A year after preparing for his first season as head coach of the Florida Panthers, Kevin Dineen has been able to narrow his focus this summer.

“Last summer was spent not only learning my players, but learning the league so it was a very busy summer,” said Dineen, who had just completed a six-year stint as head coach of the Portland Pirates before becoming head coach at the NHL level for the first time.

“It was a quick tutorial and I spent a lot of time watching guys. I actually enjoyed it. I got a good feel for a lot of our players and the league, the teams we would see the most. That was where my main focus was.

“This summer, I’ve done a lot more communication with our players and with our coaches. It’s nice to have a little bit more stability.”

Last summer, Dineen was focused on helping Dale Tallon — new general manager of the Panthers — put a new team together.

“We came in here and kind of blew things out of the water and ended up with a different team,” he said. “We brought a lot of new faces in. It really was a big change for everybody who had been part of the franchise.

“This year it’s been more subtle. We’re starting to put the pieces together, and still saving spots for some quality kids we have coming. It’s a building process, and we’re making our steps in the right direction.”

STRONG DEBUT AS NHL COACH

Dineen played 19 seasons in the NHL, playing in 1,188 games (355 goals, 405 assists, 2,229 penalty minutes). As a coach in Portland from 2005-11, he led the Pirates to the playoffs in five of his six seasons. He summers with his family on Lake George in upstate New York, and this year has also found time to present lectures during clinics for USA Hockey and the NHL Coaches Association. He focuses on his transition from a player to a coach, then as a coach moving from the AHL to the NHL.

Dineen made quite a transition.

Last season, the Panthers reached the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons and finished first in the Southeast Division. The Devils, who lost to the Kings in the finals, had to pull out OT wins in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern quarterfinals to oust the Panthers.

“Going into the playoffs, we were a team which was expected to sweep Florida, but there was no quit in those guys,” said New Jersey forward Ryan Carter, who played two seasons in Portland under Dineen. “They had every belief that they deserved to be there, and they wanted to play further. They weren’t happy just to make it to the playoffs, and I think that is part of how he coaches. He demands a lot from his players, but he’s respectful, and he’s a positive coach.”

SUCCESS NOT SURPRISING

That Dineen could jump in and immediately have success doesn’t come as a surprise to players and coaches who have worked with him.

“His team played gritty, and I think that’s how he played, too,” said Carter, who played seven games for Dineen at the start of last season before he was claimed by the Devils off waivers. “Sometimes, a coach who wasn’t a sandpaper kind of player says that stuff, and it doesn’t carry as much weight as a guy who sacrificed and played the game that way.”

In his 19 seasons as a NHL player, Dineen averaged more than 40 points and 120 penalty minutes per season.

“I just think the guys probably love playing for a coach who was such a respected player like him,” said former NHL defenseman Eric Weinrich, who spent five seasons with the Pirates, both as player and an assistant coach, during Dineen’s tenure. “I’m sure he’s pretty demanding, but he’s someone who can back up his words. I think players nowadays appreciate a guy like that and enjoy playing for them.”

Weinrich, who grew up in Gardiner, now works as a scout for the Buffalo Sabres.

“Over the five years I was with him, he wouldn’t leave a stone unturned,” Weinrich said. “He always had a plan. He was the type of guy you like to work for. With all the teams we had in Portland, he always found a way to get everybody to play together.

“People who watched the (Pirates) play were impressed with how hard the team worked, and I think that’s something you will notice from all of Kevin’s teams here on out. He might not always have the most talented guys, but he will get every ounce of effort out of them.”

 

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH

 


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