Ron Rolston’s long search for an assistant included several resume requirements. The Buffalo Sabres’ coach wanted a man with experience on the bench, a passion to teach and a quality work ethic.
He ended up hiring someone with all of those. As a special bonus, the newcomer has an NHL Coach of the Year nomination, too.
Joe Sacco, the former Colorado bench boss who was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award in 2009-10, has joined the Sabres as Rolston’s assistant. He’s been added to a staff that includes holdovers Teppo Numminen and goaltending coach Jim Corsi.
The Avalanche fired Sacco in April after going 16-25-7. He guided the Avs to the playoffs in his trophy-nominated first season, going 43-30-9 with a club that had just finished last in the Northwest Division. He failed to reach the postseason in his final three years and finished 130-134-30.
Sacco interviewed for jobs as a head coach around the NHL before deciding to join Buffalo as an assistant.
“He was looking for the right fit of where he wanted to continue, and I think he was really comfortable upon leaving here what direction this organization was going,” Rolston said Tuesday in First Niagara Center.
“He’d worked for Colorado that had a lot of young players in a similar situation in terms of building and developing and teaching. He was excited about that here, to be able to come in and really put his stamp on things. That was important. I think it’ll be a great fit.”
Rolston said in early May he figured it would take a week to build a staff, but his initial choices declined. Among them, according to a source, was Newell Brown, who spent the past three seasons as Vancouver’s power-play specialist and has also worked for Columbus, Anaheim and Chicago.
Sacco is a quality fallback option. He coached the United States to a bronze medal at the world championships this spring.
“It kind of dragged on, but we wanted to make sure we did the right thing,” Rolston said. “We wanted to make sure we were patient so we got the right person, and I think we did.”
Rolston and Sacco have never worked together, but they almost did. Both were named as assistants to Scott Gordon for the United States’ 2010 world championship team, but Rolston stayed home for family reasons.
The 44-year-old Sacco played 13 seasons in the NHL, totaling 738 games with Toronto, Anaheim, the New York Islanders, Washington and Philadelphia.
“He was a heart-and-soul player, somebody you could depend on every night,” Rolston said. “Those are some of the same qualities we’re asking for from our guys.”
Rolston said he’ll add one more assistant. The jobs opened in May when Rolston fired James Patrick and Kevyn Adams, holdovers from Lindy Ruff’s staff.
“They were both outstanding when I got here and all the way through,” Rolston said. “It was just part of change. Nothing else. They’re both outstanding people, both outstanding coaches, lot of character. They were outstanding in the transition for me coming from Rochester to here. It was just more of changing things.”