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Ulf Samuelsson finds family familiarity with Charlotte Checkers

When new Charlotte Checkers coach Ulf Samuelsson looked up and down the team’s most recent roster he saw familiar names. 

There was Keegan Lowe – son of longtime Edmonton Oiler, Kevin Lowe.

There was Jake Chelios – son of Hall of Famer, Chris Chelios.

There was Josh Wesley – son of longtime Carolina Hurricane, Glen Wesley.

There was Brody Sutter – son of longtime New York Islander, Duane Sutter.

Luke Stevens, son of Kevin Stevens who played with Samuelsson on the Pittsburgh Penguins, wasn’t on the team but he was a fifth-round pick of the Hurricanes, the Checkers’ parent club, last season. 

Samuelsson, who played 1,080 NHL games has some sort of history with all their dads to varying degrees.

“There’s obviously a lot of added pressure and maybe some phone calls, we’ll see,” Samuelsson joked. “It’s some really good bloodlines. But early indications are these guys have a chance to be real good players at an early age.”

In a weird way joining forces with Charlotte is Samuelsson’s career in hockey coming full circle.

He was drafted by the Hartford Whalers in 1982, and the Hurricanes used to be the Whalers. Furthermore the man who hired Samuelsson was Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis, his former teammate in Hartford and then with the Penguins. 

The two won back-to-back Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992 and were part of one of the most famous trades in hockey history that sent them from Hartford to Pittsburgh.

“I go way back with Ronnie and we’ve known each other for a while. Should be a good working relationship along with being friends,” Samuelsson said. “I think any time you go through a stretch like that with any person, you battle the whole year and play a lot of hockey games and have some success and winning it all, that is something you have for the rest of your life with anyone.”

Many may remember Samuelsson as the feisty defenseman who walked a line of legality with some of his big body checks.

But he’s turned into a strong coach whose stock has risen recently. He joined the New York Rangers coaching staff in 2013-14 and helped the team make the Stanley Cup Final in his first year there.

This came after a four-year stint with the Phoenix Coyotes.

During his time behind the bench, Samuelsson has worked with some of hockey’s biggest coaching names.

He said he learned a more cerebral approach to coaching offense from Wayne Gretzky with Phoenix. Then when Dave Tippett replaced Gretzky, Samuelsson said he learned to better communicate the defensive side of the game. 

With the Rangers under Alain Vigneault, Samuelsson saw how the coach utilized team speed and gained that knowledge.

“You have to be so fast nowadays,” Samuelsson said. “For me the transition and how quick you can recognize and what position you can be and that’s both from offense to defense and defense to offense, so I think that’s an area where I’m trying to find small, small things and small adjustments to get that half a stride advantage and that’s been very fascinating.”

Samuelsson found out about the opening at the Rangers’ end-of-season meetings through New York general manager Jeff Gorton.

As the process moved along with Charlotte, he called up Vigneault along with other people around hockey he trusted such as Kevin Dineen and Joel Quenneville.

“They all kind of said, ‘if you’re seriously thinking about a head coaching job in the NHL, this is the right way to go.’ That certainly weighed heavily with my decision,” Samuelsson said before taking the job on May 31.

The Checkers provide another type of learning experience. Not only does Samuelsson get to run his own bench for the first time he’ll also get to work with Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters – who is known as one of hockey’s top tacticians.

Samuelsson said he’s not going to put his own stamp on the team, but make it an extension of Peters’ system.

“I’m going to use some of his exact tactics too because you want a player that gets called up to get real familiar with the big team tactics,” he said. “That’s going to be a big part of my gameplan as well.”

Having worked with so many established coaches could give Samuelsson the type of resume to run his own team some day in the NHL. He said his philosophy is already based on speed and creating an attack that moves with multiple levels, which seems to jibe with how Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup. This is how teams may be built moving forward with a lot of groups looking to copycat the Penguins. 

"You really have to work for your scoring chances. Even when you look at the Stanley Cup Final, if a team isn’t structured it’s going to be very hard to create anything," he said. "You may get the puck in their zone but it’s going to be five guys, it’s going to be layers, it’s going to be people blocking shots unless you have very aggressive defensive zone coverage, very hard backcheck and good gaps so you can get teams out of structure and capitalize with your own speed and use that open ice."

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

 

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