For the first time in the Joel Quenneville era, the Chicago Blackhawks will have three assistant coaches manning the bench this season.
Having three staffers with the assistant coach title isn’t new in the league, with two teams in the Central Division also having this feature: the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues (By the way, one of the Blues assistant coaches is Steve Ott. This will never not be hilarious).
Before the NHL loses its mind with the expansion draft followed by its annual draft, let’s take a look at the two new faces we’ll be seeing in suits during Hawks games. Up first is Ulf Samuelsson.
He played a lot of hockey.
Samuelsson enjoyed a lengthy NHL career, playing 1,080 games split between the Harford Whalers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers. He was a two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, scoring the first goal in Pittsburgh’s 8-0 blowout of the Minnesota North Stars that clinched the Cup in 1991.
In his 16 seasons, Samuelsson amassed 57 goals and 275 assists, but is far more remembered for the 2,453 penalty minutes. Samuelsson was one of the most notorious villains of his era, frequently straddling the line between “tough” and “dirty” play. His most infamous moment was this hit on Boston Bruins’ legend Cam Neely, which has been blamed for shortening Neely’s Hall of Fame career.
YouTube has plenty of moments from Samuelsson’s playing days, including the time he hit Blackhawks’ playoff hero Sergei Krivokrasov into the boards, sending a pane of glass into the crowd that knocked out Janet Gretzky, who was sitting in the front row watching her husband play.
Samuelsson announced his retirement in 2000, and began his coaching career a few years later. By 2006, he’d worked his way into an assistant role with the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack and then spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the then-Phoenix Coyotes. For two years, Samuelsson returned to his native Sweden as the head coach for Modo. By 2013, he was back in the NHL and back in New York as an assistant coach for the Rangers. For the 2016-17 season, Samuelsson was the head coach for the Charlotte Checkers, the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, before accepting an assistant coaching role with the Hawks last week.
Cue the Brass Bonanza!
The ties between Quenneville and Samuelsson can be traced back to their days in Hartford, with the two playing together for seven seasons with the Whalers (fellow assistant Kevin Dineen also played on those Hartford teams). That had to be an influence in the hiring process, with Quenneville looking to replace another old teammate after Mike Kitchen was fired in April.
But Samuelsson doesn’t sound like a coach who’s clinging to the olden days of hockey. In a video shared by the Checkers last October, Samuelsson elaborated on some of his coaching philosophy.
“I’m looking for quick transition, quick passes, always head-manning the puck. Not hanging onto it, not slowing it down … it’s a speed game today. And you need to do everything so fast, both with the puck and without the puck. Your mind has to be quick. A lot of the things we do nowadays is just to get players to think and react and play quicker.”
Sounds a lot like the style of play the Hawks like to use, doesn’t it?
The Athletic’s Scott Powers authored an article on Friday that cited two sources who highlighted a pair of abilities Samuelsson brings to the staff. Former Hawks goalie Michael Leighton, who was in Charlotte with Samuelsson last season, praised Samuelsson’s knowledge of the game and said he was especially good at working with the team’s young defensemen. Another league source quoted by Powers in the article spoke highly of the way that Samuelsson communicated with the players, boosted by his playing background and “infectious” personality.
With the Hawks needing to add some speed and youth to their defensive corps, a coach like Samuelsson, who has the requisite knowledge from his time in the sport and a relatable personality that endears him to his players, could be a great fit for what the Hawks need in an assistant coach.