Ron Rolston talks after Wednesday's win. ©2013, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Ron Rolston believes NHL wants coaches to think about enforcer use

BUFFALO – Now, in the wake of Sunday’s mega brawl in Toronto and the fine he received, coaches will think about using their enforcers, Sabres coach Ron Rolston said.

“It’ll definitely be in the mindset,” Rolston, who was fined a reported $10,000 by the NHL for his role, said Wednesday prior to the Sabres’ 3-0 exhibition win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. “They don’t want altercations like that and how it escalated. They are just concerned with that and want all coaches in the future to be mindful of that.”

Tuesday’s fine for “player selection and team conduct” certainly shocked the hockey world. Longtime observers couldn’t recall a similar fine.

“I’m not going to go into a long explanation on it,” Rolston said inside the First Niagara Center. “It’s part of what they do, and they have to make a decision on what’s best for the league. Those are things we can control.”

After the Sabres’ Corey Tropp and the Maple Leafs’ Jamie Devane fought 10:01 into the third period, Rolston left John Scott, who had already played 8:37 in the exhibition game, on the ice. The tough guy then went after Leafs star Phil Kessel before the faceoff, igniting a huge melee.

“I was pretty surprised,” Scott said about the fine. “I didn’t expect that.”

He added: “I think it’s foreign territory as far as player selection and coaches getting fined.”

Sabres general manager Darcy Regier, who spoke to a couple of the league’s higher-ups, said the fine surprised him.

“I think there was concern about the incident on a league level,” he said.

Rolston said Tropp suffered a broken jaw and a concussion and is out indefinitely. He estimated the winger might be sidelined five or six weeks. Tropp has already recovered from the concussion, he said.

The Sabres didn’t like the 6-foot-5 Devane knocking out and bloodying someone five inches shorter.

Rolston, who said he gave Scott no orders, believes the fine is related to Scott’s reputation and a 6-foot-8 enforcer going after a smaller skill player.

“But he had played the whole game and played well,” Rolston said about Scott.

Rolston coached Kessel with Team USA’s development program.

“My remarks were I would never send a player out to go after another player to start with, let alone somebody that you had coached in the past,” Rolston said. “So it was just an unfortunate situation.”

The two ferocious, two-handed stick whacks Kessel used to fend off Scott earned the winger a three-game exhibition suspension Tuesday. Kessel can’t return until the Leafs’ regular-season opener.

Does fining a coach for leaving a player on the ice that had played throughout the game set a dangerous precedent?

“Johnny’s a very good player for us, not only his toughness, obviously,” Sabres winger Steve Ott said. “But he does a lot of good things defensively. He does a lot of good things that create space for other guys. In those type of situations, we need him to play in the middle of periods, and especially sometimes late in games.

“So you can’t have a precedent on when you’re going to put a guy out or when you can’t put a guy out. … There was no intention of creating a scene. It was more or less the instinct of a hockey player being a hockey player.”

Ott couldn’t resist joking about Kessel’s suspension.

“I’m sure he’s pretty excited to be missing the rest of the preseason,” he said. “Let’s be honest here.”

Tropp, meanwhile, was having a strong camp and likely would’ve cracked the Sabres’ opening-night lineup. The 24-year-old missed most of last season after tearing up his knee playing for Rochester opening night.

Rolston said Tropp was “in the right mindset” this year.

“I think that’s one of the most unfortunate things about the incident in Toronto is the fact that he missed the whole year last year with an injury,” Rolston said.

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