October 30, 2019
Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m)
Howard Simon: And we are joined by the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres on our West Herr Hotline. Ralph, it’s Howard and Sal in this morning for Jeremy. Thanks for coming on with us. Good morning, sir.
Ralph Krueger: Good morning. How is everybody?
HS: You’re 9-2-2, Ralph. You keep this up, I’m in a good mood, you know? It’s a very simple formula: you win, talk show hosts are happy. It’s really very simple.
RK: Yeah, no, we’ve had a good month. It was a month of confirmation how we want to play and a month of learning and growing and now it’s important that we continue on that path. Small picture, try and get better every day, but definitely pleased with the effort thus far in October, that’s for sure.
HS: You mention confirmation, maybe that’s a good place to start. Jason Botterill was on our station the other day with our afternoon guys, Ralph, and their first question was, it was funny, it’s simple, but sure, they said, ‘Is your team good?’ And basically, ‘How can you tell?’ So I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to ask the head coach that.’ Is your team good? At night when you’re alone with your thoughts and you think, ‘Huh, you know what, these guys are good,’ how would you be able to tell from a coaching standpoint if your team is good?
RK: Well we would have to define ‘good,’ first of all. For me it begins with the commitment to a plan and the buy-in that the team brings because a good team for me is a team that’s playing and working towards its potential, whatever that potential may be. We’re still, certainly, too early into the season to understand or to see what the potential is. I think when you’re 20, 25 games in you’ve got a better read than now, but we’re on the right track to be able to assess that. I would say that the commitment’s outstanding, the attitude here since Sept. 13 from the first ice practice through to everything we’re doing on and off the ice, the way the communication needs to happen in a good team environment, it’s all there. So we’re excited, we’re having fun, this group is hungry to continue to improve and with that focus — for my definition of good — I would have to give you a check mark there.
Sal Capaccio: Coach, your team has played 13 games only, what, five teams in the league have played as many games. How do you think that’s impacted them as a group and how do you have to massage things as far as practice, their schedule and things like that?
RK: Well 13 (games) in 24 (days) to start the season, we all looked at that with some serious respect and were wondering how we were going to manage that. I’m so pleased with the work off the ice the that players have been doing and how we’ve been able to leave out quite a few normal ice practices, whether it’s on pregame days or other days where we need to do things off ice to keep our minds and bodies fresh. We learned how to manage that. We knew it was coming at us, and we know it’s coming at us again after the Sweden trip. I thought the group has managed it very well, the energy and the focus. To be able to win twice off back-to-backs in tough situations in San Jose and in Detroit, there’s a lot of things you have to like with how we were able to handle the pace. And now, with four games in a longer stretch of time, we have a different challenge and it’s a challenge of remaining focused and staying on topic. I believe the extra spaces that we have now between games will help to really bring a lot of energy into them. You know with this first stretch of 13 in 24, we have to be pleased with the constant and continuous effort of the guys.
HS: You have — you mentioned the stretch you’re in now, so you got like two games in 11 days I think it is before you go and play the two games in Sweden. How do you approach this? Do you have lots of practice time? Do you look at it as a mini training camp? What do you do when you have a very small number of games in a two-week stretch?
RK: Well above all we’re able to do a little bit more lifting off the ice because the power lifting that we’re doing in the gym and our high performance team loves this kind of a space so we can add some strength to what will be a hard run through November into December. I think that that’s one of the major opportunities we have. On the ice, we’re going to continue to keep the picture small. Today we’re coming off a day off, which has been rare and it’s important that we work on some fundamentals. And with the back-to-back coming at us this weekend, there’s not really a lull until you get into Sweden. But, yeah, the practice times will be wonderful for us to be able to work on some systems and concepts, principles. We’ll be able to get some of our — we’re looking at Brandon Montour re-entering into the team. [Marco] Scandella should be back in the next few games. We’re going to have some increased competition, whether it’s on defense or up front, we continue to have a tight competition for the role. So lots of good things to work on, but overall I would say the most opportunity will be off ice, actually, to increase our strength and fitness and some of the preventative work we’re doing there.
HS: I was thinking about what to do with my free nights since there aren’t as many Sabre games to watch, Ralph. Power lifting was not on the list, but I’ll take it under advisement.
RK: It’s an opportunity.
HS: Yeah sure, unless lifting donuts is considered power lifting, then yeah, just check that box.
HS: I did want to ask you about injuries. Scandella and [Jimmy] Vesey, let’s start there. What’s going on with both of them at this point?
RK: Well there’s re-entry here and both — Vesey for sure is very close to re-entering here and I would say Scandella is still a few days away. But we’re happy with the progression. They’re both short term. Once again, getting a full healthy group back helps us a lot with what’s coming up in November.
HS: And you mentioned Montour. Would he be ready to play this weekend?
RK: Brandon is close, so we’ll see how the next few days go and we’ll make a call on that on Friday.
SC: Once that happens you are going to have, you know, you have a plethora or defensemen you can chose from. You just talked about competition. How does that manifest itself? Is it practice? Is it game performance as you go? I don’t know, power lifting? Who can squat more? I don’t know, Coach. How does it manifest itself through that competition?
RK: Well it’s always multiple factors that come into effect. I mean, for sure you look at the pairings and/or lines, the way they need to be put together and the roles that we need to fill during the game. Individual performances will always be the major factor. We want to get the best possible squad together for the game and for the team, the opposition that we’re playing will play into it. I would say there’s multiple factors that come together, but usually it’s pretty clear on a day-to-day basis in the end with the group that we think, the 20 players that we need to give ourselves the best chance to win on the day is what we’ll be doing.
HS: There’s some guys I want to ask you about, Ralph. Let’s start with Rasmus Dahlin. Could you give us your opinion, your assessment of his play from center ice back into your zone at this point?
RK: Well I mean that’s a pretty detailed assessment because there’s a lot of things happening in our half of the ice. There’s the game with and there’s the game without the puck and we’re — you know, he’s a very young defenseman, is continuing to prime how he, the best path for him to bring his amazing skill set into the game. He’s committed to playing defense, he’s committed to finding his work. Steve Smith works with him on a daily basis in a very positive environment. He’s a motivated kid that, with the puck, we all see the opportunity there and he launches a lot of really good transition in our game. He’ll jump into the play the way we like our D to do when we do gain possession. But on both sides of the puck I can say improvement is a word that comes out every day. Weekly to weekly we’re excited with what we’re seeing and above all I always speak about the person he is and the coachability we feel that we have working together with him. I’ll say he’s a fun kid to work with and there’s still a lot of improvement, which we all know for a 19-year-old, and it’s going to be good to see that continue to grow.
HS: He had a rough night in New York the other night and I was curious, the last couple of game you’ve had him with [Henri] Jokiharju. I was wondering, Jokiharju’s played really well, but he’s a young defenseman too. Can you give any insight into when you’re trying to figure out what to do, or your defense pairings, why Dahlin with Jokiharju at that point? Because it’s worked out fine.
RK: I mean we had a rough night as a team in New York and, again, important was that we rebounded and answered the bell in Detroit. But [Jokiharju] has been a very positive surprise in this season thus far. He’s an excellent two-way defenseman. He also is able to make a play under pressure and is extremely committed to his work without the puck and defensively. You can see that he’s got a little more experience under his belt, but, you know, together the two of them have been exciting to watch. We’ll be moving in and out of different pairs and different lines through the season, nothing is set in stone. At the moment, we felt [Jokiharju] was the right partner, but we’ll reassess that as we head towards Washington.
SC: Can you just talk about your goaltending a little bit, what you think you’ve gotten from both Carter [Hutton] and Linus [Ullmark]?
RK: Well, first of all, they’re an excellent duo. They’re cheering for each other when they’re not playing, which helps a lot. The spirit in the team in all the different areas has been really high. The performance has been outstanding. They’re giving us a chance to win every night. Maybe there was a lot of people looking at [the goals allowed] the other night, but you had to look at [Hutton] giving us a chance to win that game. We had multiple chances against Arizona to, first of all, pull away from them and then even when the game was tight to actually win it because of the goaltending performance we got. And that’s what they do for us on a daily basis; they give us a chance to win, they’ve been solid, they’ve really worked the puck well too, which helps on our offensive breakouts out of the zone. Mike Bales has done an excellent job there with the goalies and that’s definitely a good duo, which is what you need in the NHL today.
SC: Coach, you know, Saturday is ‘70s night down at KeyBank Center, right? You’ve got anything, you going to be behind the bench in some sort of getup? Some disco wear or something?
HS: Leisure suit. I’m calling for a leisure suit.
SC: Bell bottoms? What are you doing?
RK: Well I have to say that I didn’t know that until now, so that’s proof that I’m living in the day. Today my day started with an hour with the coaches, then I get to have some fun with you guys for a stretch and we’ll deal with Saturday when it comes. I definitely love the ‘70s music, and that’s great information because that’s a decade that I grew up in. Not too many of our listeners probably can say that. Thanks for that heads up, guys, I’ll try to come up with something.
SC: I’ll be expecting the John Travolta, Saturday Night [Fever]. The walk into the arena.
HS: The white leisure suit?
SC: The walk into the arena, that’s all we’re asking. We can get a little footage of that.
RK: I do remember wearing some very wide bottom pants with stripes down them in the ‘70s. I better not pull those out for the game. I think the generation of players I’m coaching now might have a little problem with that, although I do know they love listening to ‘70s music here. That’s very comforting that this generation has also understood the depths of the music of that era.
HS: Now you guys, do you guys have a ‘Gloria,’ like the equivalent of the Blues win a game and they play ‘Gloria’ in the locker room? Do you have a song after wins?
RK: You know what, I can’t even — they’ve been playing with a few different options there. They were looking for something new this year. So I’ll let you guys know next week when I identify what that is.
HS: I heard after one of your wins, I heard Bachman Turner Overdrive ‘Taking Care of Business’ and I honestly thought, ‘I wonder if that’s like their song now.’
RK: Yeah I mean BTO’s also from Winnipeg, my hometown. So yeah, I saw them multiple times growing up as a kid. It would definitely be a good band with Jason Botterill coming from Winnipeg too, why not?
HS: Hey before we let you go, somebody tweeted and asked us to ask you if your book is available in English?
RK: No, actually in that day I was living in the German-French world, so it’s available in German and French. I don’t know how many copies there are out there. But, no, it is not available in English.
HS: You might say get a few copies sold to Sabre fans if someone can translate it.
SC: Google Translate, folks. Google Translate. We’re okay, we have the internet these days.
HS: Ralph thanks for coming on with us. Congratulations on the start and continued success.
RK: Okay, thank you and have a good weekend, and to all Sabres fans, let’s enjoy the Washington, New York Islanders game coming up and the ‘70s Night here on Saturday.