It is across the ocean and not the NHL, but coaching Team Canada at the IIHF men’s world championship is a prideful honor that puts Lindy Ruff back behind a players’ bench, where he belongs.
"I can’t wait, really," Ruff told ESPN.com on Wednesday on the phone from Calgary, Alberta, where Hockey Canada is based.
Ruff has had time to decompress since his firing as Buffalo Sabres head coach in February and is more than excited to coach again next month at the world championships.
"You just go through a lot of different emotions," said Ruff. "Obviously, it’s the first time being let go; you need some time away. You go through the angry emotions, the emotions of missing the game. You want to watch; you don’t want to watch. But when you get to this time of the year in the NHL and the intensity around the playoff picture, you really start to miss it. It’s almost like a jealousy. You’re sitting on the outside, and you’re not involved."
He’ll be busy for a while anyway. The IIHF men’s world tournament runs May 3-19 in Helsinki and Stockholm, featuring NHL players who didn’t make the playoffs.
Joe Sacco was named head coach for Team USA’s world championship team earlier this week. Team USA opens the tournament May 4 against Austria in Helsinki while Canada opens its schedule the same day in Stockholm against Denmark.
It’s a huge event in Europe, not as much in Canada, although TSN will once again be carrying all of Canada’s games live. In the U.S., it’s almost completely ignored, which is too bad. It’s great, passionate hockey, and more people should give it a chance on this side of the ocean.
Ruff first coached Canada in the event in 2009 and found out firsthand how different it is than what he was used to in the NHL.
"First and foremost, you find out how passionate some of those teams are about winning it and how passionate some their fans are," Ruff said. "You see the singing, the cheering. ... Some of the lesser teams play so hungry. Their fans never stop cheering, even a half an hour after the game is over. That whole experience was an eye-opener for me."
Ruff, meanwhile, might get to coach some of his former Sabres players next month. I’d have to imagine that the likes of Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis will be on Canada’s radar among NHL players not headed to the postseason.
"You’re looking at some players I coached years ago that could maybe be involved too, and I always look forward to that," said Ruff.
Canada’s world championship roster will be put together by the Olympic management team headed by Steve Yzerman, which makes sense. What also makes sense was making Ruff coach for the worlds since it’s widely expected Team Canada will reunite its Olympic coaching staff for Sochi, Russia, which means Mike Babcock at the helm along with Ruff and Ken Hitchcock. I believe the retired Jacques Lemaire will be replaced by Claude Julien.
Canada’s Olympic camp is tentatively slated for late August.
Before then, Ruff heads into the summer hoping for his phone to ring from an NHL team, which you would think shouldn’t be a problem.
After 16 years behind the bench in Buffalo, it’s an uncommon feeling for Ruff heading into the offseason.
"Anxiety is probably the right word," Ruff said. "You want that second opportunity. I’m anxious to get that journey underway."