thursday night following the Sabres' victory over Tampa Bay and did not show up for practice Friday, which led to speculation as the Sabres prepared for the Philadelphia Flyers.
"There's no need to guess," Ruff said Saturday afternoon, before the Sabres took the ice against the Flyers. "It's something a lot of people have dealt with. Really, all we ask is that you say a prayer."
Ruff said the mass discovered on Madeleine's brain was about the size of a quarter. His family isn't likely to know exactly what it is until this week. He could miss practices and games while doctors diagnose and treat the problem. Madeleine is expected to visit Roswell Park Cancer Institute this week for further testing.
Ruff and his wife, Gaye, have four children. Brett is 16 and Eryn is 14, followed by twins Madeleine and Brian. Madeleine was experiencing headaches for weeks, and they became more severe in recent days. She summoned Brian for help after waking up in the middle of the night and feeling dizzy.
"She's very positive about the whole thing," Ruff said. "It's incredible. Every child you have is different. They deal with things differently. She's a special child."
Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and assistant coaches Brian McCutcheon and Scott Arniel were aware of the situation, but it was mostly kept secret within the organization until Ruff sorted through what they would do. Regier was overcome with emotion while telling the players about Madeleine during a team meeting Friday night.
"There are situations where hockey doesn't matter as much," Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said. "It doesn't matter if it's the coach, the GM, the third goalie on the team or whatever. Everybody is behind each other. It doesn't matter if you're the boss or at the bottom of the ladder. This is real life. We're all behind Lindy."
It has been a difficult period for Ruff and his family while the Sabres roll along on the ice, winning their fifth straight Saturday. Ruff became emotional while talking to his daughter a few days ago. Rather than comfort her, she wound up consoling him. The mass was found during tests Friday morning at Women and Children's Hospital.
The Sabres play the Boston Bruins today in HSBC Arena. They visit Washington on Tuesday and return home Thursday against Toronto as they play 17 games in a 30-day stretch. Ruff did not know how many games or practices he would miss. He did say he would split coaching duties, with Arniel handling the forwards and McCutcheon the defensemen. They'll keep their duties on special teams.