Lindy Ruff might be new to the IIHF World Hockey Championship, but he already fully understands the mixed feelings that most people bring to the event.
“I’m doing great in one sense and awful in another,” Ruff said Sunday after being named Canada’s coach for the tournament.
It’s the first ever national team assignment for the longest-tenured coach in the NHL.
Even though the job is something Ruff is extremely proud of, he knows it would never have been his if the Buffalo Sabres made the playoffs. One of his first tasks will be putting that disappointment behind him before travelling to Switzerland with the Canadian team.
“In one sense, it’s an opportunity that you hope you don’t have very often,” said Ruff. “In another sense, when you don’t make (the playoffs), to be involved is a tremendous honour. And I look at it that way.
“I’m going to relish every minute of this along with our other coaches.”
Ruff just completed his 11th season with the Sabres and will have another longtime NHL coach as one of his assistants – Nashville’s Barry Trotz. The staff will be rounded out with Dave Tippett of the Dallas Stars.
The Canadian team’s initial roster should be finalized on Monday or Tuesday and the players will travel to Europe next weekend.
With the team’s first game against Belarus on April 24, there isn’t a whole lot of time for Ruff to get prepared. He plans to watch some tape from past world championships to get a better sense of the international game and will rely heavily on those around him.
“It’s a three-man job,” said Ruff. “We’re going to have to draw on every resource – from some of the Hockey Canada personnel that have been over there before to trainers that have been through it all.”
One man who has no concern about Ruff’s lack of international coaching experience is Doug Armstrong. The Canadian team’s general manager has long admired the Sabres coach and believes he deserves this kind of opportunity.
“I’ve always liked the way Lindy’s teams have played,” said Armstrong. “They play with an up-tempo style. I always find that he seems to get the most out of his players.
“I just think he’s going to do a really good job of bringing this team together quickly.”
As much as anything, that will probably dictate how successful the Canadian team is.
The country has had no shortage of recent success at the event, with appearances in the gold-medal game five of the last six years. Canada settled for silver last year in Quebec after losing to an extremely talented Russian team in the final.
Armstrong has been burning up the phone lines in recent days in an effort to finalize his roster for this year’s event. He didn’t start contacting players until the NHL playoff picture came fully into view.
“It was an ever-changing landscape,” said Armstrong. “The dartboard kept moving on these playoff races. Things started to clear up on Thursday or Friday.
“We really felt comfortable that we’re going to have a good mix of veteran players and some young players. There’s going to be some very young players on this team.”
A few of the veterans will be returning for a second straight year – Martin St. Louis, Dany Heatley and Shane Doan have all committed.
Armstrong’s plan is to leave a few spots open on his roster so that he can add players after the end of the first round of the NHL playoffs. He’ll likely leave room for a forward, defenceman and goalie.
In the meantime, Ruff plans to go “full steam ahead” in preparation for the tournament – no matter who ends up playing for him.
“It’s a little intimidating, especially on the heels of coming off a disappointing finish for our team,” he said. “Not making the playoffs and dealing with that disappointment then trying to deal with the excitement of another task.”
Even though he’s spent more than a decade as an NHL coach, Ruff believes there’s still plenty to learn. That could end up being one of the side benefits from his first world championship.
“I think these experiences really do lend to improving yourself as a coach,” said Ruff. “New ideas, new ways of looking at things, new ways of approaching different situations in a game.
“You’re standing behind a bench with a couple coaches that have tremendous respect in our league and I have tremendous respect for. I just think it’s going to be a great experience.”