ATLANTA – Craig Ramsay had to wait a decade for his next chance to be an NHL head coach. His old friend and former roommate, Rick Dudley, provided that opportunity.
Ramsay, who spent the last three years as an assistant with the Boston Bruins, was named the Atlanta Thrashers coach on Thursday. He joins Dudley, recently promoted to general manager, as the new leaders of a franchise that is starved for success.
Ramsay, 59, said he wasn’t sure he would have another chance to direct a team after a successful but short stint as an interim head coach for Philadelphia in 2000.
“It goes through your mind,” Ramsay said. “I’ve been in this business an awfully long time as a player and a coach. … You start to look at it and think maybe that opportunity won’t present itself again.
“When this came up and Rick and I got to talk, I relished the opportunity.”
Ramsay replaces John Anderson, who was fired after the Thrashers (35-34-13) missed the playoffs.
Dudley said hiring Ramsay was an easy choice. The two played together with the Buffalo Sabres and AHL Cincinnati. When Dudley was Tampa Bay’s general manager, he hired Ramsay as an assistant coach on a team that won the 2004 Stanley Cup.
“The simple truth is I’ve never had a doubt Craig could be a coach in this league from many years ago,” Dudley said. “I brought him into Tampa because he understood exactly what was needed. … There’s never been a doubt in my mind. This was something that I thought was long overdue.”
Dudley said he was looking for a coach who can teach.
“When you look for a head coach you’re looking for somebody who can bring players to their optimal level as quickly as possible, and I’ve seen him do that before,” he said.
Ramsay also was an interim head coach for Buffalo during the 1986-87 season. He also has worked as an assistant with Ottawa and Florida.
Ramsay played 14 seasons with Buffalo from 1971-85, finishing his career as a player-coach.
What makes the Thrashers, who have made only one playoff appearance, an attractive job?
“That’s pretty simple, actually,” Ramsay said. “That would be Rick Dudley. I’ve known Rick Dudley since 1971. He was my first roommate. We played together on two different occasions. I went to work for him in Tampa Bay. He put together a great product there and we won the Stanley Cup.
“I know what he can do as a hockey person. He’s one of the best in the business.”
Ramsay said he also has known Thrashers president and former general manager Don Waddell “for a long period of time.”
Dudley hired Ramsay one day after completing a trade with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks that brought playoff star Dustin Byfuglien, who had 11 post-season goals, to Atlanta.
The Thrashers also acquired defenceman Brent Sopel, forward Ben Eager and prospect Akim Aliu. Atlanta sent first- (24th overall) and second-round picks in this weekend’s NHL draft to Chicago, as well as forwards Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb and Jeremy Morin.
Ramsay said the 257-pound Byfuglien is “an exciting piece of what Rick is going to try to create down in Atlanta.”
“We need for him to be a factor in the offensive zone as many times as he can,” Ramsay said of the 25-year-old Byfuglien. “With his size and his talent level, he’s one of those exciting players you look at and wonder how good can he get. We have to convince him he can be the best player ever in that role.”