Coach Lindy Ruff leads Dallas' morning skate. ©2013, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Stars coach Lindy Ruff enjoying Dallas, ready to face Sabres for first time

BUFFALO – Lindy Ruff still catches himself.

At times, the Dallas Stars’ coach still refers to the Sabres, the team he coached for 15 seasons, as “we.”

“I’ve slipped up the odd time with that one,” Ruff, whose Stars face the Sabres tonight, said this afternoon inside the First Niagara, his first visit back since his Feb. 20 dismissal.

Other times, Ruff will thumb to the Sabres’ statistics page instead of Dallas’.

Breaking old habits can be tough.

“I tried to avoid any talk about the former team,” Ruff said inside a media room with the Sabres’ podium draped in black and a green Stars background behind him. “Actually, amongst the coaches it’s a fine, a friendly fine.”

Can Ruff, who also played 10 seasons for the Sabres and captained them, still root for them?

“Not tonight I can’t,” Ruff said as the room exploded with laughter. “I can root in between games (since) they’re in the East. I root for the city and I root for the team. I want to see them do well.”

Naturally, walking into the building this morning was odd.

“Just strange coming and in and going to the other side,” Ruff said. “The first guy you see is James, the security guy. You get a big hug from James (McDuffie). So it was nice. But it is just an incredibly strange feeling.”

But Ruff expects special feelings tonight. The Sabres are reportedly planning to recognize him in some way.

“I have nothing but good memories,” Ruff said. “I think it’ll be a warm reception. We need to win a game. We’ve had our share of ups and downs.”

So far, Ruff’s Stars are 4-5-1, last in the Central Division. He enjoys a strong relationship with general manager Jim Nill and ownership and has adjusted to Texas.

“Living has been easy,” Ruff said. “We thought we had restaurants in Buffalo. They got restaurants there. Every second place is a restaurant, and my challenge is to try to eat at a different one every night.”

Of course, the Stars have struggled a bit. But they still have two more wins than the rebuilding, reeling Sabres, who dealt co-captain Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders late Sunday.

Still, Ruff, who said he texted Vanek, sees a bright future for the Sabres.

“I understand where they’re at,” Ruff said. “It’s tough to see where the team is at in the standings. But I watch these players play and how some of these young players play, and I think there’s a lot of promise there.”

Ruff said he spoke to a few Sabres, including goalie Ryan Miller, a “funny feeling” that felt a bit “awkward.”

“A few of us were able to say ‘hi’ to him quick,” Sabres winger Drew Stafford said. “Besides that, it’s all business now. We’re focused on having a great game tonight, trying to win.”

What are Stafford’s memories of Ruff?

“Lot of ups, lot of downs, been through a lot,” he said. “Made playoffs, missed playoffs. Some fun times, some not-so-fun times.”

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