Ron Rolston has won enough at lower levels that he's now getting a chance to coach the Buffalo Sabres.
During a recent quiet moment, Ron Rolston called his younger brother to see how he was doing.
"I told him I'm winning tournaments with my son's peewee team," Brian Rolston laughed Wednesday night. "You better start winning something with your team."
Ron's won enough that he's getting a chance at the highest level. Eighteen years ago, in another lockout season, the Rolstons celebrated Brian's arrival in the NHL. His 1,256-game career ended last summer, but on Thursday, they will celebrate another debut. Ron, almost seven years older, succeeds Lindy Ruff as the Sabres' second coach in 16 years.
"He asked me, 'Do you have any words or suggestions?'" Brian said. "It's difficult, because you're starting with the treadmill at 10. I just told him, 'You've been preparing for this a long time. It's not rocket science. Do what you do, and you'll be great.'"
For many of us -- myself included -- the follow-up is obvious: What does he do? Rolston (the coach) is a bit of an unknown entity, especially to a Canadian audience.
He spent seven years in the USA Development program, including two stints at the world junior championship. When his new team lines up against the Maple Leafs on Thursday night, he'll see a couple players he guided through that system -- Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
But he felt he needed to go the professional route to get closer to the NHL. The Sabres hired him to coach the AHL's Rochester Americans before last season, where he compiled a 63-44-17 record before getting the call from Darcy Regier.
The most off-beat thing about Rolston is that he doesn't wear hockey gloves while running practices. Apparently, he hates taking them off to write on the greaseboard, so he uses workmen's gloves instead.
Other than that, the descriptions you hear most from those who know him are "detail-oriented" and "technically sound."
"He'll make sure everyone knows their responsibilities," said Chris Taylor, Rochester's development coach. "He demands that everybody is prepared; and he wants a north-south game."
TJ Brennan, Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson had 81 points in 88 games (combined) for Rolston this season. Kevin Porter, who leads the Americans in scoring, is going to join the big club as well. But any Sabre fan will tell you team defence has been the real issue.
"His attention to detail starts with having to take care of the defensive end first," Brian said. "I was lucky to play nine seasons for a great coach in Jacques Lemaire, and Ron would ask me, 'What does Jacques do here? What does he think about this?'
"In Boston, we had a rule: the forwards back-checked the puck and the defence took the middle of the ice away. The goalies knew the shot was coming from the outside. Ron will be like that. He'll set up a defensive system and expect the players to stick with it."
Other than that, though, Brian declined to specifically compare him to one of his own NHL coaches. "He's his own man."
It's going to be so strange to look at the Sabres' bench and not see Lindy Ruff. But while his incredible Buffalo run ends, another one continues. For the 19th straight year, the Rolston family is represented in the NHL.
Elliotte FriedmanElliotte joined CBC in October 2003 and is a commentator with Hockey Night in Canada.
As part of his duties with Hockey Night in Canada, Friedman hosts Inside Hockey, a feature airing every Saturday during Scotiabank Hockey Tonight that tells the stories of the people and places that shape the game of hockey. Always committed to giving viewers the inside story, fans call follow him throughout the regular season and playoffs on Twitter.
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