Buffalo Sabres: The Moment Lindy Ruff Became One of Buffalo's Own
Was the change needed? Without a doubt.
Ruff's 16 years certainly had its ups and downs, but it just seemed that the team wasn't responding to him anymore. The calls for him to be fired began a few years ago, but they really did not gain any traction until last season's awful December and January, which saw the Sabres fall to 15th in the Eastern Conference for a couple games.
But beyond the product on the ice, when you have someone in such a prominent position around for 16 years, they find a way to indoctrinate themselves into your lives.
If anything can be said about Lindy Ruff, it's that he fit the Buffalo persona perfectly.
He never backed down from the challenge that was the Sabres' roster for many years. He was hardened by so many people telling him how bad his city and team were . He was rough around the edges and wore his emotions on his sleeve most nights.
Simply, he fit in perfectly in Buffalo. The fans loved him, and most still do. And despite all the memorable moments in this 16-year love affair, there is one moment that sticks out above all others.
In fact, it occurred six years ago today.
The Sabres were the class of the Eastern Conference and their rivalry with the Ottawa Senators was at its peak, having beaten them four games to one in the previous year's Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The game was extremely fast-paced, as the Sens had their stellar line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley at the time, and the Sabres were leading 3-2 about five minutes into the second period. That's when Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil came across the slot with a borderline elbow to the head of then-Sabres captain Chris Drury.
Drury was dazed on the hit, with the iconic shot of him sitting awkwardly on the ice with a pool of blood under his head ingrained in so many Sabres fans' minds.
The Sabres and Ruff took exception to this, and with the benefit of having the last change as the home team, sent Patrick Kaleta, Adam Mair and Andrew Peters out on the ice against the Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley line.
Then chaos reigned.
Mair jumped Spezza. Heatley took a baseball swing at Peters' head. Marty Biron "fought" Ray Emery. Spezza ducked into the referee's arms to avoid fighting Peters.
Then came the part when every single Sabres fans was on Team Ruff.
The Senators' coach at the time (and general manager) Bryan Murray started screaming at Ruff from his bench. After a minute, Ruff responded, yelling across the broadcasting gap between the benches at Murray and eventually delivering the line that would find its way onto t-shirts and signs for years to come:
"Don't go after our [expletive] captain."
Ruff was suspended for a game and fined $10,000, which the City of Buffalo raised for him (it was donated to charity). But what stood out was the lengths Ruff went to protect his team, especially on a team that was known for its offensive proclivity and not its "toughness."
A lot of Sabres fans can tell you where they were for that game and how they felt after it. Most probably won't be able to tell you the Sabres ended up winning a barnburner 6-5 in a shootout, but that didn't matter. Lindy Ruff had essentially ascended to deity status in Buffalo.
And despite the lows of the past two seasons and the fact that it was probably his time, that's how Lindy should be remembered.
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