CALGARY – The last man to coach Canada to a medal at the men’s world hockey championship is back behind the bench.
Hockey Canada named Lindy Ruff the country’s head coach for the 2013 world championship May 3-19 in Stockholm and Helsinki.
Ruff coached Canada to a silver medal at the 2009 world championship. Canada lost 2-1 to Russia in the final in Bern, Switzerland, and hasn’t finished in the top three since then.
Ruff was also an associate coach for Mike Babock on Canada’s 2010 gold-medal Olympic team.
“I had two great experiences working with Team Canada and really want to make this a third,” Ruff said Wednesday in Calgary.
Ruff was available to coach Canada because the Buffalo Sabres fired him Feb. 20.
The 53-year-old from Warburg, Alta., was in his 16th season behind Buffalo’s bench and the NHL’s longest-serving coach when he was sacked. Ruff is Buffalo’s winningest coach with a record of 571-432-162.
Unaccustomed to idleness, Russ seemed relieved to have a hockey job again.
“It may be a little hard for you guys to understand, but when you’re in it for that many years and you’ve been in the grind for that many years and all of a sudden you’re out, that’s a bad place to be,” Ruff said. “It’s a tough place to be.
“There’s days you feel lost. It’s a lonely feeling. There’s been some good in it, not a lot, but I’m excited to get back going again.”
Doug Shedden will be one of Ruff’s assistant coaches with the rest of the coaching staff to be named within a week.
The coaches and the Canadian men’s team management group, headed by Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, will soon start inviting players to wear the Maple Leaf. Canada opens the tournament in Stockholm on May 4 against Denmark.
“Over the course of the next five or six days, we’ll reach out to players who might be available,” Yzerman said. “We wouldn’t contact anybody prior to their team being officially eliminated.”
Canada’s world championship team is traditionally comprised of players whose NHL teams didn’t make the playoffs or were eliminated in the first round.
Assembling this year’s roster is complicated by the NHL lockout, which pushed the end of the regular season to April 27 for all teams except the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins, who finish on the 28th.
If players depart April 30 and arrive in Stockholm May 1, that gives them just two days before their opening game. Ruff pointed out the lockout-shortened season of 48 games has its advantages.
“On a short season, players will still want to go and play,” he said. “It hasn’t been an 82-game grind. Most of these players have come off something that’s disappointing and you would hope they’d like to take part in something that could be very rewarding.”
Players won’t have time to mull over an invitation to the world championship or relax for long before getting back in the game, so the world championship will be a natural extension of their season.
“You don’t have three weeks to think about whether you want to go to the worlds,” Ruff said. “You haven’t been off and you’re not going to sit around and say ‘can you give me a week to make this decision?'”
The NHL’s post-season starts April 30. With a 25-man roster to work with, Yzerman says two goalies, seven defencemen and 13 forwards will be invited from NHL teams that didn’t make the playoffs.
He expects to keep one or two positions open as insurance against injury, but says he’s unlikely to add players after the first round of the NHL playoffs.
“We don’t have the option of waiting until after the first round,” Yzerman explained. “Right now, our intention is to pick the team from players who are all from non-playoff teams.
“Just the way the tournament sets up, it will be difficult after the first round to get players there and have time settle into the team, get used to the time change and be effective.”
The world championship prior to a Winter Olympics is both an Olympic tryout for players and a scouting opportunity for team management. Another wrinkle, however, is the NHL has yet to confirm its participation in Sochi, Russia, next February.
But Ruff believes players will still be motivated to accept an invitation to raise their Olympic stock.
“If you turn it down . . . I think you are putting yourself at a disadvantage,” Ruff said. “If you go and have a great worlds and help a team win a gold medal or win a medal or have a tremendous tournament, it just puts you in a lot better light for what’s coming up in the future.”
Canada finished fifth at the 2012 world championship under Brent Sutter.