On Thursday morning, everyone at Blue Cross Arena had the same look on their face. From team employees to players to new Rochester Americans head coach Chadd Cassidy, the look was still one of shock over the firing of long-time Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff and hiring of Amerks coach Ron Rolston.
At least five people said, “what a crazy day.”
Cassidy said he was kept up much of the night receiving messages from friends, family and ex players on his own promotion.
Along with shock was a nervous excitement. It's been 15 years since Ruff was hired as coach – this is not an organization connected with overhaul at the position. So it's new territory for everyone. Cassidy gets his shot at being No. 1 in Rochester. He also gets to see his best friend Rolston debut Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I knew it was coming at some point,” Cassidy said. “I knew how good of a coach he is. I know how detailed he is and how hard he works and what a good hockey mind he is. So you know it's going to happen, but none of us expected it to happen yesterday at 3:12 p.m.”
The Amerks lost to the Texas Stars in Cassidy's first game behind the bench – a game they played without their head coach and captain Kevin Porter who was called up by the Sabres.
The nervous excitement exists around the organization in large part because Rolston's approach is a 180 from Ruff's. First, systematically. Then, in the way he handles players.
“You are going to see a team that will support the puck a lot better,” Cassidy said. “We don't want to give teams easy offense so it's about making simple plays when you're under duress and be able to identify offensive situations and situations where you just need to get the puck out of your zone. It's something both the Sabres and Amerks have struggled with at times. I think you'll see a change up there in that respect.”
The Amerks' new head man said Rolston will also play more conservatively on defense than Ruff.
“I think you'll see more structure from the defenseman,” Cassidy said. “Ron may adapt according to the D-core up there and what his feelings are, but they call them defenseman for a reason. Their first job is to keep the puck out of the net.”
Several Amerks players have spent time with both coaches. Matt Ellis, who was recently waived to Rochester, said he's already noticed the difference in Rolston's approach to dealing with players.
“Ron's a real even-keeled type of guy,” Ellis said. “He runs his team with a lot of structure and discipline. He's patient, he's a teacher. There's a little bit different way Ron does things. He's a little bit more laid back and he has more of the teaching aspect that probably comes from working with younger players.”
Forward Mark Mancari, the team's assistant captain, has played 38 games over his career under Lindy Ruff and 49 this year with Ron Rolston.
“I think overall their approach is the same,” Mancari said. “What they want out of their players is the same, but I think Ron's is a little more calm approach. Lindy can have a mixture. Ron's going to bring something different. That's why you change coaches.”
Rolston debuts Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Keep it locked to WGR and WGR550.com for complete coverage.
Cody McCormick is likely headed to Rochester after being waived by the Sabres. Mancari and McCormick are from the same town.
“He's just a hard working player,” Mancari said. “He can kill penalties, he'll stick up for his teammates and down here he can actually contribute offensively.”