BUFFALO, N.Y. – The pain from three broken ribs was too much to allow Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff to attend practice Tuesday. It wasn’t enough to prevent Ruff from cracking a few jokes.
“He still has his sense of humour,” assistant coach James Patrick said. “He was telling jokes in the hospital yesterday. He told the nurse that he had to cancel his dance lesson.”
Ruff’s dancing and coaching days are on hold a day after he was upended by defenceman Jordan Leopold in an on-ice collision during practice.
General manager Darcy Regier listed Ruff as day to day, while announcing that Patrick is taking over on an interim basis. That includes the possibility of Patrick coaching the Sabres in their home game against Boston on Wednesday.
Still in severe pain, having difficulty speaking and unable to get much sleep, Ruff stayed home, leaving Patrick to run practice. Ruff was strong enough to hold an early morning conference call with his staff. And the assistant coaches are planning to hold another meeting with Ruff at his home later in the day.
“Based on this morning, it’s certainly very painful. He was in a lot of pain,” Regier said. “But he was in good spirits”
Though there’s a possibility Ruff will be able to attend the game Wednesday, it’s unlikely he’ll be behind the bench. Regier expressed concern that Ruff’s movements are limited as a result of the injury, which would make it difficult for him to avoid an errant puck.
The 51-year-old Ruff was hurt late in practice during a puck-chase drill when Leopold was trying to cut off forward Ville Leino. Ruff was standing in the middle of the ice looking the other way when Leopold lost his footing and went sliding head first on his stomach and crashed into the back of his coach’s skates.
Ruff fell backward and landed on his right side with a heavy thud. He was in pain as he was escorted off the ice, and spent much of the afternoon being treated at a hospital before being released.
Several onlookers said Ruff was fortunate his head didn’t strike the ice when he fell.
Ruff’s injury is the latest bizarre twist to occur in a Sabres season in which very little has gone right. A rash of injuries have forced every player but captain Jason Pominville to miss at least one game leaving the Sabres (22-24-6) sitting in 13th place in the Eastern Conference.
“Shake your head,” Pominville said. “I mean, throughout the season, you expect to have players miss practices and stuff like that. But to have a coach not out there because of an injury during practice is a first. I’ve never seen it happen.”
Ruff wasn’t the only NHL coach to get hurt on Monday. The Edmonton Oilers lost 6-3 at Toronto without coach Tom Renney, who stayed at the team hotel after being struck in the head by puck during the morning skate.
Saying, “Misery enjoys company,” Regier said Ruff received a sympathetic text from Renney.
Patrick is prepared to take over as coach for as long as necessary. He’s a former NHL defenceman, who is in his sixth season as a Sabres assistant.
“We’re going to prepare the team like normal,” Patrick said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get ready to win a game tomorrow. And if (Ruff) isn’t behind the bench, we’re confident that we can handle it.”
The Sabres are at least staying close to home, playing eight of their next nine games in Buffalo.
In his 14th season with the Sabres, Ruff is the team’s winningest and longest-serving coach. He last missed a game in March 2006, when he stayed home in Buffalo to be with his daughter Madeleine, who was ill.
In speaking to Ruff, Patrick can tell how difficult it is for him to be away from his team.
“It’s killing him,” said Patrick, who was a teammate of Ruff’s with the New York Rangers. “It’s killing him because he is the pulse and the heartbeat of our team. He’s our leader. He’s in a lot of pain, but he feels sick that he can’t be here.”
Patrick knew Ruff was seriously hurt when he remained on the ice and had a team trainer tend to him.
“I thought he was kidding for about the first 5-7 seconds,” Patrick said. “And then when he wasn’t getting up, I said, ‘Holy smokes, that’s got to be painful because he is as tough as there is.”