Sabres coach Ruff ready for NHL season _ at last

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm •  Published: January 9, 2013

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The only thing missing on coach Lindy Ruff's calendar is the day when the Buffalo Sabres can open training camp now that an NHL labor agreement is nearly in place.

Otherwise, Ruff's plans are firmly in order in preparing for a tight turnaround in which the Sabres — and everyone else — will have little time to be ready for a regular season expected to open within 10 days.

"I kept saying that we would be playing. I just thought it would be utter craziness if we didn't," Ruff said Wednesday. "I just felt it would get done. ... Now our job is to come out firing and be entertaining."

In his first comments since a tentative agreement was reached Sunday to end the four-month lockout, Ruff already has two practice schedules drawn up. One is in the event training camp opens Sunday, and another if it's pushed back a day.

With no time for the NHL to squeeze in a preseason schedule, Ruff raised the possibility of having the Sabres play a scrimmage against Rochester, their American Hockey League affiliate.

And Ruff's already penciled in his top three lines.

With a 565-422-161 record, Ruff is the Sabres' winningest coach. Entering his 16th year in Buffalo, he's also the NHL's longest active serving coach with one team.

His experience helps, as does overseeing a roster that returns mostly intact. It's a familiarity that leads Ruff to believe the Sabres might have an early edge.

"It really is going to be playing the way we know how to play," he said. "We're just going to build off that late rally we had last year."

It's been nine months since the Sabres last played. They're coming off an up-and-down season in which a rash of injuries played a key factor in the team missing the playoffs.

Buffalo (39-32-11) finished ninth in the Eastern Conference and was regarded as one of the NHL's biggest underachievers because of a high-priced lineup.

When healthy, the Sabres were competitive, particularly down the stretch in which they closed 15-5-4.

Ruff intends to have Cody Hodgson, who opened this season in Rochester, center high-scoring wingers Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Then there's the No. 2 line, in which Tyler Ennis will center Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno. Over a 13-game late-season stretch, the trio combined for 21 goals and 49 points.

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