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The Leaders Alongside Granato

Spotlight: taking a closer look at the Sabres’ coaching staff

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

During this offseason, Die by the Blade has been looking to our readers for content of interest. Last month, there was a request to learn more about the coaching staff of the Buffalo Sabres. Well, we aim to please. Now that we have taken a deeper dive into learning more about head coach Don Granato (some of you were offended by the use of his nickname, which he himself embraces, but I digress...), it is time to take a closer look at the rest of Buffalo’s coaching staff.

Mike Bales, Assistant Coach

Before his time with Buffalo, Bales spent four seasons in the NHL as a goaltender from 1992 to 1997 for the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, respectively. He then joined various leagues in Europe, including the British Ice Hockey League and Swedish Hockey League.

Following his playing career, he was hired as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ goaltender development coach and scout, but was later promoted to goaltending coach after a few seasons. Since then, he has coached for the Carolina Hurricanes and now the Buffalo Sabres since 2019.

Jason Christie, Assistant Coach

Christie is an interesting asset to the Sabres in more ways than one. He has incredible experience working in the hockey realm - most impressively as a head coach in the ECHL for 19 seasons, during which he became the winningest coach in the league’s history in 2015 with 667 total wins.

Coincidentally, he also played in the ECHL with buddy and colleague Granato in the early ‘90s. The two have coached with each other several times before, including Christie’s most recent job before Buffalo: with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. Christie has helped coach behind the bench, but can also be seen providing input from above the ice throughout the season.

Matt Ellis, Assistant Coach

One of the more recognizable names on this list, Ellis has been part of the Sabres organization, in some form, for several years. Though he officially joined as assistant coach following Ralph Krueger’s termination, he previously played as a left winger for the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, and, of course, the Sabres. Prior to his time in the NHL, Ellis served as team captain for affiliates in both Portland and Rochester, where he undoubtedly gained more experience as a leader.

Buffalo is where Ellis spent a majority of his professional playing time before hanging up his skates in 2016. Since then, he spent four years working for the Academy of Hockey at the LECOM Harborcenter and coached for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres. Before his current role, Ellis also briefly served as the Sabres’ director of player development.

When asked about his transition to assistant coach, he said “I’d built rapport with the players and new staff members. This was where I needed to be. This was where my purpose was and maybe where I could make a mark on this game.”

Marty Wilford, Assistant Coach

Though drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, Wilford spent his entire playing career as a defenseman in the ECHL, IHL, and in Europe between 1997-2011. He then spent the seven years that followed as an assistant coach for AHL teams the Syracuse Crunch, Norfolk Admirals, and San Diego Gulls as well as in the NHL for the Anaheim Ducks before making the move to Buffalo. Granato has described Wilford’s experience at varying levels of hockey as “crucial” in building on the progress the team has made the last two seasons.

Dan Girardi, Development Coach

Similar to Ellis, Girardi is very recognizable in the hockey world, but had a much more successful playing career, which spanned 13 seasons and 927 games. He spent the majority of his playing career on the New York Rangers, but also played for the Tampa Bay Lightning during his final two seasons until 2019. The former defenseman is one of the NHL’s all-time leaders in blocked shots with 1,913 and began his coaching career as an interim assistant coach under Granato until his current role as development coach. He has served as a great mentor for our defenseman on and off the ice and is widely respected by the team and staff.

Honorable mentions

Though not as visible as the rest of the coaching staff, Myles Fee (Video Coach) and Justin White (Video Coordinator) also play an integral part in the success of the Sabres as they are in constant communication with the coaches - especially in the event that Granato may want to challenge a play during a game. Both have to remain knowledgeable behind the scenes and ahead of upcoming opponents with the best footage to aid in that preparation.

Overall, it will be interesting to see Granato’s staff continue to work collaboratively in the upcoming season. As the head coach now has a full season under his belt, fans will be looking for more improvements as all the puzzle pieces (both players and coaches) have begun to fit together these last two seasons. Will this be the year they snap the playoff drought?