If opportunity hadn’t knocked, Rick Kowalsky would have been perfectly content to enter his fifth season as head coach of the Trenton (ECHL) Devils.
But with John MacLean taking over behind the bench in New Jersey, Kowalsky was tapped Tuesday to fill the Devils’ AHL coaching vacancy. Former Lowell assistant Kevin Dean takes over as head coach in Trenton, while Vince Williams will begin his fifth year as a T-Devils assistant.
Kowalsky, 38, expressed enthusiasm for his new role in a conference call, admitting that the announcement didn’t come as a complete surprise. Former Devils assistant Tommy Albelin will round out Kowalsky’s staff.
“Being in the organization for the last four years, I knew that when Jacques [Lemaire] left, I thought that John MacLean would definitely be a candidate [in New Jersey], and that potentially the natural progression would allow me to be a candidate [in Albany],” Kowalsky said. “There were discussions in June, even before John got the job in New Jersey. I had a talk with Lou [Lamoriello], and he just said that if the pieces fall into place the way he planned, that I would definitely be considered for the Albany job.”
Everything fell into place for Kowalsky, who’s looking forward to continuing the success that MacLean established last year. As a first-time head coach, MacLean led the then Lowell Devils to a 39-31-4-6 mark and their first playoff berth in franchise history. The team relocated to Albany in June.
Kowalsky will have a depth of young talent to work with. Should top prospects like Adam Henrique
, Jacob Josefson
, Mattias Tedenby
and Alex Urbom crack an NHL lineup, Kowalsky is likely to have some familiar faces on his bench.
“Even before I knew I was getting this job, I was excited about the trickle-down effect, if you will, in Trenton,” he said. “Without knowing all the facts, I think there’s a lot of good young prospects coming out, and with that said, Lowell had a pretty young, exciting team last year. I know there’s probably eight to 10 guys that will be in Albany this year that I had in Trenton for at least a year. There’s a small group of them that spent two years with me.”
|Kevin Dean |
Kowalsky became Trenton’s head coach in May 2006, just four months before the Devils purchased a majority interest in the club, and guided the T-Devils to a 138-122-28 (.528) mark and two postseason appearances during his tenure. His previous coaching experience had been as an assistant with Norfolk (AHL) in 2005-06.
“It’s been a huge blessing to be able to work in this organization thus far, and I look forward to continuing it,” he said. “There’s no question, I don’t know if this opportunity would’ve come at this point if the Devils had not taken over the team. To be able to develop no different than a player, and just the resources that I’ve been given as a coach in Trenton, has made my development as a coach even expedited to a certain extent and gotten me ready for this position in Albany.”
Albany/Trenton Devils General Manager Chris Lamoriello admires Kowalsky’s approach.
“His character, his intensity – he shares the same ideals that we have organizationally as far as that winning environment, that pressure each and every day, whether it’s practice or games, to be better,” said Lamoriello. “He’s a coach who challenges himself as well. He’s not only looking for the players to be better, but himself to be better. We feel that type of intensity, that type of commitment at this time for the American League team is something that we’re excited about.”
Kowalsky values Albelin’s experience. A two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman, Albelin had served as an assistant for three seasons in New Jersey.
“I’m excited about this because I think any time you look at a new coaching position, you want to be surrounded by good people,” Kowalsky said. “That’s one thing that Lou [Lamoriello] makes sure he does in this organization. He thought this would be a good fit, not only for me, but for Tommy. To be able to have an assistant coach with that much experience in the NHL as a defenseman, I think is great for the young defensemen and all the prospects, but I think it’s good for me as a young coach to be able to bounce things off him.”
Dean, 41, enters his fifth season on the Devils coaching staff after four as an assistant in Lowell. The former defenseman was the only player to hoist both the Calder Cup and Stanley Cup with the Devils organization in 1995.
“It is a good opportunity,” Dean said. “I’ve been working with some good coaches for a while, picking their brain and picking the brains of people I know that coach. It’s just going to be exciting. Daunting, but exciting.”
Dean noted that going from an assistant to a head coaching role will take some adjustment.
“Being an assistant coach you have your own functions and you have to make sure you’re doing those,” he said. “But you’re also watching, at least I was, how the head coach handles different situations. My opinion is, the hockey side’s going to be the easy side of it. The managing the personalities and the personnel side, I think is what separates the good coaches. At the East Coast League level, at the American League level, certainly at the NHL level, all those guys know hockey. To me, what differentiates them is how they handle adversity, how they handle the personalities on the team and the atmosphere that they create.”
His experience working with MacLean will be important in the year ahead.
“One thing I really learned last year with John MacLean is accountability,” he said. “These guys need to be held accountable. They need to know when they do well, they need to know when they don’t do well. I think accountability is a huge part of it and I think they want to be held accountable. I think players want direction and any player that wants to move up in hockey, they want to know what they do well and what they don’t do well. That’ll be our job to remind them of that and hold them accountable to it.”