Paddock gives Devils their due

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

The New Jersey Devils were awful in 1983-84, having moved the season before from Colorado, where they had the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, to the swamps where they were now in the shadow of Manhattan's skyline.

Before they became the Rockies, they had been the Kansas City Scouts for a couple of years and the lack of wins (just 27 in 160 games there) resulted in a lack of rooters (just 2,000 season tickets) and then a lack roots.

There was even a short time when John McMullen, who had bought the Rockies and wanted to move them, used Ottawa as a possible destination to leverage a better deal out of New Jersey (remember the promotion by radio station CKOY to pack the Civic Centre for a 67's game to show that Ottawa was a good hockey town?)

It took a while before the Devils became the Devils, if you know what I mean, but in that 1983-84 season, they stunk.

No, really. Stunk.

"It's time they got their act together. They're ruining the whole league," Wayne Gretzky said after his Oilers blew them out 13-4 one night. ''They'd better stop running a Mickey Mouse organization and put somebody on the ice.''

That might have been The Great One's most memorable quote from his playing days.

Bill MacMillan, who had taken over from Don Cherry with the Rockies, was fired as the Devils' coach partway through that season, which included a 2-18 start, and the Devils turned to their AHL farm team in Maine for a replacement. They promoted the gravelly voiced Tom McVie, who, if he needed to moonlight, could have doubled as a foghorn in the moonlight on the Maine coast.

So, now Maine needed a new coach and team president Ed Anderson, remembered the club's 29-year-old captain had said he was interested in becoming a coach when his playing days were done.

The captain had about five minutes to decide to make the jump.

"I went home and said to my wife, 'There's probably going to be a press conference tomorrow and I'm going to quit playing and be the coach,' " Senators assistant coach John Paddock remembered yesterday.

A coach was born.

Or created, however it is that coaches get their start.

Was it a tough decision?

"I felt I was playing crappy. I was only 29, but I felt like I wasn't playing like I could," said Paddock, a role player at the NHL level with the Washington Capitals (who drafted him in the third round in 1974), Philadelphia and Quebec, but a solid, character guy in the AHL. "That made it a little bit easier."

Paddock, incredibly, took over that Maine team and that spring won the Calder Cup as AHL champions.

C'mon. A player in November and a Cup-winning coach come spring?

Paddock didn't stop there, of course. He went on to win AHL titles with Hershey in 1988 and with Hartford in 2000, becoming the only man to win Calder Cups with three different organizations. He also found the time to be the coach (1991-95) and GM (1994-96) of the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes, the first Manitoba native to coach the team.

When the Senators re-established their AHL farm team in Binghamton in 2002, they turned to Paddock. He was named an assistant to Bryan Murray in July 2004.

So, a guy who got his start because the Devils were so bad is trying to help figure out how to beat them and why they are now so good.

The closest he's gotten to a Stanley Cup was a trip to the final in 1980 as a right winger with the Flyers. Philly lost to the rising Islanders dynasty, but not before Paddock scored the goal that tied Game 6 and sent it into overtime.

Enter Bob Nystrom.

It was the coach of that Flyers team who got Paddock interested in one day going behind the bench.

"I'd been interested since playing for Pat Quinn. He showed me the most about coaching," said Paddock. "Pat was a bit ahead of his time as far as tactical things and technical things ... he could explain the game and how to play the game on the blackboard. We can do the same thing today, do it on video in five minutes what took him 15 minutes to do on the board.

"I just thought he was ahead of his time. Overall, I just thought Pat was the best coach I played for."

One Senators player has said exactly the same thing to me about John Paddock.


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