Kevin Dineen: Top Man on the Bench

Kevin Dineen pursues collecting with the same passion and intensity that made him a 355-goal scorer during a stellar 19-year NHL career.

Dineen, 47, is the new head coach of the Florida Panthers, following six years behind the bench of the AHL’s Portland Pirates.

Wherever he’s gone, collecting cards, jerseys and autographed sticks has been a big part of his hockey experience, bringing back memories of favorite players and achievements that define his years in the game.

“I’ve always been a big jersey collector,” said Dineen, who played for the Whalers, Flyers, Senators and Blue Jackets during his career. “My goal early in my career was to get one jersey from every team in the league. For example, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ray Bourque of the Bruins, the wars we had in Hartford. He was the most worthy adversary I’ve ever played against. So I would get a message to Ray, and see if he would like to swap jerseys. He would get me a Boston jersey and I would get him a Hartford one.

“If it was Kirk Muller, I’d get a New Jersey Devils jersey or Dennis Potvin, the Islanders and so on. I think I’ve got 22 of the teams. It’s really neat to exchange those jerseys as well as the international collection I have from pretty well every country.”

Dineen, a Quebec native, played for Canada in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, and represented his country four times at the World Ice Hockey Championships.

“Jerseys are hard to display,” he said. “They’re nothing like the stick collection I have. I’ve had some incredible sticks saved for me,” he said.

One is from his 1,000th NHL game, and upon retiring, the Hurricanes presented him with a silver-plated stick. “It’s a beautiful thing to have,” Dineen said.

“Those kind of memories have been great.”

Like jerseys, his most prized sticks are from the superstars he played with and against, such as Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Cam Neeley.

“They’re really incredible to have,” he said. “Eric Lindros, Wendell Clark, the list goes on and on.”

But modern technology made collecting difficult because as sticks went from wood to aluminum and titanium, players started to think twice before giving them away. “When guys are paying $200 a stick, they aren’t just handing those out,” Dineen said.

Accumulating cards, rings and mentors
Hockey cards are another story altogether. Starting in 1984-85, his rookie season with the Whalers, Dineen tried to get cards of every teammate.

“When there’s a swoon of injuries, all of a sudden you’ve played with 40 guys, some for just a game or two. It wasn’t easy to collect,” Dineen said.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, several different companies began flooding the market with cards, making collecting even tougher.

“I’d have one or two cards a year in Hartford,” Dineen said. “Then all of a sudden, I get to Philadelphia and I have 15 per year of myself, let alone all the other players.”

Obviously, the one thing he wants most is a Stanley Cup ring.

“That’s the goal, it really is,” he said. “That’s what we want to do. We’re going to have to mold and get the most out of every player; get good goaltending. A lot of things have to come together.

“There’s been a ton of player transactions in Florida,” Dineen said. “I liken it to getting on a bus and looking at where you’re going. We all want the Stanley Cup. But really, it’s who you’re on the bus with. I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Panthers GM) Dale Tallon, what he did with the Chicago organization. That 2010 Stanley Cup had his fingerprints all over it. The opportunity to get involved with Dale was a huge deciding factor for me.”

However, when it comes to mentors, no one has been more important than Dineen’s father, Bill, one of the sport’s most respected figures. A two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings as a player, the elder Dineen later coached the Houston Aeros, featuring the legendary Gordie Howe and his sons, Mark and Marty, to back-to-back titles in the former World Hockey Association.

Bill continued his coaching success with the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings that won Calder Cups in 1986 and ’89, and eventually coached Philadelphia in the NHL, where Kevin was one of his players.

“I really grew up around a hockey dressing room,” Kevin said. “In Houston, Dad really exposed all of us boys to players who were just such quality guys – the Howes, Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Ted Taylor, Larry Lund. I could go on. I saw how dad operated with them. I think that had a huge influence on us growing up. He really had a strong relationship with the players. That’s something I certainly picked up from my dad.”

Bill obviously taught each of his sons well because they all have pro hockey jobs. Peter scouts for the NHL’s Columbia Blue Jackets; Shawn is a Nashville Predators scout; Jerry is the New York Rangers’ head video coach; and Gord is an assistant coach with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

One of Kevin’s favorite stories is about a postseason victory party the Adirondack Red Wings had at a local hotel. “They were all standing around and Dad was talking about how great the players were, how they’d follow him anywhere, so he jumped in the pool and they all jumped in after him,” Kevin said, laughing.

Now he’ll be trying to develop that same type of loyalty with the Panthers, always trying to keep the lines of communication open. In fact, one of the first things he did in Florida was ask the arena’s maintenance staff to remove his office doors.

“You can say that you’ve got an open-door policy, but you know what? When there’s no door there it makes for a free flow of information both ways. So I just asked them to take a couple of those doors off the hinges,” Dineen said.

Coaching life
The Panthers open their season in New York against the Islanders on Oct. 8.

Kevin spent the past six years as head coach of the AHL’s Portland Pirates, compiling a record of 266-155-59 while leading the team to the playoffs in five of his six seasons. He won the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award, given to the league’s most outstanding coach in his first year behind the bench, after guiding the Pirates to a 53-19-8 regular season record.

“Portland was a good learning experience for Kevin,” his father said. “I’m pretty excited about his new job. I think it’s a good fit. I’m really pleased.”

Panthers pro scout Pete Mahovlich, a former Montreal Canadiens star, had a role in Dineen’s selection after Tallon asked his scouting staff for a list of potential coaching candidates.

“Kevin was at the top of my list,” Mahovlich said. “I’ve been totally impressed with the way he’s handled his teams at Portland the past couple of years. They were always ready to play and always giving 100 percent. You could see that. When he called a time out, if things weren’t going well, the team always seemed to respond.

“There’s an intensity about Kevin,” he added. “He looks you in the eye and tells you what you need to hear, even if you might not like it. That’s what the players want.”

While optimistic about his team’s chances, Dineen is realistic, too. The Panthers haven’t reached the postseason since 2000.

“You’ve got 15 Eastern Conference teams shooting for eight spots,” he said. “You’ve got to find a way to get in there. It’s been a long drought in Florida. I feel personally that we’ve got a team that can have success. The quality team that’s been put together allows us to say that.

“Basically, they’ve traded away a large portion of their veterans and acquired excellent draft picks,” Dineen said. “That’s an area we’re excited about, our youth. We also have a level of stability with Mike Weaver, Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski on the blue line. Up front, Stephen Weiss and David Booth are returning. They’ve been there a while and have gone through the growing pains.

“But having said that,” Dineen continued, “Washington’s not too bad, either. The Rangers are pretty good. Boston (the Stanley Cup champions) had a good year. Montreal’s always competitive. The Islanders are maturing, the Devils will probably bounce back and Buffalo is tough. So those eight spots get gobbled up pretty quick. What I want to do is really concentrate on that first week of the season, prepare for that and work our way into the season.
“I think we’ll be competitive all season.”

Paul Post is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at paulpost@nycap.rr.com.

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