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"Two More Stanley Cups"

Craig Patrick sets the bar as he and Tim Murray to lead hockey department

When it comes to press conferences, leave it to the Buffalo Sabres to have a flair for the dramatic.

The Sabres did it again last week at First Niagara Center. Everyone knew walking in that Tim Murray had been selected to become the next general manager of the team. What nobody knew was that Craig Patrick, one of the most respected men in hockey and someone with a resume and pedigree about a mile long, would also be joining the team, in the role of senior hockey adviser.

Sabres president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine held court with a free-wheeling interview following the formal press conference, and gave the public and the press a glimpse of the new paradigm that defines his hockey department. LaFontaine used the word “trust” liberally as he unveiled the brain trust that he plans to put in place to return Buffalo to Hockey Heaven once again.

“When you look at an organization, president, general manager, two assistants, they really are a team. They make decisions as a team. One guy obviously handles a certain part of it, one guy contracts, one might handle development and day-to-day operations. So when I looked at it, Tim [Murray] was our best pick,” said LaFontaine. “I looked for a tremendous eye for talent, in evaluating our next great players for our future, and he was the right guy. And as far as having Craig [Patrick], his experience…he’s a class guy. His advice and assistance I think will be very, very valuable in this process.”

Bringing Patrick into the fold was a major coup for the organization. His accomplishments are legendary: In 1980 he served as assistant general manager and also assistant coach for the USA Men’s Hockey team in the Winter Olympics. That team, of course, won the gold medal and is forever enshrined as the “Miracle on Ice.” He moved on to the New York Rangers in 1981 to become the youngest general managers in NHL history, then in 1989 moved on to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where the team won two Stanley Cups under his leadership, as he made bold trades to put the pieces together for those two championship squads in 1991 and 1992.

“You have to have the ability to work together, to be humble. I wasn’t looking for egos, I was looking for guys who could provide teamwork and work together,” said LaFontaine.

Organizationally, the Buffalo Sabres have come far in these past two months, since the team’s owner relieved general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston of their duties. “I’m tremendously excited. We’ve come so very far, and now two more pieces of what it will take for us to be successful. I’m not done. There are still some things we need to do to finalize our team,” said LaFontaine.

LaFontaine never played directly under a team coached or managed by Patrick, but certainly admired his work from afar. “When we met, I asked Craig, ‘Why do you still want to be involved?’ and he looked me right in the he and said, ‘Because I have two more Stanley Cups in me.’ He said, ‘I’m not done.’”

Two more Stanley Cups.

Patrick will be involved in all facets of hockey department. “He will be involved with it all. He will be assisting Tim. He will be assisting with me. He will be talking to the coaches. He will be able to add advice in any part, anytime, anywhere. This is a hockey department team we will be putting together. This is a team that has its pieces in place,” said LaFontaine.

LaFontaine has repeatedly sidestepped the issue of whether keeping coach Ted Nolan with the team was a prerequisite in his hiring choices. Nonetheless, he is loathe for a repeat of the drama and dysfunction that plagued the Sabres in the 1990s, when highly public feuds between Nolan and then general manager John Muckler drew in factions from the ownership group and nearly destroyed the team. A similar drama unfolded with the New York Islanders in 2006, when LaFontaine abruptly quit after their new general manager Garth Snow began his own war with Nolan. “Tim Murray has earned this opportunity every step of the way, and he knows that so has Teddy [Nolan],” said LaFontaine. “So let them get to know each other. A general manager and a coach have to work together. It’s all about trust.”

Tar Sez…

• There will be some new looks on the team come Monday, as Mark Pysyk, Mike Weber, Alexander Sulzer, Brayden McNabb, and Cody Hodgson will be shaving their heads, all to show their support for people in the community who are battling cancer.

• Hero shout out to Rasmus Ristolainen, the Sabres’ prospect defenseman, who scored the dramatic golden goal in overtime of the gold medal game at this year’s World Juniors Championship. Throughout Finland people were dancing in the streets as their team shocked Sweden to win this year’s tournament. Both the USA and Canada finished out of medal contention.

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