William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles former Florida Panthers player Peter Worrell, who aspires to coach in the NHL.
Peter Worrell said he knows a lot about the hockey business but not as much about the business of hockey.
The quest to gain that knowledge and a burning desire to become an NHL coach has brought Worrell, a former Florida Panthers left wing, back to where he started.
But instead of lacing up the skates and dropping the gloves, Worrell will help run a rink as hockey director at the Florida Panthers IceDen, the team's practice facility in Coral Springs. He'll oversee youth and adult hockey programs and be responsible for the direction, administration, management, supervision and marketing of all hockey programming at the 125,000 square-foot facility.
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"I think every experience that you have and that you take ends up making you a better coach, a better facilitator, and this job is going to help me in the long run," Worrell said. "When I'm ready to move and hopefully get back on that coaching tree, hopefully this experience will only make me better."
Worrell, who played for the Panthers from 1997-98 to 2003-04, rejoined the organization two weeks ago after he was an assistant for Fayetteville, North Carolina, of the Southern Professional Hockey League. Before landing his first professional coaching job last season, Worrell coached hockey at North Broward Preparatory School and for Florida Atlantic University's American Collegiate Hockey Association Division III club team.
"He came in here in Fayetteville and helped us get our team back to respectability, and we turned that corner," said Fayetteville coach Jesse Kallechy, whose team was eighth in the 10-team SPHL at 25-23-8 last season after finishing last in 2017-18. "He has great experience and he's a personable guy. He's a really good guy to bounce ideas off of and his stories are great, so I think the guys really enjoyed being around him."
Worrell said his time in North Carolina taught him about how much he didn't know about the workings of the game off the ice.
"Going to Fayetteville, that was the biggest eye-opener," he said. "The on-ice portion of it, the practice, playing, running a team, I've done that the last 15 years, that wasn't difficult. The administrative part of it, that took a little bit to get the hang of. This job is fully intensive in that, so this is an opportunity for me to get better in those aspects."
He said his main mission at the IceDen is to improve the Junior Panthers youth hockey program and to grow the Panthers fan base in South Florida through the rink's leagues and hockey recreational offerings.
"For me, it's important to push and motivate the top-end players," Worrell said. "But it's also just as important for me to make sure players who are coming to our rink are loving the game, getting better every day and become life-long fans and patrons."
South Florida is producing its share of talented hockey players: Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun; defenseman Andrew Peeke, who was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round (No. 34) of the 2016 NHL Draft; right wing Brandon Duhaime, who was chosen by the Minnesota Wild in the fourth round (No. 106) of the 2016 draft; and right wing Randy Hernandez, a Cuban-American from Miami who played last season for Brooks in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and spent two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, to name a few.
But Worrell believes the region can do better, and he intends to make the IceDen the incubator to make it happen.
"I think one of the issues is that there really hasn't been anyone that's really given players a path of 'If you follow this path, you don't necessarily have to leave when you're 14, we're going to have the right people in place, we're going to promote you and help you get to the right spots,'" he said. "The way it is right now, a player gets fairly good and just leaves. I think if we strengthen the way we do things in our program, if that happens, I think we'll be able to push more players to college, to major juniors, to pro hockey."
Worrell, an imposing figure in his prime (6-foot-7, 250 pounds), was a seventh-round pick (No. 166) by the Panthers in the 1995 NHL Draft. He went on to score 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) with 1,554 penalty minutes in 391 NHL games for Florida and the Colorado Avalanche. He's 118th among NHL all-time leaders in penalty minutes.
Now he's looking to climb hockey's ladder and become one of the few coaches of color in the NHL, a fraternity that includes St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube, who is part Cree; Mike Grier of the New Jersey Devils; Scott Gomez of the New York Islanders; Francis Bouillon of the Montreal Canadiens; Anaheim Ducks goaltending coach Sudarshan Maharaj; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean and Lightning video coach Nigel Kirwan.
"To see ownership or coaches or trainers or whatever the case may be that are of other different ethnicities, that's the best message to send of how open our sport really is, how diverse our sport really is, how it really is for everyone," Worrell said. "Being able to look at a product and say 'Yeah, that's cool, I can do that one day.'"