Ralph Krueger was not inside KeyBank Center when General Manager Jason Botterill addressed reporters during a news conference Wednesday morning.
Krueger, who was announced as the Buffalo Sabres' next head coach hours earlier, isn't expected to travel to the United States until after the NHL Scouting Combine, which will be held May 31 through June 1 in Harborcenter.
However, Botterill beamed when describing how Krueger emerged among a pool of candidates that included experienced and up-and-coming coaches. Krueger, 59, has never served as head coach for the duration of an 82-game schedule, yet his extensive international experience convinced Botterill to end the search.
"We liked the fact he was on the bench for three years in Edmonton, but we also put a lot of stock into his experience at the World Championships and the World Cup at the Olympics," Botterill said. "Those are high-pressure situations where you have to make adjustments and you have to make quick decisions and he got results in those situations. That was impressive from our standpoint. When we did the follow-up from talking with different players who had worked under Ralph they felt he was a very good communicator with them. That ability to get the most out of a group and communicate with a group we felt was a very good fit for our situation in Buffalo."
Krueger, who served as chairman of English Premier League's Southampton from March 2014 until his dismissal last month, was head coach of the Edmonton Oilers during a lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
He was behind the bench for only 48 games before he was fired during his first full offseason as head coach of an organization that had a seven-year playoff drought. Prior to that audition, Krueger served as an assistant coach for two seasons under Tom Renney.
The Oilers lured Krueger to the NHL after he led the Swiss national team for 15 international tournaments, including three Winter Olympics. He led Switzerland to a historic upset at the 2006 Olympic Games, beating defending champion Canada, 2-0, in Turin.
Botterill was in the stands for that upset and followed Krueger's career ever since, including the coach's success as a consultant with Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics and behind the bench for Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Those experiences, Botterill said, convinced the Sabres Krueger could succeed as an NHL head coach.
"The fact that he’s at least been on a staff in Edmonton for a couple years that’s been through an entire 82 games is certainly something that he learned a lot from and that’s something that he brought up a lot," Botterill said. "It’s important to surround him with a good coaching staff that can help him out a lot. The thing that we kept on coming back, though, was those high-pressure situations that he’s been involved with, and he’s excelled in those environments. And I think trying to find ways to motivate your team over 82 games is certainly something. But the fact that he can bring a group together, he can motivate in-game a team in high-pressure situations was very intriguing for us."
Following the Sabres' amateur scouting meetings, Botterill will return to Slovakia for his management role with Canada at the IIHF World Championship. He will be joined by Krueger, who plans to meet with Sabres captain Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Winger Jeff Skinner, a pending unrestricted free agent, was informed of the Sabres' decision to hire Krueger and the two sides plan to continue contract negotiations in the near future.
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