Joe Sacco has the coaching bug. After getting fired by the Colorado Avalanche in April, he quickly decided he wasn’t sitting on the sidelines and collecting the money in the final year of his contract.
He looked around for another NHL job, interviewing for the Vancouver post that went to John Tortorella. He thought about AHL openings and then decided to pursue an NHL assistant’s spot. In Colorado, he perennially coached one of the NHL’s youngest teams and said that’s one reason he was attracted to joining Ron Rolston’s staff with the Buffalo Sabres.
“It seemed to be a really good fit and I thought it was the best situation for me moving forward,” Sacco told The News by phone Wednesday from Denver, a day after he was hired by the Sabres. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity of working with Ron. I’ve never worked with him but we know some of the same people from USA Hockey. Sitting down with him and talking about philosophies was interesting.
“I’m there to support Ron 100 percent and make sure we have success as a team. … I can learn from my experiences of dealing with younger players and the hurdles they’ll face dealing with a long season. You can help guys through those situations.”
Sacco, 44, played 738 NHL games for five teams from 1990-2003 and started his coaching career as an AHL assistant in 2005. He was head coach of Colorado’s Cleveland affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, for two years and was then named head coach of the Avalanche in 2009. He led Colorado to the playoffs in his first season before not qualifying the next three years.
Sacco said he signed a multi-year contract, believed to be two years. He said it will be an interesting adjustment going back to being a second-in-command on the bench and serving in a different role with players.
“You want them to know that as a staff, you’re there for them and you’re a resource,” he said. “That’s one of the things we wanted them to understand in Colorado. Beyond the game, you try to personalize relationships with our players.
“As a head coach, there’s obviously more space between you and the players. As an assistant, I can dig in and really know these players more on a one-on-one basis. That excites me because it’s something I haven’t had in a while.”
Sacco said he expect to be in charge of one aspect of the Sabres’ special teams and he has had success with the power play in Colorado. Although the Avalanche were just 24th in the NHL last season, his previous three years they were ranked 15th, 11th and ninth.
One of Sacco’s immediate tasks is to grab some popcorn and pop in last year’s Sabres game videos, especially ones later in the season when Rolston was the coach and several young players were in the lineup. NHL teams only played within their conference last season so the Avalanche didn’t play Buffalo – or see the Sabres in footage of upcoming opponents.
“I need to catch up on some of the players Buffalo had, especially some of the new younger players they have in the lineup,” he said.
The Sabres officially announced a new deal with veteran center Matt Ellis, one that General Manager Darcy Regier said was close on Tuesday. It’s a two-year, two-way deal, with Ellis expected to captain the Rochester Americans. Ellis will make $550,000 if in the NHL and $300,000 in the AHL.
Ellis, 31, played in six games with the Sabres last year and 32 with Rochester, collecting seven goals and five assists there.
The Sabres announced their seven-game preseason schedule Wednesday, featuring three games at home – Sept. 19 vs. Carolina, Sept. 21 vs. Toronto and Sept. 25 vs. Columbus.
Road games are Sept. 15 at Montreal, Sept. 17 at Columbus, Sept. 22 at Toronto and the finale, Sept. 27 at Carolina. All games, home and away, are at 7 p.m.
The team also firmed up its schedule for next week’s three-day development camp downtown. The highlight is the Blue-Gold scrimmage on July 12 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $10 and include a postgame concert by 10,000 Maniacs after the scrimmage at Canalside. On Wednesday, one group will skate from 10:30 a.m.-noon with another going 3-4:30. On Thursday July 11, times are 10:30-noon and 2:15-3:30.