Dineen has Utica Comets in AHL playoffs in first season with organization

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UTICA — Kevin Dineen and the Utica Comets are in some unfamiliar territory. 

By virtue of the best record (43-20-8-1, 0.660 points percentage) in the American Hockey League’s North Division, the Comets have a bye into the division semifinal. That gives the team a total of 10 days off between their final regular-season game and their first Calder Cup playoffs game. 

Typically, there aren’t long stretches between games for AHL teams. Teams usually play every few days – during the 2021-22 regular-season, the schedule was more compact for many squads due to COVID-19 challenges – between October and April.

Utica is awaiting the winner of a best-of-three first-round series between Rochester and Belleville, which started Wednesday. The Comets’ best-of-five series is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Utica. 

While Dineen has extensive experience as a coach in the AHL, NHL and at the international level, there’s always learning to be done.

With the Comets’ longer break in the schedule, the 58-year-old Dineen reached out to some coaches who have experience with the more days between games for the respective teams. 

“Part of my initial plan was to call my friends in the coaching fraternity at the college level because they have that a lot: They play Friday and Saturday and then don’t play until the next Friday. So, you get a little feedback and an idea of what their thought-process is,” said Dineen, who won the Stanley Cup as an assistant coach with Chicago in 2015. “For us, we’ve earned this time off. … You’re going to against (one of the) two teams that are going to be battling it out like crazy. So, they’re going to be a battle-tested by the time we see them. That’s fine. We have to use our time wisely to make sure that when we hit the ice Tuesday we’re ready.” 

He didn’t elaborate on which coaches he chatted with, just that they were people he has developed relationships with over the years. 

“You try to find different ways to get ideas. I’m always very open when I get to chat with my son’s (William) coach (Keith Allain at Yale University). … We all go through it with the same challenges,” said Dineen, whose 365 AHL wins are 10th on the league’s career list. “You have people you respect and trust. It is a cool thing to be able to enjoy another coach’s and team’s success.” 

It is all an effort to make sure a largely successful regular-season gives way to a long postseason run. Utica has much of the talented roster back that helped the team to a 17-1-3-0 start through the first 20 games. 

There’s excitement with a Utica AHL team back in the postseason for the first time since 2018. Though, a Utica team hasn’t won a playoff series since 2014-15 when that Comets team advanced to the Calder Cup Finals. 

Dineen is coaching in an AHL playoff format for the sixth consecutive season he’s been in the league after leading teams in Portland and San Diego. Though, his teams have never claimed the Calder Cup.

Meanwhile, it is the first time the New Jersey Devils’ AHL affiliate has qualified for the postseason since 2017. 

“We have to come together as a team this week,” standout forward Fabian Zetterlund said.

“We have really good chemistry in the locker room. … I think that we will stick to that in the postseason as well.” 

Love earns coaching honor

Stockton’s Mitch Love is the winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach for the 2021-22 season.

The award is voted on by fellow coaches and members of the media in each of the league’s 31 member cities.

In his first season as a head coach in the AHL, Love guided Stockton to the best record ever by a Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate at 45-16-5-2 (.713). The Heat were unbeaten in regulation over their first 12 games (10-0-2-0) and captured the Pacific Division title.

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