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Coach fired after 16 years: NHL's Sabres try to regroup

Coach fired after 16 years: Lindy Ruff was dismissed by the Buffalo Sabres after a poor start to their season. The NHL coach fired after 16 years will be replaced on an interim basis by Ron Rolston.

By John WawrowAssociated Press / February 21, 2013

Coach fired after 16 years: Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff (C) watches play in the final minute of his team's NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto in this file photo. Ruff's long run as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres came to an end on February 20, 2013.

Fred Thornhill/REUTERS/File

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Buffalo, N.Y.

Lindy Ruff is out as coach in Buffalo, meaning the slow-starting, inconsistent and sometimes lethargic Sabres have now become Ron Rolston's mess to clean up.

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Rolston was promoted from the Sabres' minor-league affiliate, AHL Rochester, to finish out the season as Buffalo's interim head coach Wednesday.

The move was made hours after Ruff was fired amid growing criticism for the team's early season struggles.

And it came less than a week after Ruff had defiantly said he wasn't done trying to "clean up this mess."

The turnaround never came for Ruff and the Sabres (6-10-1), who are in the midst of a 4-10-1 slump following a 2-1 home loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

It was a game in which the Sabres were booed several times for their turnover-filled and inconsistent effort.

"I think the last game was quite honestly a tipping point. And it was evident to me that we were searching for answers to too many questions," general manger Darcy Regier said. "I think we were making some strides, but in the end, for every two steps forward, it was one step back, and sometimes not that."

Ruff's dismissal ends his 16-season tenure in Buffalo, during which he became the franchise's winningest coach (571-432-162) and the NHL's longest active-serving coach with one team.

Among North America's four major pro sports, Ruff's tenure was second only behind Gregg Popovich, who's been coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs since 1996.

In the NHL alone, there had been 170 coaching changes since Ruff was hired on July 21, 1997.

"I'm disappointed for myself. I'm disappointed for Lindy. And when I see the players, I'm disappointed for them, too." Regier said. "We should all be disappointed. As far as anger, we have too much work to do."

The decision to fire Ruff came shortly after he oversaw a 90-minute practice and was preparing to travel with the team for Thursday's game at Toronto.

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 is in his second season with the Rochester Americans. He was scheduled to arrive in Buffalo on Wednesday evening and then join Regier in traveling to Toronto for his first meeting with Sabres players.

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 taking over in Rochester, 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).

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