When I woke up and looked at Twitter this morning, I admit, I was feeling a little above it all. People were either in a rage or a funk, and it seemed pointless to me. I’m down with getting some extra happiness out of sports - Who can’t use more things to be happy about? - but negative feelings? No dice. I watch sports for fun. When they stop being fun, I’ll find something else to do with my time.
And then this afternoon, as I was packing up my stuff in class, the girl in front of me said, “Oh, my God, Lindy Ruff is fired!” I actually froze for a long second. I sat back down, opened my iPad, and pulled up Twitter. I stared at the screen, every tweet about Lindy getting fired. And finally, I felt genuinely sad about this craptacular season.
I think most of us would agree that it was long past time for Lindy Ruff to get fired. As much as my head knew that, however, I could never quite make it connect to my heart. No matter how ineffective Lindy had become behind the bench, I still loved him. My affection for him was only partly based on hockey anyway. I just like him. He's smart, he's honest, and he is, maybe most importantly, funny as freaking heck. When I think of the 2006 and the 2007 playoffs, I think of the players and the big goals and the livewire energy of the city, but I also think of Lindy sparring with Bryan Murray and Peter Laviolette.
I loved how he seemed to get them all wound up, a crooked grin on his face the whole time. It was a game, he knew it was a game, and he was awesome at playing it. I loved how quick and clever he was, and I loved when he delivered a line with just enough dryness that sometimes you weren't sure if he was serious or not. I loved when fans of other teams took offense to something he said in sarcastic jest.
I also loved how strong the association was between Lindy and Buffalo. When people thought of one, they thought of the other. There was a lot of speculation that the Golisano ownership really handcuffed Lindy and Darcy Regier and Lindy seemed to take some crap for not leaving if that was the case. Certainly he had the opportunity to go somewhere else and probably make a lot of money. It never bothered me that he stuck around though. I’ve stayed in jobs even when I didn’t love the management because I loved everything else about it. I always got the feeling that was the case for Lindy. He obviously really enjoyed working with Darcy. He clearly got attached to a lot of the players who were with him for a long time.
And there’s no doubt he loved living in Buffalo.
How many people do you know who aren’t entirely happy with their job situations but are sticking it out because they don’t want to leave Buffalo? I know a lot of people who are doing that. Heck, of all the Buffalo things about Lindy, that might be the most Buffalo thing of all. Even when it made sense for him to leave, he didn’t do it. I think his heart was here, just like ours are.
I didn’t grow up with hockey. For a sports-loving girl to find a brand new sport to love in her twenties was pretty awesome. No matter what happens from here on out, that 2005-2008 era will always be extra special for me. There are a handful of names and faces that will, for the rest of my life, take me right back there. In twenty years, when I’m listening to a highlight featuring the analysis of Jim Lorentz, I’ll sigh happily and think, “Man, I learned everything I know about hockey from listening to Jim Lorentz.” When the Pegulas get all the Sabres alumni together for the 50th anniversary of the franchise, my heart will go a little softer when Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman, and Jochen Hecht stroll by. I mean, come on, those Scandinavians only get better looking with age and I can already imagine Jochen with salt and pepper hair.
They’re not the most important Sabres of that period, but they’re the ones that were special to me. I’ve written this many, many times before: When I fell in love with the Sabres, I finally fell in love with Buffalo. I finally felt like I belonged here. Those guys will always remind me of that time.
Above all of them, however, is Lindy. After Jim, after Hank, after Toni, after pretty much everyone, Lindy was still here. He’s the Sabres to me. He’s Buffalo to me. When the Sabres finally do win the Stanley Cup, in the midst of all the crazed revelry, there will be a few long seconds when I think, “Man, I wish Lindy was here.” When he finally wins a Stanley Cup somewhere else, I’ll sit on my couch, watching him slide around the ice looking for someone to hug, and I’ll get choked up on his behalf. I really wanted it to be a guy in a Sabres jersey that he was hugging. I know I’m not alone there. Part of me is a little worried that I’m about to realize that all this time, I’ve actually been a Lindy Ruff fan more than a Buffalo Sabres fan.
Maybe tomorrow I can think more about what this means for the franchise going forward, whether Darcy should stick around, what players should get a chance with the new coach and what players should follow Lindy out the door. But for tonight, I’m going to think about that first blush of new love and how Lindy Ruff was right in the middle of all of it. If I had to look at someone’s mug for fifteen years, I’m glad it was his. Lindy Ruff is dead. Long live Lindy Ruff.