Kevin Dineen is finally getting a chance to coach a National Hockey League team and his former players couldn’t be happier for him.

“It’s about time,” said forward Derek Whitmore, who played the last three seasons for the Portland Pirates. “I think the guy has done a great job in the American League level. I know he’s a very good coach and he’s so good at developing players.”

Florida General Manager Dale Tallon made it official Wednesday when he introduced Dineen, the Pirates’ coach for the past six seasons, as the 11th head coach of the Panthers.

“I actually thought he would be in the NHL last year,” said Buffalo Sabres forward Nathan Gerbe, one of the three players who were AHL rookie of the year under Dineen. “But I guess patience is a virtue and I couldn’t be happier for him to get a chance.”

“I think it’s been a long time coming for Kevin,” chimed in Portland assistant coach Eric Weinrich, who has been with the Pirates as a player or coach for five seasons. “I think he’s proven he’s a winner, and he’s proven it year after year since he’s been (in Portland). I think it’s long overdue for him to get a legitimate shot, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

In six seasons under Dineen, the Pirates were 266-155-59 for a team-record .616 winning percentage. The team qualified for the playoffs five times.

In 2006, his first season as head coach, Dineen was named the AHL’s outstanding coach after leading the Pirates to the Eastern Conference finals.

Dineen broke into the NHL as a player in 1985 with the Hartford Whalers. During an 18-year career, he also played for the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets.

“If you were lucky or unlucky enough to play with him or against him, you know how intense he was as a player and he brings that as a coach, too, and I think the guys feed off that,” said Weinrich, an 18-year NHL veteran who grew up in Gardiner. “He’s a great example of a players’ coach. He really relates to what the guys are feeling and to what’s going on in the (locker room) and on the ice.”

Dineen, 47, replaced Pete DeBoer, who was fired the day after Florida’s 1-0 victory against Washington in the 2010-11 finale. DeBoer spent three seasons as the Panthers’ coach.

Dineen still had one year left on his contract with the Sabres, the Pirates’ NHL parent for three seasons, but Buffalo didn’t keep him from taking the job with the Panthers.

“I’m very, very happy for him and his family,” Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier said. “I think it’s a very deserving position and recognition, and I think he’ll do a terrific job. I really do.”

The Sabres hope to have a replacement by the end of June.

“We’re in a process of putting a list together, and then we’ll go through an interview process,” Regier said. “It would be nice if we can have it done by the end of June. That would certainly be something we’ll shoot for, but I think it’s more important we make sure we find the right person and take whatever necessary time we need to take.”

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

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