Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

Former Hartford Whalers star right wing and captain Kevin Dineen is certainly in the running for NHL Coach of the Year, after what he has done with the Florida Panthers in his first season behind an NHL bench.

Well, Dineen earned more kudos from his upstart team on Saturday, when he decided to have his South Division-leading Panthers practice outdoors in Central Park as a treat after earning three of four points with a shutout win in Boston on Thursday night and overtime loss in Buffalo on Friday night, before facing the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.

“It was unbelievable,” rookie Erik Gudbranson told after the Panthers’ “workout” on a perfect day for classic pond hockey. “Sometimes (outdoors), this is where you have the most fun playing hockey so it was awesome.”

Dineen, who played all or part of 10 seasons about 100 miles from New York City, felt it could only help his troops while on the road in the holiday season, and it proved to be another master stroke for the former AHL Coach of the Year with the Portland Pirates.

“We felt that there’s no place more special to be than New York City around the Christmas holidays and we wanted to do something special so we came out here to Central Park,” Dineen said. “You can just tell how much fun the guys are having; we’re having a tough time getting them off the ice.”

Instead of a typical midseason practice, Dineen organized a round-robin, three-on-three tournament. The rink was split into three sections with four-foot-wide goals made of cones at each end. Panthers goalies Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen skated with the rest of the players as no netminders were allowed in the tournament. Coaches even joined in the fun as members of the three-on-three teams.

Players talked about outdoor rinks at home and how the atmosphere at Central Park reminded them of it.

“It was really fun to play outdoors,” left wing Tomas Fleischmann said. “It’s great weather and here with the guys, it just brings good memories to the childhood and it was fun to be here to play some three-on-three pond hockey.”

It was classic hockey with just skates, sticks and pucks and an audience full of young fans to cheer them on. But after 45 minutes of competition, it was unclear which team was victorious.

“That’s up for dispute right now, and we might have to go up to the video trainers to sort that out,” Dineen quipped.

The “practice” ended with an empty-net game from the length of the rink. One member of each team was selected to shoot for the empty net. If he missed, he skated a lap, and if he made it, he elected an opponent to skate the lap for him. There was plenty of laughter as everyone jeered and cheered each other on.

After taking a team picture at the picturesque rink, the rink’s staff had difficulty getting the Panthers to leave the ice.

Young fans, many of whom just finished playing a game before the Panthers arrived, enjoyed chatting with the Panthers and having various sticks and jerseys signed before they left for the team bus.

“A heck of a day for the Panthers,” Dineen said.

Always knew that Dineen guy was a smart dude who got the most out of himself and his team.


Former Whalers defenseman John Stevens is among four selected for induction into the AHL Hall of Fame as the Class of 2012.

Others to be recognized Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. at the AHL Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony at the Circus Maximus Theatre at Caesars Atlantic City in New Jersey are Joe Crozier, Jack Gordon and Zellio Toppazzini.

Stevens, 45, is a former head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers who is now an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings. His 14-year playing career, which was cut short by an eye injury, included eight assists in 44 games with the Whalers spanning three seasons. He was a member of the undefeated 1987-88 Calder Cup championship team in Hershey coached by former Hartford Wolf Pack coach John Paddock. Stevens also won a Calder Cup in 1990-91 with the Springfield Indians, but the defenseman is best known for his days with the Philadelphia Phantoms, where he was the team’s first captain in 1996-97, won a Calder Cup in 1997-98 and coached the club for six seasons from 2000-07. He then took over as Flyers coach for 31/2 seasons.

“These four individuals enjoyed significant careers and are legendary figures in the rich history of the American Hockey League,” AHL president and CEO David Andrews said in a statement. “The AHL Board of Governors is pleased to support the selection committee’s recommendation for their induction into the American Hockey League Hall of Fame.”

The quartet will be honored as part of the festivities at the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 29-30 at the historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.Y. Formed in 2006 to recognize, honor and celebrate individuals for their outstanding achievements and contributions in the AHL, the AHL Hall of Fame is housed on-line at The first All-Star event held outside an AHL city is possible through the partnership of the AHL, Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and Caesars Entertainment.

“The American Hockey League is looking forward to working with the Boardwalk Hall, the ACCVA, the CRDA and Caesars to make the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic a truly special event,” Andrews said. “The historic Boardwalk Hall will provide an incredible and appropriate backdrop for us to celebrate our league and our sport’s best young players.”

The All-Star Classic, pitting the top players from the Eastern Conference against the best of the Western Conference, will begin with the skills competition Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. The All-Star Game is Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. Tickets, which include admission to the skills competition and game, are $52 for seats on the glass, $37 for lower-level seats and $32 for upper-level seats. Tickets are on sale at the Boardwalk Hall box office, all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 800-736-1420 and at For group orders, call 609-348-7021.

Caesars Atlantic City will host the post-skills party and Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony. The post-skills party will start at 5:30 p.m., with $35 tickets including a chance to met and mingle with the players and get an autograph or photo, enjoy complimentary beverages, interactive game stations, music and more. Tickets for the induction and awards ceremony are $20 and include a commemorative program. Tickets for the two hospitality events are on sale at the Boardwalk Hall box office and all Ticketmaster locations or by calling 1-800-736-1420 or Tickets are limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.

Special hotel rates are available at Caesars Atlantic City and Bally’s Atlantic City for Sunday and Monday nights. To reserve rooms at Caesars ($49 for Jan. 29 and Jan. 30), call 888-516-2215 and mention code PAHL. To reserve rooms at Bally’s ($35 for Jan. 29 and Jan. 30), call 888-516-2215 and mention code PAHL. Both properties are on the Boardwalk and less than a 10-minute walk from Boardwalk Hall. To inquire about promotional opportunities for youth hockey groups in association with the event or about game sponsorships and advertising, call 609-348-7022.


After losing 3-2 in a rematch with the Bruins in Providence on Sunday, the Connecticut Whale returns home for another Friday-Saturday night set, this time against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Bruins. It’s part of nine games in the final 12 in 2011 at the XL Center after the Whale started the season with 15 of 22 outings on the road.

The Northeast Division-leading Whale (15-8-1-2) has had problems with the pesky Sound Tigers (11-11-3-1), losing three of four meetings, the first two in a shootout and in overtime after leading by two goals in each game. Then after a 3-2 victory on defenseman Brendan Bell’s goal with seven seconds left in overtime, the Whale lost 6-2 at Bridgeport on Nov. 25 in what equaled their worst defeat of the season.

So the Whale will have plenty of incentive in Round 5 of the GEICO Connecticut Cup on Friday night, especially after the loss Sunday, their first in four meetings with the Bruins. Meanwhile, the Sound Tigers were losing 5-1 to the Springfield Falcons, who got two goals from defenseman David Savard, his first scores of the season, a goal and two assists from former Wolf Pack wing Alexandre Giroux, one goal from Greenwich native Cam Atkinson and three assists from center Martin St. Pierre to back a 29-save performance by 38-year-old Manny Legace, the Whalers’ eighth-round pick in 1993. The Sound Tigers, who have lost three in a row and are 1-4-1-1 since their last win over the Whale, have been led by left wings Tim Wallace (nine goals, 11 assists), Casey Cizikas (5, 11) and Justin DiBenedetto (9, 5) and centers Jeremy Colliton and David Ullstrom (12, 2). Wallace and Ullstrom are on recall to the parent New York Islanders. The goalies for Sound Tigers coach and former Wolf Pack defensemen Brent Thompson are Anders Nilsson (5-5-1, 2.99 goals-against average, .906 save percentage) and Joe Fallon (0-0-0, 3.00, .857).

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