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Florida Panthers turn to passionate Peter DeBoer to lead young team

SUNRISE, Fla. - Peter DeBoer's reputation had preceded him.

Shortly after officially signing a multi-year contract as coach of the Florida Panthers, DeBoer's first question from a reporter Monday touched on his fiery coaching style, which has been described as capable of putting the "fear of God" in a player.

DeBoer, sporting crisp pinstripe suit and neat haircut, just laughed.

"I think that different players need different types of motivation," DeBoer said. "Sometimes the message has to change.

"Sometimes it has to be very tough. Sometimes it has to be tough love, and sometimes it has to be a pat on the back. I like to think that we can use all those types of motivational techniques and the 'fear of God' one is one that we save for special occasions."

Does an eight-year playoff drought count as a special occasion? The Panthers haven't won a playoff series since 1996 and a playoff game since 1997. They haven't reached the postseason since 2000. The club hopes DeBoer, a highly touted coach from the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, will offer a fresh start.

"I think all players want accountability, they want structure and they want fairness," DeBoer said. "I think if you can provide that, regardless of the technique, they're going to respond to it."

DeBoer, 40, has no previous NHL coaching experience, but might already have a few allies on Florida's bench. He will lead a club whose stars include two of his former players - centre Stephen Weiss and forward Gregory Campbell.

"I don't know if it will help me. There's a familiarity there. I know the character of those kids as well as some others," DeBoer said. "It just gave me a comfort level from a character point of view - I know those kids and what they stand for."

Florida won its first seven games in March, but closed the season with a 38-35-9 record. They finished with 85 points - nine behind Southeast Division champion Washington.

"There's too much character in that room for some of those guys not to have played in the playoffs four, five or six years," DeBoer said. "You can see it in their eyes. They're hungry. They want to play in the playoffs.

"Those are kids that are used to winning games and playing at that time of year."

DeBoer's predecessor, Jacques Martin, had a hand in selecting the young coach. Martin became Florida's coach in 2004 and took over as general manager in 2006, replacing Mike Keenan. He was stripped of his duties as head coach in April but remains with the Panthers as general manager.

Martin said he interviewed just two other candidates for the coaching vacancy and had a short list of other possibilities. He called DeBoer an "obvious" choice.

"I always came back to his name as the top candidate to lead our hockey club," Martin said.

One question remaining is the status of Olli Jokinen, Florida's all-time scoring leader. Jokinen struggled last season after he accidentally slashed the neck of a teammate with his skate during a Feb. 10 game, and there were rumours of a riff between him and Martin. DeBoer said he had not thought about who would serve as captain next season.

"We'll get to that, I'm sure, in the next few weeks," he said.

DeBoer, who was twice the OHL coach of the year, spent seven years with the Kitchener Rangers and had 297 wins with a .676 winning percentage. He guided the Rangers to two OHL championships and a Memorial Cup title.

"I think you just have to look at Peter's record, whether he coached junior hockey or college hockey or at the minors, coaching is coaching," Martin said. "To me, he has demonstrated that he has the skill to lead young men, to be a tremendous leader for our team."


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