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Sabres give Rolston interim tag after longtime bench boss fired

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Ron Rolston will finish out the season as the Buffalo Sabres interim coach, taking over hours after Lindy Ruff was fired Wednesday amid growing criticism for the team's slow start.

Rolston was in his second season as coach of AHL Rochester, the Sabres' minor-league affiliate. And he has long-tenured shoes to fill in replacing Ruff, who became the franchise's winningest coach over 16 seasons.

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The change comes a day after the Sabres were booed off the ice during a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg, and after Ruff had finished overseeing a 90-minute practice in preparation for Buffalo's game at Toronto on Thursday.

General manager Darcy Regier called the team's lethargic performance during the loss to the Jets as "a tipping point." And he added that discussions to fire Ruff had begun earlier in the day.

The Sabres (6-10-1) have gone 4-10-1 since opening the season winning their first two games.

Regier went to Ruff's home to inform the coach of the decision. He then allowed Ruff to visit with players as they boarded a bus to travel to Toronto.

Rolston was scheduled to arrive in Buffalo on Wednesday evening and then join Regier in travelling to Toronto for his first meeting with the team. Regier said he'll use the remainder of the season to determine whether Rolston deserves taking over the job on a full-time basis.

Before being hired by the Rochester Americans, Rolston spent seven seasons as coach of USA Hockey's National Team development program. During that time, he became the first coach to lead the U.S. Under-18 team to win three gold medals (2005, 2009, 2011).

Rolston is also familiar with numerous Sabres, including centre Cody Hodgson and forward Marcus Foligno. He spent the first half of this season coaching both, as they played in Rochester during the NHL lockout.

Ruff finished with a 571-432-162 record, and was also the active leader among NHL coaches with the same team.

The news of his firing came as a surprise only because Sabres management, including team president Ted Black, had spent much of the past week voicing its support of Ruff. Team owner Terry Pegula was also regarded as a big fan of Ruff.

Pegula, however, was running out of options in his bid to turn the Sabres into a Stanley Cup contender, an objective he made clear upon purchasing the team two years ago. Ruff's firing comes nearly two years to the day Pegula formally took over as the Sabres owner on Feb. 22, 2011.

"The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach but also as a person," Pegula said in a statement released by the team. "His qualities have made this decision very difficult. I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always."

Ruff was becoming increasingly aware that his job was on the line. Last week, he described the Sabres struggles as being "his mess," while adding that he wasn't done trying to clean it up.

On Wednesday, he abruptly cut short his availability with reporters by hinting that changes were coming because "it isn't working the way we're going." He didn't specify what those changes might be.

Under Ruff, the Sabres made the playoffs in each of his first four seasons and eight times overall.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 21, 2013 D2

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