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With Ruff locked up, Sabres set their sights high; Coach signs multiyear deal

It didn't take Lindy Ruff long to start looking ahead.

The Buffalo Sabres' coach, given a multiyear contract Friday, already has begun planning for the first year of the extension. The Sabres will start next season in Europe, and Ruff wants them ready to win.

"The start of the season is going to be different for us with the fact that we're starting in Europe," Ruff said at a year-end news conference with Buffalo management. "I found our last experience where we went to [training camp in] Klagenfurt [Austria, in 1998], it was a great way to get the team together, and it was a great experience.

"It's going to be a challenge to get back, get your legs underneath you and be ready, but I've already spoken to other coaches about how they've approached it and what they have done. I'm looking forward to that part of it."

The Sabres' trip overseas is tentatively scheduled to begin Oct. 1, when they arrive in Heidelberg, Germany. They will spend three days there before playing an Oct. 4 exhibition game 10 miles up the road in Mannheim, the home of left wing Jochen Hecht.

The Sabres are likely to leave following the game for Helsinki, Finland. They would practice for two days before opening the regular season against Anaheim on Oct. 7 in the Finnish capital. Following that game, the Sabres will travel to Berlin, Germany, for an Oct. 8 meeting with the Los Angeles Kings. The Sabres tentatively would arrive back in Buffalo on Oct. 9.

Ruff is eager for a stellar start because of the problems a poor one created this season. The Sabres began just 3-9-2 and were 14-18-4 in late December. It forced them to finish with a 28-11-6 run just to make the playoffs as the seventh seed.

"With a better start, we wouldn't have had to put the run together that we did," Ruff said in HSBC Arena. "The start of the season I find as a coach is a very important time. It sets you up for the rest of the year."

Next season will be Ruff's 15th behind the Buffalo bench. He just finished the final year of his contract, and the NHL's longest-tenure coach agreed to an extension because he sees potential for future success under owner Terry Pegula.

"I want to win a Stanley Cup with this city, and I'm not willing to quit yet," Ruff said. "That's my goal. My goal isn't to go somewhere else and win it. I want to win it here."

The latest chance for Ruff, who was hired in 1997, finished with a first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this week. The most disheartening sign for Pegula that the season was over came Thursday, when he walked into the arena and saw the ice being melted and broken up by trucks with plows.

"It sort of ticked me off watching the ice being taken out," said Pegula, who sat to the left of Ruff, General Manager Darcy Regier and team President Ted Black. "As you all know, we've been eliminated from the playoffs. The four guys you're looking at up here aren't real happy about that, but life goes on."

The next thing set to be demolished at the foot of Washington Street is the locker room area. The Sabres are designing a new floor plan, with construction set to begin in the next few weeks. The area is scheduled to expand from 8,000 square feet to 27,000 square feet, with 14,000 dedicated to new locker, training and coaches areas for the Sabres.

"It'll put us among the best of the league, which is consistent of what we're trying to build here," Black said. "We're trying to build a championship. I've said it before, it's a million little things. In this case, it's 14,000 square foot of little things."

Ruff and Regier spent part of their season farewell listing all the Sabres' injuries, including those to Jason Pominville (surgery on severed leg tendon, with recovery at four to six months), Tim Connolly (separated sternum), Patrick Kaleta (broken hand), Andrej Sekera (oblique strain), Thomas Vanek (finger), Hecht (concussion) and Mike Grier, who played through a sore knee and will also need wrist surgery next week.

Though the Sabres are done, hockey will continue for three players in the organization. Center Paul Gaustad (Team USA) and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani (Canada) have traveled to Slovakia to represent their countries in the world championships.

The Sabres also assigned Zack Kassian to Portland to play in the AHL playoffs. Kassian, the 2009 first-round pick who just finished his junior career, recorded six goals and 16 points in 16 playoff games for Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League. He missed the final two games for the Spitfires as part of four-game suspension for an intent-to-injury penalty.

The Pirates trail Binghamton, 2-0, with Game Three set for today.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com