Canes coach heads back to old home

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 13, 2012 

— Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller finally will move into his house in Raleigh this week, having spent the past few months in an apartment.

Recently, Muller was able to sell his house in Montreal. "Cutting the cords," he called it.

But there is one more thing to do before that's done. Muller will be in Montreal tonight for the first time as an NHL head coach, looking to beat the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

Muller, 46, played four seasons for the Canadiens, is a former team captain and was a big part of their run to the 1993 Stanley Cup. He spent the past five seasons as a Canadiens assistant coach, a familiar face behind the bench, and many believed Muller one day might be the Canadiens coach.

Even when Muller left Montreal after last season, joining the Nashville Predators organization to become coach of the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, many in Montreal kept that belief.

But Muller was hired as the Hurricanes' coach Nov. 28, replacing fired Paul Maurice. When Montreal coach Jacques Martin was fired Dec. 17, assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth was named interim coach.

It was understandable the Montreal media surrounded Muller on Sunday, peppering him with questions. Some centered on whether he might now be the Canadiens' coach had he remained on Martin's staff.

Muller, in turn, only would say it had been a "tough situation" in Montreal and that he didn't second-guess his decision to leave after last season.

"Timing is everything in anybody's life," he said to the media. "It wasn't the right timing for me.

"When I took the (assistant's) job five years ago, I never put a time frame on being a head coach. Nashville gave me the chance ... to be a head coach and coach in the minors. It was the right time to move on, and I took that challenge."

Carolina offered another challenge. There was an adjustment period after the coaching change, but the Canes (20-25-11), while last in the NHL's Eastern Conference, are 7-4-5 since Jan. 1.

"We don't look at it and say, 'Wow, we're dead last,' " Muller said. "We look at it as we're playing good hockey."

Tonight's game, Muller said, will be both weird and fun.

"I'm sure there will be some cheers and some boos," he said, smiling.

Noting the Bell Centre is one of the NHL arenas - the RBC Center being another - where the visiting coach must cross the ice from the locker room to the bench, Muller quipped, "I hope they're cheering. It could be a long walk."

A native of Kingston, Ontario, southwest of Montreal, Muller said his mother and other family members would attend tonight's game. But he insisted the spotlight should be on his players, not himself.

Veteran defenseman Jaroslav Spacek played parts of the past two seasons in Montreal before being traded to the Canes on Dec. 9. Spacek's family remained in Montreal, and he was able to celebrate his 38th birthday Saturday with his family and friends.

The Hurricanes on Sunday recalled forward Jerome Samson from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, reassigning forward Drayson Bowman to the Checkers. That's good timing for Samson, who is from Greenfield Park, Quebec.

"He's a kid from the area, so he'll be all excited," Muller said.

Then again, so will the coach.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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