Sabres' bench-boss Ron Rolston had no idea what he was walking into when he made the jump from Rochester to Buffalo.
After Saturday's 4-0 home loss to the NY Islanders, he continues to dig deeper in search of answers.
Yesterday marked the first time in his short tenure that he's had a the chance to put the team through a full practice.
And after watching his team skate, the operative word he came up with is "patience."
Via Bill Hoppe, buffalohockeybeat.com: “I know patience isn’t big with anybody,” interim coach Ron Rolston said Monday inside the First Niagara Center after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s tilt in Tampa Bay against the Lightning. “It’s not big with me. It’s not big with fans. It’s not big with media. But right now, it’s going to be a process.”
It's been six days since the Lindy Ruff era ended and the retraining of the Sabre's began. In that short span, this is what we've learned about the team from Rolston:
“From what I saw [looking at video,] it was more there were just a lot of shortcuts … a lot of rest in shifts,” Rolston said prior to the Sabres’ 3-1 loss to the Leafs. “The things that you just have to eliminate if you’re going to be a good hockey team.”--February 21
“We’re the team that blinks first when you have a stare down,” Rolston said this afternoon inside the Northtown Center following his first full practice as coach. “The faceoff's in the (Toronto) zone and we make a mistake in execution, and the next thing you know it’s a 2-1 game going into the third,” Rolston said. “And that’s part of the reason things aren’t going the way we want them to go.” He added: “In this league, if you have even a short span of a couple of shifts where you don’t execute, that can be the difference in a game. A lot of times that’s been the case here.”--February 22
Sunday was an off day for the team, and Rolston had plenty of time to go over the debacle that was the Islanders game, and this is what he came away with:
“There’s two things,” Rolston said. “You go into hockey games and some teams hope they’re going to win, and some teams know they’re going to win in this league that night. The better teams are the knowing teams, and we’re right now the hope team.
“To get from hope to know is a process. And to get there, you got to do a lot of things well, and you got to do them for 60 minutes. We’re still hoping. Our job is to get to the point we’re knowing.”So how do you get from "hoping" to "knowing?"
The next step for him is how the team practices.
Hoppe says that Rolston, who was dubbed "the first professor at the University of Sabres," is still in instructor mode doing a lot of 'educational teaching,' and the thing that he's working on is pace. 'Pace,' deduced Hoppe, 'not just team speed but doing everything quickly – has been a big message from the coach.'
I culled an interesting quote from Walter Gretzky, "the Great One's" father and mentor when it comes to practice.
"One day, when Wayne Gretzky was already the greatest hockey player in the world, he was practicing with his team, the Edmonton Oilers. Walter watched from the stands. Afterwards, the two drove home together.
'You just wasted two hours of your life,' Walter Gretzky told his son. 'If you’re going to practice, then do it right.'"
The Sabres have always been a fast team, even while adding more grit to the lineup. But they've looked extremely slow this shortened season. When you watch other teams play, especially the upper-echelon teams, they're continually in motion, continually in overdrive and always seem to be moving north-south with a sense of purpose.
“In terms of team speed, and not only is it how you can skate, but how you move the puck and how clean you are moving the puck and where your support is moving the puck,” Rolston said. “So there’s a lot of elements to a team being a fast team, and right now … we need to be much faster.”
The Sabres more often than not seem to be plodding at times, cruising at others, rarely kicking it into gear. There are probably a number of factors involved, like practicing at a causal pace.
In his first segment on WGR, Rolston said he is looking at each player individually, "Right now, there are habits we can change." he said. "We talk about systems but right now it's the individual within the system and the details that those individuals have. If we're not going to be detailed we're not going to have good habits."
Picking up the pace at practice will help iron some things out. This is a team that's been in Lindy Ruff's system for many years, most of them for their entire careers. They know where to be and what needs to be done and it's not too far-fetched to believe that many players--too many--have had a laissez-faire attitude. But as game-day has proven time and again, a waltz through practice will leave you a step or two behind during the game.
Rolston seems to be on the right track. He's trying to sort out this mess and he's taking "baby steps." He's there to teach, correct and, one would assume, eventually evaluate for the future.
Regardless of whether or not this season is lost, Rolston has the task of rooting out the bad habits that each individual has and laying a foundation with which to build upon for the future of the Sabres that are in the system. There's a lot of talent there right now and the team is not going to bring any of them into a laconic and/or toxic situation.
"We have a lot of players in Rochester who are talented, "he said. "We just want to make sure we have the right environment here when we do [bring a player up] especially with younger players. Right now we want to make sure we solidify things first, take care of what's going on here."
And the Rolston challenge continues with a game tonight at Tampa Bay.