Category Archives: Transcript

Jason Botterill Interview – Schopp & Bulldog (10/11/19)

October 11, 2019

Jason Botterill
Schopp & Bulldog (3 p.m.) (18:48)

Chris Parker: Congrats on the start. I don’t know, is that a weird thing to say after only four games?

Jason Botterill: Look, we’re certainly happy with how training camp all went. We’re excited about the start of the season. I think what’s good about our team right now is we’re finding ways to win hockey games, but there’s certainly a lot of points that our coaching staff can go over with our players on what we have to improve on. You take a step back, especially last Saturday, just the atmosphere in the building, having all our captains back; it was good. It was a fun experience, I think. Hopefully our fans really enjoyed it. I know our players did. Something small like Jack [Eichel] being out there with all those other captains, it was a great experience to sort of reflect on things. So it was a good way to start the season off, and now it’s imperative that we continue to build off of it.

Paul Hamilton: Jason, how about your new guys? A guy like [Henri] Jokiharju — here’s a 20-year-old in Pittsburgh the first night, he’s killing penalties, he’s out in pressure situations right away. I mean, there’s no hesitation. I talked to Colin Miller yesterday, he’s talking about how he’s helping Rasmus Dahlin, almost like a tutor for him. Just any questions that he has and he’s helping him and he enjoys that role. He likes to do things. He goes, ‘I really haven’t had a chance to do that in other places I’ve been,’ and is relishing it. So when you’re trading for those guys or signing a guy like [Marcus] Johansson, who also is a guy that guys have talked about in the room, is that part of it when you’re looking to trade for guys? Especially in these three cases that you know exactly not only what you’re getting on the ice but what these guys are going to contribute to the team off the ice?

JB: Without a doubt. We obviously know we have some very talented players in our organization that don’t have playoff experience. So the fact that we can go out, we’re looking to add players to our skill level to help out how we want to play the game. But to bring in a player like Marcus Johansson who was in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals last year, I think he’s been in the playoffs eight of his nine years in the National Hockey League. That’s experience that’s going to help our team out a lot. Colin Miller, you know, two years ago playing in the Stanley Cup Finals in Vegas. We know, as much as we like our start, we’re going to face adversity over 82 games. We have to do a better job as an organization when adversity hits we play with a little more calmness and find a way to get through those difficult stretches. So that’s why we are bringing these veteran players in that can help out our group here. With a player like Henri Jokiharju, what we really liked about seeing him last year, 19 years old last year and he wins a World Junior gold medal and a World Championship gold medal. Although he’s very young, at 20 this year, he’s already played a half season in the National Hockey League. He played in pressure situations and handled it very well, I think you saw that in Pittsburgh. But what I really liked was his game on Wednesday against Montreal. Things got a little hectic there, 4-4, he’s still skating extremely well, he’s still making those breakout passes and just allowed us to get out of our zone. It’s great to see our players playing their game in tight situations like that.

PH: It’s funny your coach said today when we asked about him, he goes ‘I’ll be honest with you,’ he goes, ‘Until you actually brought up his age, I don’t think of him as a 20-year-old. I don’t go into the game thinking, well he’s 20 years old I wonder if I… I expect whether you’re 20 or 35 if you’re on the team we’re going to put you in situations, and we expect you to be able to handle the situation.’ He might be the first coach I think has ever said that because a lot of coaches won’t play 20-year-olds, they’ll sit them on the bench. He’s like, ‘Honestly, until you asked the question, I don’t even sit there and think that he’s a 20-year-old.’

JB: And that’s what we like with a lot of our younger players. Henri’s included in that, Rasmus Dahlin. These guys are very mature for their age. And even a player like Casey Mittelstadt, the development path has been a little steeper the last couple of years, just because you’re coming from Minnesota high school all the way to the National Hockey League. But he has a much better grasp of what he needs to do to have success on the ice. And you just see the way, how he conducted himself last summer in the weight room working on his body that we eventually think is going to transfer over onto the ice. I like that our players have been serious about making sure they’re in good shape and ready to take on those opportunities. And I’ve been very happy with our coaching staff that they’ve had the open mind to put those young players… if they’re ready for it they’re going to be in those situations.

CP: Ralph Krueger’s name came up before you hired your first coach, Phil Housley, and that sounded like a really intriguing, very interesting idea to, I don’t know, some of us, me included. Like I thought, ‘Okay, out of the box. I think this is pretty exciting.’ And of course it didn’t happen. Last year, word before you hired him was that it might be more of an executive role if he returns to the NHL. And here he ends up, he’s behind your bench. I’m sure you’ve told the story already, but it’s our first chance to sit with you since you hired him. How did that kind of come together? Because on one hand it might look like you convinced him to take the job, and that’s not always a great idea. So tell us a little bit of the background of how Ralph came to end up being your coach.

JB: So there are some storylines in there. I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Ralph grew up in Manitoba. My father actually taught Ralph in grade 5 at a private school in Winnipeg there, but I never really spent that much time with Ralph, hadn’t interacted with him. When I got the position here in Buffalo, Jim Rutherford suggested I talk to Ralph. Jim Rutherford, while he was Carolina, had worked with Ralph; he was on their scouting staff. When Ralph was the head coach with Team Switzerland he also did some part-time scouting with the Carolina Hurricanes. And just felt that he could be a good mix with myself and what we’re trying to accomplish here in Buffalo. Obviously at the time, Ralph was still was working on this project with Southampton, couldn’t come over, so we moved on from there. We certainly stayed in touch [throughout] the process and then after we made the decision last April (to replace Housley), I did reach out to Ralph. We had a conversation in New York that there wasn’t any selling job on. You could tell that he enjoyed being an executive at Southampton and enjoyed that experience, but at the end of the day — Ralph has a very creative resume the last few years — but at the end of the day, he’s a kid from Manitoba who loves the game of hockey. And I think when we started talking, how we see the game, how we want this team to play, how we want to interact with our players was really similar from that standpoint. I think that’s what our players really resonate with right now. There’s a simplicity to Ralph, there’s an ability for him to talk to them, but also I think our players realize how excited he is about being in Buffalo and being a head coach and being on the front line right now instead of being in the board room dealing with owners, dealing with agents, something like that. Helping players become the best they can on the front line. I think that passion that he sees, our players feed off of that and it’s been a very good experience so far.

CP: Do you think if he hadn’t come to the conclusion that he wanted to get back behind the bench you would’ve found a role for him as an executive somewhere in the organization?

JB: I couldn’t even tell you that for sure. Look, all of our conversations had always been around coaching and that’s where I felt his passion that that’s what he wanted to do. He was excited about that. I think in the back of his head, you’d have to ask him straight up, but at the end of the day his first go-round in the National Hockey League didn’t go as planned. I think what I’ve always really enjoyed with Ralph is people go through a lot of experiences. Sometimes they don’t always pull information or learn from that. Ralph, whatever experience he’s been through, whether it’s coaching a Premier League team, coaching Olympics, coaching in the World Championships, coaching in the NHL, he learns from it and I think he does a great job of passing that information along to other people in the organization and — more importantly — his players.

PH: How challenging this year is salary cap management going to be for you? I know you’ve been able to use some dollars with long-term injured reserve. I don’t know for sure but I would imagine [Zach] Bogosian would get back some time or another. How challenging is that going to be for you this year to be able to manage the salary cap that maybe you haven’t had those problems in past years.

JB: No, and we certainly understood that when we made the decision to sign Marcus Johansson that we’d be close to the salary cap. But we also felt that his addition was necessary for our team to take a step this year. I think the thing that we’ve tried to set up is we certainly want to have the ability each summer to add to our team and be able to keep our young players that are coming through our system, but we also want to have that flexibility. That’s part of the reason why we have a lot of contracts that are coming off the books each year. We understand, you look around the league, it will be an issue for us, or at least it’ll be part of the discussions throughout the year. You look at so many of the top teams, you look at so many teams throughout the league, they’re all going to be right at the very top. I do think it’s going to come into play a lot from a trade perspective. It’s going to have to be dollars in, dollars out. There’s not a lot of teams that are going to just be able to take on extra salary unless they run into a significant long-term injury.

PH: Will it affect to a point where you have to wait until a certain time of day where you call somebody up or isn’t it that critical?

JB: It isn’t that critical right now for us, but you always want to keep your options open. It’s why we made some adjustments before the season started in Pittsburgh that people may not always understand but it just gives us the flexibility moving forward there. You just never know what can happen in the future. We always want to have that balance to me making the smart decision from a salary cap perspective but we want to make sure it doesn’t hurt our product on the ice and make sure that our team is always covered from that perspective.

CP: Paul mentions Bogosian there. Before the season started Ralph Krueger said something to the effect that there were setbacks since he had the procedure he had. Is there a timeline on him at this point or is it just out there?

JB: It’s just out there for right now. Coming off of hip surgery, you’re always going to run into — it’s a difficult rehab. It’s a serious injury and it’s a serious surgery. Obviously it’s been documented the injuries that Zach’s had. We’re very focused on making sure when he does come back he’s one hundred percent, not only for our team this year but also for his career long term.

CP: He’s another defenseman, [Brandon] Montour is much shorter term, right? It’s a few weeks now that he’ll be back. I’m wondering eventually, I guess the salary cap question Paul asked sort of builds into this too, but you’ve got a lot of bodies back there.

JB: Well it’s always a concern and then you run into the injuries we have already and that’s what we talked a lot [about] during the summer that we ran into a lot of injuries before even game one of the regular season this year. You have to be ready for that. And that was one of the things we say down as a group a lot during the summer, talked about adding to this group. We didn’t handle things as well as we wanted to in the second half. We didn’t need a whole revamp, but we wanted to add to it. That’s why we brought in a Jimmy Vesey and Marcus Johansson. That’s why we added more depth in Henri Jokiharju and Colin Miller. And it always seems to see like you look at I think we have nine games in our first 17 days; our players are going to get banged up. Especially in this season, I think our players are really looking forward to going over to Sweden and I think it’s going to be a great experience for us to go over there. And the NHL does a very good job in sort of helping us with the schedule before or after that. But it really condenses our other games in the rest of the time. It’s going to be imperative that we have the depth at every position. It’s part of the reason why tonight we have [Linus] Ullmark in net, and it’s not going to be like, ‘who’s our No. 1 goalie?’ We’ll have to utilize both of them throughout the year.

CP: Rasmus Dahlin, he’s got seven points through four games. I don’t expect to end up with 140 on the season, I mean that’d be great, but you know.

JB: We’ll take that if he wants to do that.

CP: How much though more can you expect from the guy? It dawned on me talking the other day maybe with Rob Ray during one of these shows, I don’t know. The draft year is unlike any other year. You play your season, especially when you’re the anointed No. 1 pick, there’s just stuff, right? And it never really ends and then the season’s here and oh by the way it’s an 82-game season, welcome to the pros kid. I think, you know, after an offseason of being able to just be 19 and train and work, I wonder if you see a difference in him already just from having had a normal offseason as opposed to all the stuff that went with being the No. 1 pick.

JB: You certainly see it. And that’s what you love — all of our coaches love — working with Ras is just because he knows what he has to work on. He wants to put the time in. I think just from the physical standpoint his lower-body strength, he looks bigger and stronger out there. And I’m a big believer in the World Championships. If you’re not in the playoffs I think you should get used to playing hockey in the springtime. I thought it was a great experience for someone like Sam Reinhart to go over there and Jack to go over there this past year. But I also think it was great that Rasmus Dahlin didn’t go this past year. You look at that lead up to the draft, there is so much going on especially for someone like that in Sweden coming over to North America, going back and forth quite a bit. The excitement of the draft and then you come in for development camp and everything and you have the rookie tournament. I think Rasmus will say, people can talk to you about the grind of the National Hockey League over 82 games, but until you actually go through it, it’s difficult to comprehend. Rasmus was just like our entire team, we have to be better from that All-Star break on. What I like about him is he’s certainly learned from it, he understands a bit more. He always going to have the hockey sense and the brain, and I just think that adding that extra strength is going to help him a lot more down low in the offensive zone and handling positioning. He such a great brain, too. It’s one that added strength, but now he also knows some of the moves of the other players. So he’s building sort of a resume, a book, ‘how do I defend them?’ against some of the top players out there. He’s going to make mistakes. He’s a young kid, it’s part of growing as a young defenseman. His ability to learn from those mistakes is very impressive. That communication with both Steve Smith and Ralph Krueger, it’s why he’s a very talented player and we’re very fortunate to have him in our organization.

PH: Fans want Casey Mittelstadt today to be where he’s supposed to be as a player. You know development of young players. I use [Colorado’s] Nate MacKinnon as a perfect example of a guy who played four years before he ever touched 90 points. He was around 50 or so. [Sean] Couturier in Philadelphia is another example. Could Casey fall into that, too, where maybe it’s going to take him three or four years to reach the potential he is and just because he doesn’t do it this year doesn’t mean, ‘Well, it’s all said and done. Let’s move on.’

JB: Players are always going to adapt and develop at different timeframes here. And especially a player coming out of Minnesota high school and making that leap. It took time for Jack Eichel, too, but Jack was a physical specimen stepping into the National Hockey League at age 18 and 19. Casey had to work on his physical body and stuff and I think he certainly did that over the summer. It’s always the expectations too. Casey comes in at the end of the season, produced some points there after his freshman year at Minnesota and it’s difficult. It’s sometimes not the truth, not the reality of it. And how difficult the season once you get to the start of the regular season and going through all 82 games how difficult of a grind it really is. What we’ve liked a lot from Casey’s game is even when things didn’t go as well as he wanted, maybe in training camp, he continued to work on his game. I thought he got better throughout the entire training camp. I thought he played very well making those small-type plays in the game in Pittsburgh. Look, I thought it was going to be a great mix there with Conor Sheary right off the bat. It’s disappointing that Conor’s out right now because I think he can be a player that helps Casey along and just have some good matchups along the way there. But we see the hockey sense. I think you see that with Ralph, continuing to put Casey out there in power-play situations. I think we have, you know, there’s a lot of focus obviously on our first power play right now and the success of Victor Olofsson. But the fact that we have two really good units here right now that can be utilized out there helps things out a lot. Just that little power-play experience I think will hopefully help Casey through this development process.

CP: I think we’re good. I always want to ask you first visit of the year, this could go on forever. We have a whole season.

JB: We’ve got the whole season, I’ll come back.

CP: I would be negligent if I didn’t ask about the big goalie. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. What’s his situation?

JB: Again, we’re getting close. Again, hip surgery, we talked about it, the severity of the situation for a player like Zach Bogosian, well especially for a goaltender too. The great thing for UPL is he’s been here all summer for the last few months here working with our guys, and he’s been great. Again, we hope to have a time frame in the near future here, but we don’t have an exact [one] right now, but we’re hoping here to move along, but everything’s been going very well with his rehab.

CP: Was it the same procedure that Ullmark had a couple of years ago? I don’t think you were here when Ullmark had it done, but do you know?

JB: I couldn’t tell you exactly with the exact extent from Ullmark’s injury, but look, that’s the beauty of what UPL did last year. You win a gold medal at the World Juniors, you’re one of the best goalies in the Ontario Hockey League and he was doing that with his injury throughout the entire time too. You talk about a player really taking a step for his development. He’s been interacting with us a lot, making that step going from Finland to Sudbury last year. We’ve really enjoyed working with him. We’ll certainly be patient; with young goaltenders, you have to. His mental toughness that he’s showing is something that works out about his potential.

CP: When he gets healthy will he go to Rochester?

JB: That’s a situation where he’ll go to Rochester and we’ll decide whether he starts in Rochester or Cincinnati.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (10/9/19)

October 9, 2019

Ralph Krueger

Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.) (13:15)

Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning. How are you today, sir?

Ralph Krueger: I’m very good, thank you. Good morning to you Howard and Jeremy and to all your listeners.

HS: I wanted to start off our conversation with something you talked about yesterday. The process that you’re in, this deep process of, you know, the players learning your principles and all the teaching you guys are doing. I don’t mean for you to tell me, “Yeah Howard, by game 16 it’ll be in place.” But what is that process like? How involved in that and how are they coming along as you observe it as the head coach of this team?

RK: Well we really went through training camp in a heavy teaching process where we were splitting sessions in half so we could teach between, after 30 minutes, go back on the ice, and now we’re just deep in the core principles and the concepts. Every game is an opportunity for us to learn from, and we’ll be doing that right through the season. As a coach, you don’t really know exactly which direction the group’s going to need direction in or where we can improve on. It’s just been so much fun working with the guys because of their involvement and their interest to actually learn and grow. Yesterday we did some very good sessions where we could take things out of the Columbus game that should make us a better team tonight. That process, to tell you the truth, will probably never end because we’re always going to be looking for improvement. That’s our motto right now, ‘keep the picture small.’ Get ready for Montreal today and think of nothing else but trying to be better tonight than we were last game.

HS: How does the process work when you’re in a pretty hectic part of the schedule – I think it’s 13 games in the first 26 days. With that much activity in terms of games, maybe is it tougher to work on all these things in practice when you’re playing basically every other day?

RK: We’re doing most of the learning off of the ice. It’s video sessions that are quick and short and to the point. We have footage now that we can use and discuss, and we’re making sure the players have a voice in the process so we can understand what they’re thinking and how they’re processing everything. They’re used to the way we’re doing it. The practices are short and sweet. Yesterday we had 30 minutes, and we will be leaving out the pregame skate today to gather energy because of the three in six we have at home now. We want to keep our energy high for what the games will demand. It’s more off the ice really, Howard, that we are doing our work right now.

HS: In terms of teaching this team and all the things you’re going through, one of the things I was curious about you said ‘dialogue,’ ‘an open dialogue.’ The players can certainly ask you a question about a principle you’re teaching, but do they come up with suggestions? And if they do, do you listen to them as a coaching staff? Like, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea. Let’s try this.’

RK: Well more than anything, they’ve really bought into what we are, as coaches, working on and the way we want to go. The players are all in on that. And that hasn’t really been negotiable. It’s been something, through all the conversations in the summer with the players, I was able to feel what the good things were in the past to take with and where the opportunity was. So we had those conversations and that dialogue in the summer before we set the direction. All I can say is the players have been all in. Where you’re going to end up with more individual skills and conversations would be in conversations, especially around the power play. We have so much skill there and we’re working together. It’s a little more strategic as far as tactically you can make adjustments game to game and within the five-man unit what you can do. In the five-on-five game it’s really only about getting it right and trying to be consistent, which we lost a little bit of that in the first period against Columbus. We found our way again through the game and were able to dig a point out, which I was happy to see that. We’re still far from the finished product which is also exciting from a coaching viewpoint.

HS: A year ago this time, of course you weren’t here, we were going through the excitement of getting to watch Rasmus Dahlin in year one as a Buffalo Sabre. Again, since you just got here this season, in a limited amount of time going back to the preseason, through the practices, through the games, through the first three games, what are some of the things you’ve learned about Dahlin and his skill set now that you’ve been around him on a regular basis?

RK: Well first of all, like so many of the players, it’s been exciting to get to know them as people and as Buffalo Sabres. We have done an excellent job in recruiting good people, so that’s number one. He’s very coachable and the skills that lie within him and the potential of him is exciting for all of us. We see the offensive ability that’s there. He will be, with his deception, somebody who will continually excite. It’s also what he’s working on away from the puck and how he wants to participate in our team concept on the defense and how we need to keep the chances to a minimum to have a chance to win every night. We’re excited about how hard he’s working there. For the fans, they love to see the puck time on a Rasmus, that’s why we’re here as coaches to work on that time when we don’t have the puck and how can get it back. On both sides he’s been just a pleasure to work with. What an exciting future he has.

Jeremy White: [Dahlin’s] also got pretty big games coming up. The return to Sweden, I would imagine, he would be really excited for that, for the Global Series coming up.

RK: Yeah, we have five Swedes in our lineup and they’re all really excited about our two games against Tamp Bay at the beginning of November. We haven’t spoken about it that much because, as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t want to repeat it too often, but we’re trying to keep everything really really tight and small and just take care of today, whatever it’s asking. Sweden is hanging in the air. We had organizational and management meetings about that for a few hours yesterday. Jason Botterill called us all together. That’s going to be a wonderful trip, and any Sabres fans that can participate in that or experience Stockholm that time of year against Tamp Bay. Our Swedes, especially, will certainly be flying. Lots of tickets needed there.

JW: Having spent a lot of time internationally, Ralph, with regard to American sports fans have watched the NFL go abroad for a little bit, Mexico City, London, the NBA embroiled in the China thing currently. We’ve seen American sports kind of go outside of the continental U.S. When it comes to the NHL and its reception over there, what have you seen or what do you know about it? How much it means to whether it’s Swedish fans or Germany, the Sabres played in Germany a couple years back. We’ve just seen on and on the leagues continue to seem to want to do this. How much does it mean to people of those countries when the NHL comes in?

RK: It’s like the World Cup of Hockey, World Cup of Football, if you look at how fans look up to that, or the European Championships. The NHL in Europe at any time is the maximum for a hockey fan. They all plan their trips over here to see teams play. The NHL’s followed on a daily basis by all hockey fans in Europe. During the international break, all the leagues break in that exact weekend when we’re there. We will be the spotlight of all of European hockey on the television over there, and/or the people that can come live. It’s a very big event. And again, it’s Super Bowl-like for the actual hockey fans that are able to be a part of it.

HS: I’m trying to help you out here Ralph, for the first game in Sweden, to start an all-Swedish unit, but that means one of your forwards has to be on defense, right?

RK: Yeah, we would need to do that. We will have some fun around that to try to get the Swedes into a good position. Once again, also let’s remember we’ve got Fins we’ve got a Latvian, we’ve got a Czech, and all of them will have followers coming. It’s only an hour flight for all those countries to come into Stockholm. For all of the Europeans, the 10 that we have in the lineup, they’re all quite excited to be going over for that trip.

HS: The other thing I wanted to ask you about before we let you go is Casey Mittelstadt. A young center, trying to find his way coming off of his first full season, which had its ups and downs. What was your message or is your message to a young guy like that? You’ve talked about how in your system, it puts a lot of pressure on the player at center, the man in the middle. So what have you told Casey to try and help his development this season?

RK: Well that’s where Don Granato and now Chris Taylor at the moment filling in are working hard with him on the individual tactics that we need and the technique. To be able to defend in your own end at the speed and the pace of the National Hockey League today is a lot of hard work for the centerman. It sounds like a broken record, but very coachable young man who wants to get better every day. We all know how exciting his offensive upside is. We’re going to continue to let that grow and we’re going to find spaces where he can use it. Without the puck is where you need to be able to play, if we go on the road and you’re up against the top line of the other team, how can you defend? He’s doing really well in his development there. It’s more about our defensive concept. If we want a chance to win every night here in the National Hockey League. As the top teams develop and get warmed up into the season, we’re going to have to be able to defend every night to give ourselves a real chance. we aren’t a team that wants to get into run-and-gun shootouts. We want to have some control over things, and that’s where young players like Casey totally understand that need and are working hard at getting better. It’s the defensive side of the team that I’m so proud about so far. After three games this season and how little we’ve allowed in Pittsburgh, against New Jersey and even in Columbus the other day, they only had 11 or 12 five-on-five really good scoring chances against us in a game where we weren’t happy. Players like Casey are chipping in and working at that. I believe we have the offense to ignite up front if we can take care of our end first.

JW: We’ve got to let you go, it’s a game day. One of these weeks I want to talk to you about the Premier League. Going to want to talk some soccer at some point.

RK: We can have a soccer talk. It’s sure good to be back in hockey.

JW: Any truth to my theory that there are no morning skates because soccer is on early in the morning and it gives you a chance to maybe watch some games. Just saying, it fits into the schedule nicely for you.

RK: I have to tell you, honestly, the Premier League players don’t move the whole day and it was something I really looked with our sports science department at. And also, when I was over in the UK, about how the players prepared for their evening games and how little energy the exerted on game days. You make a joke out of it, but it’s not about watching the football.

JW: That is interesting. I know they do so much with player tracking over there, 90-minute games when you don’t have any substitutions or line changes, the tracking of how far you run. Just the lengths that that’s gone to is really fascinating. 

RK: We’re doing a lot of that here. One of the things that really surprised me positively coming into Buffalo was how excellent the staff was put together already. I walked into a fully functioning high-performance machine here, which has really helped to launch everything in the right direction. We’re very, very advanced here in our sport science and how we use it and how we’re tracking the energy of the players, which is going to be important here as you already mentioned. I think we’ve got like 11 in the next 20 days or something where you really have to manage your energy.

HS: Again, thanks for your time with us this morning, Ralph, good luck tonight against the Canadiens.

RK: Ok, all the best to the listeners and let’s go Sabres.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (10/2/19)

October 2, 2019


Ralph Krueger

Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.)

Howard Simon: We’ve got a lot of hockey questions for you, but first and foremost, what’s up with the espresso machine? Really? An espresso machine?

Ralph Krueger: We’ve got them all over the place now. That’s part of living in Europe for most of my adult life. It’s one of the things I grant myself on a regular basis after meals and so on. It’s interesting how many players actually have that as a part of their lifestyle already here. It’s nothing new for this new generation. Everybody’s enjoying their espressos, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for casual meetings all over the place in our locker room right now.

HS: The first question for me, Ralph, would definitely be how you are coming along. New coach coming in, you get the job, I’m sure you start looking at tape of all of these players and now you’re going through the process, as any coach would, to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each of the guys on your roster and you can coach accordingly. How are you coming along in that process in terms of learning what all these guys are about on and, for that matter, off the ice too?

RK: Well you framed it really well because as a coach you never understand or know a player until you coach him because you don’t know what the others coaches have been asking him or telling him to do. So you’re watching the tape and you don’t know what the directive is. Now the directives are clear, the asks with the puck or without the puck are very well-defined. The players know exactly what we want. Now I can evaluate them on a fair basis. I’ve been pleased with the evaluations so far. The buy-in has been outstanding. We won’t be perfect for a while, but we’re sure not going to lack in effort and the attempt at cohesiveness here. I can really feel it. The players are extremely open to the messages we’ve brought in. It’s been an outstanding training camp.

HS: Of course you’re going to coach Xs and Os and you’re going to have principles that you want this team to play with, but I think a lot of the guys are talking about how you just want them to go out and not maybe overthink it, or just rely on instincts. Can you talk a little bit about essentially how you want your team to play the game of hockey?

RK: Well we’re clearly much more concept- and principle-based than we are system-based. And for people that maybe don’t understand the difference, a system puts you into boxes continually defensively and offensively without any freedom really of creativity and movement. But if you have core principles within the structure, for instance defensively, if players are allowed to move within the boundaries, like you want them between the dots, you want them pushing back hard on the backcheck, there’s an opportunity to work within a framework where there’s more space — especially with the puck — to use your genius and use your expertise. We have a lot of that in the lineup. We’re trying to find a way that people watch the Sabres feeling like we are connected and everybody is playing together in both directions. But at the same time, you should feel a freedom of movement and you should feel speed in the group. Let’s see how it all plays out, but so far it’s been going quite well.

Sal Capaccio: Ralph when you were hired, my wife was excited. She’s from Frankfurt and she knows your parents are from Germany. No pressure there. She just keeps telling me, reminding me, Sabres have a German coach. But I do want to ask you about your time spent over coaching football over in Europe. I know you were in hockey, you went there, you came back. What did that time do for you now that you’re back been here integrated and coaching hockey again, what lessons did you learn and how have you been able to apply all of that?

RK: Just to be clear, I wasn’t coaching, per say, on the field or on the pitch. I was the president of the football team, so more in the role what Jason [Botterill] is doing here between general manger and president of the team kind of. Leading the organization, but very close to the football and very close to what was going on. What I learned more than anything was just to continue to evolve as a leader of athletes at the highest level. They have a special need, they’re so much more professional than they were decades ago. They’re 365-day machines now that actually have a lot of consultants working with them away from the team in the summertime and so on and so forth. It’s just managing the psychology of it, really, and making sure that these high-end athletes find a way and find things to grab on together, goals to reach as one. I know my experience in the Premier League was outstanding because it’s a similar mindset to here in National Hockey League because you’re dealing with the best athletes in your sport, and how to push their buttons is really the bottom line in my role. I need to push them the right way.

SC: Can I just follow up real quick? People talk all the time, we hear about, “well today’s athletes are so much different” in a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be extremely in a positive way the way these athletes interact or how treated and how they take care of themselves in their careers.

RK: Oh my god, I find the athletes they are so exciting to work with. They’re high-performance machines who need to be treated appropriately and with respect. If I think back to my generation growing up and playing in the ‘80s and, my career was in Germany, but we would play ourselves into shape in the fall and had definitely less professional off-ice programs. If I look at the buy-in with our players here to what we’re asking away from the ice, for every training session in training camp there was a pre-activation that took 20 to 25 minutes, a post weight lift that took 30 to 35 minutes. We skated on the ice for up to an hour and 15 minutes to any respect to what was actually going on off the ice and pushed them. And nobody complained, not one single moan or groan here. And I’ll tell you that for me, the speed in the NHL, the strength in the NHL, the pace of the game is all a result of the improved fitness of the players and that’s why the game of hockey just continues to get more exciting all the time.

HS: Who’s your number-two center?

RK: Well we don’t really have a number one, two, three, four, five of anything. It’s really the roles that they have. It’s clear that Jack [Eichel] is the leader of the team and everybody would call him the number one, but we use names and not numbers here. It’s going to be the role that you have, possibly playing up against the top line of the other team might not fall upon Jack or Marcus Johansson. It might fall on [Johan] Larsson. It’s about accepting the role that we need you to play and take the ice time and the minutes that you get and work with those. It’s clear from the outside people will want to rank our players, but for me everyone is important. The 13-minute guy that spends five of those minutes killing penalties is every bit as important as the 22-minute guy who plays eight of that on the power play. It’s just about getting everybody to buy into the roles, accept their roles, and execute them as best they can. That’s really our job as coaches.

HS: Maybe this does get back to when you were talking about principle-based versus system-based, as you well know even though you weren’t here, last season the Sabres had a ton of trouble in their own end. They were really confused at times Ralph. How do you go about — whether this ties into your earlier explanation or not — cleaning up play, being responsible in your own end?

RK: Well we’ve been working on that the entire training camp and the game without the puck, I speak about it so much, is really where you see the character of the team. It’s where you see the personality of a group and that has been a major focus in training camp because with the puck and offensively we have a lot of exciting skill and talent. It’ll be a never-ending teaching process that we have because there’s always improvement on the defensive side and there’s always also offensively things we can work on. I think that’s really our motto for this season. It’s going to be a small picture every day when we come in here. We’re going to work hard to improve. And that’s why I said to you at the beginning of the call, I’m going to come in here excited every day and I won’t let the noise, good or bad, around us affect our process of just improving on a daily basis. And if the fans can feel that, and the fans can feel the fight on the group, I think that the results will follow.

HS: You weren’t around for a second of the eight-year playoff drought, but you’re aware of it. And I wonder, do you feel any added pressure or added burden? I bring it up Ralph because the football team here had a 17-season playoff drought and coaches changed over that time. And as each guy came in, it’s almost like, they were always asked, and I don’t know if they felt an extra burden on their shoulders that they inherited from the previous coaches because of the drought. Do you?

RK: It doesn’t interest me at all. The past has not been just been bad here. It’s not fair to criticize anything that’s been done here over the last few years because so many fundamentally good things have happened here. I’ve walked into an outstanding support staff in all areas of the club. The people in and around the club and possibly the results for the fan or the playoffs weren’t achieved, but a lot of outstanding work has been done. We’ve increased our depth through the summertime. For me, it’s only about managing what we can change right now. I won’t let any of those other pressures get at the team. We understand the responsibility much more of having the 50th anniversary year. I think that’s more important than the playoff drought. It’s carrying the flag of the Sabres into this 50th year with pride and with honor and understanding the great history and the fans and their loyalty to the group. Let’s have that be a motivator and not a deterrent of trying to be a great team and moving forward together with our fan base as one. That’s how I’m feeling, really, honestly, right now. The past is there for us to learn from. The pain that the players went through last year is there for us to use as a source of energy, and not as a deterrent for just moving this club forward. Let’s hope that on our talk shows we get to speak about the development of the group that it’s very visible for everybody to see.

HS: Ralph, you’ve even talked about this, it might have been in the piece I read the other day — the sit-down you had with Pierre LeBrun — about getting the fans back and getting the fan base energized again because of what’s happened, because what they’ve gone through, even because last year the 10-game win streak and then the collapse. I was going to ask you how do you get the fans back feeling excited about the product? I would think the simple answer is you win. If you win, they’ll be back. 

RK: For me, the winning is always a byproduct. I really have a feeling that these fans in Buffalo are really honest. What I’m feeling is a passionate, honest fan base that if they feel that that team is giving its very best on a daily basis and they are fighting with all their hearts and souls that they will support us no matter the results. I really think, after spending a few months here now if Buffalo, that we have a very honest environment. We have a very real world here of good people, and that’s what we need to strive for: that our fans leave this building night and watch us play on the road and are convinced we’ve given our best. Let that be our motto to begin with. As you already said, I am also convinced the wins will follow.

SC: What have you liked about Buffalo outside of your job, personally?

RK: The quality of life is just so high here. I’m just positively surprised at the opportunities you have here, whether it’s the niche restaurant scene, the cultural music and arts opportunities, and just the size of the city. I love the core of the city and how much of history has been restored and held on to here in comparison to a lot of North American cities that have just been filled with high-rise buildings. I’ve really enjoyed that the access to nature here is amazing. My biggest surprise would be the quality of life here in this city and the good people that are in it.

HS: Thanks for your time, Ralph. We look forward to having you on each week. And don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of suggestions for you each week all season long.

RK: No worries. Throw anything you want at me. Every question’s a good question and we’ll find a way to a good answer. Howard and Sal, I wish you and all of the listeners, especially the Sabres fans, a good day and let’s get a great start tomorrow.

HS: Be careful, what you just said. Eichel and Olofsson on the power play. I like Olofsson on the right side, Eichel on the left side. Leave them both on the half wall and I’m very happy. You said you wanted to hear it.

SC: I’m sure you’re taking notes coach, I’m sure you’re taking notes.

RK: Actually — oh, my pen just ran out of ink.

HS: My best stuff goes to waste. Thanks for coming on with us Ralph, good luck this season.

RK: Thanks, have a good day.

Ralph Krueger Interview – The Instigators (9/10/19)

September 10, 2019


Ralph Krueger
The Instigators (10:30 a.m.) (9:47)


Andrew Peters: How long have you been in town?

Ralph Krueger: Mid-August.

AP: I’m not going to ask you your address or anything, but are you settled?

RK: Settled, living in the city.

AP: Settled, living in the city.

RK: Yeah, living in the city. I love it, I love it. The environment has been good for the balance. Evening, just going for walks, hitting some nature, having some good meals.

AP: I’m sure when you go bar to bar people recognize you this time.

RK: Not the bar to bar thing anymore.

AP: Little more low-key now, are you?

RK: The bakeries, bakeries and cafes now. Change of genre.

AP: So, are you feeling a buzz?

RK: Yeah, I mean as a coach you’re in a situation where you’ve spent multiple months now preparing. The danger is, I think I grabbed our second day of practice the other day and started redesigning it, just for something to do. I want to let all that go now and let’s get going, let’s start practicing, let’s start communicating with the players, let’s get our concepts in place. I’m excited to play.

Craig Rivet: Today’s golf day. [It] usually signifies the start of a new season, having all the players back, everybody’s signed. I’m sure that the players are extremely excited to get things going obviously with a new coach and a new leader. What’s the biggest message moving into training camp? What’s the one thing you’ll be keying on to try and bring these guys together?

RK: I think that the end result needs to be that on the third of October when you guys are watching — and speaking to me a few days later — you feel that there’s a concept there behind what we’re doing. The guys are playing together and playing as one with and without the puck. That’s the goal now, in the next few weeks, to find a path to get them set up that way. That’s our responsibility as coaches. I feel a group of players that are open and willing to do this, so let’s just get it started. But it begins with the communication, making sure that everybody has the same basis of facts that we all understand what those are and what those need to be for us to be successful here, and then let’s put them into play. The talk is cheap on the way to the actions, so let’s get those actions right by the third of October; that’s really what our goal is.

CR: Have you enjoyed watching the prospects?

RK: Yeah. As a coach in the moment you’re looking more at the individual skill sets and the individual abilities within that group. The team game itself was exciting in that they were fighting to win all three games. You could see a good passion there, good work ethic and fight. We’ve got some interesting skill in these players, which we’ll see what it’s like when they hit main camp. It’s a different ballgame starting Friday. But we look forward to some of the players we saw there.

AP: Well I’ve got to ask because, you know, sometimes that was some of the only way I could get noticed. What did you think of Casey Fitzgerald yesterday?

RK: He definitely has a lot of skill and mobility and [is an] active player. He left his mark and we’ll be seeing him in main camp for sure.

AP: Good scrap?

RK: Yeah, that was like (Matej) Pekar the other day. I mean, him at “Fitzy” were showing it mattered and they cared no matter what, and I think that was important. That was your world more? Is that it?

AP: Yeah, I would probably believe that you don’t know who I am. It’s okay. Riv, you want to take over here? I’ve got to tell you, my confidence is at an all-time low. Nice to meet you, sir.

AP: I’ve got to ask you this, and I feel like the word — I feel like unless you’ve truly lived it, I don’t think people truly understand, and we try to preach it, and our listeners and followers, they laugh at us when we reuse the word “culture.” And I feel it’s almost like we ignore talking about it because people are so sick of talking about it. But it’s not built in one offseason, it’s not built in one coaching hire; it starts in all these places. On your list of priorities in coaching, where is the culture in terms of the priority of success for your team?

RK: It’s hard to find a synonym for culture. I think that is a word that you are going to use and reuse all the time, especially in a coaching role because it summarizes the behavior of the group. It summarizes what the priorities are of the group and how they go into a practice, how they go into a game, how they go into a team meeting, how they hang out together on the road. It’s the lifestyle of everybody. There’s no way you push a button and change that overnight. It’s like with your children, you have a chance for seven, eight, nine years, maybe, at the beginning of the life to give a fundamental foundation of a culture in that child and then it develops its own little personality. But I think that a team culture develops over time. There’s been so many good things done here, that’s what I want to say over and over again. I’m walking into a lot of fundamentally strong cultural things here that I can build on and work on and are really in line with what I believe in. This organization has been trying to do its best. There’s so many good people on our staff in all different specialties. I don’t need to list them all right now, but there’s so many good things in terms of the organization of how the club is concerned, and its relationship with the Bills is something we can tap into and use as a positive. Now we need to get that culture straight on the ice. I think it’s the final piece. I think I’ve walked in here to a situation where the foundation is laid. It’s not like jobs I’ve walked [into] in the past where you’ve had to spend three years just getting the right staff together. No, let’s go to work right away and let’s get it right on the ice. So that’s our job now, and I look forward to it. Let’s see if you can find another word for culture, but in the end it summarizes what you do, what your actions are. What are your habits? What do you do on a regular basis? That’s what you’re culture is. We want to have actions that the fans and the people of Buffalo are proud of and they’re excited to be a part of.

Jason Botterill Prospects Challenge Media Availability (9/9/19)

Sept. 9, 2019

Jason Botterill
Prospects Challenge
Jason Botterill Media Availability (10:37)

Just to start off with, I’ll give you a couple of injury updates on guys who would’ve been a part of the Prospects Challenge here. Lawrence Pilut is still recovering from shoulder surgery. He won’t be in main camp, but everything seems to be going very smoothly from that standpoint. We hope that he’ll look to be playing games somewhere around the middle of October. (Ukko-Pekka) Luukkonen, coming off of a hip surgery, again, things have been very positive from his rehab. He won’t be in main camp, we’re looking at a time frame of the start of November for him to be playing in games. All other injury updates we’ll give you a little more once main camp starts.


Q: What did you think of the last three days? What was your general impression of what you saw out there on the ice? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: I think it was a great tournament. I thought (it was) very balanced among all four teams. I thought, especially, Friday and Saturday, great atmosphere in the building for our players. I just think, young players especially, they work so hard in the offseason, getting ready for main camp, but there’s always an adjustment from summer scrimmages to main camp and I think our guys went out there, got in a game environment, and it’s going to help them a lot when they make the transformation into main camp now.


Q: Your objective has all along has been to build organizational depth. As you watch these three games, how far along do you think you are with that objective? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: I think we continue to improve on it every year. I think just the fact that I was very happy with some of our veteran players, that have been in our system before — (Rasmus) Asplund, (Victor) Olofsson — how they came in, but also very excited about some of our younger defensemen, a guy like (Jacob) Bryson and (Casey) Fitzgerald, coming in for their first camp, I thought they handled themselves well, too. So we’re excited now to move into NHL preseason games, having some of our young players challenge our veteran players for roster spots, but also, too, excited about what’s developing in Rochester and that next wave of players.


Q: (Rasmus) Ristolainen certainly is expected in town with the guys tomorrow, where do you think his head is at this point? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: In our conversations with him, it’s been positive and I think [Ristolainen] has always been someone who comes to camp in extremely good shape. I think there is going to be an adjustment for all our players with a new head coach. Trying to bring together exactly what coaches are going to want from a system standpoint, where they fit in with the group and I’m sure those conversations will go well with [Ristolainen] and our entire team.


Q: Do you have any NHL players coming in on tryouts? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: Right now, we don’t have any tryout guys. We’ll continue to sort of re-evaluate we’re we are from an injury standpoint; have discussions in the next couple days. But right now, no.


Q: Is part of that decision to bring anybody in at this point so you can give younger guys like (Tage) Thompson, (Victor) Olofsson a lot of time in training camp? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

A: No, it’s something I think we’ve added to our young guys we have coming in there. I thought some of our signings — J-S Dea, Curtis Lazar — players we want to give an opportunity to. With playing only six preseason games, we set it that way, we want to have a lot of practice time, but it’s always sort of that balance of finding enough games for your veteran players but giving enough for your young guys. We’re excited to see how they’ll materialize here and how they’re going to push some of our veteran players.


Q: Are you still having a dialogue with Jason Pominville and is he a possibility at some point? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: Obviously, Jason’s still in town, we’ve obviously continued to communicate with him. We’ll continue to communicate with him in the next couple days here and make a decision on that.


Q: You’ve mentioned the competition a few times. Where in particular are you really looking forward to seeing some competition take place? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

A: I think you certainly see it on the wings and then also at the defense corps. I think those are the two main spots. I say wing, but I also think we have a lot of players that can play both center and wing. That gives Ralph (Krueger) different options with his lineup and one of the big parts of the six preseason games is going to see where players have chemistry with each other and which position fits best for them.


Q: You haven’t ruled Pominville out then, based on your previous answer at some point. Is that correct? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: I haven’t ruled it out, but I’ve also, like I said, we’re very excited about where we are from the depth standpoint and the competitions we’re going to have and we want to make sure we give our young players enough of an opportunity.


Q: I know you didn’t want to rush him, but was it big that you were able to get [Dylan] Cozens into this tournament? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: I think it helps him out a lot more in preparation for going out on the ice for the first time on Friday, just the speed of the game. He worked extremely hard over the last couple of months, staying in Buffalo, working with our staff. I know he really wanted to play in these games. I thought, just from a conditioning standpoint and time standpoint, getting these games will certainly help him out.

Q: Ralph has done a lot of camps in his career for different events. He’s never done a full NHL camp as a head coach before. What’s it been like last few weeks prepare for this and what do you want see from your coach here in the next week or so? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: Well, I think everything’s been extremely well organized and I think you see Ralph’s communication with myself and his assistants. I think it’s great having guys that have been on the staff before. Bringing in guys, like Mike Bales from Carolina, also Don Granato from Chicago, you get the best of all worlds. I think you’ll come to realize with Ralph, some of his connections throughout the league, over the last few years, he’s sort of picking best practices from all these guys. So, what I’m looking for is just, from the entire group, there’s a lot of enthusiasm come Friday. Understanding that, yeah, we’re going to be implementing a new system, there needs to be teaching and learning from that, but also we want to see pace, we want to see work ethic from day one.


Q: Is there a challenge, maybe, not that Ralph is an unknown — he’s just a different entity in the sense that he’s not a retread. Is there a different challenge that he faces, unlike say (Joel) Quenneville going to Florida, where players know him, that he needs to get across to players to earn their respect? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: I think he earns his respect by how he communicates with guys and I think he’s done that already. I think our players are going to realize very quickly his knowledge of the game. Where my communication’s gone really well is look, it’s about winning, but it’s also about our continuing, especially with the young team that we have, about developing every day. I think once players buy in that this guy is going to help them and their careesr and help them win games that’s where respect comes.


Q: Did the injury maybe put Dylan a little it behind schedule to the point where it really hurt his chances of making the team or does he still have a really legit shot here to push for a roster spot in camp? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

A: Look, Lance, I think it’s always difficult for an 18-year-old to make it in the National Hockey League right off the bat. I think the good thing with this type of injury, yeah, it’s certainly disappointing that he couldn’t work on some of his skills, but from the standpoint of working with our strength staff, improving his leg strength, I think he did a great job with that over the last couple of months. I don’t think that will hurt his ability, I just think it’s a big jump for an 18-year-old to step in to the National Hockey League and really contribute. But we’ll certainly give him an opportunity over the next couple weeks here and see what materializes.


Q: You get nine games if you want to give him a chance. Do you believe in that or is that something you don’t really believe in for a young player? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: I think the bigger thing is the accrued season versus the nine games on the contract. We’ll continue to have dialogue with Dylan and see what’s best for not only our team but also for his development over the next week, or, if that continues to go well, the next couple months.


Q: Do you expect that the Werenski thing today with Columbus may be the start of opening the log jam and the for phones to really start heating up around the league this week? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: Tough for me to predict that one. I’m just glad that right now, we don’t have restricted free agents that we have to sign. I think I mentioned it to you before, I think salary arbitration is a tough process, but it gets all the guys signed up and there’s no distractions. Our team’s all signed up, they’re all going to be here on Thursday and we’ll get going from that standpoint. It won’t surprise me, these players are going to eventually get signed here, and I think it will start to come. What that time frame, whether it’s this week or the next month, I couldn’t tell you.


Q: Would you categorize your phone as being busy at all in the last few days? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: I think it’s always busy, It’s been good with just interacting with our staff here because they’re all here, and I think there’s excitement around the league just because you’re back in arenas, you’re back watching games, so it’s not all these fictitious conversations, you’re actually seeing players and you’re starting to evaluate players again.


Q: From Ralph’s perspective, as he said, it’s open competition, players will decide things. But as you help with that roster building, how much does past experiences, how much do contracts come in to who stays and who goes once this season gets underway? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

A: Well I think we’ve shown in the past, it hasn’t been lip service, it’s been with our actions, that if players knock out veteran players, they’re going to have the opportunity to be here and that’s what we’re going to be looking for. We talked a lot to that about players coming into our organization, giving them an opportunity. We’ve talked a lot about our returning players, challenging them to be ready to go right away, because we want to bring more players in to have more success as an organization. I think the competition is going to be great in the next couple weeks and I think you probably hear it in Ralph’s voice, he’s excited about getting things going. I think a lot of our players, whether you saw in Chicago with Jack and Rasmus, they want to get things going. They’ve worked hard in the offseason, now it’s getting ready to go out there and start performing.


 Q: Your vision for this team has been to have it be more speed, better on the attack, better on the pressure. It’s only three games with prospects, but do you get more of an idea that you’re going to see more of that from this team going ahead? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

A: Well I thought  a lot of guys competed hard, guys played with pace, and I especially really like it in our back end. I thought our defense did a really good job. Whether it was Jokiharju, Bryson, Fitzgerald, getting up with the play. You can see the development from a year’s time for a player like Will Borgen., I thought he played very physical in his two games and that’s sort of probably what most of the crowd is drawn to. What I really liked was his gap. he was up in the play a lot, didn’t give the opponents very much space at all. That’s just a small sample size, but hopefully that carries over to our group and it’s simple. It’s a speed game. We’re trying to get faster, we’re trying to obviously get players that can skate faster, but also move the puck faster and play a faster game.