James van Riemsdyk appreciates what Ron Rolston did for him as a young player as his coach with the USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.
"I just remember the confidence he showed in me," van Riemsdyk said after scoring two goals on Thursday to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 3-1 victory and spoil Rolston's debut as the Buffalo Sabres interim head coach.
"I think he's a big reason for the success I've been able to have as a hockey player," said van Riemsdyk who has 11 goals on the season. "He really kind of instilled that confidence and trust he had in me as a player and put me out in pretty much every situation of every game and allowed me to grow and there were some growing pains in the first year but in the second year I was able to really blossom under his tutelage and I'm definitely thankful for everything he taught me."
Rolston took over the Sabres after Lindy Ruff was fired on Wednesday.
Dion Phaneuf also scored for Toronto, the 100th goal of the defenseman's career, before an announced crowd of 19,473 at Air Canada Centre.
Tyler Ennis scored for the Sabres to give them a first-period lead.
Ben Scrivens, making his fifth consecutive start in the Toronto goal, stopped all but one of 32 shots. Ryan Miller stopped 33 of 36 shots in the Sabres' goal.
"It's up to the players," Miller said. "We're moving forward. I think Ron's a good coach. Nice style about him. I like the way he thinks about the game. But you have to do certain things the right way."
The Maple Leafs took a 2-1 lead into the third and Mikhail Grabovski nearly added to it in the first nine seconds when he forced Miller to make a save on his 36-foot wrist shot.
There were a couple of third-period skirmishes, with Buffalo's John Scott and Toronto's Frazer McLaren getting five-minute majors at 3:07. Phaneuf and Buffalo's Nathan Gerbe took roughing minors 1:35 later.
The Leafs used a two-man advantage to get van Riemsdyk his second goal of the game at 14:28. The goal came after Jochen Hecht put the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty while trying to kill Kevin Porter's tripping penalty at 12:36.
Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle called a timeout during the two-man advantage because he sensed his team was getting a little anxious.
"We just wanted to settle it down, kind of calm the group," he said. "Just a little bit of a break and a reminder to say whoa, whoa, we've got control of it."
Miller was removed from goal with more than two minutes remaining for an extra attacker, but Phil Kessel missed a chance at the open goal.
Carlyle was impressed with the way van Riemsdyk skated in Thursday's game.
"I really think that the skating was definitely the difference for him in tonight's game," he said. "He probably skated as strongly in this hockey game as he has in any game this year. It's good to see him move his feet and be rewarded."
The Maple Leafs (11-7-0) opened the second period on the power play and took advantage of it to tie the game 1-1 at 1:14 when Phaneuf skated in from the point to snap home a 48-footer after taking a pass from Kessel. It was Phaneuf's third goal of the season.
The Sabres (6-11-1) put the puck in the net at 7:08, but it was disallowed and Porter was penalized for goaltender interference.
Kessel set up Toronto's second goal at 18:04 of the second. He skated down the right wing and slipped the puck adeptly past defenseman Alexander Sulzer to van Riemsdyk, who directed the puck home from the edge of the crease. Toronto had a 25-19 advantage in shots after two periods.
"I thought in the second period we turned too many pucks over," Rolston said. "I liked a lot of the things we did tonight. We got better in some areas we talked about. We just have to get back at it.