Ruff, Trotz mirror images on bench

By John Vogl

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The list has been the same for years. Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz top the chart as the NHL’s longest-tenured coaches, and they do it in a landslide. Ruff was hired by the Buffalo Sabres in 1997, while Trotz and the Nashville Predators entered the picture in 1998.

Yet despite being in the same profession for more than 11 years, their paths seldom crossed. They’d see each other on the opposing bench once or twice a year, and that would be all.

Things finally changed last spring. Ruff was named coach of Canada’s world championship team, while Trotz was selected as one of his assistants. The pair got a crash course on getting to know each other. Not surprisingly, they liked what they saw.

“That three weeks was a great experience,” Ruff said Saturday before the Sabres defeated the Predators, 1-0.

“It was kind of scary how similar the thinking was.”

The coaches use many of the same offensive plays and defensive systems, as they discovered while huddling in Switzerland.

“It’s funny how we’ve tweaked what we’ve done, and it’s so similar in so many things that I was sort of laughing,” Trotz said. “Everything we talked about with Team Canada we’ve kind of stole all the ideas from each other.

“We’re going to mirror each other in a lot of ways, everything from the color scheme of the uniforms almost to the way we play.”

The similarities extend off the ice for the coaches. Ruff has fervent supporters in Western New York, and Trotz has embedded himself in the Nashville community.

“I would have to say he’s probably the most popular guy here,” said Predators right wing J.P. Dumont, who spent four years with Ruff and the Sabres. “Everybody thinks that he never smiles because that’s what you see on TV, but he’s real easy to talk to. The door’s always open for anything hockey related or even non-hockey related.”

The Predators have had down times during the Trotz era. The expansion team first made the playoffs in 2004, then had a three-year postseason run from 2006 to ’08. Through the good and bad, the organization has stuck with Trotz and General Manager David Poile. The same script has played out in Sabreland with Ruff and GM Darcy Regier.

“I think for the most part it starts up top,” Trotz said. “We both have very stable management. They believe in the team concept, and they understand. Our markets are probably similar. There’s a lot less pressure here in Nashville than there is in Toronto or Montreal, where if you’re not 82-0 something’s going to happen.

“David’s always believed that you get through the tough times and you come out on the other side a lot stronger. That’s happened a few times. Our team was floundering and we were going through some tough, difficult times, but we came out a lot stronger on the other end because the adversity makes you a lot better as a group.”