Between the time Kevin Dineen delivered a speech in Toronto on Thursday and took part in an Olympic ring ceremony in Vancouver on Monday, three of the four head-coaching vacancies in the National Hockey League had disappeared.
“It’s certainly a challenging time when you have a family with kids in school and they’re wondering where they’re going to be in the fall,” said Dineen, who hopes to land an NHL coaching job again after two-plus years with the Florida Panthers. “But that’s been the hockey life.”
Dineen spent six seasons as coach of the Portland Pirates, leading the American Hockey League franchise to the playoffs five times from 2005-11, twice reaching Game 7 of the conference finals.
“We look back on our time in Portland as certainly one of the best times of our life,” said Dineen, who said he was happy to hear the Pirates are returning downtown after a season of home games in Lewiston. “We felt like we really connected with the community.”
The Panthers hired him as their head coach in 2011. The move paid immediate dividends; Florida won its first division title and ended a playoff drought that stretched beyond a decade. But the team slipped to last place the following season during a lockout-shortened schedule. Early last November, only 16 games into the season, Dineen and his assistant coaches were fired following a seven-game losing streak that put his NHL coaching record at 56-62-28.
With time on his hands, Dineen planned to see his oldest daughter, Hannah, play for Colby College in Waterville, where she recently completed her first year.
Dineen never made it to Maine. Instead, Hockey Canada called after the abrupt resignation of Dan Church as coach of the women’s Olympic team only 57 days before the start of the Sochi Games.
“It went from a real quiet period to real hectic so I never saw her play,” he said. “But I did get to take the whole family to Sochi, and that was special.”
Team Canada rallied from a two-goal deficit late in the third period of the final against the United States and won the gold medal 3-2 in overtime. The rest of the family includes his wife Annie, daughter Emma, and sons William and Declan.
Although only the players received Olympic medals, Dineen took part in a ceremony Monday in Vancouver for the men’s and women’s Olympic teams, and received a championship ring.
A native of Quebec City who grew up in Toronto and followed his father (Bill) and brothers (Peter, Gord) into pro hockey, Dineen called the Olympics “an amazing experience” as well as an educational opportunity.
“I enjoyed working with very cerebral athletes who are not only willing to learn but who have high expectations for success,” he said. “It was not only exciting but I was proud to represent my country.”
Dineen, 50, played 19 years in the NHL and six times represented Canada in international competition, including the 1984 Olympics. After coaching the women to gold, Hockey Canada asked Dineen to guide its team in the under-18 men’s world championships in Finland, where Canada finished third.
Many of those players, Dineen said, will be chosen early in the NHL draft beginning Friday in Philadelphia. Dineen will be in Philadelphia, leading a coaching seminar.
As for his whereabouts come October, Dineen said he expects to be behind a hockey bench as he has for 10 winters. He had plenty of talks this spring with general managers, including his friend and former Hartford Whalers teammate, Ron Francis, who opted to hire Bill Peters as head coach of the Hurricanes.
“I’m sure (Dineen) was on everybody’s list,” said Eric Weinrich, a Pirates assistant with Dineen for three years who lives in Yarmouth and scouts for the Buffalo Sabres. “He’s definitely a good coach and a well-respected guy, and comes from a real hockey background and family.”
Earlier this month the Dineens packed up their house in Florida and moved to Lake George, New York, where they have long maintained a summer presence. Emma, 17, an excellent soccer player, will return to Florida for her senior year of high school. William, 13, and Declan, 10, are entering eighth and sixth grade.
“I’m exploring all my options,” Dineen said. “I’ve had conversations about opportunities but nothing is concrete. Probably in the next couple weeks after the draft things will start to filter out.”
Said Weinrich, “If it doesn’t happen this year, I suspect he’s still itching to get back into the league and see what he can do.”