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Q&A with Checkers Head Coach Ulf Samuelsson

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes named Ulf Samuelsson the new head coach of their American Hockey League squad, the Charlotte Checkers, on Tuesday. had the chance to catch up with Samuelsson shortly after the announcement to get his thoughts on becoming a head coach, his 10 years of coaching experience and his philosophies on coaching and player development. First of all, congrats on the new gig. How excited are you to begin this next chapter in your coaching career?

Ulf Samuelsson: It’s very exciting. It’s totally different than working as an assistant coach because you’re responsible for the whole thing and you get to try your own ideas. I’m really looking forward to it. You go way back with Hurricanes General Manager Ron Francis. Did that factor in to the draw of working with this organization?

Samuelsson: It’s certainly helps. In the interview process I’ve been able to meet some other people around the Hurricanes, too. I know there are some quality people working around the Hurricanes. After being in Charlotte for a day or so, I got to meet the owner, Michael (Kahn), and Tera (Black), the COO, and I know they have some people who are committed to making this a very successful journey for me and them. That makes the transition easier. Being an assistant coach with the Rangers, you’ve faced off against the Hurricanes a number of times over the last few years. How familiar are you with the organization and its players?

Samuelsson: Obviously more [familiar] on the top end of it. We had to know them when we played them, so we studied them and saw all the young players that have managed to grow into different roles. They seem to have a great recipe of finding good players and then bringing them into the lineup. You’ve been coaching now for 10 years in a number of different leagues. What’s one of the biggest things you’ve learned in that time?

Samuelsson: I think that to be a successful coach, you have to have a game plan that the players are buying into, not only for the wins and losses but in the American Hockey League, it’s developing there, too. You really need to prepare, be organized, be smart and do and say the right things. Players in this day and age are so in tune, smart and conscious of everything. They need someone to help take them to an area they’ve never been before. It’s a really complicated process, but it’s a fun one as well. You were a head coach in Sweden before coming back stateside to be an assistant in the NHL. Are you more drawn to head coaching and why?

Samuelsson: Both areas are very fun, but they are very different. As an assistant, you’re in a certain area. You dig in really deep in the detail aspect of it, spending a lot of time analyzing it and breaking it down, trying to find that small advantage for you and your team. As a head coach, you have to lead and create the right environment so that everyone feels like they’re a part of the process. That’s a lot more time consuming, but it’s a little less hockey-specific than an assistant coach. Both areas are really fun, but now I’m really looking forward to the leadership part of it and being able to put my stamp on how I want things to be done and how I want players to act on an everyday basis. How would you describe yourself as a coach, and how big of a role do your playing days play into your coaching style?

Samuelsson: I think the actual game has changed so much, but the attitude, preparation and commitment in many ways are the same. That’s something that I felt I had to rely on heavily as a player. I wasn’t overly gifted in an area, so I really had to work for most of it. That has helped me transition into coaching. That’s what has helped me the most: the commitment to preparation. How much are you looking forward to getting some hands-on time with this organization’s prospects at development camp in July?

Samuelsson: It’s exciting, just as it was meeting the owner in Charlotte and the people around that organization. There are some improvements we’re looking to make over the summer as far as the environment, so it’s a process that’s started already. It will be a full-time gig over the summer to make sure we’re up and running when camp starts.

Michael Smith
MICHAEL SMITH is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.

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