For those who don’t follow the New Jersey Devils closely, there’s an interesting thing happening both with the team and when it comes to the relationship between the head coach and the fans in New Jersey. Bench boss Lindy Ruff was booed — emphatically — before the Devils’ home opener against the Detroit Red Wings this season. He was a bit surprised but maybe shouldn’t have been considering the team had won 46 games in 138 games under his tenure as coach.
A video that surfaced of the introductions of the players and team staff spread like wildfire on social media and you could make out Ruff saying to associate coach Andrew Brunette, ”I think I’m being booed.” What made things so interesting is that Brunette received a roaring ovation and has been viewed as Ruff’s replacement in the event the Devils choose to go in a different direction with their coaching staff.
If the boos weren’t bad enough, things got worse as “Fire Lindy” chants had broken out at Prudential Center early in the season and many wondered how long Ruff might last.
Tough Times in New Jersey
When asked by media about the reaction from fans to him as a coach, Ruff responded in the right way: ”We got passionate fans here. They’re used to winning. I mean, that’s a part of my job. I take full responsibility for when this team loses. Great history here. The fans want W’s up on the board. As simple as that.”
Ruff had to know he was going to take some heat, especially considering the team had made the playoffs just once since making the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. Eight times in the last 10 seasons they’ve finished no better than second-to-last in their division. That’s why the veteran coach was brought in: to get the franchise back on track. It’s not an overnight process and perhaps not surprisingly, the team finished in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division with him behind the bench.
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Despite his overall winning record — he has the fifth-most wins of any coach in NHL history — Jersey fans grew impatient. They wanted him gone and the “Fire Lindy” chants that rang throughout the arena had to hurt.
Those Chants Are Now Cheers
Things in hockey turn and fans can be fickle. Since the Devils lost that game to the Red Wings (5-2), they’ve been on a tear. The team is now 12-3-0 and the club has won nine straight. Those boos have turned to cheers and the chants have turned from “Fire Lindy” to “Sorry Lindy”. The Devils will be going for their 10th win in a row Tuesday night in Montreal against the Canadiens and this could be one of the best starts of any season for the franchise if they are able to keep things rolling.
Classy Response From a Proven Coach
Frustrations certainly boiled over for Devils’ fans early in the season. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there was a negative reaction early. At the same time, the response they gave Ruff before the team showed how good they were going to be this season was unfair. Ruff deserved better. Still, the coach is taking the high road.
He’s among the most winning coaches still active in the NHL and he’s done an amazing job with this team. He could have been mad or bitter and told the fans to stick it (none of which would have gone over well), but instead he’s laughing it off and doing his job. The hope in New Jersey is that the winning continues. After all, if things turn there’s every chance the fans could turn again too. It’s best to have them on your side if and when that goes down.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”