When Steve Ott was reunited with his mobile phone after practice, he couldn’t count the number of text messages waiting for him.
Word had spread that Ted Nolan had taken over as the Buffalo Sabres’ interim head coach and the world wanted to talk to Ott about it.
“I looked at my phone after practice real quick and I had players from all over the league texting me right away saying how a great a guy he is and how you want to work for him,” Ott said. “If that gives any motivation to the guys in the room, you want to go through the wall for your coach and he’s one of those guys.”
After a 30-minute practice and an initial meet and greet with their new head coach, there were a few themes to the Sabres’ locker room:
• Everyone heard that Nolan was a great coach to work for.
• Everyone needs to work hard and compete to succeed under Nolan’s system.
• Everyone wished Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier good luck but everyone knew the organization needed a change.
“It’s pretty surprising to wake up to,” Ryan Miller said. “You do feel bad for Darcy and Ron. You don’t like to see people losing their job.
“I have a lot of respect for Darcy. He’s believed in me over the course of my career. I wish him the best. Hopefully this is a situation for the Sabres as an organization to kinda reset a little bit. Darcy has been here a long time. Maybe it’s time for a little bit different perspective and some other kind of influence coming in.”
“I didn’t really expect it, but obviously I’ve been around a few teams over the years and when things aren’t going well, there’s going to be change,” said 10-year NHL veteran Christian Ehrhoff. “I think Ron got put in a tough position. For a first-year coach it was just tough for him coming in here. I wish him and Darcy all the best. You know Ted is going to have a little different approach. I think moving forward that can help us.”
The only player on the roster familiar with Nolan’s approach is 19-year-old center Zemgus Girgensons, who played for Nolan and Latvia in last spring’s World Championships.
“It was not for that long in the world championship but he expects every guy to give his best,” Girgensons said. “I think it’s a new beginning.”
Nolan said he could sense the players were ready for something new. In his first practice with the team he spent most of the time observing and chatting, trying to get to know players and understand where they are at.
“I think there’s a lot of frustration,” Nolan said. “When you’re losing more than you’re wining it leads to frustration. … You don’t feel good about coming to the rink. We want the guys to feel good about coming here, working on their craft and competing. When you compete it’s a lot of fun.”
Miller said he understands the nature of professional sports. When a team falls on hard times, it is time to make changes in the front office and coaching staff. But he noted the players have a responsibility in this as well.
“Really it’s up to the players to go out and execute and perform,” Miller said. “No matter how many young guys we have, you have to find ways to win and perform. That’s the nature of being an NHL player. You can’t use excuses. A lot of this is on the players.
“I especially feel bad for Ron, who was just getting his start and getting his feet under him. He was trying to clean up a lot of different areas on the ice. I thought he’s a good coach, but we’re going to go in a different direction here and hopefully it’s a little bit of a wake-up call for everybody.”