BUFFALO – Pat LaFontaine was crossing the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge on Tuesday when a customs official realized the former Sabres superstar was in the car.
“He said, ‘You should be running the Sabres,” LaFontaine said this morning inside the First Niagara Center.
Little did that official know LaFontaine was about to become the Sabres’ new president of hockey operations.
In a stunning move today, the 4-15-1 club fired Darcy Regier, the general manager since 1997, and Ron Rolston, who became the regular coach in May, and named popular former Sabres coach Ted Nolan the interim coach the rest of the season.
“It’s interesting how things come full circle,” said LaFontaine, who will begin searching for a general manager.
Why now? Why didn’t this happen when owner Terry Pegula purchased the team or when the Sabres missed the playoffs the last two seasons?
“I just decided,” Pegula said. “That’s the only answer I can give you. When you work together, sometimes you get to the point a change is needed. Darcy Regier had a heck of a run with the Buffalo Sabres. … It’s not like he was a failure.”
But he was wildly unpopular with a disenchanted fan base and had created the NHL’s worst team, helping the Sabres become a laughingstock.
LaFontaine, who played under Nolan, believes he will restore pride.
“I’ve asked Teddy to come in right now, just restore what we believe, just change the culture right now, get everybody on board,” LaFontaine said.
Nolan, who was only offered a one-year contract by Regier after winning the Jack Adams Award in 1996-97, broke down while discussing his return.
“If I had a perfect crystal ball to pick one place that I would like to (coach), this would certainly (be a place) that I can do it, especially with the people,” Nolan said.
This was a quick process. LaFontaine said he first met with Pegula 10 days ago.
“One thing led to another, and it’s like, ‘Wow, this guy’s pretty impressive,’” Pegula said.
Now, LaFontaine’s running the Sabres.
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