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New Hurricanes coach sees areas to improve

by Kurt Dusterberg

RALEIGH, N.C. -- For someone with no previous NHL head-coaching experience, Bill Peters hit the right notes in a press conference Friday introducing him as the coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Taking over a team that has missed the playoffs five straight seasons, the former Detroit Red Wings assistant coach was friendly and direct as he fielded questions. He also knew exactly what the Hurricanes need to do in order to improve: Fix the power play, play better at the start of games, and be harder to play against at home.

"We have enough skill to have a good power play," said Peters, who signed a three-year contract with Carolina. "We've got to be a 60-minute team and we have to have a hard team to play against here in Raleigh."

Peters may not be a household name, but his reputation has been growing. He interviewed for two other NHL coaching jobs before accepting the Carolina position. Prior to a three-year stint on Mike Babcock's staff in Detroit, Peters put together back-to-back winning seasons in three years as coach of the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. In 2007-08, he coached the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League to the Memorial Cup.

New Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters says he'd like to improve their power play. (Photo: Karl DeBlaker)

If you're looking for the major influence in Peters' coaching career, Babcock gets the nod. Peters played for Babcock at Red Deer College in Alberta and stayed in touch with Babcock after his time in college, even helping run training camp. Peters joined Babcock's staff as an assistant coach in Spokane in 1999-2000.

"He's been a big influence on my life as a coach and a person," Peters said.

In Carolina, Peters will be charged with getting more out of a roster that likely won't change much next season. General manager Ron Francis confirmed what he has said in recent weeks, that the Hurricanes will not tinker much with the core group.

"I don't foresee a major makeover," Francis said. "I know it's been frustrating that we haven't made the playoffs in five years. We just finished outside [the playoffs] by 10 points. That's one win a month over the course of the season. We believe we have a pretty good group here that can win."

That decision is fine with Peters, who expressed faith in the talent on the Carolina roster. What he can change is how the players perform.

"Everywhere I've been I have been able to establish a culture," Peters said. "The culture we establish allows you to win. It's very organized, it's very structured. It's exciting for the players to play. We want them to play with the puck and score goals and express their individual skills, but there's other things you have to do in order to do that.

"The guys realize that once they start to do the little things away from the puck and in the defensive zone then they get to play where it's fun and they get to score goals."

Peters' message of accountability from the players was similar to the words preached by coach Kirk Muller, who was fired in May after nearly three seasons. The new coach seemed confident his approach will get results.

"I have the ultimate hammer as the coach and that's ice time," Peters said. "They all feel they deserve more ice time. They all want to play in situations that match their skill set. I'm all for that as long as you're giving me the things I need. That's work ethic, play away from the puck, attention to detail. That's a perfect marriage when it all comes together. When it doesn't come together, I'm going to swing the hammer and that's when the ice time fluctuates."

Peters will be tasked with getting more out of key players who have long-term contracts, including forwards Eric Staal (61 points in 2013-14) and Alexander Semin (22 goals, 42 points). Lacking major contributions from those players and others, the Hurricanes finished with 83 points, 10 behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot.

Francis, in his first offseason as general manager, said Peters can have a profound effect on the team. But just to make sure the players know expectations will be higher next season, he has talked to them about what lies ahead.

"It was about as blunt as I can put it in a conversation," Francis said. "It has to be that way. For me as a player, if I'm hearing something, I may not like it. But as long as I'm being up front and telling the truth, I think the players would rather have the opportunity to fix it rather than find out later that, 'You didn't do this.' So we've had the conversations. We will see if they make the adjustments."

Peters represents a departure from his predecessor in one striking way. Muller had a long, storied playing career in the NHL. Peters never played professionally, due in part to injuries. Yet a search for his minor-league statistics reveals a most unusual professional experience: one game in the Central Hockey League, with a goal and two assists.

In the 1994-95 season Peters' wife, a travelling nurse, accepted a 13-week assignment in San Antonio. The San Antonio Iguanas were going through injuries, and because Peters was in already in town he got the nod, becoming a minor-league one-game wonder long after his college playing days.

"I hadn't played in four or five years but they needed enough players to fill the roster," he said. "The first period I sat on the bench and didn't do much. When I finally got a shift, everything kind of fell in place. I helped them out and we got a win and that was it."

Peters showed an easy-going side in his first day on the job. Asked if he would prefer to hire a highly experienced NHL assistant to offset his relatively light NHL resume, he drew a laugh from the media.

"If you've got a list, give it to me when we're done and I'll take a look at it," he said.

Whoever joins Peters and Rod Brind'Amour, a holdover from Muller's staff, there will be some heavy lifting to do if the Hurricanes hope to be contenders. That didn't seem to trouble Peters. He's counting on his past experiences to help make things right in Carolina.

"We're going to set the bar high and we're going to give our fans something to be proud of," Peters said. "Something they will want to watch each and every night."

The Hurricanes also announced Ricky Olczyk has been hired as assistant general manager. He spent the previous six seasons as assistant general manager of the Edmonton Oilers.

"Ricky brings a wealth of experience to the Hurricanes," Francis said. "His legal expertise with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and other areas of hockey operations will be a great asset to our management team."

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