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AHL coaches move up to find NHL success

Dan Bylsma

Perhaps the greatest AHL-coach-to-the-rescue story in NHL history. Bylsma was in his first season coaching the Penguins' AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when the big club axed coach Michel Therrien in February 2009. Bylsma stepped behind the bench of a talented but struggling team and promptly led the Pens on an 18-3-4 record for 40 points — the second most of any coach in NHL history through his first 25 games. There's more: Bylsma then became the 14th coach and just second midseason replacement to win a Stanley Cup in his first season. Sure, the Penguins had a boatload of talent, led by superstar Sidney Crosby. Then again, Therrien had those players, too, and the team didn't appear headed for a Cup under him.

Claude Julien

Julien has coached seven NHL seasons for three teams. He has compiled a 252-164-10 record with 58 overtime losses. His teams have qualified for the playoffs four times, including his first NHL season when his Canadians were knocked off in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Lightning in 2004. And his playoff resume doesn't include the time he was fired by the Devils even though they were 47-24-8 and easily headed to the postseason. Bottom line is the guy can coach. And where did he start? With the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs, the same team that Guy Boucher coached this past season.

Mike Babcock

The Red Wings coach, like Guy Boucher, played college hockey at McGill University in Montreal. And, like Boucher, spent time coaching junior hockey. And, again like Boucher, Babcock spent time behind the bench in the AHL. Babcock coached two seasons in Cincinnati this decade, including one season when he led the team to franchise records in wins and points. That earned him a promotion to the big club — the Ducks — in 2002. Just like Boucher is doing now, Babcock is taking over a team that had missed the postseason three years in a row. Yet, Babcock led the Ducks all the way to the Cup final, where they lost to the Devils in seven games. Babcock went on to coach Detroit to two final appearances, including winning it all in 2008. And he was coach of Canada's gold-medal team in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Joe Sacco

Sacco beat the bushes in the minors, spending time as an assistant before becoming a head coach of Colorado's top minor-league team in Lake Erie of the AHL. After two years there, Sacco got the Avalanche job in June 2009 after former Avs great Patrick Roy turned it down. Maybe Colorado should be happy it worked out like that. Sacco coached the Avs to the best single-season turnaround in the past 10 years. The Avs, expected to finish near the bottom of the league, improved by 26 points over the 2008-09 season and qualified for the playoffs. Sacco, in the process, became a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL's coach of the year.

Pat Quinn

One of the most recognizable coaching names in recent hockey history. Quinn has coached five NHL teams over the past 31 years, including high-profile jobs in Philadelphia and Toronto. He did spend one year as an assistant under the great Fred Shero in Philadelphia, but he prepped for the NHL by coaching the Flyers' AHL team in Maine. He took over the Flyers midway through the 1978-79 season and a year later led the Flyers to a 35-game unbeaten streak, which remains an NHL record. He's a two-time coach of the year and ranks fourth all-time in league history in games coached (1,400), victories (684), playoff games coached (183) and fifth in playoff victories (94).

Bruce Boudreau

Another perfect example of an AHL coach who turned around an NHL team. Boudreau coached all over the minors — the East Coast League, the old International Hockey League and, of course, the AHL. He led the AHL's Hershey Bears to the 2006 Calder Cup championship and another finals appearance the next season. During the 2007-08 season, Boudreau was called up to coach the Capitals. At the time, the Caps were floundering with a 6-14-1 record. Under Boudreau, the Caps went on a 37-17-7 tear, won the Southeast Division and made the playoffs for the first time in five years. Naturally, he was named coach of the year. He has gone 141-56-28 with the Caps, and it seems only a matter of time before the Caps play for a Stanley Cup with Boudreau.

Barry Trotz

The only coach in the 11-year history of the Predators, Trotz first built his reputation as a top-notch AHL coach. He coached the Capitals' minor-league affiliate in Baltimore and then remained coach when the franchise moved to Portland, Maine. He led the team to two Calder Cup final appearances, winning it all in 1994. With Nashville, Trotz has gone 411-371-60-60 with five postseason appearances in the past six years. Pretty impressive considering he took over an expansion team.

Cory Clouston

Guy Boucher is following the same route as Clouston, who worked his way through junior hockey, international teams as an assistant then into the AHL. Clouston coached at Binghamton of the AHL before moving up to the NHL's Senators midway through the 2008-09 season. It was too late to turn around the Senators that season, but Clouston led the Sens to a surprising postseason appearance this past season. The Senators went 44-32-6 before losing to the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.

John Tortorella

The former Lightning coach has coached all over the place and did spend extensive time as an NHL assistant before taking over the Lightning midway through the 2000-01 season. But it needs to be noted that Tortorella spent time in the AHL, leading the Rochester Americans to the Calder Cup title in 1996 — eight years before leading the Lightning to the Stanley Cup. Anaheim's Randy Carlyle is another coach who served in the AHL before winning a Stanley Cup (Anaheim, 2007).

Last week, the Lightning named Guy Boucher as its new coach. Even for those who follow hockey closely, Boucher's name was relatively unknown. But this is all you need to know to feel somewhat comfortable about Boucher: He is coming from the American Hockey League. Boucher coached one season with Hamilton, the top affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. Based on recent history, American Hockey League coaches have a solid track record when moving up to the NHL. A look at some current and successful NHL coaches who came from the AHL:

AHL coaches move up to find NHL success 06/12/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 12, 2010 8:49pm]
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