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Ruff expects happy return vs. Sabres

Lindy Ruff will walk into First Niagara Center tonight, looking dapper in his suit and designer tie, and do something the home team has been unable to accomplish so far.

He’s going to give Sabres fans a reason to cheer.

One of Buffalo’s legendary sports figures is back in town, and the welcome-home party is in full swing.

The man who spent half his life in the Sabres’ organization will shake hands with former players, say hello to arena employees, then walk to the visitor’s bench for the first time and wave to what’s expected to be an appreciative crowd.

Needless to say, this early season game against Dallas should be memorable.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it,” Ruff said in Dallas over the weekend. “It’s going to be great to walk into the building and say hello to old faces. It really is. I’ve got a lot of old friends there, a lot of good memories. We had a lot of great hockey in there.

“It’ll be a good day. I want to see our team play really well, and it’ll be a good day.”

The Sabres are looking forward to the visit, too.

“Everyone really did appreciate Lindy as a person,” goaltender Ryan Miller said. “I hope they just have fun with it. Everyone’s path takes them on all different kinds of journeys, especially in this kind of career, and it’s good to see that he’s on another team so quickly. Obviously, he’s a great coach.”

It will be Ruff’s first public appearance at the foot of Washington Street since his farewell news conference in February, which came two days after he was fired during his 16th year as coach. There’s no doubt it will be emotional for the Western New York resident.

“I’m sure it’ll be more emotional for him than the players with as much time as he spent in Buffalo,” Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said. “He was a big part of the organization and a big part of the fan base.”

Though the Sabres have conspicuously ignored the returns of other alumni, they’re expected to formally recognize Ruff.

“I’m sure they’ll have a nice little ovation for him – deservedly so,” right wing Drew Stafford said.

Ruff’s return would generate buzz and interest anytime, but …

“Given the current situation here, it’s going to be real interesting,” Miller said.

Ruff is coming back to face a team that is much worse than when he left. The 30th-place Sabres are a dispirited, answer-lacking bunch with a 2-10-1 record under Ruff’s replacement, Ron Rolston.

“We’re focused on trying to turn this thing around, win some games,” said Stafford, who was benched alongside center Cody Hodgson during the latest loss Saturday in Tampa Bay. “Once we get through the initial hello, how’s everything going, it’s back to work. We have to keep our focus on trying to win a game.”

Said Miller: “Looking at the bigger picture, we have a lot that we need to focus on ahead of Lindy, who’s hopefully not going to get too involved other than calling out lines and drawing up plays. You don’t want to see him jump into the in-between space like he’s tried to a few times.”

Then again, maybe folks do want to see some passion and fight. It would certainly enliven the arena, which has been either silent or jeer-filled as the Sabres have opened with a home mark of 0-6-1.

Ruff and Dallas assistant James Patrick, another longtime player and coach in Buffalo, want to make that 0-7-1.

Either way, a party is on tap.

“I’m obviously happy for him that he’s back in the league,” Thomas Vanek said before being traded Sunday night to the New York Islanders. “I think we saw it when he was let go here that he was ready to go back. For him and Jeep, I’m happy that they found a spot. Hopefully, they’ll do well there.”