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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Instead of taking ice, Sabres hit the books

University course a hit with Ruff's staff

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Having never attended college let alone taught a class, Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wasn't familiar with the tweed jacket dress code favoured by some professors.

"I went with the track suit," Ruff said with a chuckle. "You know: the coach's uniform."

That's fine, because this wasn't your conventional course he was teaching.

Season or no season, Ruff and the rest of the team's 100 or so employees went back to school last month to attend what was called "Sabres University." It featured a series of courses spread over two weeks to help everyone better appreciate how the entire operation works and to boost morale during the ongoing NHL lockout.

The courses ranged from "The Do's and Don'ts of Social Media," to "The Scouting Process," headed by general manager Darcy Regier. There was a seminar from the ice-making crew in detailing techniques required to create a smooth sheet of game-ready ice. And even Kim Pegula got involved by outlining the team's mission under her and husband Terry Pegula's ownership.

As for Ruff, he taught a class explaining how he gets his defencemen involved in the offensive rush.

Though he'd prefer to be coaching, Ruff found the two-week session enlightening and worthwhile and something that has the potential to strengthen the entire organization whenever the NHL gets back to business.

"I think it was more than a good idea," he said. "I think when you do something like this, it gives everybody a better understanding of what everybody's trying to get done. And the goal is all the same. We want to entertain fans. We want to win hockey games."

And, Ruff added, "at the end, everybody in the organization is pulling to win a championship."

The idea behind the university-style project was sparked in September when Sabres vice-president Brent Rossi attended a social media training seminar, team president Ted Black said. Rossi returned with so many good ideas that he wanted to make a presentation to other employees.

That idea mushroomed into getting others involved to share their own expertise, and a "course curriculum" was then designed.

It helped that Sabres staff had plenty of time on their hands and was readily available. Unlike some NHL teams who have laid off employees or cut back on schedules and pay, the Sabres have kept everyone on board during the labour dispute.

"Terry challenged us as an organization, by saying, 'We're not going to lay anyone off or have salary reductions, but use this time to find ways to improve how we do things,' " Black said. "And I think the opportunity for all of us to sit together and learn from each other will carry forward and make us a stronger organization."

The university-style project was so well-received that the Sabres are planning to conduct similar sessions annually during the off-season.

Black said another professional sports team and a college athletic department caught wind of the idea. Both have contacted the Sabres in an effort to duplicate it.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2012 C2

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