CORAL SPRINGS, Fla.-- Kevin Dineen toiled as a minor-league hockey coach for six years. He speaks about cold showers" in locker rooms and playing in tough, old buildings."
He talks about having players as green as can be. Just listen to this story:
We were at training camp in Anaheim and I had a player excited because he was going to be playing in Portland because he had relatives near there," Dineen said. He thought it was Portland, Ore., not Portland, Maine."
Dineen, 48, had coached the Portland Pirates before finally getting his big break last spring when he was named to lead the Florida Panthers. His NHL coaching debut is Saturday at the New York Islanders.
There are certainly some nerves there, but I dont think thats unnatural," Dineen, an NHL right wing from 1984-2003, said at the Panthers training complex before the team departed for New York.
Dineen would figure to be a lot more nervous if the Panthers hadnt retooled the roster during the offseason. Brought in were 12 new players to try to turn around a team that hasnt been to the playoffs since 2000 and hasnt won a playoff game since 1997.
The preseason didnt go as well as expected, with the Panthers finishing 1-5. But theres a sense it could take time for all the new players to mesh.
Thats the big question mark for everyone," said second-year general manager Dale Tallon, whose team was last in the Southeast Division in his first season. How is it all going to come together? Then well see what pieces are missing, if any. Im confident these guys will come together."
Tallon helped build up the Chicago Blackhawks into a team that won the Stanley Cup in June 2010, a month after Tallon had left to join the Panthers. Among the players he brought in during the frantic last summer were defenseman Brian Campbell and right wing Kris Versteeg, who both were on Chicagos cup-hoisting outfit.
Other highly touted new arrivals are goalie Jose Theodore, who won the Vezina and Hart trophies for Montreal 10 years ago, and defenseman Ed Jovanovski. Jovanovski had played for the Panthers from 1995-99, a stint that included a 1996 Stanley Cup finals appearance.
It didnt take long for the team to go downhill after that season. David Booth, in his sixth season as a Panthers left wing, knows what its been like.
Really frustrating," Booth said. Everybody hates losing. ... Thats bound to change. I think management has done a good job to put guys in (place now) that have won and know what it takes."
It started with the naming of Dineen as coach. He had gone 266-155-30-29 in his six years with the Pirates.
All those things as far as communication, his passion and compassion as well," Tallon said of what made Dineen attractive. His track record as a player and his history as a teacher and developer of players in the minor leagues and the fact that he is familiar as a player with the NHL as well...The last few years hes always seemed to be the No. 1 candidate (to be an NHL coach)."
Some might say it took a bit longer than expected for Dineen, the son of former NHL player and coach Bill Dineen and the brother of former NHL players Gord and Peter, to get the call. But he finally has arrived, and is looking to make the most of it.
I dont look at it Ive been waiting X number of years for this to happen," Dineen said. I think when I was announced as coach in June, obviously its really an honor. ...The immediate word is really important in our group."
In other words, now is the time for the Panthers to produce.
For myself and a lot of guys, I think mainly the big thing is theyre serious about winning now and were excited about being here," Versteeg said. If you know Dale, he doesnt like to lose."
If the Panthers can turn matters around, theres a belief this a good time to make waves in the South Florida sports scene. The Miami Heat are locked out, the Miami Hurricanes seem to be bound for mediocrity and under an NCAA investigation, and the Miami Dolphins are 0-4.
Then again, the Dolphins record isnt helping Dineen with his 10-year-old son. William became an avid New England Patriots fan when the family lived in Maine, and Dineen is trying to get him to follow the Dolphins.
In New England, they drink the (Bill) Belichick Kool-Aid...That sounds a little harsh," Dineen said. But it really is. ... If youre a 10-year-old kid, thats pretty neat when Tom Brady is the quarterback. ... It would be an easier sell to get him to get on board with me (with the Dolphins) if they were having success. And we wish them well and I think they will turn it around."
If the Panthers start winning, though, it might be enough for Dineen to overcome the disappointment of his son still cheering for the Patriots.