The Charlotte Checkers have a new head coach and it’s someone Ron Francis knows well.
The Carolina Hurricanes announced Tuesday that Ulf Samuelsson has been hired to coach the Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate. Samuelsson replaced Mark Morris, who left after one year to coach at St. Lawrence University.
Francis, the Canes’ general manager and executive vice president, and Samuelsson were former teammates with the Hartford Whalers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Both were members of the Pens’ 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup champions.
“I’ve known him 35-plus years and he’s a quality individual and a hard-working guy,” Francis said Tuesday. “He has a strong coaching resume and I think he will be a good head coach for the Checkers. He will be hard on his players but I think will be fair on his players. That’s what you want in a coach.”
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Samuelsson, 52, has spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers, helping the Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and the conference final in 2015. Before joining the Rangers, he spent two seasons as head coach for Modo of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), posting an overall record of 38-15-16-41 and reaching the playoffs both years.
“This is a new chapter in my life,” Samuelsson said Tuesday. “I was a head coach in Sweden and enjoyed the responsibilities that come with the position. I’ve talked to a lot of coaches and they say this is a good route to go for anyone who aspires to be an NHL head coach one day, and I do have that aspiration.
“One of my top priorities is to create an environment that players want to be in, and putting together a game plan and system where you can win and develop as players at the same time. I’m joining a good organization and we should have a good team, especially with all the draft picks the (Canes) have the next few years. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Francis said he did not approach Samuelsson last year before hiring Morris, and said he received permission from the Rangers to speak to Samuelsson this year.
“I think it was the right time,” Francis said of the hire. “He was looking for a new challenge and the opportunity to run his own show again and show he can do the job. The timing was perfect.”
Samuelsson, a native of Fagersta, Sweden, also served as associate coach for the Phoenix Coyotes from 2006-11, helping to guide the Coyotes to a franchise-record 50 wins in 2009-10, and playing an important role in the development of defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek.
Samuelsson began his professional coaching career in 2005-06, serving as assistant coach for the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack.
In 16 NHL seasons as a player, Samuelsson appeared in 1,080 career games with the Whalers, Penguins, Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers. Selected by the Whalers in the fourth round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, he had 57 goals and 275 assists (332 points), 2,453 penalty minutes and a plus-172 rating.
“Ulf was my roommate for eight years,” Francis said. “We were traded to Pittsburgh together, won a couple of Cups together.
“He was the closest thing I had to a brother in the NHL. We’ve spent a lot of time together through the years. Our families are close, we’ve had vacations together. We’re excited to have him in our organization.”