21 June 2008

New Thrashers coach sheds tears after long wait's reward

By Kevin Allen, USA TODAY

New Atlanta Thrashers coach John Anderson paid for his job with minor league toil and celebrated it with tears.

"When Don (Waddell) told me he was offering me the job, I went back to my room and cried." Anderson said.

After 13 years of coaching in the minor leagues, and many nights of wondering whether he would ever receive his opportunity to coach in the NHL, Anderson, 51, is back in the NHL, where he was a 30-goal scorer for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Hartford Whalers in the 1970s and 1980s

"Spending time in the minors not only makes you a better coach, but a better person and when you do get an opportunity like this you are grateful for it and you don't want to dissapoint because people put a lot of faith in you," Anderson said, still sounding emotional the day after learning he was being promoted from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League to the NHL.

Although Waddell considered hiring former NHL coaches, such as Paul Maurice and Mike Sullivan, he decided to go with the fresh face with considerable minor league success. He recently led the Wolves to the Calder Cup championships, his fourth title. He also had a .688 career winning percentage.

"His track record for winning is remarkable," Waddell said. "And I talked to a lot of players in this process, and they say great things about him. (Atlanta goalie) Kari Lehtonen just sent me a text to say he is so happy to have John as coach. He treats them like men. It's fun to come to the rink."

In recent years, NHL general managers have started to move away a bit from the recycling of former NHL coaches to giving successful AHL coaches a chance. The success of AHL alumnus Bruce Boudreau in Washington this season certainly helped pave the way for Anderson. This season's and last season's Stanley Cup champion coaches — Detroit's Mike Babcock and Anaheim's Randy Carlyle — both served an apprenticeship in the AHL, coaching against Anderson.

"It certaintly didn't hurt the situation," Waddell said. "Somewhere along the line these coaches got an opportunity. But John didn't get this job because he was our farm team coach. He got it because of the success he had."

Anderson, 51, is a close friend of Boudreau. "Bruce did a superhuman job down there, but it was surprising that it had to come to that for coaches in the American League to be recognized."

In coaching style, Anderson is similar to Boudreau in that he is considered an offensive coach. "We both like attacking," Boudreau said. "I hate sitting back...if you are in the other team's more than they are in yours, that's good defense too."

When Boudreau was hired in Washington, Anderson was among the first to call him. Figuring Washington might make a coach change and seeing a message from Boudreau, Anderson called back and blurted out: "Is this the new coach of the Washington Capitals?"

He reached Boudreau while he was driving to Washington. "And he was almost crying," Anderson recalled.

Years ago, he was interviewed for the San Jose Sharks' head coaching job, and he has also had interviews to be an assistant. But he never got truly close to being hired until the Atlanta situation.

"There are only 30 jobs," Anderson said. "But it is tough when you see guys — like Eddie Olczyk and I love Eddie Olczyk. Great guy — But out of the blue he got a coaching job (in Pittsburgh) and he never coached. It's tough to compete with that.

Anderson is anything but bitter about his lengthy minor league stay. says Anderson: "It was time well spent."

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