Ron Rolston will make his NHL coaching debut tonight in Toronto. ©2013, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres tab Rolston to replace Ruff on interim basis

BUFFALO – When word began spreading Wednesday the Sabres had fired Lindy Ruff, the hockey world immediately started wondering who would succeed the NHL’s longest-tenured coach.

Would the Sabres hire an unproven young NHL assistant or an AHL coach? Would they try to make a big splash? Or would they simply turn to James Patrick, Ruff’s most-trusted assistant?

The Sabres’ decision to promote Rochester Americans coach Ron Rolston and award him the interim label for the rest of the season surprised some observers.

The 46-year-old has no NHL coaching or playing experience. The Sabres recruited him from Team USA’s development program in 2011 to lead their top affiliate club. He’s still new to the professional game, having coached only 124 AHL games.

But if Rolston impresses, he could take over for Ruff permanently.

“It will provide him and us an opportunity to get to know each other,” Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said Wednesday inside the First Niagara Center. “Assuming things go well, he will have an opportunity to become the head coach.”

Regier drove up to Toronto, where the Sabres play the Maple Leafs tonight, with Rolston on Wednesday night. The to two planned discuss how Rolston would handle Ruff’s coaching staff.

Rolston brings a new style.

“He will coach his way, and it is different,” Regier said. “Is it drastically different? Probably not. But there are some differences.”

Regier added: “His teams play with structure, discipline, they have a work ethic. He has a good hockey club down there right now.”

Rolston coached four current Sabres with the Amerks. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller played on one of Rolston’s Michigan select teams as a teenager.

“There’s a familiarity with him in that regard,” Miller told Sportsnet in Toronto. “ … He’s a smart guy and we’ll see what he can do with this crew.”

Rolston played collegiately at Michigan Tech before serving as an NCAA assistant coach at Lake Superior State, Clarkson, Harvard and Boston College.

Rolston’s brother, Brian, recently retired after 1,256 NHL games.

The Sabres waived gritty forward Cody McCormick on Wednesday and recalled center Kevin Porter from Rochester, where the 26-year-old Amerks captain had 15 goals and 44 points in 48 games.

Teams have until noon today to claim the 29-year-old McCormick, who plays center and wing and can take a regular shift and fight.

McCormick was practicing Wednesday before the Sabres pulled him off the ice.

Tough guy John Scott and agitator Patrick Kaleta, two wingers, made McCormick expendable, Ruff said before he was fired.

McCormick played 81 games two years ago, emerging as an asset while compiling eight goals, 20 points and 142 penalty minutes. He was by far the Sabres’ best fighter.

“He’s a warrior, just plain and simple. The guy’s a warrior,” Sabres winger Steve Ott said. “It’s tough when he’s willing to fight and lay his body and his game on the line for the guys in here. When there’s lack of success, it’s always hard to see when it’s put upon a different teammate.”

But McCormick struggled last season after earning a three-year, $3.6 million contract. He battled concussions and a finger injury that bothered him into the current season.

He has only one goal and four points in 58 games over the last two years, including zero points in eight contests this season.

He’s been a frequent healthy scratch, although he played the last two games and fought Pittsburgh’s Tanner Glass on Sunday.

Sabres owner Terry Pegula released the following statement after Ruff’s firing: “The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach but also as a person. His long tenure with the Sabres has ended. His qualities have made this decision very difficult. I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always.”

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