Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hey, Lindy.... Yeah, Marty?... Nothing.

Lindy Ruff, currently in his 10th season behind the Buffalo bench, is the longest tenured coach in the NHL and one of the longest tenured coaches in professional sports. Lindy was a Buffalo boy long before becoming the head coach however. Drafted by the Sabres in the second round of the 1979 draft, he played 10 years in Buffalo. He had a solid if unspectacular career and was known as a gritty, hard-working guy. Lindy even wore the captain's "C" for a time. His attitude as a player is best seen in the much played (in Buffalo) clip of goaltender Billy Smith, swinging his stick at Lindy as Lindy skated by. Lindy promptly turned around and tackled Smith, "tackled" not being any exaggeration at all in this case. (I looked for the video online but couldn't find it. I'm definitely sorry because it's pretty funny.) Off the ice, Lindy is married and he and his wife Gaye have four children.

Despite his long history in Buffalo, when Lindy first took over as head coach, it was under a cloud of controversy, not so much because no one wanted him in particular but because no one wanted anyone not named Ted Nolan. I had just started dating my husband around that time and I clearly remember he and his brothers ranting over Nolan's rather harsh and sudden dumping. Well folks, that was then, this is now. Lindy has been here so long now that it's hard to picture anyone else pacing behind the players, barking at the refs, and while he does have a few detractors, I think it's safe to say that he's won over most of Buffalo.

Reasons I love Lindy:

He's adaptable. Known primarily as a defensive coach, he had to swtich gears last year when he found himself with a fast, offensively gifted team. He was able to change his own style to fit the players he had and not every coach can do that.

He's tough. He expects his team to work hard and he expects everyone to play on both ends of the ice. It doesn't matter if the back of your jersey says PETERS or BRIERE, if you're not busting your ass, you will find yourself on the bench. The best example of Lindy's toughness is his benching of Thomas Vanek during the playoffs last year. TV had a very good rookie year but he was looking slow and half-hearted during the beginning of the playoffs. Many coaches - most coaches, I think - would've thought, "You know, he's young, he's never played a full season before, he's probably tired... We really need his potential offense." Lindy, concerned that TV was showing a lack of effort and conditioning, had a long talk with him and sat him down. TV was definitely unhappy about it, but there's no doubt that it made an impression. He came to training camp this year noticeably thinner and stronger and with a passion and toughness that he didn't have last year. He's been our most consistent two-way player this year and was horribly overlooked on the All-Star ballot in my opinion. Maybe Thomas would've grown into that kind of player anyway, but I think it's fair to give Lindy some credit for it happening so quickly. He saw a situation where a talented young player might be developing some bad habits and stepped in and did what he could to put the kid on a better path.

He's loyal and fair. Lindy never hesitates to reward hard work with a bump up to another line or more time on special teams. A perfect example of this is Paul Gaustad getting more time on the power play and being promoted from the fourth line during the last few games. Goose leaves it all on the ice and Lindy loves that. He doesn't seem to play games with the players either. A very large part of the credit for the goalie situation never blowing up into a controversy goes to Marty Biron and his unselfish, team first mentality, but some of the credit goes to Lindy as well. I think he's always been very clear with both guys about their role on the team and he never tried to pit them against each other. I don't know if this is why, but for whatever reason, the players on his team would go through a wall for Lindy. They love him and I think they play for him as much as they do themselves. When Lindy had to miss a few practices and a couple of games last season while his 11-year-old daugher Madeleine was undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, there was a noticeable pall over the whole team. (Note: I'm happy to report that Madeleine seems to be on the road to a full recovery.)

He's funny and plain-spoken. Lindy has a fabulous, dry, teasing sense of humor. I know he rubs some fans and coaches of other teams the wrong way sometimes, and I hate to say you'd understand if you knew him better, but in some ways I think it's true. That's just Lindy. He's not mean-spirited, but he'll say what he needs or wants to say. He's not afraid to poke at people a bit, and I think he's probably more than a little tickled when he appears to be getting under people's skin (see Ken Hitchcock and to a lesser degree, Peter Laviolette during last season's post-season). That said, Lindy will also scrap the humor and lay it out there. As an interviewer once said about him, "If something needs to be said, Ruff doesn't shy away. He's to the point, with humor. If that doesn't work, he's to the point, without humor." Personally, I really love this about Lindy. Most coaches are boring and that's okay, I guess. But I like my guy having a discernible personality and a little zest.

Lindy was voted the Jack Adams winner as Coach of the Year last season and I (of course) think it was well-deserved. He led a very young, very inexperienced team to the conference finals. Between owner Tom Golisano, GM Darcy Reiger, and head coach Lindy Ruff, I think Buffalo has one of the smartest, most stable ownership teams in the NHL. I could be biased but hey, that's what fans are for, right?

I'm officially on vacation and leaving town tomorrow so merry Christmas to you all! May your holiday season be filled with lots of goals and wins unless you're playing the Sabres in the next week in which case I hope you'll have to settle for a stocking full of coal.


hockeygirl said...

Have a good holiday, Heather. See you when you get back. I love the post title. That clip was hilarious.

Jordi said...

Merry Christmas! Glad to see your coach is well loved.