By Tim Schmitt
LEWISTON — As Kevin Dineen sat in the slot on the south rink at Dwyer Arena, you’d have been hardpressed to tell the coach from the players if not for his Sabres windbreaker. Pucks came scorching off his stick, tucked just under that spot where the crossbar and post meet on an unattended net.
Dineen might be 20 years from his glory days and six years from his last National Hockey League service, but the coach of the Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate can still fire away.
During the Sabres development camp that wrapped up Friday at Niagara University, Dineen got a chance to so what he loves most — eat, breathe and talk hockey.
For Dineen, who started his professional career with the Binghamton Whalers in 1984, hockey hasn’t just been a passing vocation, it’s been a stable source of income. After a playing career that spanned almost 1,200 NHL games, Dineen has become a solid American Hockey League coach, leading his team to winning records in each of his season.
At camp, he seems to mesh perfectly with the Sabres coaching staff, even though his Portland Pirates swapped parent clubs prior to last season.
“It’s like anything, you just get a level of confidence. I come to a camp like this and I enjoy spending the time with Brian McCutcheon and Lindy Ruff and James Patrick, it’s like a week of Hockey 101,” Dineen said. “We come in and we’re talking about systems, we’re talking about players. The learning curve is really long and I’ve only been doing this four years.
“And it’s very enjoyable to be exposed to how different people do business as well. The Sabres do things a little different than the Ducks and that’s different than the Blue Jackets.”
When Portland was Anaheim’s affiliate, Dineen guided a team that had players like Dustin Penner, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan deep into the AHL playoffs.
Last season, his team included players like Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy, and when he talks about Gerbe, Dineen gets the glow of a guy who’s seen something special.
“When Nathan Gerbe’s on the ice, it’s hard not to notice him out there. He’s so dynamic. Some of the plays he makes are high-end plays. I tell whoever he’s playing with that they better be ready and have their stick on the ice,” Dineen said.
“He’s a fun player to watch, a fun player to coach and he’s got a great future in front of him.”
And the good feelings are mutual. Gerbe said at camp this week that Dineen would make a great NHL coach.
“He tells you things straight and that’s what makes him a great coach,” Nathan Gerbe said. “Some guys don’t like that, but he’s fun to play for and fun to be around.”
For now, though, Dineen insists he’s not worried about taking the next coaching leap. Buffalo’s previous AHL coach, Randy Cunneyworth, spent seven seasons behind the bench before severing ties and becoming an assistant with the Atlanta Thrashers.
In 2004-05, Cunneyworth won the Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s top coach. Dineen won the award the following season. Dineen doesn’t seem concerned that he seems to be following in Cunneyworth’s footsteps.
“(To get) labeled as an AHL coach, that doesn’t really bother me in any way. That’s what I am, a coach in the American Hockey League,” Dineen said.
“I really enjoy where we’re at. We have an incredible quality of life in Portland. This is the stage I’m at right now. I’m not too worried about the label.”
Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.