BY ULF SAMUELSSON
When I retired in 2000, I was with Philadelphia. At that point, after 16 NHL seasons, I’d had enough of hockey for a while so I wanted to try some different ventures.
I got into a number of things, like restaurants and car dealerships. For a while, we had three dealerships going in Pittsburgh and we sold a lot on eBay. It was fun to go out and try many things that I couldn’t when I was playing hockey. My family and I stayed in New Jersey, in a great town called Moorestown Township.
After three or four years went by, I started to get the itch again to get back in the game. I have four kids – three boys and a girl – and all of them play hockey. I started to get involved in their programs and I started to really enjoy coaching. I thought it would be easy to just go out there and blow the whistle and tell the players “this is how to do it.” But you’ve really got to break it down to the right level. As a coach, you look at a problem and try to come up with a solution by running drills and explaining tactics.
Coaching takes a lot of preparation and it’s more time-consuming than I anticipated. It sort of never leaves you; it’s always there in the back of your mind. You’re out at a party or you’re playing around and all of a sudden, in the middle of everything, you’ll be thinking about an issue or a problem you need to solve with your team.
As a player, I had the capability to leave the game at the rink. When I slammed the arena door behind me, I left the problems there and I dealt with them the next day. As a player there’s really nothing you can do; you’re not involved in any tactical changes or anything.
But it’s really rewarding to be able to get kids to understand how to do things they’ve never done before. I mean, they look at you like someone who could take them to the promised land! I even started thinking it’s that easy at higher levels, too.
In Hartford of the American League – where I started coaching professionally – it began with myself and Ken Gernander (as assistant coaches) under Jim Schoenfeld. It was a great learning experience for me in pretty much all aspects of the game.
In Phoenix – where I started in 2006-07 – they wanted an ex-defenseman, so that was sort of the angle I came out here on. Wayne Gretzky and I have an unbelievable partnership and he lets me do as much as I want. We played together on the Rangers and created a little friendship there. I feel lucky to be able to work under Wayne as an assistant coach and be able to get my hands on so many different aspects of the game.
I think the Coyotes organization is growing and getting better. I think the goal, like every other team, is to make the playoffs; we’ll be very disappointed if we don’t make it.
We have so many young players and so many good players signed for a long time. We have a lot of second-year players coming back and sometimes that sophomore year is hard.
But if everything pans out the way we anticipate, I think we can be a very strong team out here in the Western Conference.
Ulf Samuelsson was a defenseman who played on the edge in the NHL from 1984 until he retired in 2000. After a few years out of hockey, Samuelsson returned to the game when he joined the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack as an assistant coach. This is his third season as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes.