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Lindy Ruff named Devils’ coach, Tom Fitzgerald stays GM

The New Jersey Devils hired veteran coach Lindy Ruff on Thursday to take over one of the NHL’s youngest teams and removed the interim tag from Tom Fitzgerald’s title as general manager.

Ruff, who had been an assistant with the New York Rangers since 2017, replaces interim coach Alain Nasreddine, who guided the team to a 19-16-8 record after John Hynes was fired on Dec. 3. Fitzgerald had served as interim general manager since Ray Shero was fired on Jan. 12.

“It was evident that Tom was the right person for this job,” co-owner David Blitzer said, citing Fitzgerald’s work at the February trade deadline and beyond. “We’re very excited to remove that interim tag.”

The Devils posted a 28-29-12 overall record, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. Their season was halted by the coronavirus pandemic in early March, and they were not among the 24 teams chosen to compete for the Stanley Cup when NHL play resumes.

During the pause, the Devils interviewed Nasreddine and former head coaches Gerard Gallant, Peter Laviolette and John Stevens. The process was extensive, with Zoom interviews that lasted upward of five hours. They were “deep dives” on the coaches’ systems and how they meshed with the way Fitzgerald felt the team should play.

“As the process moved forward, Lindy just continued to step to the forefront,” Fitzgerald said. “I was looking for NHL head-coaching experience; for someone that could walk into a room and grab the attention of our young team [because] the group needs a teacher. The more we kept digging, the more Lindy kept rising.”

Once Fitzgerald felt Ruff was the front-runner, he put the coach in front of franchise legend Martin Brodeur, who was serving in an advisory role in hockey operations. After that, the choice went to owner Josh Harris and Blitzer for the final sign-off.

The head-coaching job is the third in the NHL for the 60-year-old Ruff. He coached the Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars, leading the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999. He was hired by the Rangers before the 2017-18 season. He has a 736-554-78-125 record, with 10 playoff appearances.

A former defenseman, Ruff played in 691 NHL regular-season games and had 105 goals and 195 assists. He also appeared in 52 playoff games.

Ruff has been coaching in the NHL since 1993, when he was an assistant with a Florida Panthers team that Fitzgerald played on. He said that his reputation as a coach has changed depending on the way he needed his players to play.

“I’ve had teams where I was criticized for coaching too defensive. Then I’ve had teams where I’ve been criticized for coaching too offensive,” he said.

Ruff was known in the past for his intensity as a head coach, but he said that as times have changed, so have tactics.

“I’ve told players in the past [not to] get caught up in my emotion but get caught up by the message,” he said. “Those days of just walking in there and screaming and yelling … the players want to know the ‘why’ part.”

Fitzgerald said current Devils coaches will have a chance to meet with Ruff and discuss their futures. That includes assistant coach Mike Grier, who played for Ruff with the Sabres, as well as Nasreddine. Fitzgerald said Nasreddine “has proven to be one of the best penalty-kill coaches in the league, which is a thing we need.”

Gord Murphy, an associate coach with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, will replace Ruff behind the Rangers’ bench during the 24-team tournament this summer.

Information from ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, Greg Wyshynski and The Associated Press was used in this report.

Sports report

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NHL

Florence Schelling named first female GM of top-level men’s pro hockey team

Florence Schelling has been named the general manager of SC Bern of the National League in Switzerland. At just 31, she is the first female GM in top-level men’s professional hockey.

“In the evaluation process, we ended up with Florence Schelling,” SC Bern CEO Marc Luthi told the media outlet Berner Zeitung. “We came to the conclusion: Florence is the person we are looking for and want. Yes, Florence will be a pioneer, probably worldwide in her new role. But she’s young, fresh, she’ll bring a new perspective and break up existing structures.”

Previously, Schelling became the first — and only — woman to play in the Swiss Men’s National B League.

Schelling, a Zurich native, is the longtime goaltender of the Swiss national women’s team. She represented Switzerland in 11 World Championships and is a four-time Olympian. She helped Switzerland win a bronze medal in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and was named the tournament MVP. Schelling retired from professional hockey in 2018.

Schelling played NCAA hockey for Northeastern University, where she was a Patty Kazmaier Award finalist. She also holds a master’s degree in business administration from Linkoping University in Sweden.

SC Bern won the National League championship in 2019, but this season finished in ninth place out of 12 teams. Schelling will take over for Alex Chatelain, who had been GM since 2015 and won three championship titles with Bern. Chatelain will remain in the organization in a different role.

“After talking to the SCB officials, it was clear: I want to take on this challenge,” Schelling told the Swiss outlet SRF.

Sports report