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Bill Dineen: A coach still beloved

2014-02-09T01:00:00Z 2014-02-09T18:45:31Z Bill Dineen: A coach still belovedBy DIANA C. NEARHOS -- dnearhos@poststar.com Glens Falls Post-Star

GLENS FALLS -- Pete Dineen keeps a list of people who ask him about his Dad as he travels around the hockey world.

Bill Dineen played professional hockey for 21 years and coached for another 22, including six with the Adirondack Red Wings, so there are a lot of people who ask how he’s doing.

Pete, a scout for Columbus, was walking through Blue Cross Arena in Rochester Friday night and one of the attendants near the dressing room stopped him.

“He said, ‘how’s your Dad doing?’ I said he’s fine,” Pete said. “He said, ‘You know, he always had time for people. A lot of guys don’t really have time for everybody, but that’s one thing I really appreciate about your Dad was how nice he treated the staff down here.’ ”

The attendant was remembering Bill, who will be inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame on Wednesday, from the Adirondack Red Wings’ frequent visits to Rochester in the 1980s.

Former players, including Jody Gage the same night, and referees frequently stop Pete, but he said hearing from an attendant at a non-home arena says something about the impact his father had on people.

Bill Dineen’s former players can go on and on about him. They praise him, tell stories of how he brought out the best in them or just have a funny story from the past.

AHL Hall of Fame

Mark Howe, who played for Dineen in the now-defunct World Hockey Association, is among those who wonder why it took this long for Dineen to be inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame.

Dineen coached the Adirondack Red Wings for six years, winning two Calder Cups. That came in between his seven years of coaching in the WHA and a later stint as coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. His long playing career included seven years with AHL teams.

Howe repeated himself more than a few times saying how much Dineen deserved this honor. He wasn’t the only one.

Four of Dineen’s children will be making the trip to St. John’s for the induction ceremony.

Dineen’s kitchen is filled with family photos and a sign that reads “welcome home Papa!,” evidence that there is one thing that comes before hockey.

The game isn’t far behind, however. The NHL Guide & Record Book 1994-95 sits on his kitchen table.

The trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland will be just another example of the Dineen family’s shared love of hockey. All five of Dineen’s son’s still work in the sport. The family moved almost every time Dineen did — Pete says 20 times in 22 years as a player.

Dineen took that same family approach with his players.

The right buttons

Bill Dineen was the prototypical players’ coach.

Glenn Merkosky said Dineen made coming to the rink fun every day. He wanted to do his best specifically for Dineen.

Howe said after a loss he felt he had let Dineen down.

Pete added “one thing he was masterful at was getting the most out of each and every player and knowing which buttons to push and knowing when to give guys days off.”

It took Dineen just a few days to figure out how to push Howe’s buttons.

The elder Howe, Gordie, had played with Dineen in Detroit and was now going to be playing for him with Mark. Gordie told Mark, “You’ve got a real quality person and coach here. You’re going to like playing for him.” It took three days for Mark to learn that for himself.

Dehydration and putting immense pressure on himself gave Howe migraines to the point of making him sick. Dineen came up to him at practice on the third day and said “You’re playing outstanding. You made this hockey team. Just go out and play.”

“He knew me well enough in a few days to know what I needed,” Howe said. “The headaches disappeared.”

Even as his players say how much they wanted to do their best for Bill Dineen, he credits the players. “Sometimes, the players make the coach,” he said. That might be a little modest considering his four championships in two leagues.

There was an occasion, in the 1980s, when Dineen’s players followed him into a pool.

It was “the most boring booster party I’ve ever been at in my life,” Dineen said. “I said I’ve got to liven this thing up a bit, and I had had a few drinks. I knew those players would follow me anywhere.”

Dineen gave a speech in which he credited the players for how coachable and hardworking they were, and said his players would follow him anywhere. And he jumped in the pool.

Sure enough, 25 players, including Pete, and some of their wives followed him, all dressed in formalwear.

Drawing a line

Dineen did not often yell, but he did hold his players accountable, Greg Joly said.

“It’s easier to stroke them than beat on them,” Dineen said. He knew when to draw a line, though.

In 1989, Dineen’s last season with Adirondack, the Red Wings were on the verge of being swept by Hershey in the conference finals. Dineen knew his team was better than that.

“I told them that we were going to win it,” he said.

Dineen took two tacks: He benched Murray Eaves and Joe Murphy, two top players, and booked the travel for the next four games.

“I said I made all the travel plans and exactly what we were going to do,” he said. “I also happened to have benched two players in the third game because I didn’t think they were playing extremely well.”

The combination worked. It was a wakeup call not just for the whole team. And they had to make good on those travel plans.

The Red Wings came back from a three-games-to-none deficit to win that series and then went on to beat New Haven for the Calder Cup.

Someone to relate to

Pete suggested that one of the things that made his father such an effective coach in the minor leagues was that he could understand what they players were going through.

Dineen played in the NHL as an 18-year-old and was second for rookie of the year. He knew what that felt like. But he still played most of his career in the minors.

“He knew what it was like to get sent down and what it took to get back up there,” Pete said. “Over the years, when he was in Adirondack, working with Detroit’s organization, he had some great players in and out of there in all different situations and he kinda had something in common with all of them. I think that’s why he got the most out of every player.”

Merkosky came to the Red Wings at the end of his career. He said Dineen approached him about joining Adirondack and Merkosky said great, because he knew Detroit was a little weak down the center.

Dineen stopped him and said “I’m asking you to come play for the Adirondack Red Wings.” Merkosky appreciated the honesty and thought it may have helped him play better than if he was always thinking about what was happening in Detroit.

There were also many of players who went on to long NHL careers.

“I was so happy for them because they were getting the opportunity to fulfill their dream and make a few more dollars,” Dineen said. “That’s what they were here for.”

Dineen smiles as he lists a handful, including Adam Oates, Claude Loiselle and Howe. He apologizes that his memory isn’t what it used to be but then goes on to name a few more. It’s a long list.

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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