Sabres fire Ruff; Rolston is the interim coach

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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).

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

Rolston went 36-26-10-4 last season in leading Rochester to the playoffs. This season, the Americans (27-18-2-1) are in second in the North Division and sixth in the Western Conference.

“His teams play with structure, discipline. They have a work ethic,” Regier said, of Rolston. “He has them playing very good hockey, so I think you’ll see some of those traits.”

Regier said Rolston will have input on the status of the Sabres current assistant coaches.

The news of Ruff’s firing came as a surprise only because Sabres management, including team president Ted Black, had spent much of the past week voicing 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.”

Under Ruff, the Sabres made the playoffs in each of his first four seasons and eight times overall. That included a surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1999, when Buffalo was eliminated by Dallas in six games.

The Sabres, however, haven’t been the same since reaching the Eastern Conference finals _ losing both times _ in both 2006 and `07. Buffalo has missed the playoffs in three of the past five seasons.

Last season, the Sabres were one of the NHL’s biggest busts in missing the playoffs with a high-priced roster. The previous offseason, Pegula committed nearly $140 million in salary to add talent and re-sign players.

The high expectations coupled with the team’s slow start in a lockout-shortened 48-game season were both factors in Ruff’s dismissal.

Regier acknowledged that Ruff was having difficulty identifying the reasons behind the Sabres struggles. At no point, Regier said, did he feel players had tuned out their coach.

“Communication has never been better, so there were huge strides he had done in that regard,” Regier said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to the ice.”

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