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Samuelsson Excelling Behind Checkers' Bench

First-year AHL head coach Ulf Samuelsson seeing success in Charlotte

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

In late May of 2016, the Carolina Hurricanes tabbed Ulf Samuelsson as the new head coach of the Charlotte Checkers.

"We think we got ourselves a heck of a head coach there," Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis said soon after. "He's very detailed, very determined, very driven. I know that he'll work extremely hard to make our prospects and that organization very successful."

Just over three months later, Samuelsson coached the Hurricanes' top prospects to four straight wins in Traverse City, Mich., to capture the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup as champions of the NHL Prospects Tournament.

Samuelsson then guided the Checkers to a 39-29-8 regular-season record and their first Calder Cup playoff berth in four years.

Now, against the top team in the Western Conference, he's got the Checkers a win away from moving on to the second round.

Not bad for year one.

"I'm really excited about what's going on in Charlotte right now and who's driving that bus," Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said in his end-of-season news conference.

In speaking with a handful of the Checkers in Charlotte prior to the beginning of their first round playoff series against Chicago, they feel the same way.

"It's been good. I like his style," Lucas Wallmark said. "Both him and Peters are good coaches. They're good guys, and it's fun to come in every morning."

"He's been good," Phil Di Giuseppe said. "He's honest with you and good about talking to you and trying to find your game back when you're not playing as yourself or where you should be. He's good about that."

In Traverse City, Samuelsson was tasked with bringing together a group of players - a talented group, no doubt - in a short period of time. They did just that, and the result was the first tournament championship for the Hurricanes since 2009.

"I thought it was impressive how hard both coaches worked throughout that tournament. They took nothing for granted, they did their homework and they did their preparation," Francis said in September of Samuelsson and his assistant, Peter Andersson. "They coached like they wanted to win and used personnel like they wanted to win, and I think that was great. To have some success should give them some confidence, and the guys who will possibly transition to Charlotte … they should know they have good coaches they're working for."

Video: Ulf Samuelsson: "The Pressure Is On"

Keeping a room together was something Samuelsson had to do in his first year with Charlotte, as well. The Checkers were tied for last place in the AHL in early January but then became one of the hottest teams in the league as they surged into a playoff spot. A number of factors led to this, one including Samuelsson's leadership.

"The first half of the year we didn't want to be where we were at, but he did a good job keeping everybody positive. Especially with this younger group of guys, it's easy to get off base and down on yourself," defenseman Jake Chelios said. "He did a good job keeping everyone level-headed, and that's why we're at where we are."

For his part, Samuelsson knew there would be a transition to being a head coach in the American Hockey League coming off three seasons as an assistant coach for the New York Rangers.

"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," Samuelsson said in June. "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."

A regular season later, Samuelsson reflected on the learning experiences in year one. Juggling an ever-changing lineup due to not only injuries but also call-ups from the big club and, at the end of the season, reinforcements from overseas or junior leagues, was one such experience.

"You try to learn and get better every day," Samuelsson said last week.

As Francis said last year when he hired his old teammate, Samuelsson is detailed, determined and driven, and the Checkers are playing much the same.

"It's an exciting group. They worked hard to get here, and we're ready to go out there, work hard and have some fun," Samuelsson said prior to Game 1. "It's been a lot of fun. It's a great organization with great ownership. … There are a lot of kids who have helped us get to where we are."

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