Kevin Dineen, who joined the Blackhawks as an assistant coach in July, brings with him an estimable resume. He played 19 seasons in the National Hockey League, scoring 45 goals for the Hartford Whalers in 1988-89. As a head coach, he led the Florida Panthers to the Southeast Division title in 2012-13, and last February he guided the Canadian Women’s Olympic team to a gold medal at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Dineen recently spoke with Team Historian Bob Verdi about coaching in Sochi, first impressions of Blackhawks fans, his longtime friendship with head coach Joel Quenneville and more.
What was in the water in Hartford? With Joel Quenneville leading the way, a remarkable number of former Whalers have become coaches.
It is interesting. Dave Tippett in Phoenix, Todd Richards in Columbus; Ulf Samuelsson is an assistant with the Rangers; John Anderson was head man in Atlanta and is back here now with the Chicago Wolves. Then there are the front office guys, like Ron Francis, the general manager in Carolina. Plus all the ex-Whalers who became broadcasters, like Ray Ferraro, Greg Millen and Bill Gardner. There are others too. I’ve just mentioned a few.
Can you explain the Whalers tree and all its branches?
We were a close bunch of guys in a great middle-sized community, a nice place to live, with a coach—Jack Evans—who was hands-off and kept things simple. He let us figure out a lot on our own, coaching ourselves in a way. A good way. But I give most of the credit to Emile Francis, who built the team there in Hartford looking for cerebral-type guys. At least a lot of the guys were like that. I don’t know that I fit into that category.
Did you see future coaching genius in Joel?
He always had diverse interests. He studied long and hard during his off-time from hockey to get a brokers’ license. Very impressive. He played smart, and his eye for talent, his grasp of the game, is obvious. He’s going to wind up in the Hall of Fame.
How did the opportunity with the Blackhawks evolve?
As the summer began, I was looking at some different options. Then there was an opening in Chicago when Jamie Kompon left, and things moved very fast. I sat down with John McDonough, Stan Bowman, Al MacIsaac and Joel. They felt I was a good fit, and I am very fortunate. This is such a stable organization with so many world-class players. The Blackhawks are incredibly well respected around the National Hockey League.
Are you in charge of the power play?
That would be my prime responsibility, but special teams require combined effort. Joel is very secure in his position; he asks for opinions. Of course, in the end, he wins because he’s the boss. It’s good to work for a friend, but he didn’t bring me in because I’m a friend. I’m not going to jump on the tube and just float down the river.
You have quite the pedigree.
Yes, there are Dineens all over the place. My father, Bill, won two Stanley Cups in Detroit and played briefly for the Blackhawks. My brother, Gord, is head coach of the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League. Peter is a scout with the Blue Jackets. Shawn is a scout with Nashville. And Jerry has been the video coach with the Rangers for 17 years or so. He was the first video coach in the NHL. So we’ve got hockey pretty well covered.
You had a very nice run in Florida.
We finished first [in our division] for the first time in franchise history, then took the New Jersey Devils to the limit in the 2012 playoffs. We led them 3-2 in games, then lost the next one in overtime and Game 7 in double overtime. As it turned out, the Devils went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to Los Angeles. Early in the next season, our entire staff was let go. It stings for a while, but you have to get over it. When one door closes, sometimes another door opens.”
And it didn’t take long for you, did it?
Absolutely. They wanted to make a change with the coaching of Team Canada’s women’s Olympic team. We had only 70 or so days to Sochi. I had played for Canada in the 1984 Olympics at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, and it was an incredible experience. Coaching that team was a highlight for me. Canada’s girls were very competitive and willing to do things right. In that respect, they are no different than the men. The support we got was amazing. The men’s hockey team came to watch our games, and we went to theirs. All the Canadian athletes were terrific. They all came to cheer us on. And I don’t have to tell you what hockey means in Canada, whether it’s the men’s team or the women’s team. In Canada, they’re only interested in one color: gold. Thankfully, we got it.
[Joel Quenneville] always had diverse interests. He studied long and hard during his off-time from hockey to get a brokers’ license. He played smart, and his eye for talent, his grasp of the game, is obvious. - Kevin Dineen
Why did your Canadian team have so many scraps with the Americans?
I would say, without a doubt, all the disagreements stemmed from a mutual admiration. You can’t be a great athlete if you don’t have a great opponent, and the Americans were great opponents. That tournament setting at the Olympics is so tense. You’re only playing a few matches, not a six-month season. The defeat to us really stung the Americans, but in the end, there was tremendous respect between both teams. That is one terrific rivalry. Funny story—since I’ve been here in Chicago, I met Tom Bozek at a function for Blackhawks season ticketholders. He’s the father of Megan, a star on the American women’s team. We had a great talk about Sochi.
Shortly after you were hired here, you attended the Blackhawks Convention. Any impressions?
Overwhelming. Joel told me it was nuts, and I had heard about it from other people. When you have 10,000 fans in a hotel in the middle of July, that shows you the relationship they have with the organization. It’s not only the success the Blackhawks have had, but the way they handle it. I’ve seen Joel around fans a little bit. He probably can’t go anywhere in Chicago and have a quiet meal, but he’s incredibly gracious. He gets it.
How does your family like Chicago so far?
Everybody loves it. We have one daughter, Hannah, in college. Another, Emma, is finishing high school in Florida. Our two young sons are in school here, and my wife, Annie, has done her usual great job of getting us settled into a new home. She’s happy, I’m happy. I met Annie when I was playing with the Whalers, just like Joel met his wife there. So we found two special ladies in Connecticut who were willing to put up with us.”
As a former captain in Philadelphia, Hartford and Carolina, you must have a read on Jonathan Toews.
You hear about the big contracts that he and Patrick Kane just signed, but those guys earned what they’ve gotten. The money has changed since I played, but hockey players haven’t. They are still special in how they respect the game and each other. Obviously, I haven’t spent a lot of time around Jonathan yet. But you see his character and dedication. The heartbeat of the Blackhawks goes through Jonathan Toews.