on May 7, 2013 - 8:12 AM
, updated May 7, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Ron Rolston envisioned a day when he could run practice rather than run for a plane. He wanted to manage power plays instead of players’ energy levels. He dreamed of teaching rather than reacting.
His wishes have been granted.
Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier removed the interim tag from Rolston’s head coaching title Tuesday and announced the 46-year-old is staying in Buffalo.
Rolston is excited to experience a full offseason, normal training camp and routine schedule rather than the whirlwind, lockout-altered pace he faced after stepping behind the bench in February.
“That’s a big positive,” Rolston said in First Niagara Center. “You can start from a camp and that’s where it gets back to the one-on-one and getting to know the players better in a longer season and having more time to work with them.
“That provides us as an organization and the coaching staff the ability to be better prepared and to continue on the path where guys will understand even more so than they did this year.”
Rolston was going to stay in the Sabres’ organization one way or another. Regier gave him a multiyear contract extension when Rolston agreed to replace deposed coach Lindy Ruff 17 games into the season, so it was just a matter of determining whether Rolston would stay in Buffalo or return to Rochester.
As Regier watched Rolston coach the Sabres to a 15-11-5 record, the GM decided the interim tag was no longer necessary. A trip back to the Amerks was out of the question, too.
“I was very impressed with the work he did individually and with the players,” Regier said. “I look forward to him continuing that.”
Rolston would have been OK with heading back to the American Hockey League, where he spent a season and a half, but he’s much happier the Sabres’ interview process included him and only him.
“The transition was quick, but when you put yourself in situations, this doesn’t come overnight,” Rolston said. “It’s a process where it’s been 23 years coaching, and it’s a profession, it’s a passion.
“It’s starting from the college level and learning from the coaches that I had an opportunity to learn from and then moved to being a head coach. You keep putting yourself in situations, getting opportunities, and then it’s what you do with those opportunities.
“It was accelerated, yes, but if you keep putting yourself in those opportunities and doing the job and making the place that you are at better, then things seem to happen in a positive manner.”
Regier saw enough positives to scrap his original plan of an open search.
“When we first brought Ron in as the interim coach, that was the intention, to interview other candidates,” Regier said. “As it progressed and seeing Ron’s interaction with the team, both as a teacher and a motivator, as we moved through the season for me personally it became more and more evident that he was a very good fit, not only for the present but for the future.”
The goal for both is to create a studious atmosphere in Sabreland. Rolston came to the organization with a reputation for being a teacher after previous jobs with Harvard, Boston College and the U.S. National Team Development Program. The Sabres were the youngest team in the NHL at times this season, and they’re likely to retain the title next year.
“We’re a sport that I believe can do a lot more than we currently do, and culturally we need to do a lot more than we currently do with respect to us teaching and players learning,” said Regier, who found an ideological match in Rolston. “He didn’t have to be convinced that that work was necessary. He had already done it and been rewarded for it and had won gold medals and had grown young kids quickly and fully. It’s something we need to move to professional hockey. We’re going to continue to advance it.”
Rolston’s first step is determining his assistant coaches, a process he estimated may take a week. Ruff’s assistants – notably James Patrick, Teppo Numminen, Kevyn Adams and Jim Corsi – stayed after the longtime coach was fired. Rolston likely will want his own staff, which could include Amerks interim coach Chadd Cassidy.
“Whether it was James or Kevyn or Teppo or Jim Corsi, just the quality of person there was outstanding,” Rolston said. “Their professionalism in making the transition for me was exceptional. Certainly, that’s appreciated. We’re going to continue to evaluate that and where we want to move forward and what’s the best fit for the team and the personnel that we have.”
Regier said a benefit of having Rolston in place is it lets the organization get to work on next season immediately. The Sabres finished 22nd out of 30 teams, ranked 29th on the power play and 26th in penalty killing, so they need the time.
“There’s a lot of positive things in terms of the personnel in the organization, young players in the organization,” Rolston said, “but there’s going to have to be some patience to them maturing.”
“You’re looking at a team next year that’s a playoff-caliber team that we’ll have here. ... We want to be a playoff team, but at the end of the day we want to be a playoff team that can make long runs and do what we want to do here, and that’s to win a Stanley Cup.”