Rick Kowalsky, who spent the last four seasons coaching Trenton (ECHL), was promoted to head coach of the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Albany, N.Y.
Kevin Dean will replace Kowlasky as head coach at Trenton while former Devils assistant coach Tommy Albelin will be an assistant coach at Albany.
Vince Williams will remain as assistant coach at Trenton.
“A commitment to winning, as well as the development of our players, has and will always be top priorities,” Albany general manager Chris Lamoriello said in a statement. “Both head coaches and assistant coaches have been part of our organization at different levels for a number of years. We are confident in their ability to develop our prospects for the NHL level, both on and off the ice.”
Kowalsky, 38, had a 138-122-28 record at Trenton. He was the ECHL’s top coach in 2009.
“Rick has done an outstanding job with the Eastern League team wsith how he’s developed some of the players we had go from Trenton to Lowell,” Lou Lamoriello said. “This is the right progression that he deserves.”
Dean, 41, is entering his fifth season as a member of the organization’s coaching staff. He was an assistant coach at Lowell the last four seasons, including 2009-10 under John MacLean. He was an NHL defenseman for 12 seasons, including eight with the Devils.
Albelin, 46, joined the Devils’ coaching staff as an assistant on July 25, 2007, following an 18-year NHL playing career. Albelin was an assistant coach for Sweden during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
“Tommy had the experience here and now he’ll get some experience to go behind the bench and make line changes and to see what his future is. Kevin Dean now gets an opportunity to run a team (in Trenton).”
Williams, 34, returns for his fifth season in Trenton. He had an eight-year playing career and was a member of Trenton’s inaugural 1999-2000 season team.
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Lou Lamoriello said the move by Albelin will allow him to work a bench, making line and defense pairing changes. Mario Tremblay made defense changes last season for the Devils while Albelin handled communications from above.
“(Albelin) didn’t change the defense here. Mario Tremblay did,” Lamoriello said. “He was a third assistant on the bench, similar to what Adam Oates will be this year with Larry Robinson running the defense and John MacLean running the forwards. Unless John decides something different.”
Tremblay has taken a television job in Montreal.
“John was given the opportunity to put together his staff when he came. Mario understands that. It was no different when he came here,” Lamoriello said.
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The Devils held an afternoon conference call with Chris Lamoriello, Kowalsky and Dean.
Chris Lamoriello on Kowalsky: “Rick has been with us for four years now so developmentally he’s been through the process. He’s comfortable with us and our objectives and certainly we’re comfortable with him and his objectives.
“He brings great passion and great intensity. That’s the type of player he was. He shares the same ideals we have organizationally. He’s a coach who challenges himself as well.”
Why has it taken so long to name these coaches?
Chris Lamoriello: “I think any time you have the changes we’ve had throughout the organization, starting in New Jersey, you want to take as much time as you can to make sure everybody feels comfortable about what the objectives are at all three levels. Certainly with naming John MacLean head coach in New Jersey before the draft there was going to be a position we needed to fill at the American League level, so we wanted to make sure we took the proper time.
“Anytime we have positions we want to look internally first. I think that was something all along that was very strong in our minds.”
Chris Lamoriello on Albelin going from the NHL to the AHL as assistant coach: “I don’t want to speak for Tommy, but I think it was something here where the role he had in New Jersey and the role he will have in Albany will be different. Certainly working with young players there are going to be some different responsibilities. In my opinion, those responsibilities are going to help enhance his development as a coach, give him an opportunity to be hands-on and see this next wave of NHL players. I think the timing for him with his coaching career is absolutely appropriate.
“He’s looking forward to this challenge. Hopefully some day head coaching is something in his future.”
Kowalsky on getting the job: “Just the way things have gone and being in the organization for the last four years I knew that, when Jacques (Lemaire) left, I thought John MacLean might be a candidate. And the natural progression would allow me to be a candidate (for the AHL job). Even before John got the job in New Jersey I had a talk with Lou that if pieces fall into place like he plans I would definitely be considered for the Albany job.
“I don’t know if this opportunity would’ve come at this point if the Devils hadn’t taken over the team (in Trenton).”
Kowalsky on the team in Albany: “I think there are a lot of good young prospects coming out. Lowell had a pretty young and exciting team last year. There are probably 8-10 guys that will be in Albany this year that I had in Trenton.”
Kowalsky on Albelin: “I just met Tommy at training camp. From a relationship standpoint, that’s all I know of him. I saw him play all those years, especially in New Jersey. I’m excited about this because anytime you look at a new coaching position, you want to be surrounded by good people. Lou thought this would be a good fit, not only for me but for Tommy.”
Kowalsky on his goals: “I’ll be honest with you, I was happy at the ECHL level. I had nolt pursued anything from an American Hockey League standpoint this far. Just because I really liked the way things were going. They really made me feel part of this organization. Knowing Lou’s history of promoting people from within, I knew an opportunity could arise. Nobody knew Jacques was going to retire in New Jersey. A promotion to a higher level is huge for me. That said, if it didn’t come this year, I would’ve been content spending another year in Trenton. That would’ve been five years for me. It takes time.”
Dean on the move from assistant in the AHL to head coach in Trenton: “I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years. With it becoming a possibility it really excited me. It is a good opportunity. I’ve worked with some good coaches for a while and learned from them. Picked their brains. This is going to be exciting.”
Dean on the job: “It’s tough to get a head coaching job in the NHL without ever being a head coach in the AHL. As an assistant coach you have your own functions and you watch how the head coach handles certain decisions.
“To me the hockey side is the easy side of it. Managing the personalities and the personnel side is what separates the good coaches from the not good coaches. I think I’ve always been a pretty good communicator but one thing I learned last year from John MacLean is accountability. These guys need to be held accountable. They need to know when they do well and when they don’t do well. I think they want to be held accountable, too. Players want direction.”
Dean on the game: “Hockey hasn’t changed a lot in the last 100 years but it’s probably changed more in the last five years than it did in the 95 years before that.”
Did he think he might get the AHL job given to Kowalsky?
“I was hoping . At the same time, I think this is a better opportunity for me,” Dean said. “There is a lot at stake at the American League level. Most of the kids are on the cusp of playing in the National League and this is my first kick at the can. If I’m making mistakes or I’m doing things wrong, there is a lot at stake there. This makes sense.”